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cloud cover, tiny amount of drizzle, mild. 17.4 miles.

The last day of 2011 started dark but as soon as i stepped outside it was obviously mild as forecast. The trains worked out fine and it was daylight time i started at Henley-on-Thames, Today i really came against the problem of how many photo’s to take big time, there was just so much to see, (the only problem with photo’s is they make the blog slow to load, so have only posted a selection).

immediately i started along the river bank i came upon an imitation paddle steamer.

Then it’s a bridge over the river as the path swaps banks once again, this area is famous for the wind in the willows story book and i wonder what christmas at toad hall was like.

Must have been quite a few going there for it to have a road sign put up giving directions. I set of along the path which had plenty of dog walkers and again a lot of rowing boats (boy they are fast at passing me), with a fine view back of the fine bridge i had crossed.

Not far along the path appears temple island which is more stunning than my poor image captured.

As ever the path becomes open fields, lots of great properties to ogle, locks, weirs and a few barges moving along their watery path. At Aston the path diverts inland for a small loop past a pub called “The flower pot” this stood out as there was a real white peacock on it’s brick parapet staring down at me like he really was king of his castle. Soon back on the river bank and more fields to enjoy (with yes the occasional green parakeet flying around) and then approaching Hurley there was a llama in a paddock with a bunch of goats as company, the goats were only concerned with butting each other as goats do. I also passed the remains of a tree where some one had been showing of their skills with a chain saw.

Hurley was rather interesting with first a small wooden bridge to cross onto an island that housed a tea shop not open and the lock keepers cottage.

Now more interesting for summer hikers a bridge from this island led to a camping island (a board said see lock keeper for casual camping permit) of a summer evening i should think it would be great there was even a barbecue for use, i had already become hungry and enjoyed cheese and biscuits as well as the view for a while.  Another small wooden bridge like the one onto the island got me off the island then a short distance along a much bigger structure is used to change banks once again. Soon i came to what is so far this most muddy slippery section of the Thames path i have found, but i navigated the half mile or so without going horizontal, nearing Marlow there is a splendid church on the opposite bank.

Then Marlow bridge comes into view (i didn’t have to cross this one).

The path here leaves the river bank for a short while behind the church in the photo, luckily there was a tea shop here (note Marlow prices aint low), so when i regained the river bank i could enjoy the view and a tea which was cooling nicely, back on the path soon passing under a major road bridge (modern concrete) and a lovely trundle to Bourne End where an old railway bridge hoves into view, this is still in use and there is a foot section alongside the rail track which is handy as you have guessed right it’s time to change river banks again.

The path becomes open countryside again for the stroll to Cookham where once again the path diverts inland to see another village containing some fine architecture and the path passes through the church yard.

The path follows some minor roads/tracks before regaining the river bank and they are perfectly pleasant. It gets a bit different hear, as rather than the normal open fields opposite, there is a steep limestone cliff covered in trees, as i approached Maidenhead i expected over developed modern housing but was wrong and what some fine old properties there are so i had to photograph one.

There was also a very realistic dummy enjoying watching the world go by in a garden across one stream.

Upon reaching Maidenhead bridge it was turn for the town centre to find the rail station about a mile from the path, once i got of the (A) road it was quiet streets lined with shops and quite nice really. All in all a terrific day, there were stations available that could have made the day shorter, and anyone could take a picnic on a summers day and loose hours exploring a little of the path and small towns villages which i walked through but not around.

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Breezy, cloud with sun at times. 12.5 miles.

Short back track from the station for the bridge over the railway and right on the river bank, the early chilly wind as forecast didn’t really become a bother today, the sun got through at times and the anticipated showers were hardly enough to mention. No sooner had i started along the path than i could hear what would probably be described as encouragement/advice, some may think it was just someone shouting through a loud hailer, this is rowing teams in training, they are in evidence all down the Thames but we are now getting nearer bigger places with larger numbers at oars. Today included a river side boat house with a thatched roof.

One of todays curios  passed is what looked like a parking lot for circus and fair ground equipment (certainly colorful), it’s soon open grassland with perhaps more dog walkers near  the large town of Reading, first structure of note is the grand bridge at Caversham.

This area gets a little over developed for a while around the marina water front housing is very desirable, then we return to open fields and it’s extremely pleasant all the way to Sonning where an old brick bridge is used to change sides of the river.

What more can i say than the path continues in it’s pleasant fashion, i passed a barge painted like an ovaltine poster.

Then came surprise of the day, this was a red kite floating above some willow trees that was being mobbed by two green parakeets, now i know green parakeetts were known to have escaped in London years ago and had apparently set up breeding successfully there and to the cities south, but i didn’t know they had spread this far west (will they become nation wide!).

It’s a brilliant trail along and past Shiplake college where i found a sunny spot sheltered by trees, so just had to stop for cheese and crackers while watching the water drift by (it’s a hard life). Approaching lower Shiplake the path turns towards the village when a path is marked on the map beyond the rail way but at the weir is a clear sign saying no foot access (seems a pity), the small very quiet lanes through lower shiplake may have been chosen for the route on purpose as it is very pretty (i resisted more architecture photo’s), at the far end of the village some one must be keen on trains as there were miniature rail tracks disappearing into a very large garden, at one point a station complete with clock tower can be seen.

Just a small length of the track seen.

The path returns to the river bank and just continues as pretty as anyone could wish, the properties opposite show an expensive design category which we can enjoy for free just ambling along, a large weir and lock combination is navigated by the Thames path on a board walk which is tremendously long, less than half can be seen in my photo.

Just spectacular, this puts one nicely on the edge of Henley-on-Thames where a tea shop was found and onto the station for home. another good day.

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overcast, no sun, mild. 13.0 miles.

From Cholsey station it’s an easy walk back to the Thames and straight into meadows with occasional area’s of willow scrub and reed beds. It’s not to long before i pass under the first of a couple of massive rail bridges, the river cut a meandering path across the landscape a long time ago, railways like to be relatively straight so they had to cross the river a few times during construction.

These multi arched beauties are predominantly made of bricks, considering bricks were hand made in those days i begs the question of just how many people were involved in the construction of such a bridge.

At Moulsford there is a small diversion from the river bank around private land which is easy, it included the surprise of passing a cherry tree with blossom on it (in December!) and a rather nice pub sign.

The Beetle and wedge (beetle is an old word for mallet).

Every day seems to hold surprises and one of today’s was a very ornate display of oyster fungus growing on a horse-chestnut tree.

Another small diversion from the river bank gets up to the start of the bridge which crosse the river from Streatly into Goring, here was a tea shop, so one take out tea and find a bench by the river side to enjoy the cheese and crackers i had packed while looking across the water as a king fisher darted back and forth, then of along the river bank to cross under another rail bridge. Shortly before Whitchurch-on-Thames the path climbs away from the river uphill through some wood land and enters the town on a minor road turning back towards the river where another surprise turned up in the form of a bathing elephant.

Further down the road the Thames path takes a diversion to include a very nice church then it’s over the toll bridge to the opposite river bank in Pangbourne, this is perfect meadow underfoot all the way to Mapledurham lock where the river mileage board indicates as expected that it’s shorter by water.

Here the path turns inland through Purley-on-Thames which is nice enough but it’s not river side, the walk is easy to Tilehurst station. Note about a quarter mile from the station is a foot bridge over the railway onto the Thames path but access is not available straight of the path to the station so this foot bridge has to be used.

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Frost clearing to low  cloud some sun (14.8 mls).

A dark start to the day heading for local station with a crisp feel to the air and i could see on cars under street lights the frosty patterns as had been forecast.  Not to many trains stop at Appleford hence it was 9 am time i arrived in full daylight, and straight on through the village towards the church i could see protruding above other buildings. From looking at a map in preparation i was aware that a path from the church should lead me across fields towards Long Withenham, these paths are not alway easy to find so i approached with an open mind, little i need have worried as it was marked as a bridleway on the sign post, i was passed by a smashing young lady on a horse who was full of good cheer with friendly comments and i have to say this was a top start to a day.

It sure is a pleasure meeting friendly people, the path was fine and i could plod along with a grin, not far along the path i passed a field of stubble turnips which had over a hundred Canada geese busily grazing on it (darn foreigners coming over here and eating our sheep’s food), from the map anyone can see that the official Thames path is the other side of the river, but what matters, i’m on a path and can see the river. After a short while i came to a wooden foot bridge over a tributary stream and here goes with my popular mind in neutral moments, i really should know by now that wooden bridges can be slippery especially as the frost is thawing, but no i just go plodding over hands in pockets and luckily i didn’t bounce down this one on soft parts that bruise easily, no fate waited till the last step which i exited in one whoosh and stumbled across the grass ahead before regaining composure. (the stupid thing is i know it’s only a question of time before doing it again somewhere!).

Now there had been a red kite floating around effortlessly over head (as they do) and what a success they have made over the last twenty years of spreading over great swathes of the country, my chance of seeing one as a child would be very close to zero and then only in the northern Welsh mountains, now around here they are almost a daily event (guess they are to small to tackle Canada geese!), next a wood pecker was making his rattling noise looking for food amongst the tree tops. As i entered the village i remembered how boring i can get going on about architecture, yes there are new properties but also old, thatched walls and houses, part timber houses some with waney edge boarding, moss covered tile roofs oh it was a joy to walk through and there was a rather nice bus shelter, didn’t need shelter today but this hiker remembers well how welcoming they can be on a stormy day.

All this and i’m hardly a mile into the day, a short bit of road walking puts me at the village bridge and onto the official Thames path, now whilst hiking of course we meet some people made of sterner material than our selves, and i realise they were wearing wet suit but never the less the group of people in the river! i didn’t fancy joining.

As often happens in such weather conditions, as the sun rose brightly it raised the ground temperature which lifts extra moisture into the atmosphere and soon creates a fairly low stratus layer of cloud with the sun only getting occasional holes to peep through but this really didn’t detract from the day as here the river bank was miles of open grass land (grazed short by Canada geese as evidenced by their pellets) and it’s hard to imagine a nicer surface under foot, as often happens i pretty much had the trail to myself for many a mile, meeting just the occasional dog walker and of course there were plenty of ornate boat houses to be seen.

At day’s lock the river has to be crossed at a weir to walk the path on the opposite bank and this gives a fine view of Withenham clump, a large natural round hill which can be found dotted around england, there seems to have always been a tradition of letting a clump of trees remain on their tops which is kind of a nice feature i think as did probably the many people climbing up it to gain a christmas appetite (excuse poor photo).

Shillingford needs a small diversion from river side (no doubt due to private land) its short and no problem they the fun continues until i reach Littleworth, well that was fun also as i happened upon two chaps who were thrilled at catching a fish, a pike which looked about 5kg but may have been more, as in common with many watery places, here was a marina where i walked past huge amounts of money floating on the water, none of those luxury boats were manned or moving, i also luckily came upon a couple who enquired if i intended going on down the river to Wallingford which i did. Well there is a diversion just ahead at a lock being replaced but they could advise me of a permitted path which would avoid walking on an (A road).

(reopening due end of March 2012).

This was lucky as they were right and permissive paths aren’t marked on maps so the fun continues soon on a short piece of road then over a very large bridge into town where if found a tea shop (plus sausage roll) that was opposite a bank where the alarm was blaring in a manner which seemed to beg an emergency service response but none appeared (neither did any bandits) eventually some one must have found the off switch or the battery ran out as the noise stopped and the expectant onlookers dispersed.

The town is exited via quiet side streets down to the river side and at this point i felt a little guilty as i packing no food not even trail snacks when i happened upon a gentleman obviously living on the road and i had no sustenance to offer. The river bank continues as pleasant as ever, i saw a grebe and a pochard duck which are possible regular here but not where i live, i was surprised to come across a large amount of willow that had buds sprouting on it which just shows how unusually mild it’s been, those buds should be appearing in March, i seem to remember airports were shut due to snow this time last year,  anyway plod on until the turn on a track to Cholsey station was reached.

This station is a bit unusual in having main line operation, and a side line preservation steam railway pulling into the same station (i do know of one other, there may be more), some of these old lines are finding campaigns for their full reopening, and i’m aware of some where the track was removed which are now paths but may see steel rails once again, so note to self to walk some of them while the option is available. So that was one more thoroughly good day.

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Mild, some sunshine. 13.5 miles.

Nice start, from Oxford station it’s a short walk onto the thames path which soon becomes quiet and very pretty.

Once again i came upon a sign which could seem unecesary (would anyone try to use the tow path if it was flooded).

Once out of the town the path is fine and well marked becoming very quiet contryside,  sometimes other walkers were not to be seen for a couple of miles at a time. There are some fine old rail bridges to enhance the view.

And some very fine boat houses on the river bank which would be attractive as a home (we can but dream).

On one loch keepers house i noticed markers for former flood levels .

Passing Abingdon i did ask and was advised that no tea shops would be found river side, i’m sure a tour of the town to find a bacon sandwich would have been fine but this was the shortest day of the year so daylight was at a premium. i made do with the fruit i was carrying in the pack for just such an occasion while enjoying a superb view of one lovely old bridge crossing the river.

The pleasant walking continued until i turned of the path and into Appleford for a train home, i did cross occasional wet/muddy parts but by far the majority of the day had been very good underfoot.

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14.3 miles, mixed cloud and sunshine, cool breeze, mild,  in December could it be global warming.

With the days getting very short now, relatively local hikes are a good idea, so back to Heyford which i reached a long time ago to continue down the Oxford canal. The canal path is right next to the train station so i’m soon passing delightful old stone bridges through pleasant countryside.

The canal meanders quite a bit and uses the river Cherwell as it’s water source, the river meanders even more, as the railway runs near straight along a close route this means passing under several rail bridges, there is plenty of marsh land along side the canal some of which is denoted as nature reserves and there was plenty of evidence of winter migration birds about. At one point (unfortunately on the opposite canal bank) a man was busy with a chain saw carving giant owls from lumps of tree trunks. Now that’s a talent i don’t posses. Now for something unusual, it’s not every day i get to hike through Gibralter.

Soon after this a beautiful little church sits on the bank right above the canal. Which provides a nice contrast to the enourmous chimmney dominating the sky line for a a while along this stretch, apparently it’s part of the remains of a dissused cement works.

At Trupp many wishes come true, there (perfect timing) was Annie’s tea shop which did a fine BLT sandwich, the area was very busy as a local barge company were doing water bourne trips to visit santa, this had proved very popular and was apparently sold out well ahead of the start date, it was if nothing else an excuse for several people to be dashing around in elf outfits. Setting of south once more i soon came across a nice abandoned rail brige over grown with foliage and in front of it an old wooden tilt bridge that was still very much in use.

Approaching Kidlington one becomes very aware of the nearbye airfield where comercial pilot training takes place, as planes were on an approach right over the canal and if you want a close view of an aircraft underside this is a good place for that, the canal skirts the edge of Kidlington so never gets crowded by buildings. The pear tree area is another mass of water meadows and the modern by pass on stilts takes the large amount of traffic over head and does little to spoil the area, the walk into Oxford does gradually become housing but is pleasant enough and some bridges become a bit more designer with the use of iron.

So it really is perfectly pleasant, there are plenty of signs so a wavery path to the station was easy to follow, oposite Oxford station is another designer feature in the roof of a relatively new building which i assume was inspired by the stepped pyramids of south america.

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Hazy clearing to sunshine, light wind mild for time of year. 11.5 miles.

Great to be back on the trail walking down to the coast from Seaford station and soon drinking tea beside a martello tower, then set of to the east.

 

 

It wasn’t long before starting the first large chalk cliff which would have me puffing as i’m out of fitness and getting over a cold, winge over get on with it as the cruise down the other side should be a treat (and it was). on the way up a golf course is built on the back slope and a tee near the top sure produced some long drives from those i saw who knew how to hit a golf ball (some others appeared to swing as i would producing a curved ball that soon found some scrub to hide in).

The view from the top is something to see towards the severn sisters, i had the descent to the bottome where i entered the area of Cuckmere haven, a nature reserve. From the map i expected to walk some distance in land to get around the river but as the tide was out the river was low and a groyne provided the oportunity to imitate a tight rope walker across what stream there was.

Now this is one of those moments when i can wonder if stupid should be my middle name, half way across on the groyne i observed a pebble island which i could jump to with little water left to splash through, this worked but as i jumped the camera lept out of my pocket and landed on the pebbles at a similar time to my boots. Sadly pick up camera which has more scratches but seems to still work (relief), the camera is old with tiny pixel rate and memory size but it’s an old friend and though of no value would be a sad loss.

If anything some of the views get better and the severn sisters are a real roller coaster of cliffs untill i reach Birling gap where a pub was found that didn’t sell tea so i made do with coffe.  As progress is made along the cliffs some large cracks are very noticable showing how this area is errodding.

The climb and descend theme continues onto Beachy head where a large number of para gliders where enjoying near perfect conditions for their pastime from what i could see. From here on it’s a downward trend into Eastbourne which seemed a nice enough place with yet another day ending by a pier before walking inland to the station.

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