The London Countryway – Day 5

May 11, 1985: Windsor to Marlow

Approaching Brunel’s bridge in Maidenhead

Approaching Brunel’s bridge in Maidenhead

I was able to return to the LCW without too much delay, day five coming only two weeks after day four ­– with the intervening weekend devoted to the first stretches of Offa’s Dyke Path: five days of walking in the last fifteen.

The Linicks, the Lees, and Bertie met at Paddington Station at 8:45 – a cold, grey morning. Harold, having seen the Saturday queues, had already purchased our tickets, but the guard at track seven didn’t want to let us though because, so he said, one of the tickets should have been marked “full fare.” “Show it on the train,” he conceded when we voiced our consternation. The guard aboard the 9:01 did look at the pasteboards inquisitively but in the event he punched them and no one bothered us about this deficiency thereafter. We had to change trains in Slough but once again it took only a little over thirty minutes to complete this journey.

I stood with the squeaking dog while the other three used the facilities at Windsor Central. A man came by and gave me a knowing grin. I assumed he must like Schnauzers but as he passed he said, “Detroit, that’s a good team,” and I realized he was referring to my baseball cap.

There weren’t quite as many people in Windsor as two weeks earlier but it wasn’t easy getting Bertie through the crowds on the pavement. Was that the queen peering out of a castle window – anticipating longingly the opening of a new Pizzaland restaurant below?

I paused to make several adjustments to my pack on the Eton Bridge. Then we turned off on Brocas Street and passed the Watermans Arms and found the riverside path that we were to follow for almost seven miles. I was surprised at how rural this side of the river was. Bertie was perfectly free to roam the route, braving the open slats of little bridges over feeder streams, avoiding the edges of the steep banks, disdaining familiarity with the water of the Thames itself – unlike every dripping Labrador going the other way.

We took a brief detour inland to have a look at the old church near Boveney – surprisingly unmarked on the OS map. We then had a candy break in the woods opposite Oakley Court. The women kept up a non-stop school gossip; this may have been one of the reasons I brought up the rear most of the morning. Twice, at locks, we had to put Bertie on lead. There was, however, very little traffic on the river this chilly gray morning. We passed beneath the M4 bridge – where Tosh had huddled haplessly on an ancient Alternative with kids who weren’t interested in walking. The Maidenhead Methodist church came by with a group of kids – but later we discovered a lonely Twix bar lost by one of the little cowboys.

Brunel’s lovely railroad bridge welcomed us to Maidenhead itself – as did an Edwardian terrace with a tower. Our plan was to grab a pub lunch here. The girls walked by the first candidate and crossed the Maidenhead Bridge before I caught up, but it was difficult for pedestrians to get across the street at the western end of this bridge. Lovely tulips blossomed in a little park where Tosh inquired at a kiosk about on-route access to pubs ahead. We passed a hotel that admitted guests attired in “smart casual clothes” only.

This left Boulter’s Inn as the last possibility, but it looked forbiddingly posh. The doorman assured us that our dress was no impediment – except for one member of the party dressed in grey fur and flea collar. As a compromise, I suggested that we take turns sitting with the dog in the lovely island park behind the inn. This was agreed and I took the first watch while the others went upstairs to order drinks and sandwiches. It was cold. I took off my pack and camera and stomped about with the dog, who had a great time chasing ducks. He would not drink from an artificial stream that plunged under the paving stones as a miniature waterfall.

Harold relieved me and I went up to drink half a lager and wait for my toasted ham and cheese. “We have to walk fast after lunch,” Tosh warned me, “I have a chill.” Dorothy went down to give the dog his lunch and, while the others had coffee, I took a second turn of dog duty.

Boulter’s Lock behind us, we were ready for the last six miles. These proved to be far more difficult than the first seven. The temperature was only in the high 50′s, the breeze began to blow more briskly, and the sunny intervals we had been promised never materialized. I wore my bomber jacket throughout the day and my red wool hat replaced the Tiger cap. Tosh wore my scarf and Dorothy put up the hood on her rain jacket. To add to our problems, route finding now became much more difficult.

We walked west into Maidenhead’s residential outskirts, following the directions in Chesterton closely. Our first discomfiture came after passing a veterinary surgery on Summerleaze Road. Here, we were told, the road bent left, but this was not what we were supposed to do – and the footpath we were supposed to take, it seemed obvious, headed forward invitingly across a large field. At the end, however, there was no continuation, and a left turn only put us on an unexpected street. I knew it was time to pull out the compass, which confirmed we were heading south, not north.

I lead us back to the end of the field and left the others while I retraced my steps all the way back to the corner with the veterinary surgery. Here I spotted a second route, heading in the same direction as the path we had just taken, but beginning just a few yards to the right. The directions appeared to be straightforward in the guidebook, one can argue in retrospect, but there should have been a warning about the rival, much more obvious footpath that had lead us astray. By this time ten minutes had passed since I had abandoned the others and they, too, now had to retrace their steps. I tried an experimental blast on my whistle and sure enough when I went out to meet them they had begun the task of crossing the field, Bertie flying back to me with zest and energy.

We started forward on the other footpath, which soon swung to the right on a gravelly track. This gave way to other footpaths and a bridge over the Maidenhead Ditch. There were a variety of paths though open fields and I was not always confident we were making the right choices. This was worrying because we were beset by an icy wind from the north and it wasn’t likely that we would want to do any of this again today. I was very glad to reach some cricketers near the Strand Water, which we followed north. Paths lead us over to the Cookham Road at Moor Hall. Here we took a brief detour into the attractive village to buy sweets at a candy store and to mingle briefly with the tourists and their cars. The proprietress of the candy store gave us a dog biscuit for Bertie.

The escape from Cookham was not easy. Chesterton’s directions did not seem easy to follow here, perhaps because the field to be crossed was deep in oilseed rape. We headed too soon in the 350 degree direction and it looked like we would end up at the river. I had noticed another path through the plants going off in a more northwesterly direction, so we walked back a hundred yards to this, crossed the field, and found a stile erected by the East Berkshire Ramblers. This proved to be the right route – adjacent to the sewage works. We followed the edge of the golf course as the linksmen looked curiously at us. Some were wearing plus fours and pulling carts.

We found the right exit from the course, went under a bridge, and followed a track through Cock Marsh. Bertie drank a little of the latter as the rest of us began our only climb of the day –up Winter Hill. Eventually we could see Marlow ahead of us on the other side of the river, even the train whose cousin we would take in an hour. Another Lab came out to greet Bertie near the top of the hill. His home boasted a magnificent hillside choked with bluebells.

For the last section of the walk I took the lead, not wanting to miss the 5:41. We reached Winter Hill farm. At a viewpoint near Dial Close Cottage an ice cream van was parked – its driver disconsolately slumped at the wheel, his little side door shut against the wind. There were no customers.

We began a steep woodland descent through Quarry Woods – once Dorothy needed the support of my pack to keep from stumbling. At the bottom of our path we reached the road to Marlow; it lead us beneath the A404 and there was no pavement for quite a while. Finally we approached Marlow Bridge, where I took a picture of the charming riverside scene. Bertie was slowing down – thirsty, it turned out – looking for water. He had several bowls on the platform while we were waiting ten minutes for the train – after using side streets to reach the end of our walk. Tosh had been tempted to use the time to get some chips at the Jolly Fryer on Station Road – but the service was too slow.

I could have used more rests today. The cold was against this, as usual, but the real problem came from the Lees, who had to rush back to London to check on the whereabouts of their illusive daughter. The ride to Maidenhead took forever. Here we boarded a second train for Paddington, where we arrived at 6:40. We then went into Norfolk Street for takeaway fish and chips before re-boarding the Bakerloo Line. My right foot, with its swollen calcium lump on top, was throbbing. I needed a complete day of rest before being able to walk normally again.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 6: Marlow to West Wycombe