Attempt to open Purley path

Today’s public inquiry in Purley-on-Thames may result in the present ridiculous route around the village being dropped in favour of the original recommendation.

Because of a dispute with the owner of an orchard next to Purley Church in the 1780s the towpath was put on the opposite bank for 3/4 mile. This involved maintaining two ferries. The failure of the commissioners to carry through a threat of compulsory purchase 230 years ago has led to today’s inquiry.

The Thames Path cannot be placed by the water on the ‘south’ bank due to the railway. Whilst one must obviously cross the line and briefly join the main road there is no need for the present very long road detour.

I can recall working on the ‘Thames Walk’ proposals in the early 1980s when a shorter route using an existing tunnel under the railway to return to the river was suggested. Indeed Berkshire County Council made early provision for part of this stretch of path by including it in a planning agreement.

Unfortunately the developer of the properties in what is now called Hazel Road never implemented the conditions of the planning consent. Now three Hazel Road residents are against creating the path which should already have been on the ground. 

A stretch in Purley Park, although not accessible, has been agreed with the landowner.

Nigel Hiscock for Natural England said: “This is the proposed route agreed 20 years ago by the Secretary of State and therefore we are actively looking to complete the route to the agreed plans.

“The current temporary route covers a lot of residential roads and does not take in enough of the scenery and points of interest of the Thames.

“However the new route through Skerritt Woods and up behind the homes in Hazel Road does meet more of our standards and would be more suitable for a national path.”

There have been 72 objections from villagers including one from Thames Valley Police claming routing the Thames Path behind Hazel Road “would increase the risk of criminal activity in the area”.

West Berkshire councillor and rambler Tony Vickers said: “I think it’s clear that the path will benefit both walkers and residents, given the choice between a shortcut or the long way round, I think almost everyone would pick a short cut. I think you have to weigh up the security issues up against whether it is convenient and needed, and I think the advantages far outweigh the objections.”

Jayne Kylie of West Berkshire Ramblers, said: “I’m fully behind the council, it will open up a whole new walk for the public and in my opinion the land behind the houses in Hazel Road has always been accessible if someone really wanted to get in behind there.”

See page 130.

Row over Wallingford swing bridge

Good to hear that the intervention of the Open Spaces Society has persuaded South Oxfordshire District Council to withdraw an order to divert the Thames Path at Wallingford. 

The row involves a swing bridge being installed on the line of the path at the marina to the south of the town which has been taken over by Oxford University Boat Club. 

OSS Oxfordshire representative Chris Hall says: “We have had assurances from club officials that the opening of the bridge would be very infrequent. But this is not good enough. The society is concerned about the long-term future of the path. What happens if the club’s premises change hands and a commercial marina takes over with more frequent use of the bridge?

“The society has suggested to the club that the order to divert the path onto the swing bridge should contain binding conditions that will remain in force under any future ownership of the land. These conditions would limit the times and lengths of opening the bridge (ie obstruction of the path) and guarantee an alternative route for walkers through the club’s premises. Unfortunately the club has not followed up this proposal.”

There has long been a launch dock here. Let’s hope talks between the parties and the council result in the path remaining by the water. These battles are important.

See page 144

Blessing the Thames

Sunday was a wonderful sunny day in London which made the annual blessing the river such a enjoyable occasion.

By tradition the clergy and congregations of Southwark Cathedral and the City’s St Magnus the Martyr met in the middle of London Bridge with the Bishop of Woolwich presiding.

It is always a surprise, although it should not be, to hear the prayers for those who have died in the river during the past year. We prayed also for those who work on the river including the lifeboat crews. 

This year was special as it was the first event on London Bridge during its 800th anniversary year. A London Bridge Fair and Sheep Drive is planned for Saturday 28 March. 

See pages 30-31.