Which is the best pub on the Thames Path at Windsor?
Once, arriving in the town from Staines, one might have ended the walk by dropping thankfully into The Donkey House at the end of Romney Walk. It was on the river next to the towpath and within sight of the bridge.
But that pub became The River House and is now The Boatman. Despite the tables on the road it feels like a restaurant.
The alternative is over Windsor Bridge to Eton and first left with the Thames Path into Brocas Street.
Here is The Watermans Arms dating from 1682 and full of history. It’s also full of books and information. It probably wins as the best stop for walkers wanting a quick or long lunch.
The food is good. There are real ales and water is no problem.
It is good to find the pub still there and with the same name at a time when we learn that 7,000 pubs have closed during the past decade.
The towpath between Barnes Bridge and riverside Jubilee Gardens in Mortlake is likely to remain closed until early October.
The work by the Environment Agency , which began last month, involves strengthening flood defences.
The diversion means that walkers approaching Barnes Bridge must go under the road arch. Beyond the bridge there is only a pavement on the left hand side side of the road.
On entering Mortlake it is at present possible to go along the waterfront at the Ye White Hart but there is then an immediate return to the road.
Beyond the pub walk on the right hand side of Mortlake High Street to continue past Tideway Yard (with Rick Stein’s restaurant). Just past Jubilee Gardens (opposite Avondale Road; left) go right down a narrow passage to return to the river.
It is probably too hot walk along the River Thames for a few days.
Hammersmith Bridge is being wrapped in foil to protect the ancient structure and Tuesday’s Doggett’s Coat & Badge scullers’ race from London Bridge to Chelsea is postponed.
Stretches which are like woodland walks in summer, such as Putney to Barnes and Ham House to Kingston, do offer some shade (as does Hartslock Wood beyond Pangbourne) but there are still many open miles.
Dipping into the river for a paddle or swim is not advised. Every ordinary year sees a number of deaths.
If you must go on the Thames Path then treat your walk to the Source like the pilgrimage to Santiago. Much of that is in hot Spain where pilgrims tend to set out in early morning at first light with the day’s walking done by lunchtime.
Poet Percy B Shelley was drowned at sea and cremated on an Italian beach 200 years ago. The anniversary of his death is Friday 8 July.
Shelley was more used to the waters of the River Thames and places associated with him can be found in the upper and lower reaches.
He first lived with his future wife Mary at 2 Nelson Square near Blackfriars Bridge.
A little later they were living on the edge of Windsor Great Park from where in 1815 the couple, with Charles Clairmont and Thomas Love Peacock*, rowed up the Thames.
They got as far as Inglesham intending to join the Thames and Seven Canal but were prevented by the £20 toll. Instead they drifted on past the Round House at the canal entrance towards Inglesham church where the reeds became too thick and the water too shallow to continue.
The party stayed at the New Inn in nearby Lechlade where today Shelley’s Walk runs past the church. The path is named after the poet because he walked along the path before writing his poem A Summer Evening Church-Yard inspired by his view from the east end of the churchyard looking towards the sunset.
Two years later in March 1817 newly married Percy and Mary moved to Marlow.
Albion House in West Street was to be their home for a year although at the time they intended to stay longer having purchased a 21 year lease. But Mary found the house to be damp and lacking direct sunshine.
They sowed seeds brought back from Switzerland where Mary had begun to write Frankenstein. Now pregnant Mary prepared a new handwritten copy for the publisher.
In between there were boat trips up and down the river to nearby Medmenham Abbey, Henley and Maidenhead.
Visitors included Claire Clairmont and her baby Allegra by Byron who was in Venice, Mary’s father William Godwin and Leigh Hunt with his family.
In September Mary gave birth to Clara and finished the couple’s travel narrative A History of a Six Weeks’ Tour which was published under Percy’s name in November. New Year’s Day 1818 saw the publication of Mary’s Frankenstein. By March the family was on its way to Italy. Percy never returned.
***Thomas Love Peacock, who organised the boat trip from Windsor to Lechlade in 1815, wrote The Genius of the Thames poem. He lived in Marlow when the Shelleys were there and later at riverside Peacock House at Shepperton.
***Although Shelley died in a storm late on the night of Monday 8 July his body was not discovered on Viareggio beach until Wednesday 17 July. It was Sunday 4 August, his birthday, when news reached London. His cremation on the beach took place on Thursday 15 August.
LECHLADE: During August this year, as the anniversaries pass, work will be taking place in Lechlade to renew the cobbles on Shelley’s Walk. They date from 1830, just fifteen years after Shelley’s visit, and many of the original setts will be retained in the resurfacing.
It is possible that the work will be completed by the first week in September which is the 206th anniversary of Shelley’s visit.
The rest of the path is known as Church Path or Bridge Walk and runs to The Trout Inn at St John’s Lock. It makes good circular walk if you return to the town along the towpath.
The church is taking the opportunity to reopen as its its main entrance the lovely early 16th-century porch known to Shelley.
Music before the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral included First Suite in E flat for Military Band by Gustav Holst.
This was composed upstream in 1909 at Barnes where the Thames Path passes the house with the blue plaque recording that composer ‘Gustav Holst lived here 1908-1913’. He was also a keen walker.
A new book on Gustav Holst’s wife Isobel gives us a peep inside the family’s riverside home at this time.
Mrs Gustav Holst: An Equal Partner? by Philippa Tudor is packed with fascinating new information after the author’s decade of research.
The cover picture is a painting by Millicent Lisle Woodforde of her friend Isobel sitting at night in a window overlooking the river below a crescent moon. She is in the second floor room where Gustav had a productive time composing free from children who had to remain downstairs.
Flooding at Barnes was more frequent at the beginning of the 20th century and water sometimes entered the house. But the couple’s daughter said that the ‘view of the river compensated for a great deal’. The annual grandstand seat for the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race was prized.
The book reminders us that Gustav and Isobel had already known life in a house by the Thames. Their courting appears to have taken place a little upstream in William Morris’s Hammersmith home, Kelmscott House, on a reach also prone to flooding. Both had belonged to the Hammersmith Socialist Society and attended Sunday night lectures there. On Mondays Gustav was back to conduct the Hammersmith Socialist Choir which included Isobel.
This year is the 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford held at Osney Abbey which stood by the Thames next to today’s Osney Lock.
The gathering at Oxford in 1222 was a special church council for all England with Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, of Magna Carta fame, in the chair.
It has been best remembered for declaring St George’s Day 23 April to be a lesser holiday which eventually led to multi-cultural saint George becoming England’s patron.
However, another decision resulted in Jews being told not to employ or mix with Christians and to wear a special badge. Although these anti-Jewish edicts, originating in Rome, were not immediately enforced it was a seminal moment and the the Church of England is marking the anniversary by making a public repentance in Oxford of this anti-semitism.
There will be a special service at Christ Church cathedral, the successor of nearby Osney, on Sunday 8 May at 2pm. Members of the Oxford Jewish Congregation have been involved in preparations and will be present along with the Bishop of Oxford and the Lord Mayor.
Osney Abbey was an Augustinian monastery founded in 1129 at the prompting of Edith who was regretting having been Henry I’s mistress. Geoffrey Chaucer who knew Osney in the late 1300s mentions the abbey in The Canterbury Tales.
The main river channel was cut by monks to drive their mill.
After the dissolution of the monastery in 1539 all that is left is a 14th-century stone barn with a high roof (just visible from Osney Lock) and a blocked window.
A 20th-century plaque on the stonework mentions Robert of Reading suffering for his Jewish faith earlier in 1222.
Runnymede claims the bells
There is a reminder on the Thames Path of Osney Abbey long before you reach Oxford. The riverside Bells of Ouzeley pub is on the towpath at Runnymede.
The name is a corruption of Osney due to the claim that Osney Abbey’s bells are here in the river having been brought downstream in 1538 by monks trying to save them from Henry VIII who was about to close the monastery.
Their rafts allegedly ran aground leaving the bells to be sucked into the muddy riverbed and lost for ever.
However, the Great Tom bell heard every evening at Christ Church Oxford is said to be a bell which remained hanging in Osney’s tower when Henry VIII briefly turned the closed abbey into Oxford’s first cathedral. Two other Christ Church bells dated 1410 are thought to be part of a bells transfer from Osney to Christ Church found in a record dated 1546.
The Runnymede inn’s name was at first spelt Ouseley without the z which more reflects the original Oxford spelling Oseney.
The inn existed at least in the 18th century and was painted by Thomas Rowlandson in about 1800. Today’s building dates from 1929 when the main road was moved from behind the pub and laid alongside the towpath.
North Meadow alongside the Thames Path at Cricklade has the largest number of the rare Snakeshead fritillary.
Now is suddenly peak time for seeing the flowering.
Most of the fritillaries are purple although in the last fifty years there has been an increase in the number of white flowers.
Within living memory the flowers were picked for local use or sent to Covent Garden but now picking is forbidden and visitors must keep to the footpaths.
The riverside path tends to have dandelions along its side but the fritillaries are close by. In the distance there is a feeling that the floodplain is ploughed but this is an illusion created by the dark purple flowers.
This weekend there is a temporary tea shop for visitors in Thames Hall by Cricklade Bridge.
Stacey’s cafe in the High Street has just closed due to retirement but nearby C & R Family Grocers is open weekdays and Saturday morning with a cafe. A £6 breakfast is served from 8am.