Henley towpath unexpectedly blocked during festival

“The Henley Festival appears to have blocked the Thames towpath, a popular national trail, without lawful authority” declares the Open Spaces Society’s local activist David Parry who visited the site yesterday and today (3 and 4 July).

“The festival has consent to close the path during the performances, starting at 5.45 pm on Wednesday 5 July. It does not have consent to close the path before that” says David speaking from the OSS nearby office in Henley.

“Indeed, earlier this year, it did apply to close the route for an unprecedented seven days but it withdrew that application after receiving a barrage of objections. Now, it has pigheadedly decided to close the path anyway, and is trying to get away with it.”

“There is a wire fence across the route and walkers are required to deviate from the river and around the back of the festival enclosures” David explains.

“This is unpleasant and annoying for the many walkers of this prestigious, long-distance path, which is especially enjoyed by those with disabilities because it is flat and smooth.”

The OSS has called on Wokingham District Council, the highway authority, to investigate the matter and to require the festival to reopen the route until the official closure starts at 5.45 pm on Wednesday.


Thames gardens’ open days

Several riverside gardens on or near the Thames Path are open this summer as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

Sutton Courtenay Manor, a former grange of Abingdon Abbey and once home of Observer editor David Astor, opens its garden above the water meadows on Sunday afternoon 25 June. A new garden in the grounds of 17th-century Radcot House, just north of Radcot Bridge, will be open afternoons over 2-3 September weekend.

Ewen Manor, the last big residence before the Thames source, is open 11am-4pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until 29 June.

The garden openings are listed in the 2006 edition of The Yellow Book (£7.99) and on


Grandpont House and Opus Dei

Leigh Hatts writes: In writing a paragraph about Oxford’s riverside Grandpont House I tried to concentrate on history rather than now. But maybe I subbed too much by just saying of today “it remains a residence”.

Since 1959 it has been the residence for male members of the now well-known Opus Dei. Indeed the house was visited by the Opus Dei founder St Josemaría Escrivá in August 1958.

This is just another chapter in the fascinating history of the house which has part of the Thames flowing underneath. It is also a candidate for the site of the town’s ox-ford although in the book I suggest upstream Binsey Ford could be the original.


Worrall Thompson to sell Shiplake cottages

Antony Worrall Thompson is leaving historic Rivermead Cottages in Shiplake near Henley.

The celebrity chef has put the early 19th-century long building in Mill Lane up for sale and is moving to a larger property nearby. The row of cottages, built for workers at Shiplake Mill, was purchased by his grandfather and gradually turned into a single home during the last century. Antony grew up there and recently has been growing fruit and vegetables and raising pigs in the waterside garden which is known to flood.

At Shiplake Mill neither the towpath nor the Thames Path run through gardens. Instead the national trail follows fields between the main village street and the mill.


Young’s Wandsworth brewery to close

Young’s is to close its Wandworth brewery near the confluence of the River Thames and River Wandle next autumn.

There has been a brewery on the site alongside the River Wandle since 1581. Once coal and malt arrived by barge from London’s docks and was unloaded in the Wandle mouth.

Until recently the Thames Path followed the Wandle to Young’s own Crane pub opposite the brewery.

The brewing operations are being merged with with Charles Wells more modern brewery at Bedford.

Deliveries around Wandworth are undertaken by Young’s own dray horses who also pull the Lord Mayor of London’s coach. The future of the horses has yet to be decided.


Queen to celebrate birthday at riverside palace

Prince Charles is organising a family dinner for The Queen at Kew Palace to mark her 80th birthday.

The celebration is on her actual anniversary Friday 21 April and afterwards Her Majesty and Prince Philip are expected to travel upstream to Windsor for the weekend.

The small Royal residence has been closed for a decade to allow for a careful restoration costing £6.6m. The interior of the riverside house is now looking much as it did when George III and Queen Charlotte lived there in the 18th century.

Items still retained include a glass bottle which contained rose-coloured mineral water from Spa in Belgium and enjoyed by an ailing George III.

The restored back garden, seen from the now raised Thames Path, was subject to flooding during King George’s time.

Queen Victoria’s parents were married in Kew Palace and in 1898 she opened it to visitors. The public will again be able to visit from Thursday 27 April; admission £5 (conc £4) in addition to the Kew Gardens admission charge of £11.75 (conc £8.75).


Thames Path remains open during Henley Festival

The Henley Festival has backed down from its plan to ask the Secretary of State for Transport to close part of the Thames Path for seven days in July this year.

The Festival has capitulated in the face of significant opposition from the Henley-based national pressure-group, the Open Spaces Society and other objectors.

Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: “The festival wanted to close part of this popular path, for most of the daylight hours and into the night, from Monday 3 July to Sunday 9 July—seven days, at great inconvenience to the public.

“Now it has recognised the error of its ways and has decided instead to close the path for the same period as last year, which is much more limited and covers only five days, mostly in the evenings and after dark.

“It just goes to show that the dramatic increase in closure hours was unnecessary and that the festival can proceed perfectly well with the path remaining open.

“Of course, if the Festival’s organisers had bothered to consult our Society and local people before going ahead with those plans, it would have saved the Festival considerable embarrassment over this volte-face.”

The towpath always remains open during the more prestigious week long Henley Royal Regatta held at the end of June and now in its 167th year.

Kate concludes: “We are delighted that the Festival’s organisers have backed down, and that the festival will not be held at the expense of the walking public.”