The sun shining again and the forecast hot so we set off from Henley Park across the deer park and were soon approaching Henley on Thames. We opted to walk through Phyllis Court Club where a croquet match was in full flow – a very English spectacle with all players dressed in white playing on perfecty maintained lawns against the backdrop of the river.
The walk takes us through the town along the riverside, passing the classical Henley bridge with the Regatta headquarters and Leander club on one side of the river and the Angel on the Bridge www.theangelhenley.com on the other. The pub is always busy – being one of the few places right on the riverside and today is no exception.
We pass Hobbs boatyard offering boats for hire and they too are busy as it comes towards the end of the season, making the most of the good weather and river conditions. On towards Marsh Lock we pass the River and Rowing Museum www.rrm.co.uk and then Rod Eyot with houses only accessible by boat. It looks like a romantic dream when the river is like this but in the winter floods it is a different story. A notice board has been put up at Marsh lock to tell you about the fish to be found in the Thames and about the fish ladders that have been installed at the weirs to help the fish journey upriver to spawn.
The path now opens out on to water meadows alive with with flowers that thrive in marshland and wends its way beside the river towards Shiplake. We pass over a small bridge and alongside a garden with a miniature railway, past other large riverside homes and over the level railway crossing to Lower Shiplake. We are soon at Shiplake lock where there are permanent tents used in summer by their owners, some still in use as the season draws to an end. We cross fields of livestock and pass beside the Shiplake college boat houses with a glimpse of the college and church high up on the hill. The path narrows and follows the river closely with open views to our right looking over towards Binfield Heath.
We are coming towards Sonning on Thames a very picturesque village but, as it is one of the few river crossings for vehicles, the bridge is always busy with a steady stream of traffic. There are a number of luxury hotels and restaurants here but we are heading for the tranquil lock keepers garden. This little oasis serves sandwiches and homemade cakes to passers by with tables and chairs under the apple trees. There is some indoor space if the weather makes it neccessary to shelter but it really comes in to its own on a day like today. You feel as though you are miles from anywhere with not a care in the world.
A heron watches from the weir and a light breeze offers respite from the powerful sun. Beside the lock is a small wrought iron gate erected as a memorial to a teacher from Reading Bluecoat school whose grounds lie behind the gate. There is a path nearby that leads to St Andrews Church and the village without going near the busy traffic on the bridge.
The path downstream of Sonning has been upgraded to a level and pleasant path and the lock keeper has ramps that can be connected to the lock gates to make wheelchair access possible which is not the case on all locks and I plan to write to the environment agency making a suggestion that other locks follow suit.
Today we are fortunate enough to be offered a boat ride home on a Drascombe Lugger but the alternative is to use the regular boat service provided by Salter Brothers that conveys passengers from Reading to Henley on Thames http://www.slaterssteamers.co.uk