Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A tranquil walk by the river

IF the river banks at Henley are too crowded, try South Stoke instead. Head for Goring but do not turn left over the railway, keep straight through Cleeve and turn left down to South Stoke, where the Ridgeway and Swan’s Way meet and many circular walks can be devised.

Ferry Lane leads to the river, a map of all the paths, and a wonderful meadow of seedheads — teasel, willow herb, Michaelmas daisy, burdock and many more, providing food for a charm of goldfinch.

Continuing along the bank, past a pair of grebe giving each other meaningful looks, to Little Stoke. Turn right past Ferry Cottage and right again to follow field paths — larks singing here — and under the railway back to Little Stoke, passing a tangle of willows and scrub which conceals the remains of medieval fish ponds.

These were established for the monks of Christ Church College for their Lenten repasts, hence College Farm at the junction of Ferry Lane. The fish must have been taken to Oxford by river.

The village itself has delightful examples of vernacular architecture from the 12th to 20th centuries and signboards showing how to get to the recreation ground where there are outdoor tables to enjoy refreshments from the friendly community shop (quiche on Wednesdays).

The Perch and Pike pub/restaurant shows the importance of the river to the rural economy and both the Leatherne Bottel and the Beetle and Wedge cater for passing boats. vThe wedge refers to woodworking, another local industry using the surrounding beeches. The beetle is a wooden mallet to bang in the wedge and thus split the logs.

Clumps of snowdrops line the woods over the Chilterns, not just to Goring but in every direction. They are especially luxuriant around the old ponds that served the brickmaking at Nettlebed.

Take any of the tracks, such as Chapel Lane, into the woods behind the village, or drive up to Turville and Northend where snowdrops carpet the sides of the road.

One celandine was open by the Hambleden road last week and one at Highmoor, along with a few primroses on the sunny verge.

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