Monday, 27 September 2021

Bridge over peaceful water

WE have taken the delightful riverside path from Wallingford Bridge to Benson Lock and the delicious café just beyond.

Now cross under the arch of the bridge and walk downstream in the fields of lush grazing dotted with peaceful Aberdeen Angus and Friesian cross heifers, sidestepping their sloppy droppings.

Admire the variety of houses and gardens on the far bank until, three fields on, the path turns away from the reed- and flag-lined bank up to farm buildings, joining the path coming from the bridge just before the traffic lights, which you should use if you have a dog or don’t like cattle.

Turning right out of the farmyard on to the lane, pass the sign to Newnham Farm and Cottage and search behind the dense cypresses to discover an ancient flint church, still consecrated but little used, as it has no electricity or heating, just a peaceful spiritual atmosphere and a flower-filled churchyard.

Continue on the elder- and dogrose-lined lane towards the roar of traffic, there will be spindle berries here in autumn. It is tempting to follow the Ridgeway under the bypass and on beside the river, but for a shorter walk, fork right and over the bridge, seeking distraction from the rush of cars in the cranesbill, milk thistle, oxeye daisy, poppies and mallow on the verge, as a pen glides upstream with two cygnets — where is her cob for protection?

Teasel and alder line the bank towards Wallingford, a moorhen in the reeds, a painted lady on the meadow, but only two swallows swooping over the river. Streams flow into the Thames on this bank and the flood risk is indicated by a Thames Conservancy house raised on piles two metres high; the huge university boathouse has floating landing stages.

As the path veers from the river, turn right after the Salthouse, under a narrow archway and into the churchyard, crossing the stream which flowed along the town wall.

Thames Street gives no view of the river but the wall beside the footpath is an intriguing mixture of bricks of all ages, flint, re-used stone and clunch, a soft limestone of the Cretaceous age. The houses opposite are equally diverse and before we rejoin the bridge we pass the spire of St Peter’s church, also redundant but occasionally open for concerts.

A brisk walk of an hour but allow longer for contemplation. At last there are house martins nesting in the eaves of boat houses by Wargrave and swifts swooping over the river in Henley to complement the rare swallows.

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