Monday, 17 January 2022

I recommend this exquisite riverside garden for a peaceful stroll

I recommend this exquisite riverside garden for a peaceful stroll

1911 was the year in which Caversham was ceded to the borough of Reading, having formerly been the southernmost outpost and village of the county of Oxford.

The result would have a lasting impact on this ancient settlement’s shape, development and character right up until the present day.

Over a century ago a handsome and elegant old house graced the north side of the River Thames. We know its remains now as Caversham Court and what a great loss it is.

Once the former rectory of St Peter’s Church, the beautiful old house was demolished in the Thirties as Reading Council wanted to create a new road through The Warren and onwards to Goring.

The plan never materialised but Caversham lost a landmark building, although the old house’s footprint and legacy live on.

Today, we have been left with an exquisite and peaceful Thames-side garden full of charm.

The house may be no more but the gardens are open to the public and provide a wonderful place to stroll or sit down and relax whatever the season or time of day.

I have come here to meet my friend Vickie Abel. It is my first visit for months and I’m very happy to return. Vickie chairs the Friends of Caversham Court Gardens and we are going to survey this unique spot.

She leads me through the gardens to admire some of the splendid trees that grow here.

At the entrance, an old black mulberry looks like it is aching with age — it’s perhaps 150 years old and a fine specimen with heart-shaped leaves and, hopefully, fruit to come. Some splendid common lime or linden trees stand tall by the main gate, festooned with mistletoe.

A yew, a native evergreen that seems to live forever, stands sentinel-like before we enter the “long walk”, a tidy line of the same species that forms an old hedge on the elevated ground facing the river. At the end by an historic gazebo we encounter another yew so old that I guess it may be as old as the adjacent St Peter’s Church.

I’m particularly taken with the Wellingtonia, an import from California.

It is huge but still relatively young and a fast-growing example with its fire-resistant, spongy bark. This tree may even outlive the yews.

If you are interested in trees then this compact and intelligently laid-out garden is definitely for you. What I like best is the combination of native and foreign trees growing alongside each other on the Chilterns’ final slope as the chalk meets the water.

Crack willow, ash, rowan, hornbeam and wild service tree share these grounds with gingko, tulip tree, atlas cedar, cedar of Lebanon and many more.

Last Sunday there were many visitors. I hope that they return to re-encounter the local history and enjoy the local wildlife too.

As I take my leave and part company with Vickie, mute swans glide by on the stream and I think back to the old eel bucks that existed downstream and how maybe some of our ancestors worked hard to eke out a living long ago.

There may be few eels left in the Thames today but as I glance into the now clear water of the river a brown trout is lurking by the bank just feet away. I hope this is a good sign.

Caversham Court is a place that I recommend to all.

Vincent Ruane

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