Friday, 21 January 2022

Reeds and rodents by the river

FROM Shiplake Lock back to Henley you may take the well-marked Thames Path.

FROM Shiplake Lock back to Henley you may take the well-marked Thames Path.

More interestingly, you can follow the remnants of the towing path which now passes down to the river after the first three houses, by the side of No 1 Rivermead, through a nail-studded oak door and along the garden fence.

Here a series of yellow arrows and quirky gates, with more or less hostile notices, guides you along the bank until you reach the railway bridge where a bench marked “Six miles Reading, Henley four miles” invites a rest.

The bank has been expertly cleared and gives views of the elegant properties and gardens on the opposite bank.

The peace is broken by the cackling of half a dozen greylag geese flying upstream, calling up companions from the flock grazing in the field, making a fly-past, circling and descending to join a group numbering about 200 by dusk.

The bitter sweet scent of Himalayan balsam pervades as the sky darkens and the swallows, which were chatting to each other as they circled above while searching for supper, come down to roost in the reeds, their calls subsiding into an intermittent twitter.

At Lashbrook, opposite the sailing club, there is a plaque giving the history of the ferry; the old ferry house is now hardly recognizable as a luxury mansion. Like all the other houses hereabouts, it is raised off the ground.

This path is walkable now but often boggy as it passes up the side of the Lashbrook, full of purple loosestrife and a rich variety of reeds.

Pass under the railway bridge again (duck!), along an arm of the brook and by the old weatherboard chapel, a remnant of Shiplake’s non-conformist past, to emerge opposite New Road back on to the official Thames Path.

At Marsh Lock a pair of swans preens assiduously on a branch beneath the horsebridge and a drift of white feathers floats down towards the weir.

The black-headed gulls are, like the ducks, in eclipse and only have a dot behind the eye.

On a less happy note, a rat crosses the path between the bowling club and the old putting green in broad daylight — another beneficiary of our waste and carelessness.

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