Saturday, 27 September 2008

Reading Bridge to Ashenbury Park, Woodley (Berkshire Way 10)

Sonning Bridge

We undertook stage 10 of the BBC's Berkshire Way on a misty Saturday morning. The stage runs from Reading Bridge, via Sonning, to Ashenbury Park in the Reading suburb of Woodley, a distance of 5 miles.

You go under Reading Bridge and follow the Berkshire bank of the Thames past Caversham lock, over the point where the Kennet joins the Thames and along meadows behind the Thames Valley business park, wondering if the employees of Oracle come here to enjoy their sandwiches in the middle of a busy day.

After passing Sonning Lock - busy even now, presumably hellish in summer - you leave the Thames path in sight of Sonning's eighteenth century brick bridge and head south-east into the village.

The route first passes the delightful gothic church of St Andrew with its brick walled cemetery, the sixteenth century Bull Inn and the old High Street. A little further on you pass the Robert Palmer cottages - almshouses from 1850, given an exotic feel by the yuccas in the front garden.

Robert Palmer Cottages

The final section is less interesting involving a mile or so on fairly standard suburban roads to reach the car park at Ashenbury Park. Clearly however this is about the best imaginable route from Reading to Woodley.

Rating: three and half stars.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Church of St Andrew, Sonning

According to the curiously impenetrable guidebook available in the church , there is evidence of a Norman building of no later than 1180. It was enlarged around 1350 and a major restoration was unertaken in 1852 by Henry Woodyer. This date can be spotted on the hopper head of one of the downpipes at the chancel end of the church. Robert Palmer, the provider of the almshouses, contributed two thirds of the cost, and was therefore a major influence on the Sonning we see today.

Pevsner says that the visual appearance of the church is Victorian and that the delightful chancel decoration (see below) is by GF Bodley from 1903-06.


We were very surprised to see these black swans:

... but less surprised to see these cormorants. I used to think the cormorant was a bird you saw by the sea, but I have read and seen the evidence that they are nowadays often seen inland by rivers and canals. This is the first time I have seen three together though.

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