Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Wokingham to The Lookout, Bracknell (Berkshire Way 12)

Wokingham town hall

After a gap of three months, we returned to our project of walking the BBC's Berkshire Way. We are doing the shorter of the two stages prior to the final one to get back into the swing. Today's stage runs from the centre of Wokingham to The Lookout, a country park on the edge of Bracknell - 7.25 miles.

The route initially takes you along Wokingham's main streets: Shute End, Broad Street and Denmark Street. This is a good idea as there is an interesting selection of Georgian and Victorian buildings on view, the highlight of which is the magnificent polychromatic brick Town Hall which dates from 1860. Poulton and Woodman were the architects. Denmark Street has a few older, half-timbered buildings.

Quickly leaving the town behind, a path across fields leads to a lane which brings a wonderful surprise, the superb former Lucas Hospital - that is, almshouses - (now apparently a private house), which dates from 1665. Pevsner describes it as "the best building of Wokingham, without any doubt". The right wing - with the word "Venite" above the door - houses the chapel, while the left wing houses the hall. Venite is the first word of the 95th psalm and of course means "Come".

Lucas Hospital

Leaving Lucas Hospital behind, you follow a very pleasant track parallel to the railway, with lots of birds in the hedgerow and fields on the other side. We spotted a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. The track then goes through the Gorrick Plantation with overhanging dark green pine boughs, reminiscent of a painting by Cezanne.

The next section involves a suburban path, a road through a housing development and a busier road by the back of the Transport Research Laboratory to approach the edge of Crowthorne village. Here you enter woodland again and follow a section of the Devil's Highway, a one time Roman Road which connects London to Silchester (Roman Calleva).

Eventually, you go under a road underpass and enter Swinley Forest. The final couple of miles are along its mainly wide paths between the trees.

This wonderful signpost points the way to the end point at The Lookout.

Map: Explorer 160 (Windsor, Weighbridge and Bracknell).

Rating: three and half stars. Started very well, but the middle section around Crowthorne was a bit boring. Hard to avoid of course in a walk of this type.

Lucas Hospital

The hospital was built with funds bequeathed by one Henry Lucas, a wealthy bachelor for a hospital or almshouse for poor elderly men. The trusteeship of the hospital was taken over by the Drapers Company on the death of Henry Lucas's executors. The Company gained permission from the Charity Commissioners in 1999 to sell the property, which was no longer really suitable for its purpose and merge the Henry Lucas charity with the Whiteley Homes Trust. They have reinvested the money in building the Henry Lucas Cottages in Walton upon Thames. Lucas's coat of arms, which is visible on the front of the hospital, is reproduced on the Cottages.

Swinley Forest

Swinley Forest is an area of Windsor Forest, owned and managed by The Crown Estate, comprising of 2600 acres of mainly Scots Pine woodland. Swinley Park once surrounded Swinley Lodge where the king kept the Royal Staghounds in Georgian times.

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