Sunday, 8 February 2009

Ashenbury Park, Woodley to Wokingham (Berkshire Way 11 )

One of many flooded gravel pits

We return to the BBC's Berkshire Way for our penultimate stage: 8 miles from Ashenbury Park in Woodley, on the edge of Reading, to Wokingham. Odd - quite arduous - walking conditions: snow, ice, freezing puddles, occasional patches of mud. But at least it's not raining or snowing, and in fact the sky is blue.

You walk through the park and then along a lane to cross a stream and after a short stretch of road, join a snowy path alongside the River Loddon.

In due course this passes Sandford Mill. Pevsner refers to the "pretty" mill complex, but unusually gives no detailed historical information.

You next pass through the Dinton Pastures country park and emerge again on the banks of the Loddon. We saw a black swan on a nearby lake and thought it worthy of note. Then we saw a sign to "Black Swan Lake" and concluded that perhaps it was to be expected.

The sun was out by now and the Loddon looked surprisingly picturesque as we approached Winnersh Triangle.

Continuing along the bank of the Loddon, the route passed Sindlesham Mill, where the mill itself has been absorbed into a hotel, and on to Sindlesham village.

We walked up the road towards Barkham and past the gatehouse of Bearwood, once a great Victorian mansion, but for many years now a school. The house was designed in 1864 by Robert Kerr for John Walter, the owner of The Times. The estate at that time was 7,500 acres and included Finchampstead, Barkham and Sindlesham.

Opposite the gatehouse, we were struck by these splendid estate cottages with their diaper brickwork, elaborate chimneys and ornate porches. The bricks to build theses houses and Bearwood itself were dug and made on the estate.

A lane, then a field and then a small patch of woodland and a residential street lead to the A329 and a mile or so further to Wokingham. Approaching the town, you first see the lavish church of St Paul, which dates from 1862-64. It was designed by Henry Woodyer and paid for by John Walter.

Finally, as you enter the central part of the town you pass this Victorian school with its splendid tower and cupola.

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

Rating: three stars. Too much road. Difficult to avoid of course in this part of the county.

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