Walks around Whitchurch
Click on the map for an enlarged view.
This map, and the extract below, are both taken from the Booklet “A Guide to the Walks around Whitchurch-on-Thames” , by Eric Hartley, published by The Whitchurch Society. Each of the twelve walks above is described in detail, together with interesting local information. All proceeds go to the Whitchurch Society.
" A Guide to the Walks around Whitchurch on Thames" is available from:
The Greyhound and The Ferryboat pubs in Whitchurch, The Sun pub at Hill Bottom or Frank at the barber's shop in Pangbourne, price £2.50
By post from Peter Smith (0118 984 3340, firstname.lastname@example.org) or from Eric Hartley (0118 984 2612, email@example.com), price £3.50 including post and packing (cheques payable to The Whitchurch Society)
The walks in this guide all begin and end in Whitchurch-on-Thames and cover some of the most beautiful countryside in England. They are described by Eric Hartley who has chosen them to give walkers the fullest opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of the area. The previous eleven numbered walks, all shorter than seven miles, now have a description of four additional paths (under the heading of ‘permissive paths’) which allow variations on many of the walks. An introductory walk within the village of Whitchurch-on-Thames is also included.
Eric Hartley had lived in the village for sixteen years when the first edition of the walks was published in 1980. The walks developed from his offer to report to the Chairman of the Parish Council on the condition of the footpaths in the parish, a role he then performed as a member of the Parish Council. The Guide has been revised five times and the sixth edition (2011) has minimal changes (mainly identifying kissing gates which replace older stiles) but for anyone new to the village the information is up to date and even mentions our now infamous slippery slope on the Thames Path.
This is an ideal gift at any time and even if you don't walk far, it is useful to have a copy on your bookshelf for your visitors to read and hopefully use.
Introductory Walk - The Village
This short walk will serve as an introduction to the village and give some idea of the shape and nature of our local landscape.
Take the Manor Road/High Street junction as a central and convenient starting point and walk down the High Street towards the river. Look at the lovely cottages and houses and try to visualise the row of elms which dominated this street in yesteryear.
On your left, just before the Greyhound, is the area where the smithy, the fire station and the lock-up once stood. Turn right at the end of the walled garden and into the entrance signed ‘Private Drive to Walliscote House, Walliscote Lodge, Walled Garden Retreat, Walled Garden House’ and ’To the Church’ and ‘Thames Path’. Stroll gently down this short but pleasant avenue to the Church. Note the new Rectory on your left. The Church is splendidly situated at the centre of the old village by the river and has a history worthy of investigation.
A path (marked ‘Thames Path’) leads left across the churchyard and carries on down a narrow walled alleyway to the side of the Mill Pond. This is a most attractive and historic area, the Mill is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Nonetheless it is a private area, we only have a right of way to and from the Church. Just before you rejoin the main road by turning left at the Mill Pond you will see the landing steps on your right, now fenced, and as you reach the road, the slipway on your right. These are both for the use of the villagers. Turn right onto the Toll Bridge (always a point of interest and debate) with its new, modern, swipe card operated barriers. Today there is no charge to walk over the Bridge but until decimalisation of the currency it used to cost us a halfpenny for each journey across the bridge on foot. Stop on the bridge and look upstream to the lock, look downstream to the distant hills described in the walks, and then look back to the village and one of the most pleasing and photographed views of the Mill Pond. This area would have been used as the Mill Wharf and so imagine the bustling scene of yesteryear as barges loaded and unloaded items such as corn from the mill and wood from the nearby timber yards and woodland.
Walk back to Whitchurch and cross to the pavement on the right hand side. As you pass Thames Bank, the white house on your right, you may like to note that some of the preparations for “D-Day” were carried out here and it is rumoured that Eisenhower was resident for a while. Note the stump of what was a magnificent Wellingtonia - struck by lightning this year. The Americans also ‘occupied’ other parts of the village during this time. There is a brief view of the old Rectory on your left and you reach the Ferryboat Inn with its sign depicting an older method of crossing the Thames to Pangbourne. Carry on round the corner, again try to visualise the 19 elms which extended up the left hand side of the High Street (and to which drunks were chained). Turn right into Eastfield Lane which starts at the side of the Greyhound.
This area is part of the flood plain and you will soon see a number of newly constructed houses on your right which have special foundations for their location. Under your feet at this point is a culvert where a land drainage scheme secretly flows through the village. There is a suggestion that the culvert might have been part of the defensive ditch for the riverside village.
What was once the village bowling green is now the site of two houses and as you walk along the lane you will see the infilling and the modernisation of the cottages which has taken place. The lane is still a mixture of fields and houses with the river Thames just one field away on your right. As you reach the end of the present developed area and enter the ‘green belt’ there is the lovely setting of the cricket field and the excellent view to the hillside and what was a magnificent backcloth of beech trees until the storms of 1989 and 1990. We lost more trees in 2007.
Carry on to the Primary School, the second one to be built in the village; the first was sold when there were insufficient children in the village and history nearly repeated itself in the 1990s. Turn left up the allotment footpath and walk gently up towards Hardwick Road, the distant views are excellent. This is a favourite area of mine since I frequently met badgers late at night when I walked my dogs. You pass by the village allotments, now again actively cultivated, and then reach the area of the Village Maze. Go into the field on your right and find your way around the maze and then, if the sun is not obscured, check the time by using the sundial in the middle; stand on the appropriate month and use yourself as the gnomon. Return to the footpath to reach Hardwick Road; the hedges at the top and the bank opposite the end of the path are used by glow-worms in the late summer.
Turn left onto Hardwick Road, past another two ‘new’ houses with their super view of the cricket field. On the opposite side the Hillside development stands on the site of an old Victorian house. Walk up the road in front of these houses, at the left hand end the footpath continues along in front of the next houses and along to drop down near the main road. Immediately opposite is a set of steps, go up and follow the footpath which runs in front of the old School House and School and the lovely line of cottages tucked into the side of the hill. This is almost certainly the original village road. The path emerges onto Hardwick Road with another new development opposite and drops gently down to the High Street. The shop opposite, now an art gallery, was once the village store and Post Office, the cottages which form the lovely row on your right were originally owned by Simond’s brewery and had the cobbler’s shop on the right hand end and a public house (the Royal Oak) on the left.
Cross over the road with care and walk down the High Street, White Hart Cottage on your right was yet another public house (The White Hart!). I believe the cottages on your left form the oldest part of the village. As you return to your starting point you can reflect that the major houses in the village, together with others in the immediate area, and the local farms provided the main source of employment for the villagers of the past.
Whitchurch-on-Thames is a lovely village, beautifully situated. If you have been fortunate enough to do this walk in the spring the High Street is a picture of blossom and the woods a mantle of light green; but you will be even more fortunate in the autumn, for then the colouring and the tints of the trees are magnificent.
N.B. The Thames Path (the long distance footpath, which follows the river from the Thames Barrier for 175 miles to its source near Lechlade) passes through the village. Just as you did it crosses the Toll Bridge and then past Church Cottages, the Mill and across the churchyard past the Church before returning to the High Street and up to the narrows and onto the bridle path to Goring (Walk 3 to Hartslock Wood).
With thanks to Eric Hartley and The Whitchurch Society for permission to publish these extracts.
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