The red brickwork of Clifton Hampden Bridge spans the river to form a majestic foreground. To my left the rooftops of the village peek through the wooded hillside, and pointing into the sky above the rooftops the spire of St Michael and All Angels puts the final touch to this delightful view.
How amazing it is that we have this wondrous scene. Well, no, as it happens. All that I can see before me was designed to give exactly the uplifting effect that it has achieved.
The designer was Sir Gilbert Scott (1811 to 1878) who is probably better known for designing the Albert Memorial that takes pride of place in Kensington Gardens. Scott was commissioned by the local Lord of the Manor, Henry Hucks Gibbs, (Lord Aldenham), to design the main features of the village that form the marvellous view before me. He designed not only the bridge, but also the Manor House and the renovation of the church. St Michaels and All Angels was originally constructed in the 13th century, but Scott completely redesigned and rebuilt it. He allegedly modelled the bridge on a medieval bridge that can be found to the south of Nantes in France.
Barley Mow, Clifton Hamden
Next to the bridge stands the Barley Mow, one of the best-known public houses along the river. Jerome K Jerome wrote of the Barley Mow “without exception the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river (standing) on the right of the bridge, quite away from the village. Its low-pitched gables and thatched roof and latticed windows give it quite a story-book appearance, while inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timeyfied…”
Unfortunately, at the date I was at Clifton Hampden the inn was closed for refurbishment, and I crossed back over the bridge to the small village post office in search of refreshment. There has been much hoo-hah over the closure of rural post offices in recent years, so finding one here was something of an accomplishment in itself. However, a step inside the door quickly reveals why it is still here. This is not a normal tiny post office; it is a tardis. Every nook and cranny was filled with provisions for both villagers and this weary walker. Chiller units held refreshing drinks and a wide choice of snacks. The postmaster could hardly move behind his tiny counter. Several shoppers came in while I pondered my choice of lunch, including a couple of builders who purchased a typical builders-fayre lunch, pork pies, apple pies, Mars bars and a 2 litre bottle of Diet Coke. Why do they always do that? The message of sensible eating must be getting through to them but only in a stuttering manner. “All this fat and sugar can’t be good for us”, they must think, “We must balance it up with a diet Coke and then we will be fine”.
Clifton Hamden Post Office
I pay for my sandwiches and full-calorie Tango and step back out into the rain. The builders are sitting in their van, munching their dietary dynamite in the snug, dry environment of their white Transit, while I trudge along looking for a sheltering tree under which I can partake of my recently acquired nourishment.
In my humble opinion the Thames below Clifton Hampden is one of the most beautiful stretches on the river. The far bank is covered with trees, with a few Very Nice Houses poking through the gaps. In late autumn the opposite bank becomes a changing canvas of browns, yellows and reds as Mother Nature makes preparations for her winter shutdown. At this time of year photographers abound along the pathway, all trying for the ultimate autumn scene, with trees and river combining to give unlimited permutations of colours and reflections.
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