Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Cholsey to Goring

After Wallingford the Thames enters another of its lonely stages. Crossing meadows and passing through the Cholsey Marsh Nature Reserve (very aptly named, the rain was turning the path into a quagmire). The Chiltern Hills now make up the skyline across the river, gradually approaching the river until they come together a few miles further downstream at Goring.

To reach Goring I have to take a diversion through the village of Moulsford. The footpath leaves the river by a splendid example of one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s fine brickwork railway bridges, and I gratefully squelch my way out of the marshy towpath and up to a well maintained path around Moulsford School and into the village.

You may have gathered by now that I do like to have the odd pint in the occasional hostelry. During my time I have spent more time than I probably should have within such establishments. However many I visit, I always find something different. So it is with a spring in my step that I turn down the lane leading me back down to the river, for at the foot of the lane is something I know will be different. What would this next establishment hold for me?

How many sherberts do you have to have before you decide to call a pub “The Beetle and Wedge”? I have a mental image of the sign being a black insect crawling across a huge piece of cheddar but this is miles off the truth. The name derives from an old timber wharf that used to stand here. The “beetle” is the heavy mallet used to drive the “wedge” into logs, causing them to split so that they can be floated downstream.

H.G.Wells wrote “History of Mr Polly” while staying here, and the inn featured under the pseudonym of “The Potwell Inn”. Inevitably the inn is included by the ubiquitous Jerome in his classic tale as well.

It is worth mentioning at this point that while the surrounding views are changing as the Chilterns draw ever closer on the opposite bank, so the literature of the river is also changing. George, Harris, J (not forgetting Montmorency the dog) and their boat have been with me since Oxford and will remain with me all the way to Kingston, but Alice Liddel and her Wonderland adventures have been left well behind and I am stepping towards the idyllic homelands of Ratty and Mole.

The towpath is also changing. Since Cricklade there have been very few sections that benefited from the shelter of trees, and even these have been rather short (the sections that is, not the trees which have been normal tree-height). From hereon the tree cover will be much more frequent, making up the majority of the towpath’s immediate vicinity until it too, in its turn, becomes replaced by the brick, stone and concrete of the capital city.

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