Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling



The river from Pangbourne follows a gentle curve across open fields to Mapledurham Lock, with Mappledurham Hall visible on the opposite bank.

Mapledurham House is one of several places that are considered to be the model for “Toad Hall”. Although close to the river it is in fact very isolated, with only a single road leading to the village.

The name “Mapledurham” is derived from “Maple tree enclosure” and is mentioned as two manors in the Domesday Book, Mapledurham Gurney and Mapledurham Chazey.

The house has been in the ownership of the descendants of the same family since Richard Blount purchased the estate in 1490. There was a slight interruption when the house was besieged and sacked by the Roundheads in 1643 and consequently sequestered by Parliament. The estate was returned to Walter Blount in 1651.

The estate has its own mill, unsurprisingly known as Mapledurham Mill. It is the only mill still working on the Thames and producing high-grade flour. There has been a mill here since before the Domesday Book, and the current structure dates from the 15th century. There have been many alterations and extensions since then to bring it to its current state.

Here is another one for the “not a lot of people know that” file. The mill was used for the cover of the eponymous album “Black Sabbath”. Quite how the peaceful pastoral scene in front of me relates to a manic Ozzy Osbourne in full flow is hard to imagine.

The lock itself is in a wonderful setting and is a popular visitor destination. It holds the distinction of being the first power operated lock on the Thames, having electro-mechanical gear installed in 1955. A notice on the lock tells me that there are 78 miles to go to London, but does not detail exactly which bit of London.

The pathway takes another of its diversions from here, and I follow the footpath across the fields to Purley. It is another of those diversions caused by the awkwardness of a previous landowner. The towpath from Mapledurham Lock crosses over to the Oxfordshire bank for a mere half mile before crossing back again at Tilehurst. In the days of horse-drawn barges this would have led to a long delay as animals were ferried across and back again. My own inconvenience is relatively short for after a few minutes walking along the road a flight of steps by the boarded-up Roebuck public house takes me back down to the river.

I have reached a significant point on my journey. According to the various guides this is the exact halfway point. Ninety two miles completed; ninety two miles still to go.

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