Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Eton

There have been several periods in my life where I have found myself involved in fundraising for building new facilities for local schools. These have included swimming pools, computer facilities and a modern art facility. Inevitably this involves organises car-boot sales, Merry Christmas raffles and family BBQs, with each one adding a further few quid to the coffers and eventually the target is reached. It is always a grind, often seeming so much work to gain every little step closer to the objective. So just imagine your reaction if someone stood up at your next PTA meeting and says that it is about time that your school had its own International Sports Arena to hold World Championships and a future Olympic Games.

It is probably a lot easier if the school happens to be Eton College, but even then it is still a remarkable achievement. The 2000m rowing course has its own modern designed boathouse and was the host for the 2006 World Rowing Championships. The next major event will be the 2012 Olympic Games. It is certainly a huge piece of “one-upmanship” on all of the other rowing clubs I have passed so far.

I am now approaching Windsor and people are starting to appear along the pathway and in the fields. I do not know it yet, but I have just completed all of the lonely stretches. From now on there will be people around most of the time.

Windsor Racecourse
Windsor Racecourse

The bank opposite Windsor Racecourse is known as “Athens”. This was a favourite bathing spot for the boys of Eton College. The school rules demanded that “boys who were undressed must either immediately get into the water or get behind screens when boats containing ladies come in sight”. These days it would probably become a major attraction for ladies.

Windsor Castle is standing proudly on its hill, and after one more meadow I arrive at the narrow streets of Eton. After two turns in the road I am at Windsor Bridge, looking straight across the river at the largest inhabited castle in the world.

There has been a bridge here for over 800 years. The present bridge has been standing since 1822. Like many other bridges on the Thames the charging of tolls became very contentious and tolls were stopped in 1897 after many legal disputes. Road traffic was banned from 1970, and because of this I can now sit on the seats provided on the bridge and take in the castle.

The bridge was also a boundary point for the boys of Eton College. Until 1990 they were not allowed to cross the bridge into Windsor unless they were wearing a jacket and tie. This must have caused much merriment among the locals. Who could have resisted shouting out “Oi! Lordship! You can’t come over here without a jacket and tie”.

Windsor Bridge
Windsor Bridge

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