14.1km (8.8 miles), with options up to 21.1km (13.1 miles): see Walk Options below
Landranger 175, Explorer 172
3 out of 10: flat but with one short but steep hill climb.
This is a simple outing along a very pretty stretch of the Thames. It is suitable for all times of the year, though the whole walk, and in particular the morning section along the river, is especially lovely when the leaves are turning in autumn. In winter the route is not excessively muddy, exceptions being the extension/circular route from Marlow to Cookham, which can be very slithery, and the rare occasions after heavy rain when the meadows between Cookham and Marlow flood.
To begin with the walk takes a somewhat prosaic route for a mile or so through Maidenhead to get to the river by Brunel’s famous Maidenhead Rail Bridge, the widest brick arch ever built. The route then follows the Thames Path to Cookham, with the beautiful wooded escarpment of the Cliveden estate on the far side of the river. Cookham has various lunch options, and afterwards the walk climbs up onto an escarpment with fine views of the Thames Valley. Finally, you descend into Marlow, a pretty eighteenth century town with lots of tea choices.
a) Longer walk A pleasant way to extend this walk is to walk back along the river to either Bourne End or Cookham after tea in Marlow. It is 5.6km (3.5 miles) to Bourne End station by this route, making a total walk from Maidenhead of 18.9km (11.7 miles), and a further 2.5km (1.5 miles) to Cookham station, making a total walk from Maidenhead of 21.1km (13.1 miles).
b) Marlow Circular walk The extension route from Marlow to Cookham can also be linked in to the afternoon of the main walk to create a Marlow Circular walk of 14.1km (8.8 miles). This goes out along the river and back over the hills - but note that the morning section can be rather slithery (and sometimes flooded) in winter.
c) Riverside option You can of course simply stay on the Thames Path after lunch at Cookham, following it to Bourne End and Marlow. It is 2.2km (1.4 miles) from Cookham to Bourne End by this route, making a total walk from Maidenhead of 9.3km (5.8 miles), and a further 4.6km (2.9 miles) to Marlow, making a total walk from Maidenhead of 13.9km (8.6 miles). For the most part no directions are needed, except that you have to cross the river by the railway bridge at Bourne End (signposted as Thames Path and the only railway bridge over the Thames you will encounter on this walk). Directions are provided in the pdf download to the tea stops and railway station once you get to Marlow.
d) Short walks Cookham also has a railway station, so it is possible to do either the morning or afternoon of the main walk as a short walk. Both are 7.8km (4.8 miles) station to station.
e) A Cookham Circular walk is also possible using the afternoon of the main walk and the extension from Marlow back to Cookham. This makes a walk of 14.8km (9.2 miles)
The Maidenhead rail bridge is one of the great achievements of the brilliant 19th century engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The arches of this are the widest brick spans ever built, being 128ft (39 metres) wide but only 24 ft (7 metres) high. Like many of Brunel’s bridges, this was a one-off engineering solution built for a specific reason: he wanted the Great Western Railway line from London to Bristol to be completely flat, with no gradients, and so wouldn’t allow a higher bridge, with a slope up to it. This is the bridge that features in Turner’s famous painting Rail, Steam and Speed, now in the National Gallery. Its easternmost arch is also known as the Sounding Arch, for its formidable echo. However, you can try it only out by crossing the river from the route given here via Maidenhead road bridge, and then taking the first road to the right on the far side, which takes you right under the bridge onto the Thames Path.
Boulters Lock, passed early in this walk, was thronged with high society in the Edwardian era, as an information panel by the lock explains. Part of the attraction was the proximity of Cliveden, a grand show-palace (it was built as an impressive place to impress guests in summer, as much as to live in year round) which sits atop the escarpment on the opposite side of the river from this walk (a point where you can see it is indicated in the walk directions). Cliveden was famous as the home of the Astor family in late 19th and early 20th century, but it is perhaps even more notorious for the Profumo affair in 1961, which rocked the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan. John Profumo, minister for war in that government, was found to have been meeting showgirl Christine Keeler, at a time when she was also having an affair with an attache at the Soviet Embassy. He lied to parliament about this, and was forced to resign. Seven Gable Cottage, the house after the Boat House on the far side of the river – both visible on this walk – was the place where the two met. The house is now a hotel, but the gardens are open to the public – though not easily accessible from this walk.
Take a train arriving at Maidenhead between 10.30am and 11.00am. Aim to start at a similar time if doing the Marlow or Cookham Circular walks.
There are several lunch options in Cookham, including the upmarket Bel and the Dragon - more of a restaurant than a pub -, the Kings Arms and the Crown Inn. Cookham also has a tea room. For details see the pdf download.
The fanciest choice in Marlow, if you can get there in time is Burgers. Despite its name, this is a very pleasant patisserie - a Marlow institution, in fact - with a wide choice of cakes. It is closed on Sundays.
Otherwise Marlow has lots of other tea options, though the cafes seem to change names at regular intervals. See the pdf download for the latest update and also some pub tips.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk