Main walk: 21.6km (13.4 miles)
a) Marlow to Henley: (15.2km (9.4 miles)
b) Alternative ending to Marlow: adds 2.3km (1.4 miles)
|Maps||OS Landranger Map No 175. OS Explorer Map 172 and 171|
|Toughness||3 out of 10|
|Features||If all you know of the Thames is the grey muddy stretch that runs through London, on this walk you are in for a pleasant surprise. The Thames above Marlow is a lazy, tranquil river, which runs between pleasant meadows and overhanging trees, occasionally overlooked by fine old manor houses. The area is also known as a habitat for red kites - look up to see them hovering overhead. This walk follows the Thames path for the first 8km (5 miles), passing the ancient village of Hurley, little changed since the days when it was a Benedictine Abbey. Lunch is in Aston or Hambleden, both quaint riverside villages. By contrast, the afternoon takes you up over the wooded hills that frame the Thames Valley, and then down into the well-preserved town of Marlow for tea.|
a) Marlow to Henley: From the Flower Pot Hotel in Aston, you can carry on into Henley. There are two possible routes; either via Remenham Hill (13.5km/8.4 miles) or on along the river path (15.2km/9.4 miles).
b) Alternative ending to Marlow: This alternative route into Marlow down a pleasant valley and then on tracks between fields avoids all the road walking on the main route, but is 2.3km (1.4 miles) longer.
The Henley to Marlow walk which is included in book versions of this walk has now been transferred to Walk 7, Henley via Hambleden, where complete walk directions for this option are provided.
The buses which link Henley and Marlow (see Transport below for full details) also stop on the A4155 just beyond Hambleden Lock, making it possible to end the walk at this point, 11.2km (7 miles) into the walk.
Most of the fine buildings in Marlow's High Street and West Street are Georgian (18th century), but the town was already well established in the days of the Doomsday book (1085), when the town had "twenty three copy-holders, one serf and one mill", as well as "a fishery which yields 1000 eels". Its church was famously surrounded by marsh, prompting one churchwarden in 1777 to ask for money "for a cast iron brazier wherein to make a large charcoal fire and warm the church in cold damp weather". Famous residents include Mary Shelley, who lived in West Street for a year along with her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley while finishing her novel Frankinstein. TS Eliot also came to Marlow to escape the bombing in London at the end of the First World War, and the town was home to Jerome K Jerome, whose novel Three Men in a Boat so immortalised the pleasures of "messing about on the river".
After the dissolution of the Monasteries, Bisham Abbey (pronounced Biss'am) seen across the river on this walk, was given by from Henry V111 to his divorced wife, Anne of Cleeves, the only one of Henry's wives to be smart enough to realise when Henry did not want her and so get a generous financial settlement (including several fine houses) out of him. She lived to happy old age, widely respected by her adopted countrymen.
Hurley was once a Benedictine Monastery, and you can still get a real feel for what it must have been like in those days if you wander around the village. The chapel of the monastery (now the Parish Church of St Mary The Virgin), its refectory and several other buildings are still extant. A leaflet is on sale just inside the church which gives a guided tour.
The islands near Hurley Lock are one of the few places where the Thames splits into channels. A ford across the river at this point was the origin of Hurley, which is mentioned as far back as the Saxon Chronicles. Since the islands and the weirs erected between them were barriers to navigation, the villagers not surprisingly made a good living helping boats through them
Hambleden is not to be confused with Hambledon in Hampshire where cricket was invented. WH Smith, founder of the newsagents (and also, incidentally, the supposed target of the satirical Gilbert and Sullivan song "Ruler of the Queens Navy" in HMS Pinafore), is buried in the churchyard (he became posthumously Lord Hambleden), and the company owned the village till 2003, when it put it up for sale. The parish church has several interesting memorials, including one to the family of Sir Cope D'Oyley, who died in 1633, on which the children are shown carrying skulls if they died before their parents. To the left of this tomb is an oak chest used by the Earl of Cardigan when he led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854
Trains run hourly between London Paddington and Marlow, changing at Maidenhead (journey time: about 1 hour). Once on the branch line don’t be alarmed when the train reverses direction at Bourne End, which is quite normal. Catch the train nearest to 9am from Paddington to get to all the lunch pubs in time, though for lunch at the Flower Pot in Aston the train nearest to 10am is sufficient.
If finishing in Henley, it is probably best to buy a day return to Henley-on-Thames (not "in-Arden"), as this is the furthest station. This should also be accepted on the outward route to Marlow, but if not, you would only have to pay an excess from Maidenhead to Marlow. There is in theory a "Thames Branches Day Rover" that covers both Henley and Marlow, but it is priced the same as a Henley return and is probably only obtainable from the ticket office (not the machines) at Paddington.
For those driving, Marlow has various places to park. If you are not parking near the station, find the High Street and pick up the walk in paragraph 3 in the main walk directions. If you follow option a) Marlow to Henley, there are buses (the 850 or 851) twice hourly Monday to Saturday daytime and hourly evenings and Sundays from Bell Street in the centre of Henley back to Marlow, running till about 10pm (for info, call 0871 200 2233)
The Rising Sun, High Street, Hurley, SL6 5LT (01628 825733 www.risingsunhurley.co.uk) is a possible early lunch stop, 4.9km (3 miles) into the walk. It is open all afternoon daily, but check food service times.Ye Old Bell Inn just before the Rising Sum seems to be more of a high class restaurant that is often doing weddings in the summer. However it does have a more informal-looking "summer kitchen" in the garden, open 12-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Flower Pot Hotel Ferry Lane, Aston, RG9 3DG (01491 574721), 9.8km (6.1 miles) into the walk, will be the most practical lunch pub for most walkers. It is a somewhat quirky establishment decorated with stuffed animals and fish, and serves homely, unpretentious food from midday to 2.30pm daily (and from 6.30pm to 9pm Monday to Saturday). It has a large garden.
The Stag and Huntsman Hambleden, RG9 6RP (01491 571227 www.thestagandhuntsman.co.uk), 13.2km (8.2 miles) into the walk, is a cosy, atmospheric old pub, with reasonably large garden. It serves food 12-2.30pm and 6-9.30pm daily.
Hambleden Post Office and Stores (01491 571201). Open 8.30am-5.30pm Mon-Fri; 8am-5pm Sat; 8.30am-4pm Sun. Located 13km (8.1 miles) into the walk, this superior village shop has few outside tables and serves tea, coffee, homemade cakes and delicatessen items, making it a possible light lunch or early tea stop. Hambleden church also sometimes sells tea and cakes on summer Sundays.
Almost anywhere in the first five miles of the walk would be an ideal place for a picnic.Marlow High Street (passed early in the walk) is the obvious place to buy picnic items: if you forget, the Hurley Farm Shop (actually a normal convience store) in the village of Hurley can help you out. It is open 7.30am to 8pm daily.
There is no shortage of cafés in Marlow High Street, some of them staying open till 6pm or 7pm, but they tend to change names quite often. A reliable old favourite is Burgers on the left at the bottom of the High Street, just before the church. Despite its name, this is an upmarket patisserie and tea room, open till 5.15 pm Monday to Friday and 5.00pm Saturday (closed Sunday).
Just beyond Burgers, the George & Dragon Inn is a modernised but very comfortable pub, which has big sofas and serves Costa Coffee hot drinks and cakes well into the evening.
If finishing in Henley: The Chocolate Cafe Thames Side, RG91BH (01491 411412) on the waterfront by the bridge is the recommended tea option, open from 9am-5.30pm Mon-Thurs, to 6pm Fri-Sun. The nearby Angel on the Bridge is one of many pleasant Henley pubs.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
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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