Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Datchet to Runnymede

The Victoria and Albert Bridges were constructed after an extraordinary piece of sheer bloody-mindedness from Buckinghamshire and Berkshire Councils. The first bridge over the river at Datchet had become unsafe, and in 1811 the Government insisted that a new bridge be built by the counties. However, the two counties could agree on absolutely nothing for the construction of the bridge. They could not agree who was going to build it, what it was going to look like, or even what materials should be used in the construction. This resulted in each of the councils doing their own thing. Buckinghamshire built their half of the bridge on their side of the river in wood, and Berkshire built theirs to a totally different design and used cast iron. The two half-bridges were then joined in the middle. Needless to say this mongrel was pretty useless and only stood for 40 years before being replaced by the first Victoria and Albert Bridges. As the councillors would say these days “Lessons have been learned” and the new bridges were of identical construction. Unfortunately both bridges have been rebuilt during the last century, Albert in 1928 and Victoria in 1967, and consequently have different looks again.

The towpath downstream from Victoria Bridge is closed “for reasons of security”, which is a probable a euphemism for “it’s too easy to slip into the back of Windsor Castle if you really want to”. Just to make sure that nobody gets through a security guard stands on the bridge waving at me to signal that I should cross the road if I want to stay out of the dungeons.

The Thames Path follows the road through Datchet, and then crosses back over Albert Bridge to return me to the towpath. The main river turns left and swings around a bend, but the towpath follows the lock cut and shortly I am at Old Windsor Lock.

Old Windsor was where Edward the Confessor had a royal palace. There is evidence that the area was popular with royalty well before then, going back to the 9th century. Old Windsor was very convenient for hunting in Windsor Forest, and the river provided a convenient means of travel. It was William the Conqueror who moved the palace three miles upstream to Windsor because he thought it provided a superior strategic position while still allowing easy access to the prime hunting forest.

The “Bells of Ouzeley” is an odd name for a pub. It was mentioned by Jerome K Jerome as a “picturesque inn”, but has since been converted to a modern “Harvester”. The name refers to an alleged incident during the dissolution of the monasteries. A group* of monks had taken the bells from Osney Church in Oxford and were transporting them down the river to prevent them from falling into the hands Henry VIII’s agents. When they reached this part of the Thames the boat they were using capsized, and the bells were allegedly lost in the mud and never recovered.

(* I searched in vain for a collective noun to use for a group of monks. All I could find was a reference to an “abomination” of monks which did not sound right to me. Incidentally I also found references to a superfluity of nuns and a psalter of bishops).

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