Day 14 – Henley-on-Thames to Maidenhead
After breakfast Judi, my host for last night drove me into Henley where she dropped me off by the town hall and then transferred my luggage to Helen and Jo who were providing vehicle support for the morning and were also going to pass my luggage on to my host for tonight. The process of handing over the ‘baton’ in this relay from Swansea to London is now becoming quite efficient and I really appreciate the efforts that people have been making to help me on my way. Adrian, who had travelled from Reading to accompany me for the first stretch of this morning’s walk, turned up around nine o’clock with his bicycle, as he was going to have to leave me late morning to return to Reading and needed to be able to get back to his car in Henley as quickly as possible.
Whilst taking some photographs of the group in front of the town hall, we started a conversation with a fellow countryman of mine who obviously worked in the construction industry. Whilst he noted that Brexit would have a big impact on Ireland, he stressed the argument of the democratic majority in the first referendum and also raised concerns about the fact that a lot of East European workers in the construction industry sent a lot of their earnings home rather than spending it in the local economy. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing, since a similar process also works within the UK where workers from the North of England and other regions come down to London during the week to work on construction projects there, as evidenced by the number of vans parked in front of small hotels close to Paddington station where I often stay when in London for business purposes. After this, Adrian and I got underway, crossing the bridge over the Thames and joining the Thames Path on the opposite side of the river heading downstream. There were a few other walkers and when I explained to one couple what I was doing they explained that they had voted to leave as they were farmers in Devon and disliked all of the EU regulations which they had to follow. They did seem to have some concern when I pointed out that their future would be very dependent on the UK government’s policy on trade tariffs, and how it managed the balance between the cost of food and protecting indigenous food producers if the UK left the EU without a deal.
Shortly after ten o’clock, I received a call from Radio Limerick who wanted to do a live interview with me about the walk. They had learned about the walk from an article in the Irish Times and were keen to talk to someone who had been born and brought up just outside Limerick City, even though I had hardly been back there since my parents moved away from there at the time of my father’s retirement around forty years ago. I found the interview easier than anticipated but will probably be horrified at how I sound if I ever hear it played back! Shortly after this, Adrian left me to return to Henley and then I met up with Jo and Helen who were walking to meet me from Mill End the next crossing point along the river. We stopped to talk with three volunteers working on one of the locks, who turned out to be Remain voters who thought that the referendum had been a big mistake as it was designed more in the interests of the Conservative party rather than the country. They appreciated that there are costs with being in the EU, but considered that, on balance, the benefits outweigh the costs. On reaching Hambleden Lock, I parted company with Helen and Jo who were going to Maidenhead to collect my eldest daughter Eirwen who was coming up from Cardiff to join me for the afternoon.
The walk this morning was along the Thames Path, a well-maintained path which mostly followed the weather bank. The weather was dry and cloudy with only a slight wind, and I took several attractive photographs of houses, trees and clouds reflected in the fast-flowing waters of the Thames. Close to Henley, the main hazard on the path was copious amounts of goose poo, deposited by the numerous Canada Geese who frequented the banks of the river. During the day’s walk, I also saw several curious swans who swam over to check out this stranger walking past – or was it to inspect the Swansea for Europe logo on my banner?
Shortly after leaving Hambleden Lock, I met a couple walking who I presumed to be mother and son. After explaining what I was doing they indicated that they were one of the families that was split by the issue, with the mother favouring leaving and the son remaining. The mother cited the Common Fisheries Policy and loss of autonomy as some of her reasons for voting leave, even though they owned a property on the continent. The son on the other hand, who was studying an environmental course in university, cited solidarity and collaboration in tackling cross-border issues such as environmental protection and climate change as his reasons for being in favour of remaining in the EU. He admitted that whilst aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy had been detrimental to the UK’s landscape he considered that the EU directives and frameworks on environmental policies are very good and the EU’s carbon trading scheme is one of the best. I was pleased to see that they were discussing things in a reasonable fashion as a family, even though they had different opinions.
Continuing on my way, I passed through Aston village where I noted again the predominance of red brick buildings, with some flint stone in what were perhaps older buildings. Along the next stretch, there were flocks of sheep with young lambs in the fields by the river and I was watched suspiciously by the ewes as I passed close to their lambs. Here I met a couple who were concerned about their pension investments and who indicated that they had voted leave but now consider that they were ill-informed and may have made the wrong decision.
Around one o’clock, Eirwen phoned to make arrangements for meeting me and we agreed that she would walk up-river from Morden to meet me. At Hamley Lock, I was delighted to find a public toilet which was actually unlocked and open as I had been desperate to find one since mid-morning. I had a brief chat with two picnickers there who were Remain voters who thought that leaving would be a disaster. They mentioned the increase in intolerance after the referendum result was announced, including an incident in their local shop where two youths told the Asian owner that he would have to leave shortly. After crossing the Temple Bridge, which was officially closed, I stopped at Temple Lock to have my lunch and Eirwen arrived just before two o’clock. We continued on our way together towards Marlow where we decided to leave the Thames Path and cut across country to Cookham. I had agreed to meet the Maidenhead for Europe group for a photo opportunity at Maidenhead Bridge and was afraid that I would be late if I continued along the path.
We climbed uphill towards Cookham and the steep climb brought home to me the fact that the meanders of the Thames are incised here, indicating an uplift in the landscape at some point. At Cookham Station, we met briefly with Nigel from the Maidenhead group and I confirmed that I should reach the bridge shortly after five o’clock. After descending again to rejoin the Thames Path at Cookham we kept up a steady pace along the river bank towards Maidenhead. I was glad that I had Eirwen to act a pacesetter since by now I was flagging a little and beginning to wish that this whole adventure would finish soon. Although we saw one or two dog walkers on this stretch we did not stop to talk as I was concerned that it would hold us up. Close to our destination, we passed Boulter’s Lock which had apparently been a very popular tourist destination in Victorian times. Along this final stretch, we also observed several luxurious properties set alongside the river, which no doubt have a substantial price attached.
Arriving at the bridge shortly after five o’clock we were met by Nigel, Jo and Catherine who took several photographs of us along with a selection of banners. Nigel then transferred my luggage to Jo’s car as she was to be my host for this evening. Jo drove me to her home, dropping Eirwen off at Maidenhead station to catch her train back to Cardiff on her way.
Today’s walk from Henley-on-Thames to Maidenhead covered 16.2 miles (26.0 km), starting from Henley Town Hall at 9:10 and finishing at Maidenhead Bridge at 17:10.