Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published January 11th 2014
Wend the Water Way
In literature of every kind, the five and a half mile stretch of the River Thames Path from Marlow to Cookham is described as the most beautiful in the Thames Valley. You get off to a good start when alighting the train at Marlow (the journey from London Paddington takes 1 hour 10 minutes). To get to the river you need to stroll through this charming town.
Marlow grew up as a river crossing, and the walk begins as you reach the suspension bridge that spans the water. It was built in 1832 and designed by William Tierney Clark, who also designed Hammersmith Bridge in London and it's said used more or less the same design for the bridge in Marlow as he did for his bridge linking Buda and Pest in Hungary. Pick up the signs for the Thames Path in the All Saints Church churchyard next to the suspension bridge and follow them through St Peter Street. You'll leave the water for a little bit, but enjoy looking at the pretty houses and make sure you take the small detour to the Marlow Lock viewpoint.
The first Marlow Lock was wooden and built in 1773. It was reconstructed in stone in 1875, when a new lock was built alongside the old one and the latter was filled in. A private house sits on the site of the original lock. The modern lock was built in 1927. It's lovely to watch the boats go by for a while before continuing along the path to Bourne End. Some 250 metres beyond the lock, the path turns right to join the river again.
As you leave Marlow, Winter Hill, a wood owned by the National Trust, will rise up on the opposite bank. Once you pass under the road bridge, the route becomes truly gorgeous, showing the English countryside in all its magnificence, especially on a sunny day. This walk lets you enjoy the views, pass grazing cows, (sometimes quite closely!) and soak up the sites and sounds of river traffic.
On the approach to Bourne End, fans of Enid Blyton may want to take a detour to visit her former home, Old Thatch. You can't go into the house, but you can explore the gardens and have a home-made tea. After your visit, retrace your steps to the Thames path, which passes between the gardens of riverside houses and the Upper Thames Sailing Club before crossing the River Thames beside the railway bridge. Turn left on the far side to continue through Cock Marsh.
Looking towards Bourne End from the Railway Bridge
The marsh was purchased by local residents in 1934 and given to the National Trust. It's one of the best lowland wetland sites in the country and is a haven for wading birds and many plants. It is also a wonderful place to stop for a picnic. Sit on the bank opposite some stunning houses and pick your favourite in case you win the lottery. When you've awoken from your reverie, continue through the meadows beside the river to Cookham. As you near Cookham Bridge, follow the path into Cookham Church churchyard and then on into Cookham High Street. A little way along you'll find the former home of Stanley Spencer RA. The artist lived in the village for most of his life, describing it as a 'sort of earthly paradise.' If you want to see some of his work, you can pop into the Stanley Spencer Gallery, which is housed in the village's former Victorian Methodist Chapel.
If you're looking for somewhere to eat, there are plenty of options in Cookham, including the 15th century pub Bel and The Dragon, which is said to be one of the oldest in England and The Crown, which is on the edge of Cookham Moor and the National Trust land The Pound.
When you're ready to move on, you can walk through The Pound and up to Cookham railway station where you can get the train back to Marlow or London. Alternatively, in the summer, walk back through the village you can take a boat with Salters Steamers to several locations along the river.