First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Only just upriver from London, Eton – like the past – is Another Country. The town and its famous college occupy the nub end of a flat, sprawling island between the Jubilee River and the River Thames. Enormous meadows, hayfields and commons occupy most of this ground, with the Thames a whispering, reedy presence along the south side of the island.
Disembarking at Windsor & Eton Riverside station, we saw the great Round Tower of Windsor Castle looming large on the southern skyline. Once across the Thames and out into The Brocas – the first of Eton’s meadows – we looked back to see the castle in all its magnificence, one of the classic views of tourist England.
The honk and gabble of Canada geese and the rude quacking laughter of mallard drakes came from the river as we walked the Thames Path west among hikers, wanderers and dog strollers. Soon these fell behind, and we went on through a level landscape as evocative of agriculture as of leisure, where farmers were baling and carting hay from the meadows.
A poignant memorial stone by the river recorded Hiatt C Baker’s gift of this stretch of the bank to Eton College in memory of his son John, a member of the college killed in a flying accident in 1917. ‘A brilliant swimmer,’ recorded the proud father, ‘who spent here many of the happiest hours of his boyhood.’
At Boveney Lock the lock keeper was on duty outside his charming cottage in its meticulously kept garden. Beyond we found the Church of St Mary Magdalene, now in the care of the nicely named ‘Friends of Friendless Churches’. This modest chapel, built of clunch and flint, was founded for the use of Thames bargemen, and the rough simplicity of its interior woodwork seems to fit the place and function perfectly.
We turned back past The Old Place, a house of mellow red brick and twisty chimneys, and followed paths over Dorney Common and North Field towards Eton. Along the neat and tidy High Street were handsome ornate gateways, lovely old houses, boys and masters in white ties and tails, and a wonderful chapel and college library fit – literally – for a prince.
Start: Windsor & Eton Riverside station car park, Datchet Rd, Windsor SL4 1QG (OS ref SU 969774)
Getting there: Rail to Windsor & Eton Riverside
Road – station is on B470, signed off A308 in Windsor (M4, Jct 6)
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 160): Cross Thames on footbridge. Follow Thames Path west. In 2 miles pass Boveney Lock (945778); in 500m, at chapel, right inland (940777). At road (939778), right past Old Place; in 100m, left (fingerpost). At top left corner of field bear right (939783); in 100m, left across Cress Brook footbridge (940783). Half right across Dorney Common. Cross road at cattle grid (943786); on with stream on right to gate and cycleway (943791). Right; in 400m, pass end of footbridge (947791); in another 400m, right (951792, fingerpost, kissing gate) across field, aiming left of phone mast to cross road (954791). On across paddocks (stiles) to North Field (956789). Right; anticlockwise round field to road embankment (959785). Dogleg right/left under road; right along field edge; under railway (962783). Ahead on tarmac road, following ‘Eton Walkway’ to Eton High Street (966780). Right to Thames footbridge and station.
Lunch: Boatman PH, Thames Side, Windsor SL4 1QN (01753-620010, boatmanwindsor.com)
Accommodation: George Inn, 77 High St, Eton SL4 6AF (01753-861797, georgeinn-eton.co.uk)