Hurley lies modestly beside the River Thames a little west of London, a quiet village of handsome red brick houses. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The single road ends just before the river at the remnants of a Benedictine priory – church, house and barn made of flint, infilled with that soft blocky building chalk known as clunch.
Jane and I set out under a sky opaque with cold milky light. A scraping of snow clung to the field slopes. Big burly sheep cropped the grass, their fleeces dark with winter mud. Under the sycamores and beeches in High Wood at the top of the down, little Eeyore-stile shelters of propped-up sticks showed where local children had been hiding out in their own make-believe world.
A horse-gallop forty feet wide led like a green highway towards thickly wooded Ashley Hill, where bare trees stood knotted with mistletoe clumps. A stripped-back, skeletal landscape, as thin and stark as this midwinter season. By contrast we found the chimney of the Dew Drop Inn smoking cheerfully. The secluded pub, tucked down in its dell, exuded a seductive smell of burning beech and hazel logs. What a siren note a good pub fire sings out to winter walkers. We stepped inside out of the cold air and spatter of rain, and found soft lamplight, low chatter and the growl of sweet soul music on the sound system. A quick one, eh?
Back outside in a nipping wind we went on along a muddy bridleway that wound through green wooded country, gently rolling, generously wooded. From a nature reserve coppice we got a stunning view out over a swooping field where seven dark horses walked slowly in line abreast up the slope, tossing their heads conversationally together. On the squared-off stump of a fence post lay the greeny-white skull of a squirrel, clean and feather-light, the tremendously long incisors seeming too large for the narrow face structure.
Down in the valley the River Thames ran snow-swollen and brassy brown, a muscular arm of water flexing towards London and the sea. We followed it back to Hurley past willow-smothered eyots or islets, on through flooded meadows where Canada geese sailed with dignity and black-headed gulls screeched over their feast of drowned insects like greedy clubmen over the port and stilton.
Start: Hurley village car park, High Street, Hurley, SL6 5NB approx. (OS ref SU 825840)
Getting there: Bus service 239 (courtneybuses.com), Henley-Maidenhead
Road – Hurley is signposted off A4130 between Maidenhead and Henley-on-Thames
Walk: (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 172. NB: online map, more walks: christophersomerville.co.uk): From car park, right along village street to cross A4130 (827831). Ahead up fenced path. At top of rise, ahead (828827) through High Wood, then on along horse gallop (yellow arrow/YA). In 600m cross track (828820); ahead (YA) across field and along green lane past Ladyeplace to road (828815). Right; follow ‘Dew Drop Inn’ past end of Honey Lane (825815). In 250m, right (823814; ‘Knowl Hill Bridleway Circuit’/KHBC) past Dew Drop Inn. In 400m, left at T-Junction (822818; KHBC). In 400m, right (818817) along track. In 600m, enter Nature Reserve (813819). At far end KHBC turns left (813822), but go right here (‘bridleway’) for ½ mile to cross A4130 (812830). Down Blackboy Lane to River Thames (810835). Right on Thames Path for 1¼ miles. At tall footbridge (825842), right to car park.
Lunch: Dew Drop Inn, Batts Green, Honey Lane (01628 315662; dewdrophurley.co.uk) – cosy, warm and welcoming
Info: Maidenhead TIC (01628-796502);