Friday, 4 March 2011

Sonning, Shiplake and Binfield Heath

Almost a month gone by and Spring is rapidly approaching. The second half of February turned wet and mild and only in the last week has it dried out enough for a walk, however the week turned out mainly dull and grey, it was only Friday that turned out OK , sunny if a little hazy. I chose to extend my exploration of the Thames Path which I have previously followed from Wallingford all the way to Sonning. As it is early in the year I thought that the river-side paths would not be too busy. The Reading-Sonning stretch is a 'promenade' with dog walkers every dozen yards. Fortunately the next stretch turned out to be much more rarely used. Here is a Google Map of the 11 mile route:

View Sonning - Shiplake in a larger map

Sonning village attracts many tourists in the summer, it is an ancient place with some old houses. This is the ‘High Street’.


Another favourite spot for photos is the view from the footbridge to the gardens of a posh restaurant the ‘French Horn


Buds were bursting everywhere, I think these are the familiar pussy willow catkins


This was a stranger looking thing, I think it is a catkin, possibly a poplar.


There were many fine mansions across the other side of the river at Wargrave, this is the location to find many of the rich and famous.

Wargrave house

On the Thames were hundreds of Canada Geese, many mute Swans and a couple of Egyptian Geese

Canada geese,Thames


The Great Crested Grebes were not yet making their mirror dance, they were however, showing off their crests to each other.

Great Crested Grebe,Thames

There were few genuine wild flowers around, but I did spot this solitary Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), always a welcome sight.

Lesser Celandine

Along the path I came across, two ‘artistic’ arrangements, the first formed by the dried fruits of hops against the sky

Hop flowers

And the second an unusual twisted branch, just looked interesting!

Bendy beech

Back to the more traditionally picturesque, more houses along the Thames on the Wargrave side.



Shiplake is an unlovely sprawl with no centre. It appears to have developed as a cosy commuter town when the branch railway to Henley from Reading was built. It is on an area of very flat flood plain. The Thames Path continues on past the railway station down past a grand avenue of posh houses that back onto the Thames. They can only be glimpsed through gaps in fences


I am not a fan of Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia), but it can look OK close-up when it is flower, the rest of year it is a disappointing plant that does not deserve space in a garden.


Up now away from the river on a steady slope westward with more big houses, some with forbidding notices as well as the usual 'Private Property' signs.

Guard dog sign

However, a little further on and a Periwinkle (Vinca major) was coming into flower.


The farmland around Binfield Heath and Dunsden Green had not that much to commend itself especially. Catkins were out in the hedgerows, I think these are Alder (Alnus incana?).


The bird count was good, they were all very active defending territories, seeking nest locations and just feeding. I saw a green woodpecker, a buzzard and heard a couple of other woodpeckers hammering away. Large numbers of magpies, six in the same tree. In the beech woods though all was very quiet, with Winter still in control.

Beech woodland,winter

From the path path down to the Flowing Spring pub on the main Henley road there is a good view of Reading in the distance. The new ‘skyscraper’ called ‘the Blade’ is a striking addition to the skyline amongst all the church spires.


It was then an uninteresting trek down Spring Lane back to Sonning. There are new sand and gravel extraction pits just to the West of the Lane. There were placards in the fields aiming to garner support to block further eastward encroachment of these works. Lafarge is the company behind the scarring of this portion of countryside. Here is a view of what they have done to the area between Sonning and Caversham - left as a series of shallow lakes.

Gravel pits

I wended my way back to Sonning, with a visit to the large church, regrettably a Victorian make-over once again. A pity as there was a Norman church here and a plaque gives a list of ‘Bishops of Sonning’ going back into Anglo-Saxon days. Apparently before the diocese of Salisbury was sorted out there was a bishop's house at Sonning and another at Ramsbury (Wiltshire) this strange arrangement came to an end in 1078.
One last view of Sonning in afternoon sun, it is the famous 'French Horn' restaurant which was my starting point.

French Horn,Sonning