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A Fashionable Riverside Resort at Pangbourne

Journey to the peaceful waters of the Pang before heading for the Thames Path and a National Trust meadow.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field and riverside paths, stretches of road, section of Thames Path, 4 stiles

Landscape Gentle farmland on banks of Pang and Thames

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 159 Reading, Wokingham & Pangbourne

Start/finish SU 633765

Dog friendliness On lead in Pangbourne, under control on farmland and by River Thames

Parking Car park off A329 in Pangbourne, near railway bridge

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park turn right to the mini-roundabout and walk along to the church and adjoining Church Cottage. Retrace your steps to the main road, keep the Cross Keys pub on the right and turn right at the mini-roundabout. Cross the Pang and bear right at the next major junction into The Moors. At the end of the drive continue ahead on a waymarked footpath. Pass alongside various houses and gardens and patches of scrub, then go through a pretty tunnel of trees. Further on is a gate with a local map and an information board about the area. Beyond the gate the River Pang can be seen sweeping in from the right.

2 Follow the riverside path, with white willow trees seen on the bank. Make for a footbridge. Don't cross it, instead, turn sharp left and walk across the open meadow to a stile in the far boundary. Once over it, keep alongside the hedge on the left and, as you approach a Second World War pill box, turn right at a path intersection and cross a footbridge. Head for another footbridge on the far side of the field and then look for a third bridge with white railings, by the field boundary. Cross the bridge and the stile beyond it and then head across the field to the far boundary.

3 Exit to the road and bear left. Follow the lane between hedges and oak trees and walk along to the A329. Go diagonally right to the footpath by the sign for Purley Rise and follow the path north towards distant trees. Turn right at the next bridge and follow the concrete track as it bends left to run beneath the railway line. Once through it, bear right to a stile and then follow the track along the left edge of the field, beside a rivulet. Ahead on the horizon are glorious hanging woods on the north bank of the Thames. Pass double galvanised gates and a bridge on the left and continue on the footpath as it crosses this gentle lowland landscape. Cross a stile and walk across the next field to reach the riverbank.

4 On reaching the River Thames, turn left and head towards Pangbourne. Follow the Thames Path to Pangbourne Meadow and up ahead now is Whitchurch Bridge. As you approach it, begin to veer away from the riverbank towards a car park. Keep left when you get to the road, pass beneath the railway line and turn right at the next junction. Bear right again at the mini-roundabout and return to the car park.

During the Edwardian era the Thames-side settlement of Pangbourne became especially fashionable with artists, writers and anglers, yet apparently it did little to ignite the interest of one renowned literary figure. 'Pleasant house, hate Pangbourne, nothing happens', wrote D H Lawrence in 1919 when he and his wife rented a cottage in the village.

On the other hand, D H Evans, who founded the famous West End department store, clearly found Pangbourne to his liking. Towards the end of the 19th century he built seven very distinctive villas in the village. Known as the Seven Deadly Sins and distinguished by domes, turrets, balconies and gables, the villas were not popular with everyone.

There were those who claimed the seven villas had been built to house Evans' seven mistresses, while others believed he lived in a different one each day of the week. Lady Cunard, noted for her notorious parties, bought one of the houses. One local resident claimed the parties were riotous and wild, adding 'anything would have seemed wild compared to life in Pangbourne'.

Without the river, Pangbourne would hardly have gained its reputation as an inland resort. The spacious meadows, glorious hanging woods and varied assortment of pubs and hotels have made the village one of the most popular destinations on this stretch of the Thames. One man whose love for this river lasted a lifetime was Kenneth Grahame. He wrote The Wind in the Willows in 1908 and found the inspiration for this delightful story here. Grahame was born in 1859 and first came to live in Berkshire when he was five. His strength lay in his ability to create a magical world for children, providing a fascinating insight into a child's imagination and their view of the puzzling adult world.

Grahame and his wife became parents rather late in life and it was their son's bedtime stories, as well as letters sent to the boy by his father while away on holiday, that formed the basis for Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows. Both father and son drew on their love of the Berkshire countryside and its wild creatures to complete the story. Having lived for much of his life in the Thames Valley, Grahame eventually moved to Pangbourne in 1924, buying Church Cottage in the centre of the village. His beloved Thames was only a short walk away and he died here in 1932.

What to look for

Church Cottage, Kenneth Grahame's home, is next door to St James the Less. The house looks much the same today as it did in Grahame's day, with the little round village lock-up, which he used as a tool shed, in the garden. Towards the end of the walk, as you leave the riverbank, look out for Whitchurch Bridge, a Victorian iron toll bridge distinguished by its white lattice architecture. Cars pay to cross the bridge but pedestrians go free. Before decimalization, they were charged ½d. The bridge is privately owned.

While you're there

Enjoy a leisurely stroll across Pangbourne Meadow or even pause here to watch the colourful boating activity on the river. In the summer, the Thames is alive with gin palaces and cabin cruisers. The meadow, covering an area of about 7 acres (3ha), is in the care of the National Trust. Pangbourne's Church of St James the Less is distinguished by its square tower and battlements which tend to dominate the skyline. It is the second, if not the third church to occupy this site. Kenneth Grahame's funeral took place here in July 1932 and was recorded in The Times. Children from all over the country sent flowers and there were willows gathered from the river that morning. His body was later moved to Holywell Cemetery in Oxford, where he lies beside his son.

Where to eat and drink

Pangbourne boasts several inns, hotels and restaurants. The Cross Keys, opposite the church, is one of the oldest pubs and has plenty of character. There are several bars and quaint low ceilings, as well as a patio running down to the River Pang, a popular feature in summer.

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