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Dorney Court and England's First Pineapple

Visit one of Buckinghamshire's oldest houses and take a stroll by the Thames.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 1hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Roads, firm paths and Thames tow path

Landscape Lowland Thames valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 160 Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

Start/finish SU 938776

Dog friendliness On lead in Dorney and under control by Thames

Parking Large car park at Dorney Common

Public toilets None on route


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park follow the road across Dorney Common, towards Dorney village. Pass Wakehams, a timber-framed house with a well situated at the front, and away to the right is a fine view of Windsor Castle and its famous Round Tower. Keep left at the T-junction, cross a cattle grid and join the pavement. Walk through Dorney, keeping the Palmer Arms on your right. Bear left into Court Lane and pass the entrance to Dorney Court. Follow the path parallel to the road and soon reach the Church of St James the Less.

2 Continue on the path and when the road bends right, go straight ahead at the sign for Dorney Lake, Park and Nature Reserve. Keep to the right-hand side of the drive and follow the parallel path as it sweeps away to the right by a plaque and a grove of trees. Further on the path passes over a conveyor belt carrying sand and gravel from the nearby quarry works. Make for some trees and reach the Thames Path by a Sustrans waymark.

3 Turn left here and follow the national trail, keeping Bray Marina on the opposite bank. Further downstream the imposing cream façade of Bray film studios edges into view, its sweeping riverside lawns and weeping willows enhancing the elegant scene. Continue on the leafy Thames Path and soon catch sight of Oakley Court across the water on the Berkshire bank.

4 Beyond the hotel can be seen the cabin cruisers and gin palaces of Windsor Marina and next to it lines of caravans and mobile homes overlooking the river. Through the trees on the Buckinghamshire bank is the outline of Eton College's new boathouse and its superb rowing lake. To gain a closer view, briefly follow a path beside the river boathouse and slipway, walk towards the lake and then retrace your steps to the Thames Path. On the opposite bank of the river is Windsor Race Course Yacht Basin and ahead now is the Chapel of St Mary Magdalen. Follow the path alongside the chapel to a kissing gate and about 50yds (46m) beyond it reach a lane. With the Old Place opposite and an avenue of chestnut trees on the right, turn left and return to the car park.

Located in Buckinghamshire's most southerly village, close to the Thames, Dorney Court prides itself on being a genuine medieval village manor house. Motorways and modern housing estates grow ever closer, but the Grade I listed house with its jumble of timber-framed gables has survived intact and unchanged for almost 600 years, looking much the same today as when it was first built.

The village of Dorney stands on a gentle rise in the Thames flood plain and is cut off from the river by spacious meadows where evidence of prehistoric life can be found in the damp peaty soil. The name Dorney means 'island of bumblebees' and the locally produced Dorney Court honey is renowned for its delicate, light flavours.

But it is not just honey for which the house is justly famous. The large carved stone pineapple standing in the corner of the Great Hall commemorates the first pineapple to be grown in England. The story suggests that the top of a pineapple, imported from Barbados, was sliced off at a dinner in the City of London and given to the Earl of Castlemaine's gardener to plant at Dorney Court. The pineapple thrived and was subsequently presented to Charles II in 1661. Nobody can be sure if it really happened but it makes a good story.

Back in the mid-1920s, Country Life described Dorney Court as 'one of the finest Tudor manor houses in England'. Few would dispute that label and what endears the house to so many people is its long tradition of continuous family occupation. In fact, Dorney Court has remained in the same family for over 450 years.

The first owner was recorded after the Norman Conquest and after changing hands several times in the 15th century, the house was sold in 1504 for the princely sum of 500 marks. By the middle of the 16th century the manor, together with 600 acres (243ha), was owned by Sir William Garrard, Lord Mayor of London. The Garrards were prosperous grocers, owning land in the Chalfonts area. It is through this family that the town of Gerrards Cross got its name. Sir William Garrard's daughter Martha married Sir James Palmer of Kent and Dorney Court has remained in the Palmer family to this day. One family portraits depicts Jane Palmer, who was born in 1564 and was a forebear of Diana, Princess of Wales. The layout of the house has changed little over the years, though since opening to the public in 1981 work has been undertaken to restore furniture and paintings.

While you're there

Dorney Common, still owned by the Lord of the Manor of nearby Dorney Court, has been managed in the same way since medieval times and some local residents are permitted to graze their animals here. After visiting Dorney Court, take time to look at the Church of St James the Less at Dorney, which dates from the 13th century. Note the Norman font, the 17th-century gallery, the Garrard tomb and the porch that was built in 1661 to celebrate the birth of Lady Anne Palmer.

What to look for

With its Victorian Gothic façade, Oakley Court is an obvious choice for Hammer horror film producers - especially as it lies next door to Bray studios, home of Hammer. The house, now a hotel, has been used in various movie productions, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). The Chapel of St Mary Magdalen has been a place of worship since before the Norman Conquest. Parts of it date back to the 12th and 13th centuries and it may well have been used by boatmen when Boveney Lock was a bustling wharf transporting timber from Windsor Forest.

Where to eat and drink

The Palmer Arms at Dorney has been a public house since the 18th century and is said to be haunted by a white lady. The usual snacks and main meals, including jacket potatoes, sandwiches, liver and onions and grilled salmon, are available along with Sunday roast.


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