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Mapledurham - Screen Star

Visit a remote village used as a film and television location on this pretty walk.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mainly farm tracks and field paths, 1 stile

Landscape Parkland and farmland on northern bank of Thames

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 159 Reading

Start/finish SU 670767

Dog friendliness On lead in Mapledurham, under control elsewhere

Parking Permission kindly given for walkers to use small car park adjacent to church

Public toilets Mapledurham House, for visitors; otherwise none on route

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1 From the small car park by the church, turn right and walk along the village street to a bridleway on the right, signposted to Caversham. Pass the lodge on the corner and follow the concrete track through the parkland. This stretch of the walk offers lovely views over wooded countryside and fields, with the Thames away to the right. Pass the isolated buildings of Park Farm and look back for a good view of Mapledurham House.

2 Follow the track to the next lodge and turn left. Keep left at the next junction, with the grain store on the right, and head up the track into the trees. Break cover and continue to the next junction. Keep left here, and again there are good views over Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Follow the track round several bends and make for the next farm.

3 Turn left at the road and follow it until you reach a path on the left where the lane curves right. Follow the path and pass through a galvanised gate. Walk ahead to the next gate and cross the field, keeping the brick and timber-framed Step Cottage to your right. Avoid the stile leading out to the road and continue crossing the field, eventually curving to the left at the point where you see the road ahead.

4 The walk crosses a slope and then runs parallel with the lane leading to Mapledurham. Look for 'passing place' signs on the road and make for a stile. Descend the bank to the lane and turn left for Mapledurham House and the village centre.

Mapledurham and its timeless Thames setting in the south east corner of Oxfordshire create an idyllic picture. The village is one of only a few settlements in the area that have not been blighted by urban development. The lack of a road bridge providing a direct link with nearby Reading has, in effect, ruled out the possibility of expansion, and Mapledurham remains a sleepy, rather isolated village approached down narrow winding lanes running deep into the heart of the countryside. Not surprisingly, life in this part of the world tends to be on the quiet and uneventful side.

However, it was a very different story back in 1976. If you could somehow transform yourself back in time to the very hot summer of that year you would have found Mapledurham a hive of activity. The village might have been hard to recognise too - and, even more puzzling, its name had changed to Studley Constable. An old-fashioned dairy shop displayed gleaming milk churns in the window; stirrup pumps and baby Austins added to the nostalgic picture of rural England; and, perhaps most bizzare of all, there were signposts to the east-coast port of King's Lynn.

Almost everywhere you went, there was a genuine feeling that the village had stood still since the Second World War. But why? What did it all mean? Still mystified? The clue is in the title of this walk. Mapledurham was doubling as a film set for the celluloid version of The Eagle Has Landed, a classic adventure yarn by thriller writer Jack Higgins. If you have read the book or seen the film, then you'll know the plot concerns an attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill while he is spending the weekend at a country house in Norfolk in 1943.

Much of the film, which stars Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland, was shot at Mapledurham, and the village Church of St Margaret, where the villagers are held captive, features prominently. However, if you expect to get a drink at the delightfully named Spyglass and Kettle, you'll be disappointed. The pub was a fake - a clever illusion created by film designers and artists.

Some crucial sequences of the film were shot by the 15th-century corn mill, where Nazi infiltrators, posing as Polish soldiers, inadvertently blow their cover. The mill, distinguished by an undershot wooden waterwheel, has two pairs of millstones which are used to produce wholemeal flour.

Easy access to London and the success of The Eagle Has Landed have resulted in Mapledurham being regularly chosen as a location for film and television productions. They include Class Act starring Joanna Lumley, and Inspector Morse with the late John Thaw as the world-famous Oxford sleuth. The gently lapping Thames, imposing Mapledurham House and neat rows of handsome houses in the main street create just the right images for the large and small screen - the quintessential English village.

Where to eat and drink

There are no inns in Mapledurham but at nearby Chazey Heath the Pack Saddle pub offers food every day. Mapledurham House has a tea room.

While you're there

Visit Mapledurham House, completed in the late 16th century by Sir Richard Blount for his Catholic family. Built of red brick with stone dressings, Mapledurham is one of the largest and most famous Elizabethan houses in Oxfordshire. The house contains a priest hole and there is also an 18th-century private chapel, visible from the adjacent churchyard.

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