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Stanley Spencer's Cookham

A spectacular stretch of the Thames Path to Bourne End, returning by train.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Pavements, riverside promenade, Thames Path, 1 stile

Landscape Riverside, fields and meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 172 Chiltern Hills East

Start/finish SU 887807

Dog friendliness On lead in Maidenhead, Cookham and Bourne End

Parking Maidenhead Station

Public toilets Maidenhead Station

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1 From the car park walk down to the clock tower, erected to mark Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897. Cross the road at the lights and bear right into Queen Street, by the Bell pub. Veer right into York Road and pass the football club. Walk down to the mini-roundabout and turn left into Forlease Road. Head for the next junction and turn right into Moorbridge Road.

2 Walk along to the underpass and veer right on the far side, following Bridge Road towards Maidenhead Bridge. Pass some almshouses and a sign for the Thames before reaching the bridge. Cross the bridge almost to the opposite bank and look downstream to the right. Straddling the river is Brunel's famous railway bridge. Return to the Maidenhead side of the river and bear right into Ray Mead Road. Make for Boulter's Lock and continue to the point where the road and the Thames Path part company. Follow the tow path. The view over to the Buckinghamshire bank is dominated by the beautiful hanging beech woods of the Cliveden estate.

3 Soon the sound of traffic fades as the walk turns its back on Maidenhead, following the Thames upstream towards Cookham. There is a brief glimpse of Cliveden, seen high above the beeches.
Eventually the path swings away from the riverbank and cuts through woodland to reach a stile. Cross over and veer slightly left, keeping to the right of a house. Head for a tarmac drive and turn left opposite Sol Mill. Walk along to the junction, bear right and follow the road into Cookham.

4 Pass the Stanley Spencer Gallery and continue along the road, passing the Tarry Stone. Veer left at the entrance to the church, pass the memorial stone to Spencer, keep to the left of Holy Trinity and walk through the churchyard to rejoin the Thames Path. Swing left and pass Cookham Reach Sailing Club. Cross the meadow and keep close to the water's edge. Up ahead is Bourne End railway bridge.

5 Pass beneath the bridge and turn immediately left, go up the steps and cross the footbridge to the Buckinghamshire bank. Once over the bridge, turn right and pass a house called The Haven. Keep left at this point and follow the drive alongside a high brick wall to the road. Turn left and walk along to the station at Bourne End to catch the train back to Maidenhead.

Cookham village will forever be associated with the artist Stanley Spencer who died in 1959. Spencer was a controversial eccentric figure and even now, more than 40 years after his death, his work is the subject of speculation and debate. He was born in Cookham High Street in 1891 and spent most of his life in the village. The former Methodist chapel on the corner of the High Street and the A4094 is now a gallery devoted to his work.

It was to this chapel that Mrs Spencer marched young Stanley and her eight other children every Sunday. Officially opened in 1962, the gallery exhibits many of Spencer's paintings, including The Last Supper, painted in 1920, and the view of Cookham from Englefield, completed in 1948. There is also an extensive collection of drawings, including much of his early work. The Fairy on the Waterlily Leaf and Roy, from 1909 and 1906 respectively, are here.

In addition to examples of Spencer's highly individual style, there is a permanent collection at Cookham of his letters, documents and notes, together with the pram in which Spencer wheeled his paints and brushes when painting landscapes. He was often seen pushing it around the village.

Cookham played a key role in Spencer's work, forming the setting for many biblical and figure paintings, as well as landscapes. Cookham Moor, the parish church and the High Street are all shown on canvas. The Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere south of Newbury contains murals inspired by Spencer's experiences in the First World War.

Where to eat and drink

Maidenhead and Cookham offer a good choice of pubs and eating places. You might like to stop off at Jenner's Cafe near Boulter's Lock. Hot food is served all day, including full breakfast, and there are hot and cold drinks and ice cream. If you have to wait for the train back to Maidenhead, call into the Firefly pub next door to Bourne End Station.

What to look for

Perched on cliffs above the Thames is Cliveden, an Italianate mansion built for the Duke of Sutherland in 1850-1. The house was once the home of the Astor family. During the early 1960s, Cliveden, together with the riverside dwellings below it, became the focus of national attention when the Profumo scandal was played out here, resulting in lurid newspaper headlines and frenzied gossip in society circles. Its final outcome was the resignation of a prominent Cabinet minister, John Profumo, after his affair with a very young Christine Keeler became public.

While you're there

On reaching the Thames, look downstream for a good view of Brunel's splendid railway bridge, which has the widest and flattest brick arches in the world. J M W Turner made it the subject of his famous painting: Rain, Steam and Speed (1844).

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