This summer, my mate Alan and I had planned to do a three day walk, from Pangbourne to Oxford, along the Thames river path.
It’s unlikely to happen this year, as it relied on us being able to get accommodation along the way, and at the moment the hospitality industry is locked down. To stave off the disappointment I thought it’d be nice to do the walk virtually – to use photographs and information from the internet, or the walk guide book and other books I have at home. Along the way I think I might learn some more about the history of the places we would have been travelling through.
We start in Pangbourne, one of those places you drive to on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps looking for good pubs on the riverside. Typical of villages in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, it is the sort of place you don’t really think about as having a history, though parts of it look conspicuously old.
Gelling and Cole’s brilliant book “the Landscape of Place-Names” tells us that “Paega’s Burna”, the Anglo Saxon name, was “the place on the river where Paega’s people live”. David Nash Ford’s interesting website, says the first mention of the place in the record was the grant of Pangbourne from the Bishop of Leicester to King Beorhtwulf (‘Bright Wolf’) of Mercia in AD 851. Beorhtwolf gets a brief mention in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (A and E), looking in to be defeated by a large force of Vikings who sacked Canterbury and London in his fleeing wake. The Vikings in turn were defeated by King Aethelwulf (‘Nobel Wolf’) at the battle of Acleah somewhere in present day Surrey in that same year.
King Beorhtwulf of Mercia – who owned Pangbourne in AD 851
Pangbourne’s entry in the Domesday book is a good illustration of the changes in ownership of land following the conquest of 1066, and in particular the replacement of English landowners with Norman tenants loyal to William the Conqueror. Just over half the land is recorded as being owned by King William himself, with the rest as belonging to one Miles Crispin. Open Domesday records Crispin as a major landowner, which was not a bad reward for fighting in, and providing knights for William’s invasion of England. According to the excellent website http://localhistorian.uk/qlh-ebook/ Crispin was formerly a landless, obscure relative of the Baron de Bec of Calvados. Whilst not quite a rags to riches story, his rise does help explain why William was set on, and his followers so keen to help with, an invasion that would provide a great deal of land with which to reward feudal vassals.
The village was granted to Reading Abbey by Henry I (AD 1100-1135), and it was the place where the last Abbot of Reading, Hugh Faringdon, was arrested after being accused of sending financial aid to the northern rebels during the Pilgrimage of Grace. This was a rebellious protest against Henry VIII’s closing of monasteries and pilgrimage centres across England. Faringdon had enjoyed Henry’s patronage and strongly supported him in his battle with Rome over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but had refused to hand over the Abbey to the King’s agents in 1538.
Individual monasteries and abbeys were closed after evidence had been found (or created) by royal investigators that the monks were not living within their vows of poverty or chastity. Faringdon sought to persuade the King that his monastery really was piously following its ‘rule’ (the instructions and rules that governed the actions and daily activities of the monks living there). Whether he actually was a supporter of the rebellious northerners is not clear. His trial lasted only one day, the 14th of November 1539, and he was executed in haste either the following day, or the day after. His hanging, drawing and quartering certainly quickly cleared the way for Henry VIII’s agents to seize the Abbey and its wealth (https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/blog/last-abbot-reading).
Before we start off the walk out of Pangbourne, I’d like to mention Ambrose Petrocokino, a late 19th Century explorer and adventurer, who settled in Pangbourne and wrote books with brilliant sounding titles such as ‘Cashmere, Three weeks on a Houseboat’ and ‘Along the Andes’. Peterocokino was surely one of the inspirations for at least one of Terry Jones’ and Michael Palin’s “Ripping Yarns” episodes. One of his journeys was possibly to Japan, where he seems to have developed a love of netsuke. He returned to Britain with a small collection, which are now housed at the Reading Museum.
In Pangbourne itself the river is not very accessible. The walk starts at the station and immediately turns away from the river on the road up the steep hill. This is the busy road to Oxford, the traffic queueing to get across the toll bridge reinforces the impression that most people are just passing through Pangbourne to get somewhere else. Halfway up the hill we will reach a left turn that looks like a driveway, but is the start of this part of the path.
This is the Hartslock Bridleway which leads to Hartslock, a beautiful wooded area on the side of the river, and the only thing approaching a summit on the whole of day one (probably the whole walk). Hartslock reserve is famous for Orchids and butterflies.
Bee orchids attract pollinating bees by mimicking a potential mate. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/wildflowers/bee-orchid. This picture of an amazing example was taken on the North Downs way, not very far from Pangbourne.
Continuing round the bend in the river we reach the Budapest of Berkshire, the twin villages of Goring and Streatley, which I’ll post about next.