Stage 9 Marlow to Maidenhead

Pilgrim Path Map Stage 9
Getting There

Getting there: OS Explorer Start Grid reference: 851861.

Marlow is five miles north of Maidenhead on the A404 and Marlow station is very close to the Thames Pilgrim Way, offering a regular service to Maidenhead, Slough and Reading.

Facilities

At Marlow there is plentiful accommodation, and the restaurants at Cookham provide a wide choice of places to lunch. Dorney Reach is only a few miles southeast of Maidenhead where there are good facilities. There are public toilets at Marlow Lock, Sutton Road car park at Cookham, Ray Mill Island at Maidenhead and Bray Lock.

The Route

Having paused by Marlow Lock to look back at the classic view of bridge and church, and pay homage to the town which housed the poet Shelley and his wife Mary Godwin, continue to follow the river as it flows on past the edges of Quarry Wood. This was immortalised as the Wild Wood in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

Sent to live with his grandmother at Cookham Dean at the age of five, the woods and riverside of his childhood formed the background to his writing. The path crosses the river at Bourne End, once home to Enid Blyton, and continues on to Cookham, birthplace of Sir Stanley Spencer (1891–1959) and location of some of his most famous paintings. A diversion to the Stanley Spencer Gallery is time well spent.

From Cookham, past Cliveden House, the path takes the walker past some large and gracious houses into Maidenhead, once an important coaching stop, on the Great West Road, being one day’s journey out of London. A quarter of a mile downstream you can find Maidenhead Bridge, built by Brunel with the flattest and widest brick arch in the world. It features in J.M.W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed.

Reflection

9 ‘AS THE FATHER HAS LOVED ME, SO I LOVE YOU’

‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.’ (Leviticus 26:12)
‘He will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more suffering.’ (Revelation 21:4)

In St Mary’s, Cookham, there is a copy of a picture by Stanley Spencer, the artist who spent much of his life in the village. The picture is that of the Last Supper; Jesus and his friends are seated at tables set out to form three sides of a square, and Jesus is clearly addressing them, but where the fourth table could go, there we stand, so if we wish, we can be drawn into the picture and become part of it ourselves.

In John’s gospel, after Judas has left the supper table, Jesus talks to his disciples at some length, trying to share his wisdom with his followers. And he says to them those wonderful words ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you’ (John 15.9).

At first this sounds wonderful to us: God loves Jesus, God loves us, we must love each other. But if we analyse those words a little deeper, they become less appealing. Yes, God did love Jesus, and the intimacy between the two is demonstrably profound; Jesus spends much time in prayer, and what he says and does is clearly of God.

But how else does God show his love? Jesus is persecuted from the moment of his birth in a stable, he is pushed out into the desert to be taunted by the devil, he is torn apart by the avid demands of the sick and the suffering, he is forced to challenge those in power, and is surrounded by a group of friends who fail him when he needs them most.

When times are hard, it is easy to feel aggrieved at God, as if somehow being a Christian, praying regularly, helping the poor, trying to love one’s neighbour, should exempt us from pain and misfortune. But just as Jesus came into the world to transform it, so we must play our part in His saving work, striving to be an instrument of His will, sharing the lives of our fellow human beings rather than seeking to opt out of all that is painful.

On this penultimate stage of the pilgrimage, those who are on their ninth day may well be feeling tired and footsore. The initial exhilaration will have disappeared. Bodies will be tired and feet may well be very painful. But if we continue to follow the path faithfully, we will reach the end of the journey, and when we look back we will be satisfied with what we have achieved.

The church at Cookham is also the location for Stanley Spencer’s most famous painting, The Resurrection, in which he shows the graves in the churchyard opening and all the people of Cookham emerging from their temporary resting places to come together on the Last Day. And we are reminded of God’s wonderful promises to us, that we are indeed loved as we are his children and that at the end there is the promise of the new heaven and the new earth. We will be God’s people, God will be with us and he will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Activity

Go into St Mary’s and spend some time looking at The Last Supper. Imagine you are there, sharing a meal with Jesus. What might it be like? What would you say to him?

Prayer

Mysterious God,
Help us to remember that our ways are not your ways,
That in the midst of our suffering you walk alongside us,
Help us to find strength in your promise to us
That we are your children and you are our God.

Have you any comments about this stage?

Any hints or suggestions for other pilgrims welcome.

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