Stage 7 Tilehurst to Shiplake

Pilgrim Path Map Stage 7
Getting there

OS Explorer 171 Grid reference: 676752

Tilehurst is on the A329 a few miles west of Reading. Tilehurst station is close to the path and has regular trains to Reading.

Route Finding

Having found the way back onto the riverside at Tilehurst, the route stays by the river as far as Sonning, where the path crosses the river at Sonning Bridge, a narrow, rather dangerous crossing.  At Shiplake Lock the path again diverts through the fields as far as the village of Lower Shiplake.  At the Baskerville Arms, the path turns towards the station and crosses the railway track.


There are many places to stay in Reading, and lunch opportunities will also be found there although you will have to divert off the path into the city centre. The countryside along the Thames beyond Reading is ideal for picnics. The Baskerville Arms at Lower Shiplake (01189 403332) offers food and accommodation. There are public toilets at Sonning and Shiplake Locks.

The Route

Not a great deal of the town of Reading can be seen from the Thames Pilgrim Way; indeed the first few miles as far as Caversham Bridge are by the side of a large park, filled in the summer with walkers, ball players and sunbathers.

Reading Abbey, founded in 1121 by Henry I, became a popular pilgrimage destination after the King presented the Abbey with the ‘hand of St James’. Henry is buried by the high altar, next to his daughter, the Empress Maud or Matilda. The ruins of the Abbey are worth a visit, together with the outside of the Abbey Gateway which housed the Abbey School when Jane Austen was a pupil there, and the former hospitium or pilgrims’ hostel.

Reading was also the birthplace of Suttons Seeds, Simonds Brewery and Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits. Although these companies are no longer in Reading, their place has been taken by technology industries.

After Sonning, a small village with its former mill and 15th century church, the river arrives at Shiplake, dominated by St Peter and St Paul’s Church, where Alfred Lord Tennyson was married, and continues on to Lower Shiplake.


‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Genesis 2:15)
‘There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work’ (1 Corinthians 12:6)

In the middle of the 17th century, a young Frenchman, Nicholas Herman, joined a monastery. Lacking the education to become a monk, he was made a lay brother, took the name Brother Lawrence and was set to work in the kitchen.

This might seem an inglorious way to spend a life, but it was amongst these chores that Brother Lawrence developed a spirituality of work that was so powerful and so joyful that many sought his wisdom.

His approach was simple. People make a big performance out of trying to encounter God, he argued. “Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” In this way, even the humblest task becomes an act of worship and gains value: “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

This stage of the pilgrimage leads through Reading, once famous for its biscuit factory and now headquarters to many of the technology companies that line the Thames Valley. The route mostly avoids the industrial centre, but we can still consider how we make connections between our faith and our work, and how we can ensure each element enhances the other.

For many of us, our faith remains something only activated in church or in times of trouble. Indeed a weekly visit to a place of worship, with perhaps a midweek Bible study or prayer meeting, can appear to sustain us.

But if we remain content with this level of relationship, we are in danger of missing out on the great contentment that is the result of a deeper encounter with God. The initial discipline of bringing God’s presence to mind continually throughout the day soon becomes a joyful habit as we take whatever opportunity we can to dedicate our actions to God.

Brother Lawrence wrote how he brought an awareness of God into his kitchen: “I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work. Afterwards I rise happier than a king.”

Although his actions may not be practical today, this degree of engagement with God certainly is worth striving for. People trying to practise this awareness of God report a change in their attitude to the less enjoyable tasks, which in turn affects the attitudes of those around them, thus improving the atmosphere of the whole workplace.


“Practising the presence of God” is a demanding business; it should be taken one step at a time. A good way to start is to get into the habit of saying a prayer over a regular task, such as waiting for the kettle to boil. A short, simple prayer is enough to bring us again into God’s presence. On this pilgrimage, stop and pray every time there is a gate or a stile across the path. Simply pause and ask God to bless you and your travel companions on the journey, then walk on.


God of the everyday,
Help us to be aware of your presence whatever we are doing.
Give us the grace to praise you in the smallest things,
And fill our hearts with your peace and joy.

Have you any comments about this stage?

Any hints or suggestions for other pilgrims welcome.