- Getting there
OS Explorer 171 Start grid reference: 777798
Shiplake is three miles south of Henley on Thames on the A4155. It is served by a station with regular trains through to Reading.
- Route Finding
The path crosses the river over Henley Bridge and is briefly diverted away from the river through the village of Aston, but the path for the most part stays close to the river and presents no route-finding difficulties.
The Baskerville Arms at Lower Shiplake (0118 940 3332) provides B&B and evening meals.
Henley makes a good coffee stop. At lunchtime, the Flowerpot Hotel (01491 574721) provides lunch although picnic opportunities are again plentiful. At Marlow there is plentiful accommodation.
There are public toilets at Henley on Thames, Hurley Lock, Temple Lock and Marlow Lock.
- The Route
Leaving Shiplake, once home to George Swinburne, the poet, and the childhood home of George Orwell, the path takes the pilgrim through some gentle countryside until the town of Henley-on-Thames announces itself by way of the River and Rowing Museum.
Well worth a visit, this museum traces not only the part Henley and its Regatta played in the history of the River Thames, but looks at the industry and environment of the river also. Originating in 1829 the Henley Regatta takes place over a distance of one mile from Temple Island to Henley Bridge.
Henley’s 14th century church is the burial place of Richard Jennings, master builder of St Paul’s Cathedral. From Henley the path meanders past various stately buildings – Fawley Court, Medmenham Abbey, Danesfield House – until it reaches Hurley, whose church was founded in 635 by St Birinus, although only the floor of this remains, the rest of the building dating from a later period.
From there the path passes Bisham Abbey, owned by the Knights Templar in the 13th century, and All Saints, Bisham, with its splendid Norman tower. From the side of a recreation ground a view of Marlow’s famous suspension bridge, with the church on the river bank beside it, soon appears.
DAY 8 ‘ HE RESTORES MY SOUL’
‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.’ (Psalm 23:2-3)
‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Luke 24:49)
We are now four-fifths of the journey along the Thames Pilgrim Way, and if you have walked this route on consecutive days, you will probably be well into the rhythm of the journey by now. Initial problems with clothing should have been sorted out, mid-journey fatigue should have faded away, and your pace settled into one that is sustainable, with sufficient pauses for rest and reflection so that you get the best from you journey. For it is not only in the travelling that we make progress – often the best insights are gained in the moments of stillness in between, when experiences can be reviewed and insights gained.
Today’s walk takes us through the busy town of Henley, most famous for its rowing regatta, when the town is filled with people gathered to watch men and women exert their utmost to gain their goals. In these moments of triumph, with teams jubilantly rejoicing and crowds cheering, it is easy to forget the hours of hard work that led up to such a point. And it is not only about exercise and rowing – a good balance between work and rest must be arrived at to achieve the optimum result.
Although our goals are unlikely to be as energetic, we too need to attain the best balance between work and leisure, action and reflection if we are to become the people God wants us to be.
All along this pilgrimage route have been small village churches. In our eagerness to complete the day’s journey, it is tempting to pass by these small, sacred places, viewing them as distractions, taking up time and energy that might otherwise be devoted to walking.
But these small pilgrim places have been places of rest and reflection for centuries, and can offer a valuable opportunity to assess our spiritual as well as our physical progress, and reset our goals for the rest of the trip. Some, such as St Margaret’s, Binsey, have been pilgrim destinations for centuries. People seeking healing or the answer to specific prayers have travelled to these sites which were felt to be somehow closer to heaven than other, more ordinary locations.
Although contemporary pilgrims may feel sceptical about some of these claims, it is hard to feel unmoved upon entering their dim, cool spaces. With walls soaked in centuries of prayers, repository of so many hopes and fears, site of so many celebrations and times of sadness, these places offer the unique gift of rest and reflection, reminding us that we too form part of that great ‘cloud of witnesses’ both remembered and long forgotten, who have gone before us, forming a connection between the human and the divine.
Stop at the next church you see. You may have to detour off the path for a bit, but see that as part of the journey. If the church is open, go in and sit for a few minutes, absorbing the character and atmosphere of the place. If it is locked, pause for a moment in the porch. Take some time to look around you, noticing small details about the building, speculating on the community that worships here. Allow your mind to wander. Enjoy the peace of the moment, and let the presence of God fill your heart.
God who made the world in six days, and rested on the seventh,
Help us to find your balance in our lives.
Let us not be so overwhelmed either by work or inaction
That we lose sight of those we love, or of you.
In our rest, help us to find your peace,
In our activity, your loving strength.