Day 5: Aldermaston Wharf to Reading (and the Thames)

You know when you do something that you know you have to do but you don’t think it’s going to be all that great, and it turns out to be unexpectedly wonderful?  well that was what this last section of the Kennet and Avon canal part of the walk was for me.

I thought it would be dominated by busy roads, urban sprawl, semi-derelict post industrial (not that there’s anything wrong with that), rather than quiet peaceful rural canal.

How wrong I was.

It was a short day walking, partly because I only had 12 more miles of the canal to left to walk but mainly because the train times and train fares meant that I couldn’t get to my starting point at Aldermaston Wharf until about 12.30.

I was surprised by how joyful I felt to reach the canal again, like a homecoming, and where I was meant to be.

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I began the journey with a simple lunch at the gorgeous Kennel and Avon Canal Trust tea garden – a pretty place run by lovely people.  On a warm sunny day like this, it was the perfect place to sit out, eat a sandwich, drink tea, knit, and map out my walk.

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2015-05-21 13.17.52I set off,  and the scenery was delightful, the weather warm and sunny, lots of birdsong, butterflies and dragonflies.

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A mile or so into the walk I reached the point where the canal joins (and then for much of the way is) the River Kennet.  If you look carefully in the picture below you may be able to see that the tall tree in the middle is right at the place where the two waterways meet.

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The rest of the walk was a very watery one – the canal sometimes moving on the river, sometimes joining two ends of a bend as a ‘cut’.  From Theale out towards Reading there were lakes on both sides, unfortunately firmly fenced off and seemingly with limited access, but beautiful nonetheless – plenty of water birds, trees, wild flowers, life of all kinds (apart from human – though of course this habitat is obviously carefully managed).

If you’ve ever been along the M4 around Reading then you will have seen these watery places.  But you probably won’t have seen them like this.

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The canal boats were bunched at points where there were either locks, or pubs and other services.  Between these points were long stretches where I saw few boats, few people, and many birds.  Several herons.  Even another kingfisher. A cuckoo sang persistently (as they do).  I saw three deer grazing in an adjoining field.

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In the river sections I noticed that I seemed to have lost the chiff chaffs that I’d heard all along the way so far, and their place was taken with lots of gulls – the first I’ve seen on this walk.


It was a warm day, and there were lots of butterflies and dragonflies all along the way.  The elderflower has changed from being tightly in bud, to just opening, to flat plates of open fragrant flowers.  (A reminder to try to fit in making some elderflower cordial when I’m home again).

Then everything changed as I approached, went under, and left behind the M4.  My goodness, the noise!  I think I walked well over a mile beyond the M4 bridge before the traffic noise finally faded away.  It made me think a lot about traffic, and what we mean when we talk and think about it.  Another post for another day though.

Despite the noise, the walk remained very pretty – increasingly river-like; wonderful fields full of buttercups with animals grazing; a few boats moving slowly along to the next lock; the string of pillboxes; the occasional building (or remains) hinting at a more industrial history along the canal.

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And then, at last, I reached Reading.  The outskirts were very promising: seeing the backs of all those Victorian houses and the gardens coming down to the water’s edge reminded me of so many rail journeys.  And I’m very partial to a good bit of brickwork, something the Victorians did so well and often so exuberantly.

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And then the centre of Reading.  Not sure what to say about this.  It could have been so very good, it had all the makings.  Both sides of the canal were pedestrianised and there were lots of people enjoying the late afternoon sun and warmth, sitting out eating.

But all I could see was corporate formula food: every single food outlet (no, not restaurants, not cafes: I choose my words carefully) was a chain, selling and serving food to a corporate formula, based no doubt on sound market research.  You name the chain, they were there.  And evidently serving a market.

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Not serving me though.  Definitely not my cup of tea, not my Yo Sushi, or my Giraffe or my Burrito or my anything else.  Sorry if I sound a little bitter, but for me this epitomised everything that is wrong with our town and city centres, and our food (and health) as a country.

Anyway, let’s move on.  As I did.  My map told me that Reading was once known as biscuit town, for the manufacturers Huntley and Palmer, who had their factory there and were one of the most important employers in the town.  Today their remaining factory building has been converted into flats (of course), but you can still see the ghost of their presence from the towpath.

2015-05-21 16.35.07And then, and then, I was suddenly at the point where the Kennet flows into the Thames.  The end of this first part of my journey.

2015-05-21 16.54.51 2015-05-21 16.54.30A quick peak around the corner to see what awaits me on my next walking day, then turn around and back into town and then the station for my train home.

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And as I crossed the canal on the old horseshoe bridge, I saw this, and it seemed to say it all.  I couldn’t agree more.

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About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
This entry was posted in 60th year, Nature, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels, Walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Day 5: Aldermaston Wharf to Reading (and the Thames)

  1. nectaryne says:

    I am truly enjoying reading about your walks. Thank you!


    • Thank you so much for stopping by to say so (and for all your ‘likes’!). It’s so lovely to have comments saying what people think about my posts. It has been such a pleasure to do the walk, and an extra pleasure sharing it here.


  2. Marian says:

    Hello Deborah,
    I’ve been reading your blog ever since you left a comment on mine, and I’ve been enjoying all your posts – gardening, knitting and crocheting, and most especially these ones as you walk to London. Although I haven’t commented before (life being far too hectic at times) I find I just have to comment on this post in particular, as your destination on this portion of the walk was Reading. My husband and I used to love to listen to the Canadian public radio (CBC) program “As It Happens”, an oftentimes quirky news show, and anytime they had a story which took place in England they would mention the location of the story as being “X miles/other distance from Reading”. They never explained why they did this, or why Reading was – seemingly – the point from which all distances in England were measured. This morning, after reading your post, and after YEARS of wondering about this quirky thing on As It Happens, I finally looked it up. (Some days I really, really love the internet!). Not only is this mystery solved, thanks to you 🙂 , but I’m also reminded of how much my husband and I LOVED listening to As It Happens (and a myriad of other CBC programs) and I’m now resolved to get back to listening to CBC, which, for many reasons, I let fall by the wayside several years ago.

    I also have to say that I completely agree with your assessment of corporate food outlets and the effects they’re having on our towns and our health. We’ve lived in a small community in Southwest Ontario for just over four years now, and our immediate area (which used to be a cottage community but has since grown and been amalgamated into the adjacent small city) is extremely walkable, with a plaza with various businesses (grocery, drug store, hairdresser etc) in the centre of the community. Anyway, a friend (who has lived here all her life) told me there used to be an independent bakery/coffee shop … until Tim Horton’s moved in. Tim Horton’s is our quintessential Canadian coffee shop chain, and while many people love it, I’m one of the ones who absolutely hates it, and when I heard an independent bakery and coffee shop was squeezed out of our community by our “roll-up-the-rim” goliath that just made me sad on so many levels…


    • Hi Marion, thanks so much to take the time to write such a lovely long comment. I always read your blog, and I really enjoy it, always interesting ideas (and sometimes challenging too, which is good). I’m intrigued by the idea of everywhere being X miles from Reading – not something I’ve come across over here, I’d be interested to hear the reason if you get a moment.
      So far as the depletion of our local areas go, I guess we all have to take responsibility for how we choose to spend our pounds / dollars etc. I go for local and independent whenever I can, and it’s great to know that lots of other people do too. It’s definitely a growing counter-trend here in the UK, and the Transition Movement has been a great help in that. We live very close to Bristol, which this year is European Green City, and has the Bristol Pound, a local currency only accepted by local businesses – the theory (and I think practice) is that money spent this way stays within the local community, whereas money spent in the big chains mostly leeches out.
      I love that I read you here in the UK, and you read me there in Canada! It’s one of the really great things about the internet – that power to connect individuals so far apart.


  3. Marian says:

    Thanks Deborah, for your kind words about my blog! I’ve been so busy lately that the blog has been, non-intentionally, put on the back burner. At times I wonder why I’m continuing with it (I feel I must come off very haranguing at times) but I have to say I love being able to connect with like-minded people 🙂

    We too, try very hard to make sure we’re voting with our dollars. For example, we don’t go out to eat very often, but when we do, we make sure to choose independent restaurants over chains. Similarly, we live fairly close to the US border and many of our neighbours routinely go across as it is definitely cheaper there, but we hardly ever go, and make a point of buying locally, whenever possible. I wish more people would see the power they hold with their wallets!

    I’ve copy-pasted the paragraph which explains about the distance from Reading from the As It Happens Wikipedia page:

    The distance from Reading[edit]
    A frequently cited example of the show’s sometimes whimsical sense of humour relates to its frequent references to the UK town of Reading, Berkshire. After almost any lighter news story or interview that emanates from any location in the UK, the As It Happens host will conclude the piece by straight-facedly noting how far the UK location is from Reading, frequently giving the distance in both miles and some other form of strange, non-standard measurement (e.g., 733,000 garden gnomes, lined up hat to hat).

    This long-standing tradition on the show dates from the mid-1970s, when English-born segment producer George Somerwill once concluded a program script with a note that a small village mentioned in the preceding segment was located ‘nine miles from Reading’.[4] This note, intended as a serious clarification, was totally baffling to most Canadian listeners — and even to the rest of the show’s staff. It quickly became a running joke on the show to identify all places in the UK (even major centres like London) in relation to their proximity to the comparatively obscure borough of Reading.

    In her book The As It Happens Files, former show host Mary Lou Finlay notes that As It Happens has given a boost not just to Reading’s profile, but also to its economy, as in recent years a number of Canadian fans of the show have made a point of visiting Reading when they are visiting the UK.


    • Thanks for the explanation Marian, I love this kind of running gag. Our local BBC weather reports often choose unusual place names to highlight (hello Nempnett Thrubwell!), or one night they might pick only names with trees in them, instead of the more expected Bristol, Bath, Taunton etc. Never alluded to in the broadcast, just shown on the map for those who enjoy such things.


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