Small yet perfectly formed Mapledurham has hosted a range of icons. For the 1976 Nazi espionage film The Eagle Has Landed, Mapledurham’s church, Elizabethan manor and watermill were converted into Studley Constable (allegedly in Norfolk), where an undercover German unit led by Michael Caine fought the US army amid the gravestones. The production crew built a shop and pub, which are no longer standing, but there is an exhibition commemorating the movie in the church. The mill, where local children were rescued by one of Caine’s men, inspired the illustrations for The Wind in the Willows; author Kenneth Grahame lived, and died, in nearby Pangbourne.
Turn right out of Pangbourne station car park and cross Shooters Hill to walk down The Wharf. Veer left to emerge on a road. Turn left and cross the elegant span of Whitchurch Toll Bridge (free to foot passengers). There’s been a bridge here since 1792; the current, Grade-II listed structure dates to 1902. Continue straight up the road (B471), past the Greyhound pub and an art gallery.
1. ONE AND A HALF MILES
As the B471 bends right, take the footpath on the left through trees to a kissing gate. Follow the field edge, pass through a gate and walk on to Beech Farm. Veer right to follow the drive to the main road. Turn right; after 150m, turn left opposite a thatched cottage. At the T-junction turn left, then right after 50m down a gravel footpath past a row of houses. Go through a gate and cross the field, then pass through a metal gate and turn right.
Continue straight on to a gatepost; follow the yellow arrow and go around the field. Drop down to a lane and turn right; at the road, turn left. When the road bends hard left, turn right. After 100m, follow the footpath sign into woods, through a gate, then straight down and then up the valley, heading towards a house on the horizon.
Pass through a gate to the top of the slope and, 50m before the house, turn right through a gate, then left, leaving the field though another gate. At the lane, turn right. Carry straight on, past a farm to a crossroads. For refreshment, take the footpath straight on to the King Charles Head pub; otherwise, turn right, past Briar Cottage. Veer right into woods down the Bridleway between Holly Copse House and Holly Copse Cottage. At the bottom, veer left (follow the white arrow, painted on a tree) to walk through woods, emerging into a valley by a gatepost.
2. FOUR AND A HALF MILES
Walk along the field, past Bottom Farm. Veer right onto the road, past the White House and into Mapledurham. Recorded in the Doomsday Book, Mapledurham House is still home to descendants of the family that built the house, and boasts original plaster ceilings and grand oak staircases. The mill, the last operational watermill on the Thames, sits on the river opposite the church; Michael Caine’s signature is etched into a brick here.
3. SIX MILES
Backtrack to the White House and turn left. Walk along the track. Pass through the ornate gates of Tudor-style Hardwick Hall (peer over the hedge for tantalising glimpses of the grand house). Continue straight, past half-timbered Hardwick Stud Farm, through more ornate gates and past Bozedown alpaca farm. After a mile turn left on to the B471 (opposite the art gallery); retrace your steps, over the toll bridge and into Pangbourne.
Mix of quiet roads and footpaths, which can get very muddy. Some uphills.
HOW TO GET THERE
Pangbourne is on the A329, west of Reading.
By public transport:
Trains connect Pangbourne to London Paddington (45mins).
King Charles Head
Collins End, Goring Heath RG8 7RL
☎ 01491 680268
Mapledurham, Reading RG4 7TR
☎ 0118 972 3350
Open weekends and bank holidays, 2pm-5.30pm, Easter-Sept. Adults £6.75, children £3.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 159
Grid ref: SU 633 765
River Thames Alliance