Reading – A Walk along the Thames

We decided to spend the day in Reading, a town in the Thames Valley to the west of London.  It’s Berkshire’s biggest town and also the largest in the UK to not have city status.  Reading is a popular commuter town with a train almost every five minutes into London and the fastest services taking only 27 minutes.

Reading Rowing Club overlooking the River Thames
Reading Rowing Club overlooking the River Thames

The town is kind to motorists as its Thameside Promenade car park offers unlimited free parking at weekends.  As it only has 62 spaces I would recommend arriving fairly early as we arrived at 11.30 a.m. and were lucky as there were only three places remaining.  We’d decided to take a three mile (4.3km) loop around the town and its two rivers, the Thames and the Kennet.  The walk would take us along the Thames Path, through the city centre and to the ruins of Reading Abbey.

Rowing on the Thames at Reading
Rowing on the Thames

Leaving the car, it was only a few steps to walk for us to reach the riverside footpath where we were greeted with a large group of swans.  Boat trips along the River Thames start from Caversham Pier which I’m certain must be very enjoyable when they start running again.  A good idea would be to walk in one direction to Sonning and then take the boat back.  Crossing Caversham Bridge, we enjoyed some good views over the Thames and paused awhile to watch some rowing practice taking place from the nearby Reading Rowing Club.

Goslings on the Thames at Reading
Goslings on the Thames

Having arrived on the north bank of the river, we strolled through Christchurch Meadows which stretches all the way along to Reading Bridge.  Along this stretch we saw large numbers of gorgeous fluffy goslings and ducklings along the waters edge being guarded by their protective parents.  The meadows are ideal for both ball games and riverside picnics with numerous wooden tables provided.  It wasn’t too busy but it was nice to see people out and about again enjoying the spring sunshine.

Caversham Lock, Reading
Caversham Lock, Reading

Walking along the riverside we admired the brightly painted canal boats and cruisers moored by the bank and the numerous luxurious apartments with their unrivalled riverside views.  Crossing the river once again we soon reached Caversham Lock where we stopped briefly to watch a narrowboat make its way through the lock gates.  Assistance is provided at this lock during the day but a sign indicated that it is still navigable at other times on a self-service basis when the lock keepers are off duty.  The original lock was built in 1778 with the present lock and lock keepers cottage erected in 1905.

Canal boat on the River Thames at Reading
A Canal boat on the River Thames

Running parallel to the lock is a weir and footbridge which we had tried to use to cross the river.  Unfortunately on our visit this was closed for renovations but normally it forms an attractive crossing point via View Island which we later discovered was upgraded from a derelict boatyard to a nature reserve some 20 years ago and is now a wildlife haven.

Footpath along the Thames just past Caversham Lock
Footpath along the Thames just past Caversham Lock

Continuing past the lock we followed the footpath along the river bank until we reached the point where the Thames meets the River Kennet.  Reading lies at the eastern end of the Kennet & Avon canal which is 87 miles (140km) in length linking London with the Bristol Channel.  The canal was constructed between 1718 and 1810 and was mostly used to transport coal and building stone from Somerset to London.

Signpost at the point where the Thames meets the River Kennet
Signpost at the point where the Thames meets the River Kennet

Following the River Kennet we walked back towards Reading, passing briefly through a more industrialised section of the riverside before reaching the attractive Blake’s Lock.  I would like to return here when museums are back open as the lock is home to the Riverside Museum located in two former waterworks buildings.  This branch of Reading Museum tells the story of Reading’s two rivers – the Kennet and the Thames.

Blake's Lock, Reading
Blake’s Lock

Shortly afterwards we arrived at our chosen lunch stop, ‘The Back of Beyond’ pub which lies on a small island where the river divides.  Despite indoor catering not yet having resumed, we managed to find a table in the pleasant courtyard overlooking the river where we rested our legs whilst enjoying a bite to eat.

The riverside terrace at Beyond the Back, Reading
The riverside terrace at Beyond the Back, Reading

Feeling refreshed, we set off again along Chestnut Walk to the abbey ruins.  Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121 and visited by many kings including Henry III who stayed there on numerous occasions.  The abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 when all monasteries across the country were suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.  Although it’s now mostly in ruins, parts of it have been renovated and visitors can enter the remains of the former Chapter House.

Ruins of Reading Abbey
Ruins of Reading Abbey

Adjacent to the abbey is Reading Gaol noted for detaining Oscar Wilde (1895-1897) who wrote the famous poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ following his release.  The prison closed and has been unused since December 2013 but there are plans for it to become an arts and heritage centre serving the wider community.

The Chapter House ruins, Reading Abbey with the Gaol behind
The Chapter House ruins, Reading Abbey with the Gaol behind

Before visiting, we’d read that Banksy, the elusive street artist had as recently as March 2021, painted a mural on the prison wall depicting a prisoner escaping from the gaol using a rope made from bed sheets tied to a typewriter.  We had hoped to view this art work but at the time of our visit it was being restored after vandals had smeared red paint over it.

Forbury Gardens, Reading
Forbury Gardens, Reading

Moving on from the abbey, we wandered into the nearby Forbury Gardens which once formed the outer court of the abbey.  It became a public park in the middle of the 19th century with the huge Maiwand Lion sculpture added in 1886 to commemorate the fallen from the 66th Berkshire Regiment at the Battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan.  The gardens are laid out with lawns, flowerbeds and specimen trees and features a bandstand where summer concerts take place.

Maiwand Lion & Bandstand, Forbury Gardens, Reading
Maiwand Lion & Bandstand, Forbury Gardens, Reading

It was then time for a spot of shopping so we headed to the large Oracle Shopping Centre not far away which has an attractive setting straddling the River Kennet.  The indoor mall is bright and airy and contains the usual mix of high street stores with a branch of John Lewis nearby, whilst numerous bars and restaurants offer a pleasant setting with their outdoor terraces overlooking the riverbank.

Oracle Centre, Reading
Oracle Centre, Reading

Before returning to the car, we explored more of the pedestrianised town centre, finding some interesting small independent shops tucked down narrow alleyways and along Bridge Street.  The final landmark we came across was the neo-Gothic town hall dominating the Market Place.  It’s now home to the Reading Museum which would have been interesting to visit if it had been open.

Reading Town Hall and Museum
Reading Town Hall and Museum

Our looped walk then took us past Reading railway station and along Vastern Road back to where we had left the car.  We’d very much enjoyed our first visit to Reading and our looped walk starting and ending at the riverside and hopefully we’ll be able to return to see more of the town later in the year.

 

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Odiham and the Basingstoke Canal

 

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Reading - Thames Walk

 

57 thoughts on “Reading – A Walk along the Thames

  1. Apologies on being so late to comment on this very enjoyable post, Marion. In recent years we have got to know Reading a lot better. Our eldest son lives there and it was where we did our very first housesit. We have remained friends with the hosts and their 2 Border Collies! As you have illustrated, there is so much more to Reading than first meets the eye; wonderful walks and surprising history and culture. It is a place we are still discovering! Hope you are enjoying the sunnier weather!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from you June! The weather is gorgeous here too and we returned awhile ago from brunch out followed by a walk. We’re now sitting out in the garden which is very peaceful. Reading is an interesting town and I agree there’s lots of nice things to see and do there. Thanks for commenting. Marion

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  2. How nice that Reading is so close to London. I like your suggestion to walk one-way along the river and then take a boat back. It’s a good thing you visited during the Spring to see all the baby ducklings along the water. The ruins of Reading Abbey look incredible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to take a river cruise one way, the next time we visit Reading. The baby ducklings and goslings were gorgeous and I don’t think I’ve seen so many in such close proximity. The abbey ruins were fascinating and I didn’t realise until our visit the gaol’s connections with Oscar Wilde. Thank you for taking the time to comment, it’s much appreciated.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a charming stroll it must’ve been! Do you recall how much you walked that day? The Reading Gaol is intriguing, as it’d housed one of the most-famous literary writers in modern Western literature. Looks to be a pleasant day trip over from London, that’s for sure!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Reading is often just thought of as a shopping destination but there’s much more to it than that especially along the river. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post Hannah, it’s much appreciated. Hope you enjoy the upcoming bank holiday weekend! Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a lovely town! I especially loved the interesting signpost between the rivers and the beautiful ruins of the abbey. I’m always glad when old buildings are maintained and not torn down because they are still so beautiful even in ruins. Wonderful post!-Meg

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  5. Our only visit to Reading was to transfer trains, when we came from Winchester to London . What a pretty place. Looks like great walking territory along the rivers. Thanks for sharing Marion. Allan

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  6. Thanks for sharing your walk and the pictures of Reading. We have never been there although we passed it by several times. For us it had the reputation it’s not worth visiting.
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. So it’s something of a scandal that I’ve never been to Reading. On my doorstep for years and all that. Thanks for this reminder that I should put that right the next time I’m in London. The Town Hall and Museum look like fine buildings.

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  8. I do like the canal boats and those locks they need to manoeuvre through. And the footpath along the Thames looks like a great place to enjoy a nice walk and enjoy the sight of your beautiful river and nature. And Reading Abbey … wow, those ruins … don’t you sometimes jus wishes those walls could talk 😉.
    This was a nice stroll – thank you Marion for taking me to (and through) Reading.

    Liked by 2 people

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