The Maidenhead millennium walk in part follows the stones marking the northern boundary of the borough in 1934, which bear the initials MB 1934. It is a nice coincidence that the walk was devised by another MB, Margaret Bowdery, the fearless crusader for Berkshire’s paths.
I remembered Margaret’s huge contribution to walking in the area when I took part in the twentieth anniversary celebration of the millennium walk last Sunday. It was naturally a small event, timed to coincide with the Heritage Open Days, which this year were themed ‘hidden nature‘.
We met midway along the trail at Pinkneys Green to walk the eastern half of the route. The whole path is nearly eight miles, running between Hurley village car park to Boulters Lock car park on Maidenhead Riverside. It was a joint initiative of the Ramblers East Berkshire Group and the Maidenhead Civic Society, led by Margaret Bowdery and Ann Darracott respectively, both determined and hardworking ladies.
Their MP Theresa May had been an enthusiastic proponent of the route, taking part in its opening in May 2000 and, with Philip, joining our walk last Sunday. In fact she led it, at quite a pace.
Ann, Steve Gillions of East Berkshire Ramblers, and I all made brief speeches at the start. Ann spoke of the history of the walk and the work being done now to improve it, Steve spelt out the essential Covid-19 precautions for the walk, and I remembered Margaret’s great contribution, and emphasised the value of this trail which was close to people’s homes. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of such local paths and we must always remember the part that groups like the Maidenhead Civic Society, Open Spaces Society and Ramblers have played, and continue to play, in improving our environment and people’s access to it.
I explained that the access groups were currently lobbying parliament for amendments to the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill, to ensure that agricultural payments were used to fund new and better access, and to secure targets for public access and enjoyment. It was essential that such legislation had the welfare of people at its heart, and never more so than now—a message I wanted Theresa to hear.
We set off, through woods and across fields, all delightfully rural despite being close to Maidenhead (though no doubt at risk from the proposed trashing of planning restrictions). When we reached Cemetery field, to the east of the B4447 Switchback Road, we had to walk around three sides of a rectangle on boring roads. Steve Gillions is researching a historic path across the field which would make a big difference if proved to be a highway.
We emerged into fields again and followed the Green Way, another route instigated by Margaret, which connects Cookham and Bray. We had an impressive view of Cliveden House and clocktower in the distance.
We reached Widbrook Common which is a tranquil spot
and continued to Battlemead Common. It is not a registered common but land which Maidenhead Borough, commendably, has acquired from White Place Farm as an open space.
Discussions are taking place about the wildlife potential of the land, part of which is wetland, and public access to it. The Ramblers and civic society are campaigning for year-round access between the east and west fields along a causeway, which was unlocked especially for us.
From the east field the view of Cliveden is spectacular.
Beyond the field the path joins the Thames Path National Trail.
It is a pleasant walk from there to Boulters Lock. One of the features of the millennium walk is that it connects at both ends with the Thames Path, offering an alternative route or a circular one.
Despite the restriction on numbers, the walk was a great success and I congratulate Maidenhead Civic Society and the East Berkshire Ramblers for the event and the trail.