Two shorter routes to get you out in the fresh air over the winter period: a walk through artistic Cookham and a Cold War walk or cycle at Greenham Common.
Walk 1 – An artist’s haunt
The picturesque village of Cookham, which lies alongside the River Thames – England’s longest and most famous river – was once the home of the English painter, Sir Stanley Spencer. He spent most of his life in Cookham and used scenes from the village as the background to many of his paintings; to learn more about the artist visit the Stanley Spencer Gallery (01628 471885), located in the former Wesleyan Chapel where Spencer used to worship as a child.
Soon the walk passes the Tarry Stone, a large sarsen stone beside a seat at the junction of the A4094 and Odney Lane. This once marked the boundary of lands belonging to the Abbot of Cirencester and is said to have been connected with sports events before 1507. Close by is the Holy Trinity Church which dates back to Norman times. Inside there is a copy of Sir Stanley Spencer’s, The Last Supper, and some colourful stained glass windows.
The walk then follow the peaceful River Thames upstream for a while passing The Bounty pub and Cock Marsh before heading back to the car park.
Walk 2 – A Cold War relic
The airfield at Greenham Common was built during World War II, but it was during the Cold War that Greenham became a household name. Rising tensions between NATO and the Soviet Union led to ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles being deployed here, which in turn gave rise to the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp during the 1980s; on two occasions, between 30,000 and 50,000 women circled the perimeter fence.
Following the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the airfield was declared redundant in 1992, and in 2000, after decades of military use, the common was officially reopened for public use. Most of the military structures have been removed, except for the central part of the single east–west runway that originally stretched for two and a quarter miles, the reinforced-concrete silos that housed the cruise missiles, and the control tower which now houses a visitor information centre and cafe.
The common, which is a great place to explore, is managed by BBOWT and offers a varied wildlife from numerous butterflies to rare birds such as the nightjar and Dartford warbler, and a range of plants, including orchids.
Published in Berkshire Life magazine, January 2019.