Pangbourne is a picturesque town on the River Thames and is the perfect starting point for exploring the surrounding countryside, which inspired one of Britain’s best-loved children’s classics.
When taking this two-hour stroll through an unspoilt valley in the heart of Berkshire, you’ll encounter fabulous beech woodland, patchwork fields, chalk rivers, an old water mill, World War II pillboxes, as well as an excellent pub.
From Pangbourne Station turn right into town, follow the shops and turn right into a small lane called The Moors. The lane continues as a footpath into open fields, across which there is a small footbridge crossing the river Pang. This small, crystal-clear, fast-flowing chalk river almost certainly inspired local resident Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows. Trout and Swans are still common, but unfortunately Ratty (actually a water vole) is now an endangered species and thus a very rare sight.
After crossing the bridge, turn left. The riverside here is a tangle of vegetation. WWII anti-tank pill boxes are scattered through the valley, the remnants of GHQ Stop Line Red, intended to hinder an enemy invasion. Many are covered by trees and their main occupants are now cows; Red Kites, wheeling above the valley, are the only lookouts.
Following the river, the path comes to an old rectory and rabbit-filled field where a tall hedged lane leads to the Tidmarsh road. Turn left along the small pavement to the Greyhound pub in Tidmarsh village. This lovely 13th-century thatched inn has lots of character and an open log fire in winter.
The Bloomsbury Set’s digs
Turn left beside the Greyhound and after a few yards, turn left again, off the road, opposite the Old Water Mill – where Lytton Strachey and other members of the Bloomsbury Set used to live. Cross the footbridge back over the Pang and then go over a stile opposite into a field, aiming for the WWII pillbox ahead. Pass the pillbox on your right and keep walking towards another pair.
Cross the stream by footbridge, entering an adjacent field, keeping the Blackberry and Blackthorne/Sloe hedge to your left. The hedge turns into a small Alder wood towards the end of the field where a gate and footbridge cross another stream out onto a small road. Enter the wheat field opposite via a farm gate and skirt the field anticlockwise and up towards Sulham wood.
The path home
At the top of the field a gate enters Sulham wood, turn immediately left along a forest path, keeping the field on the left and the steeply rising beech wood on the right.
At a footpath sign, turn left downhill. A set of rough-cut steps returns to the wheat field with a clear path to a gate out onto a quiet lane. Turn right and walk a few hundred yards, crossing a bridge over a stream to where the road starts to bear right. A gate on the left leads into an open pasture, with a path across to another stile and footbridge across an often-dry stream. The outskirts of Pangbourne can be seen away to the right, along with more pillboxes.
The path passes an allotment of bee hives and finally returns to the gate into The Moors lane, which you will recognise from earlier.