The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Berkshire Edition

Gaynor Pengelly and Julia Thum: Our favourite places

1 Nov 2016

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A love of the river led writing partnership Ginger Black to write their first novel Riverside Lane. The two friends – Gaynor Pengelly and Julia Thum – dreamed up the plot walking their dogs along the tow paths of the Thames Valley and the book is released today. A tautly paced page turner that gently satirizes English manners, Riverside Lane is set against the exquisite backdrop of an English Thames side village based on Bray where the two authors live. Obviously, being Berkshire residents, I had to ask them to share their favourite places!

Bray Lock

There are 45 locks along the River Thames and we have passed a fair few on our walkie talkies while planning Riverside Lane. Bray Lock is on the opposite bank to the village and, with the river forming the county divide, is technically in Buckinghamshire. There is an old lock keeper’s cottage on an island between the lock and the weir and we often pass on the tow path before crossing back on the beautiful wooden footbridge a little upstream where we stop and watch rowers and punters pass below.

The River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames

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This is everything a museum should be; quirky, fascinating, interactive and huge fun. The River & Rowing Museum is situated on the banks of the River Thames, a short walk from the centre of Henley and has three galleries dedicated to rowing, rivers and the history of Henley-on-Thames. Perhaps the best part is The Wind in the Willows exhibition which brings to life Kenneth Graham’s much-loved story in an enchanting and magical way. There are lots of art and photography exhibitions as well, and a great cafe for afterwards.

Monkey Island

Monkey Island is on the reach above Boveney Lock and has wonderful memories and associations for us both. A white suspension bridge with cables that interweave like lace takes you over the willow-flanked backwater and onto this tiny, tranquil island. It is steeped in history and has accommodated royalty, writers artists and poets. We used to stop there for a coffee before returning to the hustle bustle of the real world but the hotel is currently closed for renovation. The whole village is excited about its launch next year.

The Marlow Bookshop

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This is new and SO exciting. Just when we thought nothing could make Marlow more perfect, along came this lovely independent bookshop and proved us wrong. The Marlow Bookshop is a feast for the senses, bursting with books yet airy, fresh and modern. Wooden shelves, the smell of books the fabulously friendly and knowledgeable staff – it is an absolute jewel and a hugely welcome addition to this lovely town.

The Stanley Spencer Gallery

This charming gallery is a tiny and heartfelt tribute to one of our best-known artists. The place is packed with show-stopping works as well as sketches and lesser-known pieces. The very knowledgeable custodians manage to be invisible if you just want a mooch and a natter, but appear from nowhere to answer questions. And there are some very nice coffee shops in Cookham too!

St Michael’s Church, Bray

This beautiful medieval church will forever be associated with the politically correct vacillations of a former vicar, made famous in the 18th century song The Vicar of Bray. From all around the village, you can see its tower rising up to give the community shape and purpose. St Michael’s is precious to us in endless ways. Carol services with the children, fascinating talks with the genius and very cool vicar, quiet moments when we need them. We walk through the churchyard daily, meet at the lychgate for our Monday walks, watch our children play cricket in the shadow of its tower. St Michael’s is the core, the very essence of the village, and its presence signifies everything that is wonderful about our village life.

Trains

This is an odd one but the train from Maidenhead to anywhere! As neither of us take the train to work, we have a slightly different perspective on rail travel to the average commuter. Whenever we travel by train together we have such a laugh. There is something liberating about relinquishing parking and navigation worries and surrendering ourselves to the fate of First Great Western. It makes us feel carefree and rather silly! We joke that soon we will be bring thermos flasks and sandwiches from home but for now we treat ourselves to a hot chocolate and feel we are having a ‘real day out’! In normal circumstances, we tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, but something about trains makes us chat to people with whom we would not usually engage and we have met some fabulous characters.

Braywick Nature Reserve

Just south side of Maidenhead Town Centre, in a triangle between the cemetery, the community sports pitches and a cut of the river Thames, Braywick Nature Reserve is a haven for dog walkers and used to be home to a delightful primary school called Winbury, which is where we first met. There is a little punchbowl where the children went pond dipping when they were tiny, a coffee shop (phew) and miles of beautiful walks. We had a friend – another Winbury mum – whose children have grown up and moved on with ours, and we used to walk there with her. She died this year, but we still half expect to see her coming the other way when we go there. We miss her terribly, but it is calming and peaceful to be there and remember her.

Norden Farm

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This centre for the arts is our lucky place. Set just outside Maidenhead, Norden Farm hosts fabulous shows, films and courses as well as having a great bar and restaurant. We have often met there, disappointed at the lack of response from an agent or publisher, only for their reply to pop up as we lounge together on their lovely leather sofas. Now we go there when we really need to hear back from somebody! It doesn’t always work, but it provides a lovely excuse and we all have our little superstitions!

Chiswick

It is rare and serendipitous to make a new friend who has trodden the same life paths as you in a slightly different rhythm. We met outside the Winbury school gates and found we had both moved from Chiswick the same time. We unravelled things further to find we had been in the same industry, hung out at the same bars and nightclubs and known many of the same people. We often return to Chiswick together for meetings in the stylish and cosmopolitan High Street or walks along Chiswick Mall doing the loop from The Riverside Club down to Hammersmith Bridge then back through Barnes. The area holds very, very precious memories and associations for us both. The river is wider and busier there and the footpaths flanked with houses and coffee shops so lots of places to stop and refuel!

Riverside Lane is out now in hardback, published by Momentum Books, £14.99

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Berkshire Edition