Underneath the arches, moving onto Maidenhead

Maidenhead bridge

As with a lot of places on the Thames, settlements grew because of a river crossing, and Maidenhead is no different. There’s evidence that the Romans set up camp with a ferry, then the Anglo Saxon’s built a “new wharf” aka “the maiden hythe”, that then became a landing stage for the marauding Danes in 870. The Danes moored their longboats here to continue fighting overland towards Reading, (not sure why they didn’t just cruise a bit further, maybe there was a water shortage). But by 1280 a wooden bridge had been built which helped to establish Maidenhythe as a thriving medieval market town. But wooden bridges and rivers prone to flooding are a recipe for disaster. Despite the royal “grant for pontage” ( the right to charge tolls for upkeep and repair) a chapel and hermitage had to be built so travellers could stop and pray for a safe passage or to give thanks that they had made it over and could continue their journey. The wooden bridge battled on through more political, military and civil wrangling, collapsess and rebuilds until the new 13 arch stone bridge was built in 1777.

Maidenhead bridge and the Thames Riviera hotel

In 1903 the toll for crossing the bridge in a horse drawn coach was an eyewatering shilling, roughly equivalent to £14 today. And if you took 20 sheep across, it would have been 10 old pence-roughly £11 today. Eric hoped they didn’t charge for going under the bridge as he’s convinced I have 20 sheeps worth of wool on board with all the spinning and knitting I do. But in 1903 the charity commission deemed the tolls illegal as Maidenhead corporation were using the funds for purposes other than bridge maintenance.

The Maidenhead bridge isn’t the only bridge with a story. In 1839 Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed the Great Western Railway bridge.

The rail bridge

It was an innovative design intended to maintain the shallow gradient needed for the age of steam and at 39m x7m (129’x24′) the low rise arches were the widest flattest ever constructed at the time. However, the commissioners were worried that the bridge wouldn’t be strong enough, so Kingdom Brunel reluctantly agreed to leave the centering wooden formwork in place. But unbeknown to them, he had lowered it slightly so it was no longer of structural consequence. During the next strong flood the wooden “support” was washed away but the brick bridge held fast proving his superior engineering skills.

It might not be the most aesthetically beautiful bridge, but it is indeed a very clever and innovative one. The width and size of the central arch is such that acts as an echo chamber so the bridge is known locally as the Sounding Bridge. Though I’m not sure the local residents appreciate very passing boat tooting its horn, or the local teenagers sharing their greetings.

Not the quietest of bridges

Maidenhead has yet another bridge within its bounds, the M4, but neither the road or the bridge give us any cause for excitement. But its always fun to see things from a different perspective.

Under the M4

We moored at Bray, the exclusive suburb of Maidenhead

Looking back to Bray

next to Eton’s Dorney lakes (where the 2012 Olympic rowing took place), but thanks to a few disrespectful individuals, who used the site as their personal playground during the covid lock down, Eton have now closed it off to the non feepaying public. But we did walk the meadow and saw this flower that we haven’t come across before

Any ideas?….

and the damsel flies were very obliging when it came to being photographed.

I took this snap on my phone

Whilst Eric was lining up the perfect shot

Smile you’re on camera

And the mystery flower is Chicory. Apparently it’s quite common but i don’t recall seeing one before or since