Some of the best things to see and do in Cookham
PUBLISHED: 11:13 30 April 2019
From its beautiful Moor that meets the Thames, to independent shops, restaurants and a jam-packed events calendar, Cookham is as popular with tourists as it is with the people who live here
If you're the kind of person who wants to dash out for a loaf of bread and avoid bumping into anyone you know, don't move to Cookham! Everyone knows everyone here. There's nowhere quite like this beautiful Berkshire village, made up of three parts: Cookham village, Cookham Rise and Cookham Dean.
The village is famous for being the home of the 20th century leading artist Sir Stanley Spencer, who called Cookham “a village in heaven”. And he was right.
Set on the River Thames, it offers breathtaking scenery. You can't beat a walk down to Cookham Lock, or over the Moor and down to Cock Marsh. Winter Hill offers stunning views over the Thames Valley too. Cookham is also unique in that it has such a great sense of community and there's always something going on; be it the Cookham Festival and Let's Rock the Moor, the Gravity Grand Prix, the regatta, Cookham Ball, fireworks at Grove Island or up in the Dean, the Christmas street fair or the Boxing Day Games. There's never a dull moment.
The Stanley Spencer Gallery on the high street started its life as a chapel where Spencer visited as a child. His works depict village life in Cookham and are worth a look. Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, also lived here as a child, and what was his home is now Herries School.
Cookham is home to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, based at Moor Hall conference centre, plus the John Lewis private members' Odney Club is located in the village, and even if you don't work for the company, you can still visit on various open days throughout the year. There's also the John Lewis Heritage Centre; a lovely recent addition.
Education is first class in Cookham, with a choice of four good primary schools, both state and independent. Trains between Maidenhead and Marlow serve the train station, and it takes less than an hour to get into London.
A short stroll from the station, the High Street and Parade are bustling with shops and eateries. Whether you're considering moving here or just visiting, here is your essential guide!
Is it wine o'clock yet?
Paul and Angela Stratford own and run the Old Butchers Wine Cellar on the High Street. In 1986, Paul bought the derelict historic building that was originally the village butchers and slaughterhouse built in the 1500s. He spent two years restoring it back to glory. The Old Butchers Wine Cellar was established and has remained in the heart of the village as a wine shop for over 30 years. They import wines from around the world, with particular emphasis on small family owned wineries.
Paul says: “We strive to keep our range exciting with the overall objective of finding great value wines that over-deliver in quality. Visitors are surprised at how diverse our range is and that it covers every price range.”
The business has evolved over the last few years and now incorporates a popular wine bar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, 5pm–11pm. You can relax in the atmospheric shop and try a range of wines. They also serve cheese and charcuterie sharing platters. Everyone chats around the tables and enjoys wine, bottled beers and G&T.
Angela says: “People jokingly refer to our wine bar as the new social centre of Cookham, where there is a fun, friendly and welcoming atmosphere to make new friends and meet with old.”
You can also shop online at oldbutcherswinecellar.co.uk and they offer free local delivery to all SL postcodes. You can also sign up to their Wine Club to have regular deliveries to your door.
You can't miss the show-stopping window displays in Oui Madam, a stylish wedding atelier in the arcade on the High Street. Founder and designer Cynthia Grafton-Holt has spent 30 years working alongside the UK's leading fashion and designer houses, Alexander McQueen, Matthew Williamson and Victoria Beckham, to name a few. During her career, Cynthia has made dresses for British society, nobility and A- listers, such as J ennifer Lopez, Rosamund Pike and Reese Witherspoon.
“Cookham is such a beautiful place for me to have my studio. It's so calm and tranquil, and during the summer it's a lovely treat to come to work. On a sunny day, I like to walk by the river − it's idyllic. My brides love visiting the boutique and going to The King's Arms or The White Oak for lunch afterwards,” says Cynthia. “The Arcade has changed a lot since we arrived three years ago, with vibrant new business owners who are lovely and inspiring.
“We've made a few changes to the boutique recently, and launched a collection of ready-to-wear atelier bridal separates. The collection extends the Oui Madam Bridal signature of elegant, timeless contemporary classics so that brides can create their own look with a modern twist. The range also provides inspiration for clients shopping for eveningwear, the red carpet or a milestone birthday.”
Cookham Festival and Let's Rock the Moor
The Cookham Festival is a “feast of the arts” held every other year in May. We spoke to Chairman Malcolm Stork, who was involved in the very first Cookham Festival in 1967. “Over the years, the scope and attendance has grown so that it is now the largest community activity in Cookham, as well as being one of the major arts events in the area,” he says. “It attracts more than 15,000 people and we have a policy of making the ticket prices exceptional value, plus curating a range of events for all ages − from bumps and babies to our community's oldest residents and all in between.”
Malcolm has lived in the village since the early 1950s, and went to school at Holy Trinity Primary School. “I have sung in Holy Trinity Church choir since 1958 and in the Cantorum Choir since its earliest years and am now its longest serving member!” he says. “I have two children, both married with children. My daughter lives locally and so her grandchildren are now the third generation passing through Holy Trinity Primary School.”
He adds: “The Festival's aims are to create opportunities for local communities to enjoy the highest standard of music, arts and other cultural activities; and to celebrate local talent and to encourage people of all ages to engage in artistic activities.”
The Festival runs over 11/12 days and involves a mix of concerts, performance, exhibitions, talks, art/craft workshops, children's events and artist open studios.
“In 2009, a new feature was a rock concert, known as Let's Rock the Moor, which now has a life of its own and is an annual event,” says Malcolm. And people come from far and wide to attend.
“The Festival is a charity, run by volunteers, and the money received from sponsors and through ticket sales go directly to support individual events or the Festival as a whole. Any proceeds are recycled to support the arts both within Cookham and the surrounding communities,” says Malcolm.
Paula and Marc Fredman met when he was running a salon in Wooburn Green, and have been together for 22 years. “We decided we wanted our own salon together, so drove around the local area and discovered beautiful Cookham,” says Paula. “We felt Cookham needed a modern, trendy salon, so Vanilla was born, and is still going strong 12 years down the line!”
Vanilla opened a beauty salon downstairs five years ago. “We pride ourselves on our colour and cutting, and our beautician Justina will give you the most amazing, relaxing facial you will ever experience,” says Paula. “We love being in Cookham as it's so beautiful with a lovely community spirit and loyal customers.”
Butchers of distinction
You can't come to Cookham without trying a sausage from Cowdery's! There has been a butcher's shop on the same premises in Lower Road since 1888. Ged Cowdery (who always has a friendly smile to welcome his customers) says: “I have lived in Maidenhead for over 50 years, and I have a wife and three teenage sons. I started as a Saturday boy in the late 1970s and did not know what to do when I left school, so sort of fell into it full time. Just chatting to Macey in the shop one day, he told me it was for sale, and here I am. Rebranding was a hard call as people loved what Macey did here. Now the shop has evolved and become mine and something I am proud to put my name on. We are introducing new things to make life easier for busy people. Pies, pasties, sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, breadcrumb chicken, chicken kievs −all made in store. And the sausages outside on the weekends are our way of advertising. I am proud to put them out because I believe they are a great product and represent what we do here.”
Hungry? There is so much choice, it's hard to pick where to go in Cookham. The village has everything, from fish and chips to pizza, Thai, Indian and Chinese, there's traditional pubs such as the Old Swan Uppers, through to the modern Bel & the Dragon and The White Oak. We're also lucky to have independent cafes and Costa.
The White Oak opened in November 2008 after a long and extensive refurbishment. Henry Cripps, who owns and runs the pub, says: “My wife, Katherine, does the décor, design and feel, whilst I do the operations (with Katherine!). Katherine and I love Cookham. Our son, Fred, went to the Montessori here and we met lots of lovely people, many of whom are still our friends today.
“Cookham is vibrant, has a lovely community spirit and there is always something going on. It has almost everything, and we regularly use the Stationery Depot, Devine (Adam supplies our flowers), Tom's DIY... I think I visit every shop over the year for something. One of the many things I love about the village is the number of clubs and societies you can be involved with. We support so many of them but I also take part in a few, which I really enjoy. For those R&R moments, I like the Cricket Club annual six-a-side tournament and I regularly play in Cookham's tag rugby in the summer. We love Let's Rock the Moor and the Cookham Festival as well.”
The White Oak was called Spencers before, after one of the previous landlord's sons. It was called The White Hart before that. “We kept The White from there and added Oak as our other pub was The Greene Oak in Oakley Green. Something old and something new,” says Henry. “Although we have sold The Greene Oak, we also have The Three Oaks in Gerrards Cross and No 5 London End in Beaconsfield. We hope we offer something different, complementing the area, and marvel at the goodwill the people have towards all of the establishments.”
The White Oak has won many Food and Service related awards (as well as one for design), such as the Michelin Bib Gourmand, of which there are currently only 167 in the UK. “We are also pleased to be in the AA guide and Waitrose's Good Food Guide, as are all of our sites,” says Henry. “But it's the support of our regulars and the community that make The White Oak what it is.”
Cookham Dean Cricket Club
Ian Davis moved to Cookham from London in 1990 and immediately felt at home. “We were married at Holy Trinity Church and later our children were Christened there, and then went on to attend Holy Trinity School before going onto local secondary schools. We have always felt that Cookham is a great place to bring up children and we have no plans to leave,” he says.
Ian became involved in Cookham Dean Cricket Club back in 2004, when his son, Michael, then aged seven, became a Colt. “I managed an age group from under nines through to Under 17s. In addition, I have been Colts Manager, Deputy Chairman and am now Club Chairman,” he says.
Cookham Dean Cricket Club has been part of the community since the 1870s. “We run three senior teams and a ladies team, with our 1st XI winning promotion to the Home Counties League Div 1 last season and our 2nd XI narrowly missing out on promotion. We have 300 Colts attending the Club, competing in leagues in both Berkshire and Buckinghamshire,” he says.
Friday evening Colts sessions are popular and have become a community family event, with parents and siblings attending, and they have the bar open and barbecue fired up.
Beyond cricket, the Club is a community hub supporting local businesses, charities and local schools. “The Club is also now at an exciting stage of its development as we have submitted planning permission for a brand new Club House, which will become an even bigger community hub,” says Ian.
“Our setting is idyllic, and our facilities are regularly hired out for parties, exercise workouts, comedy evenings and quiz nights.”
Yoga on the deck
We are spoilt for choice in Cookham with regards to sporting activities. We have the Cookham Reach Sailing Club, Winter Hill Golf Club, Cookham Dean Cricket Club, Cookham Running Club, to name a few, and numerous yoga studios, including RJ Yoga in Cookham Dean and Yoga Tonic in Cookham village.
Tim and Shannon Phillis run Yoga Tonic from their home studio overlooking Cookham Moor, “where we are able to enjoy the views of people walking their dogs, riding horses or enjoying a walk along the river. I believe it is the access to the river that makes Cookham unique”, says Shannon. “In the summer months, when the weather is good, our classes are held on the deck overlooking the view.”
Tim and Shannon both qualified as teachers a few years ago. “It has been great sharing my yoga practice with Tim and also with our son, Max, nine. We offer regular parent/child workshops for children (aged 7-12); it's a great way for parents and children to do something together, listen to each other, maintain eye contact and build trust,” Shannon says. “We also run Ski-Fit yoga classes to help get people ready for a week in the mountains, and yoga classes tailored to active people or anyone looking for greater mobility, flexibility and strength.”
As you turn into Cookham High Street, you can't miss the vibrant display of flowers outside Devine. While driving through Cookham one day, Adam Garrett found his gorgeous florist boutique, which he opened on Valentine's Day 2004. “I was looking for a beautiful, unassuming location to establish a base for a bridal flower consultancy. I spotted a little shop on the High Street, which I turned into the Rose Boutique, delivering a red rose to all the ladies in the surrounding businesses, and received a wonderful welcome!” he says.
“Cookham is such a beautiful village and we are so lucky to have so much around us. The riverside, the stunning countryside, fantastic restaurants, great pubs and, more importantly, such a wonderful collection of people and sense of community.”
After 15 years, Adam's boutique, now called Devine, is thriving. “Thankfully the business has grown and grown with the support of many people and other local businesses, and we have started to diversify into other areas,” he says. “We have a web shop, which means flowers can be ordered through us for delivery anywhere in the country. We have developed a range of floral academy classes, teaching all aspects of floristry in a fun way.
“We have many contracts now in London, delivering weekly flower arrangements to hotels, offices and marketing suites for many of the new developments in Chelsea and Westminster, which I love... travelling into town at 4am to the flower market for fresh flowers and installing amazing creations never gets tiresome and always gives me a thrill to see the end finish.”
Adam and friend Jayne Milburn also organise the annual Cookham Ball. “It originally started as a way to raise money for different Cookham events,” he says. “It grew from strength to strength and that was massively thanks to the incredible support from our local community. We now run it as a way of generating donations for local charities. We are always grateful to the Odney Club for their support and we are very much looking forward to reinventing this year's ball.”
The ball will be held on Saturday 23 November 2019 and tickets are due for release at the end of June.
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