A village guide to Wargrave and Warfield
PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:08 25 September 2020
Two attractive Berkshire villages, and they both offer a little bit of everything… | Words: Sarah Rodi and Thomas Newport
“Wargrave, nestling where the river bends, makes a sweet old picture as you pass it, and one that lingers long upon the retina of memory.” So said Jerome K Jerome in his book, Three Men and a Boat.
Wargrave is a curious place. Despite what the rather gloomy name suggests, the word ‘Wargrave’ is derived from ‘Weir-Grove’ rather from the literal meaning of ‘War Grave’. Looking around, my thirst for intrigue and adventure needed satiating, and I felt that Wargrave had secrets to reveal.
My first drink was in The Bull Hotel. This quaint low-beamed little place seemed to be populated with a few farmer types and is also rumoured to be home to a ghost. One day in 1934, a sobbing woman was reported to be visiting here.
A former landlady of the inn, she had been banished from here after her husband had caught her with her lover. According to folklore, she died from a broken heart. She probably really died from the cold or suicide. Her ghost is reported to be heard sobbing, and her teardrops are said to have stained the wallpaper.
The Greyhound is another low-beamed charming pub where the crowd is decidedly younger. A small brass plaque is nailed to the bar with the words ‘Wally’s stool’. A fellow drinker told me that Wally was a well-known pub frequenter during the 1960s, and by all accounts, ‘a bit of a character’.
At the far end of the High Street lies The George and Dragon. Having changed hands a few times in recent years, this establishment is now more of a restaurant than a public house. There is a fantastic terrace where you can enjoy sipping your drinks in the sunshine.
Occasionally, a mock steamboat from up Henley way makes its way past this spot providing a ‘Tom Sawyer moment’. I made my way down to the river bank, drink in hand.
It was at this spot in January 1879 that the small ferry boat hit ice and capsized throwing all four occupants into the river. Tragically, Essex Thomas, the ferryman, lost his 10-year-old daughter. A sad reflection of our past is that because of their class, the tragedy of the girl’s death was little reported, and it was only recently that the girl was identified as Mary Anne Thomas.
There have long been reports of a sprite called Benji near the George and Dragon, who is said to lure people to their deaths in the river. He has been sighted on a set of steps on the Shiplake bank of the river that leads down to the water.
Being surrounded by flat farmland and only the odd tree, these mist-shrouded steps must surely rank as one of the creepiest sets of steps anywhere to be found. There was no sign of Benji on the night of my visit.
The largest community event in the village is the Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta, including a large firework display, which has taken place since 1867 each November.
Unfortunately, the event can’t go ahead this year, but the community spirit is stronger than ever, with lots going on. Check out some of our local discoveries...
Just like Wargrave, this village has a little bit of everything, particularly the qualities which have risen in popularity since the pandemic. This includes a strong sense of community spirit, plenty of green open spaces to enjoy and high-quality local amenities, all while benefiting from ideal commuter connections to London.
Westmorland Park is probably the jewel in this village’s crown, with a network of pretty paths to take, play areas and a pavilion. Make sure you check out the wildlife at the balancing pond or at Hayley Green Wood Local Nature Reserve next door.
Another lovely spot is Piggy Wood, an ancient woodland where it is said priests from Hurley Church used to hide to escape persecution.
The River Cut flows through the centre of the village, along with a string of other Berkshire villages and towns, before meeting the River Thames, offering further options for keen walkers.
Warfield is spoilt for classic country pubs, such as The Cricketers and The Shepherds House, all offering al fresco dining in delightful beer gardens.
The Moss End Farm Shop is popular with residents who value local and freshly grown produce, and the quirky Moss End Garden Village hosts a range of stores, such as the Old Grain Barn antiques.
It’s worth a little wander around the Grade II listed building of Warfield Church. It is set in a conservation area, created to protect the historical building that is dedicated to the archangel Michael.
“A couple of years ago I had a quiet summer work-wise (I’m a musician), so I thought I’d try a pop-up at a brewery in Henley, selling handmade Neapolitan pizza. I turned up with my oven and loads of dough, and it was a big success,” says Nick Fyffe.
“When we went into lockdown this year, I thought I’d try it again, this time at the cafe in Wargrave’s Val Wyatt Marina. I call it the Wargrave Pizza Club and run it two nights a week. I get people to pre-order on Facebook and it’s going really well - I sell out every night.
“Wargrave Pizza Club is also available for private hire. I’m on a mission to make the perfect pizza and I’m enjoying the satisfaction of seeing something through.”
Get out on the river
Go With The Flo paddleboarding was set up in 2015 and it’s grown since then. “This year has been by far the busiest year yet. The pandemic – and the social distancing restrictions – ensured people wanted to get out, together, and exercise, and so the increase in demand enabled me to go full-time,” says director Nick Judd.
“I spend my days introducing new people to the sport, chatting to them, in stunning surroundings. We’re based in Wargrave and there are so many routes, from St Patrick’s stream to the Hennerton Backwater, to Shiplake and Sonning and Henley.
“Plus people love visiting the George and Dragon after. We do breakfast sessions, after-dark paddles… we’re always trying new things.Wargrave is stunning from the water and it’s just great to see so many people enjoy a sport we love ourselves.”
Nick also does clean ups for an initiative called Plastic Patrol. “It involves us taking bins out with us and picking up any litter left behind. It’s nice to do our bit and keep the area clean.”
Rosie’s Chocolate Factory at Sheeplands Farm in Wargrave offers chocolatemaking parties for children and adults, team building events and bespoke chocolates, such as delicious truffles, chocolate shoes and even chocolate houses.
“Rosie’s Chocolate Factory is my home from home, my chocolate paradise. For my customers it’s a break away from our busy lives where they can spend their time learning about chocolate and making delicious chocolate creations,” says owner Rosie Adey.
“My chocolatemaking parties are the most popular and they are also what I enjoy doing the most. Customers make delicious treats to take home and enjoy.” We all need a bit of chocolate in our lives right now.
“H’artisan is opening soon in Wargrave and will be a local and friendly speciality coffee and tea shop where everyone is welcome, including ramblers, Thames swimmers, home workers, prams, dogs, the many cyclists who pass our door, after all, Wargrave is the ‘gateway to the Chilterns’.” says founder Sarah Hart.
“There will be a dedicated area where cyclists can bring bikes inside to store whilst enjoying a well-deserved pit stop. We are sourcing as much as we can locally and have already found our supplier of outstanding cakes.”
Freshly baked pastries will also be on offer each day with a healthy range of nutritious foods from Sarah who is a fully qualified nutritionist.
“At the weekends, our daughter, Izzy, aged eight, will be helping too! Wargrave has an amazing community with endless events occurring throughout the year. We feel lucky to be a part of this, hence the reason for opening a coffee shop.”
So you want to live here? (PROMOTION)
Recent research commissioned by Redrow, which surveyed 2,000 homehunters about the impact of coronavirus on buyer preferences, found that close to a third of homehunters in the South East place a higher value on finding a home within a strong community post-lockdown.
Likewise, when asked about the most important community amenities to live close to, 35 per cent of respondents in the South East opted for green open spaces, such as a park or village green. Transport links and proximity to local shops are valued highly.
This makes properties in Wargrave and Warfield an ideal option, and offer a range of properties in a range of architectural styles - from thatched cottages, to Victorian-era red-brick homes, to high-quality and modern new builds.
Orchids Place is Redrow’s community of three to five-bedroom homes in the centre of Warfield. The 116-home development comprises a range of three to five-bedroom homes from Redrow’s award winning Heritage Collection.
While exteriors are traditional, taking inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement of the 1930’s, interiors are bright and modern, with open-plan living, integrated appliances and high ceilings.
Mark Vanson, Sales Director at Redrow Southern Counties, commented: “We’ve seen a huge surge in demand from young and growing families for our homes at Orchids Place in Warfield following the easing of lockdown measures, with many buyers seeking a fresh start in rural surroundings with a sense of seclusion alongside real community spirit.
“That said, there is still strong appetite for being situated close to important amenities, which is why villages like Warfield are so attractive; they offer a little bit of everything, from easy access to Berkshire’s idyllic countryside, a range of shops and pubs, good schools and convenient transport connections.
“Especially as cities start to reopen, many buyers will be considering how often they will need to travel to the office and whether they can move somewhere with a longer commute, if it offers a better quality of life, and allows them to secure a more spacious and better quality of home for their money.
“Warfield has excellent connections to Bracknell, Reading and London, making it an ideal location for part-time commuters.
“We have also seen a shift in the features inside a home which buyers are newly prioritising due to the increased time we are spending at home, such as large kitchens, extra bedrooms and flexible living areas.
“For instance, our Highgate 5 house type has been particularly popular with families due to its four double bedrooms, split across two floors, with an extra room on the second floor which can be used as a ‘cinema room’ for film nights with the family, a home office, or a fifth double bedroom if required.”
For more information, visit redrow.co.uk/orchidsplace
Orchids Place, Sopwith Road, Warfield, Berkshire, RG42 6BZ
Phone number: 01344797235
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org