Berkshire walk - Chapel Row and Beenham

PUBLISHED: 11:54 29 June 2015 | UPDATED: 15:05 05 October 2017

The striking outline of Douai Abbey  well worth the short detour

The striking outline of Douai Abbey  well worth the short detour


Follow Steve Davison as he takes a walk around the rolling West Berkshire countryside visiting Chapel Row and Beenham, in the North Wessex Downs AONB

From Chapel Row – where you’ll find The Bladebone pub and Blackbird cafe – the walk heads through fields and woods to reach Upper Woolhampton, home to the impressive Douai Abbey. Following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries many people who led a monastic lifestyle fled abroad and, in 1615, one group of monks founded the community of St Edmund in Paris. In the wake of the French Revolution the survivors of St Edmund’s moved to the town of Douai in Flanders, now in northern France. However, due to the changing political situation in France at the end of the 19th century, the Benedictine community of St Edmund were expelled from Douai in 1903.

The Bishop of Portsmouth offered them a site at Upper Woolhampton and it was here that they established the Douai School, which became a leading Roman Catholic school. Following its closure in 1999 most of the buildings, which had been built during the 19th century in a Gothic style, were converted into flats and houses. However, the adjacent abbey church is still home to the Douai community of monks. Work on the abbey church, designed by Arnold Crush, began in 1929. The construction was stopped in 1933, with only the eastern end of the present structure having been built. Work started on completing the abbey church in 1987, following a more modern style, and the striking building, full of light, is well worth a visit.

Leave behind the abbey and head to Beenham, passing St Mary’s Church which is situated some distance south of the village. The earliest mention of Beenham was in a Saxon charter in 956, whilst a later reference mentions that Henry I granted the Manor of Beenham to Reading Abbey in 1121. Whilst passing St Mary’s Church, step inside to admire the stained glass windows and the religious murals painted by Mary Sharp of Ufton Court, with the help of a London painter, in the late 19th century. The village is also home to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust which is open to the public at certain times (0118 971 3330).

The final leg of the walk meanders through the village, passing The Six Bells pub, before rejoining with the outward route and heading back to Chapel Row.


Walk summary

• Start/finish: small car park at the junction of Hatch Lane and The Avenue in Chapel Row; grid ref SP571696

• Map: OS Explorer 159

• Distance: 4.75 miles (7.6km)

• Terrain: gates and stiles, some gentle ups and downs, paths, tracks and lanes

• Time: 2.5 hours (excluding stops)

• Refreshments: Chapel Row – The Bladebone (0118 971 2326), The Blackbird Cafe (0118 971 2332); Beenham – The Six Bells (0118 971 3368)


The walk

1 (SU571696) – From the junction, head south-east across the grassy common to the far corner and continue through the trees. Bear right down the track past the thatched cottage and keep ahead downhill to a concrete track at the bottom, beside a house, where the track swings right. Bear left over the footbridge, cross the stile and follow the fence uphill, soon crossing a stile on the left and continuing uphill, but now with the fence on the right. At the field corner turn left staying in the field and following the hedge before turning right through a small gate into Ironmongers Copse. Continue over a wooden walkway and two footbridges, ignore permissive routes left and right and continue through Greyfield Wood. At the split (marker post), fork right gently uphill to a track at the top, with an electricity sub-station on the left. Turn right along the track, ignoring a permissive path and at the marker post turn right. Once in the field turn left, following the left-hand field edge to a cross junction.

2 (SU580686) – Head diagonally right into the next field following a bridleway and then follow the hedge on the right. Continue through the trees, cross the estate road and follow the enclosed bridleway as it swings right to an entrance road (Abbey Gardens) and minor road, with a junction to the right at Upper Woolhampton. To visit Douai Abbey, turn right to the junction and go right for 200m along the road for Chapel Row and Bucklebury; retrace your steps. From the junction of Abbey Gardens turn left along the minor road (no pavement) for 400m. Just after a gate on the left, turn left at the footpath sign and cross the stile in the hedge. Now head diagonally through four paddocks, separated by V-stiles and crossing a tarmac drive that leads to Malthouse Farm. After crossing the last stile keep ahead through Gravelpit Copse. Continue along left-hand field edge and then through three paddocks separated by small gates to join a track at Hall Place Farm.

3 (SU589678) – Turn left down the track as it swings left and right and then starts rising towards Oakwood Farm. However, shortly before the farm turn right through a kissing gate to enter Old Copse. Cross a footbridge in the dip and head uphill before leaving through a small gate. Continue along the left-hand field margin, go through another small gate and bear left to pass the church. Leave the churchyard through the lych gate and turn left along the lane to a T-junction in Beenham. Turn left through the village, using the pavement where available, then continue along the edge of the recreation area before following the road (no pavement). Keep right at the junction, soon passing The Six Bells and continue downhill.

4 (SU582690) – Where the road swings right, turn left along the track to reach the electricity sub-station passed earlier. Turn right through Greyfield Wood, keeping left at the junction and ignoring permissive paths to pass through Ironmongers Copse. Now retrace your steps through the field, then along the track before heading back across the common to Chapel Row.

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