READING HISTORY AND ST JAMES WAY- 6 December mid-week walk

I only learnt recently about the link of Reading and Caversham as centres of pilgrimage with Reading Abbey (founded by King Henry I in 1121) which possessed over 230 relics including the hand of St James and Caversham where the shrine of Our Lady of Caversham was situated.  12 Poly Ramblers joined me on a sunny but cold day to learn about the history of Reading and Caversham.  

After passing between St Laurence’s Church and Reading Town Hall, we entered the Abbey Quarter and Forbury Gardens.  We stopped at the Abbey Gateway and St James’ Church which is the starting point for the St James’ Way going to Southampton and, after crossing the sea, continuing to Santiago in Spain.  We made a small detour around the prison (where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned) to see a Banksy and then we went to have a closer look at the ruins of the Abbey.  Abbeyed-out, we followed the Holy Brook, went through Mill Arch, saw 16th century George Inn and Reading Minster, and went to have lunch in a pub or in the Town Hall café.  Afterwards, we visited the museum and learnt about Reading’s history.  We went to the Huntley & Palmers Gallery to learn about Reading as the Biscuit Town and see around 300 biscuit tins.  The Huntley & Palmers factory was, at one point, the world’s largest biscuit factory (it is now being converted into flats).  We also saw Britain’s Victorian replica of the Bayeux Tapestry.  The Bayeux Museum is due to close for a two-year refurbishment in 2024 and there is a project to restore the tapestry during this period so the Reading version will be the only one available.  

We continued our walk on the north side of the Thames which we crossed on Caversham weir.  The building on the right of the weir is not a fish ladder as I originally thought but a hydropower scheme (note to self: must research walks better).  We walked through residential streets to reach Our Lady and St Anne’s church which includes a shrine chapel containing a 500-year-old oak statue of Our Lady and Child.  Then it was up Priest Hill to St Anne’s Well whose alleged curative properties brought many pilgrims to Caversham in the Middle Ages. Then down the hill to Caversham Court Gardens, across Caversham Bridge and along the Thames back to Reading station after a day full of history.


Photos by Ida, Stuart and Hilary