Nearly 800 years ago, King John met with a group of barons on the water meadows at Runnymede. This was the site where he sealed the Magna Carta, seen by many as the symbolic first step on the road to modern democracy. Today Runnymede has several memorials to the ongoing struggle for liberty, and I have always fancied seeing them…so on Sunday morning Hooves and I finally went for a dog walk through history at Runnymede in Surrey. It was a typical autumn morning: chilly and misty, but with the promise that the sunshine would push it’s way through the gloom….perfect for going to Runnymede.
I knew there was parking on the A308 at the National Trust tea rooms, but the car park here is pay and display, and I didn’t have any change, so instead we parked at Cooper’s Hill Recreation Ground in Englefield Green (map) where parking is free. Parking here means that you have a lovely walk past the Air Forces Memorial and down through the atmospheric woodland to the memorials and the river. There are bins here for any ‘doggy parcels’, and there are public loos next to the car park.
We left the car park, turned right and walked along Cooper’s Hill Lane. After a couple of hundred yards we reached The Air Forces Memorial. This structure is a memorial to a total of 20,456 men and women from air forces of the British Empire who were lost during World War II. The individuals recorded have no known grave anywhere in the world, and many were lost without trace, and the name of each of them is engraved into the stone walls of the memorial, according to country and squadron. We had to look from afar as only guide dogs are permitted, but one day I shall pop in for a few minutes of reflection whilst Hoover catches his breath in the car.
After the Air Forces Memorial we carried along the lane for a very short distance, following it as it bends around to the left. (streetview) There is a poo bin on the bend here. The lane becomes a track, where the woods begin. It’s worth mentioning that a handful of dog walkers had parked tight up next to the undergrowth along the side of the track here and we may well do the same next time.
Upon reaching the woods we turned left, passed through the gate and followed the trail downwards. If you follow the main track or path everytime you get an option I think you’ll find the meadows and the other memorials easily. There are a few purple waymarkers along the route too…basically it’s fool proof, and the woods aren’t so big that if you go wrong you’ll get lost. They are however peppered with beautiful deciduous trees which really have some presence…especially on a misty morning.
We left the woods behind us as the landscape opened up and fields appeared on either side of us. The path carried on in front of us between two hedgerows. We followed it a short distance passing through a couple of wooden gates, and then we walked onto a kissing gate. As we passed through we were suddenly out in the open of the water meadows and in the distance we could see the traffic passing along the A308.
We turned left and cut across the field keeping the hedgerow on our left hand side. Suddenly, also on our left, the Magna Carta Memorial came into view through the trees. This marks the site where King John actually sealed the Magna Carta. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was erected by The American Bar Association in 1957, and it sits on a perfectly gently sloping lawn, surrounded by beautiful ancient trees. It really is such a peaceful spot, that we spent a little bit of time here listening to the breeze moving quietly through the leaves on the branches. Until Hoover spotted a rabbit and took off like a missile in the direction of the hedgerow that is! Needless to say the rabbit outran Hooves without even working up a sweat….perhaps if be bothered to put his purple bone down he might have stood more of a chance of getting near it!
We wandered back out into the water meadow and carried on in the same direction as before. Up ahead we could see the twin memorial lodges and pier designed by Edward Lutyens standing either side of the road. A few minutes after leaving the Magna Carta Memorial we came across the Kennedy Memorial, again on the left. This is the British memorial for John F. Kennedy and it was jointly dedicated on the 14th May 1965 by The Queen and Jacqueline Kennedy. It was listed in 1998. Designed by Geoffey Jellicoe the memorial is made up of three elements: firstly you walk up a stepped pathway, made up of 60,000 granite setts, that winds up through the woodland to a glade. Here you will see the seven ton block of Portland stone, which stands on a plinth and is inscribed with words taken from President Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961. Off to the right is a wide paved pathway that leads to the Seats of Contemplation from where there is a superb view of Runnymede and the River Thames below. This is another beautifully peaceful spot…
We retraced out steps back down to the water meadow. Sitting in the centre of the grass between us and the river are The Jurors – a relatively new addition to Runnymede. The Jurors is a permanent artwork designed by Hew Locke to mark 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta in this place. It is formed of 12 bronze chairs, each decorated with completely different panels of images and symbols relating to past and ongoing struggles for freedom, rule of law and equal rights. The Jurors is not a memorial…it is an artwork which is designed so that it requires people to complete it. It really is quite something.
We continued past The Jurors, and crossed the road to the river. The path along the river here forms part of The Thames Path, which runs for 184 miles from it’s source in The Cotswolds to London. We wandered upstream for a very short while, taking in the views across the river and watching early morning rowers break the glassy surface of the water. We went just past the French Brothers boat yard, where you can take river trips if you wish, and then we retraced our steps and wandered in the other direction for a while. We passed by the spot where we had crossed the road, and carried on until there was another crossing place. This meant that we could walk back to the car on a different route, which took us past Langham Pond, which is a wetland Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Once we had crossed back over the road we entered a field. And then once in the field it was easy to see where other walkers had passed, and at the end of the path of flattened grass we could see a wooden kissing gate that took us to Langham Pond. A handful of timber boardwalks took us across the damp ground and past the pond. We then followed the track up to another gate. Once through the gate the main track heads off to the left, but to the right is a less obvious (it does have a small sign) National Trust track the takes you up through the woodland to meet this main track higher up. It is a more pleasant route. We met up with the main track (which becomes a driveway to one house) and carried on for a short while until we realised we were back at the top of the woods where started. All that was left to do was wander back along the lane to the car. Then it was home for a brew…..