Tourists Close To Home - A Blipmeet

I was very happy when my blipfriend Maureen, aka Honeycombebeach, suggested that we meet up for a few hours today. We each took the train into Reading and met there. Maureen has never been to the centre of Reading, and since I grew up and have lived a great deal of my life in the area, it was my job to be tour guide.

After a stop for the necessary ‘elevenses’ at an independent coffee shop, we headed towards Forbury Gardens (see extra photo) where we enjoyed looking at the flowers, the big lion, the bandstand, old twisted trees and the fountain. We also checked out the Crown Court and Abbey Gate (at one time a school) where Jane Austen received part of her education.

From there we went into the Reading Abbey ruins, shown in my main picture, with Maureen in the foreground. I have fond memories of this whole area growing up - a wonderful historic oasis in a town that generally isn’t known for its beauty. The Abbey has been closed off to visitors for the last 9 years because of the danger of falling rocks, but they finally got funding for restoration and it was opened to the public again a couple of months ago. What is new this time is a whole set of information boards dotted around the Abbey and beyond, which were very helpful and I learned a great deal about life in a monastery and the history of this Abbey in particular. What I knew before was only vague so I am very impressed by what they’ve done to the whole area.

The Abbey is surrounded by many other buildings, some historic, and some new (see extra photo). On one side is the infamous Reading Prison, closed as recently as 2013 and now awaiting redevelopment. I visited and blipped the prison during a brief period when it was open to the public. It is probably best known as accommodating the author and playwright, Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment. It was after his years as a ‘guest’ here that he wrote ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. The prison can be seen behind the Abbey in the main picture and also the top left corner of the collage.

Another building that rises above the Abbey is the recently built office tower called The Blade. It’s one of those - ‘you either love it or you hate it’. And I love it!

To the south side of the Abbey is the River Kennet, not far from where it joins the Thames. The beautiful avenue of trees there was already looking very autumnal. We chatted to a couple who were just mooring their narrowboat and found out they were Americans who spend every summer here, touring the waterways of England. We had a fun conversation with them and they were kind enough to show us around the inside of their boat. Having lived and worked in England full time at one point, they love these visits back every year. The pig with wings is from their boat - representing the fact that he used to say they’d only buy their own boat ‘when pigs fly’! These lovely people are also faithful United customers and so I hope I will one day bump into them again.

We finally headed to the Oracle shopping centre which is also along the Kennet, and had a delicious lunch at a Lebanese restaurant overlooking the river. Maureen was gracious enough to go into John Lewis with me as I am now looking for a new dryer after mine died last evening. Questions were asked but no decision was made. This will involve more research!

We finally headed back to the station and just had time for another coffee before taking our respective trains back home. Poor Maureen. That’s her in the middle. I think I wore her out! Thankfully, I think I did my job well, as she tells me she looks forward to coming back and maybe going to Reading Museum (which I’ve NEVER been to!). Thanks for coming, Maureen! It was a great day out!

“Few towns are less prepossessing at first glance than Reading...but few towns better repay exploration”
Sir John Betjaman, poet

Maureen’s version of today can be found here.

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