The Character of Wessex: The Thames Valley

The Thames Valley National Character Area (NCA), should not be confused with the birthplace of Wessex, centred on Dorchester-on-Thames. That falls within the Oxford & Upper Thames NCA, subject of a future post. Rather, it begins on the outskirts of London and extends into Wessex as far as Reading.

Geologically, the area is defined by heavy London clay, sometimes overlaid with sand or gravel. The whole area was once heavily forested, but most of its primeval woodland has now been sacrificed to development. Traces of it survive in the Windsor Great Forest, home to Herne the Hunter in Wessex folklore, a personification of the ancient wild. Even green belt land is more likely to be used for golf courses and pony clubs than nature reserves. Based on CPRE data, less than 1% of the area’s land is considered undisturbed, and none of it can be classed as tranquil.

Water is a slightly different matter. As its name suggests, the River Thames dominates the NCA, and provides major opportunities for tranquility and recreation. The motto of the area might be “With the wind in your face, there’s no finer place than messing about on the river. Because the land sucks.”

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