Reading explored: View Island

Editor’s note: This is Matthew Farrall’s second, and unfortunately last, article for Explore Reading. Sadly, Matthew passed away unexpectedly on Friday 20 April 2018, before this piece could be published.

Matt and I used to go for lunchtime walks and he submitted this article after our last visit to View Island. We ambled around exploring the woods, he pointed out a fluttering red admiral butterfly and showed me how to spot a plane tree. Matt was a passionate and enthusiastic fan of Reading, a lover of nature and (as you’ll see in his bio) a self-described ‘parochial explorer’. View Island seems the perfect topic for Matt’s final piece with Explore Reading. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d like to read more of Matt’s work, check out his fun article for us on the Reading Auction House, or visit his extensive archive on the Whitley Pump, which is full of charming stories about heritage and people in Reading, Katesgrove and Whitley. – Claire Slobodian, Editor.

View Island, Reading

This wooden sculpture is hidden in the middle of the woods on View Island

Did you know that there is a four acre Thames-side island haven created for nature, wildlife and peace just a brisk five minute walk from Reading station? View Island was formerly a scrappy boatyard, but opened as a public nature park in June 2000 after it was cleared and enhanced over a period of two years by Adrian Lawson (then at Reading Borough Council) with the help of a team of volunteers and the Environment Agency.

Now it’s perfect for a leisurely walk to escape the noise of town. There are two main footpaths, five smart bright blue steel benches, two boardwalk bridges, an arch made from an old lock gate and one excellent large wooden sculpture of a troll (image above). There was also one of a duck which has either disappeared into the undergrowth or was worn away over time.

I can’t think of a more charming aspect of the river in Reading or a better place to find peace and seclusion so near the town.

There is an old abandoned tennis court in the middle of the island that is now surrounded by sycamore trees that’s also a good spot for a picnic. The courts were part of a hotel complex that used to exist on the Island, which had a somewhat dubious reputation. Sadly, the original benches carved from fallen trees on the island were burnt out and destroyed in the first couple of years after opening.

The grassland did used to host common spotted and pyramidal orchids and there were thousands of frogs from the island pond, but the site has been more lightly managed in the past few years and the grassland is now overgrown. Despite that, there are still a few wildflowers of note along with wildlife, such as grasshoppers, dragonflies and various butterflies, including brimstones, painted ladies, speckled wood and red admirals.

For birdwatchers, kingfishers, grebes and herons are often seen here along with migrant birds like chiffchaffs, whitethroats, and blackcaps. It’s a very good place to watch swifts and martens and both great spotted and green woodpeckers are often seen and heard here too.

The sweet Thames at Caversham weir

There is no better place in Reading to watch the sweet Thames run softly, or, usually, very rapidly, due to the spectacular weir next door! The island is so aptly named as I can’t think of a more charming aspect of the river in Reading or a better place to find peace and seclusion so near the town.

The island can be reached from the town side by following the signs to the Thames from the station. Walk down King’s Meadow Road (passed the Thames Lido), turn right at the river until you reach Caversham Lock and cross over there, then just follow the path until you cross the weir. From the Caversham side there is a bridge and walkway at the Heron Island Estate.

The author, Matthew Farrall, on View Island. Photo credit: Ruth Batten Dalfsen.

Read our companion piece on View Island, from Adrian Lawson, detailing the process of creating and enhancing the park in 2000.

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018. We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.

Also by Matthew Farrall

Explore the Reading auction house

View Comment (1)
  • Beautiful piece of descriptive writing. Matthew Farrall was a wonderful writer.

    Yesterday, I walked across to View Island for the first time ever. I cannot believe I have lived in Reading for nearly 50 years and didn’t know this beautiful place existed. I stood in the abandoned tennis court and for a split second, I could hear the sound of rackets on balls, if you pardon that expression of course!

    Matthew has captured this charming idyll perfectly.

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