The Wonders of Wallingford

Oxford City & Oxfordshire | Magazine 

Wallingford

Wallingford, located within the verdant embrace of rural Oxfordshire, its rich history coursing through the quaint streets and along the serene banks of the River Thames. This storied market town, a harmonious blend of past and present, is strategically positioned between Reading, Oxford, and Henley-on-Thames, and has been recognised as one of the finest countryside retreats for those seeking solace from the city’s bustle.

Wallingford’s narrative is etched into its landscape, from the historic crossing that gave the town its name to the majestic ruins of what was once an imposing castle. With architectural gems like the Corn Exchange Theatre and a 14th-century coaching inn framing its bounds, Wallingford offers a charming chronicle etched in stone and tradition.

Wallingford Castle

Wallingford Castle and Gardens

Wallingford Castle, once a bastion of medieval strength and influence, now offers a tranquil sanctuary as the Castle Gardens and Meadows. Here, visitors can stroll among the manicured lawns, vibrant flowerbeds, and wander through the historic earthworks that whisper tales of the past. Managed by the Earth Trust for the South Oxfordshire District Council, this site has been consecrated with its 15th consecutive Green Flag and the esteemed Green Heritage site accreditation, a testament to its enduring beauty and historical significance.

The verdant hillocks that rise gently within the gardens are the remnants of what was once among England’s most formidable fortresses, erected by the decree of William the Conqueror in 1067 as a symbol of his victory. Over the centuries, the castle expanded and evolved into a royal residence entwined with the lives of medieval monarchs. However, by the time of Henry VIII, the castle’s prominence waned, succumbing to neglect and serving as a quarry for Windsor Castle’s constructions. It experienced a brief resurgence during the Civil War, only to be dismantled by order of Cromwell’s Council of State, closing the final chapter on its storied martial legacy.

Wallingford Museum

Visit the Wallingford Museum in Oxfordshire

Wallingford Museum offers a charming glimpse into the rich tapestry of local history, within a medieval oak-beamed building at the heart of Wallingford. This intimate, family-friendly museum spans two floors, inviting visitors to explore Wallingford’s storied past from its Roman roots through to the Civil War. Notably, the museum features a detailed miniature of Wallingford’s expansive royal castle and hosts “The Wallingford Story,” an exhibit that guides visitors along a chronological path through the town’s significant historical milestones.

Entirely volunteer-run, Wallingford Museum depends on the contributions of visitors and the dedication of its volunteers to maintain its operations and community services.

The museum also houses a special exhibition titled “At Home with the ‘Queen of Crime’,” dedicated to Agatha Christie, the world-renowned novelist who spent a significant part of her life in nearby Winterbrook House. This exhibit provides an intimate look at Christie’s personal life through photographs and memories from locals who knew her, along with several of her personally handwritten letters. These letters offer insights into her fondness for pantomimes and her struggles with health in her later years. Christie, who regularly shopped in Wallingford and worshipped at her parish church in Cholsey where she is now buried, left an indelible mark on the community, captured lovingly within the museum’s walls.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie bronze statue in Wallingford, Oxfordshire

Agatha Christie’s connection with Wallingford and the adjacent parish of Cholsey was one of the lesser-known aspects of her life, yet it played a significant role in her personal and professional world. In 1934, alongside her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, Christie purchased Winterbrook House, a spacious 18th-century residence nestled in the picturesque Oxfordshire countryside. This property, with its expansive grounds leading down to the River Thames, became their primary residence for the rest of their lives together. While they frequently traveled abroad for Mallowan’s archaeological digs or vacationed in Devon, Winterbrook House was their sanctuary, a place where Christie could write far from the public eye, completing many of her celebrated novels and plays.

In Wallingford, Christie enjoyed a semblance of normalcy, often seen strolling into town to shop with her wicker basket in hand. Despite her global fame, she was known locally simply as Mrs. Mallowan, a testament to the town’s respect for her privacy. Wallingford provided the perfect backdrop for her quiet, yet fulfilling domestic life, away from the glamour and demands of her literary fame.

To commemorate her life, Wallingford Town Council commissioned a life size bronze statue of her, funded by an Arts Grant. This stunning statue created by Ben Twiston-Davies in 2023 is close to the Wallingford Museum.

Markets in Wallingford

Wallingford’s Charter Market transforms the Market Place into a vibrant hub of activity every Friday, offering an all-day shopping experience steeped in local tradition. Here, traders display a diverse array of goods ranging from fresh produce like eggs, cheese, and vegetables to household items such as clothes and pet food. The market also features a selection of plants and handmade gifts, providing something for every shopper. This weekly event not only supports local traders but also brings the community together, creating a lively atmosphere where residents and visitors alike can enjoy the bounty of local products.

Adjacent to this, the Wallingford Local Producers Market takes place every Saturday morning from 10 AM to 12:30 PM at St Mary-le-More, providing a weekly showcase of local culinary delights and crafts. This market is a food lover’s paradise, offering everything from fresh vegetables and artisan cheeses to homemade cakes and coffee. Additionally, local artisans sell their unique arts and crafts, adding a creative flair to the marketplace. The market is known for its friendly community vibe, making it a perfect place for those looking to enjoy high-quality local produce and crafts. Starting in March, the market expands its presence with additional monthly sessions on every first Saturday at the Market Place, further enriching Wallingford’s vibrant market scene.

Cholsey and Wallingford Railway

Step back in time with a scenic ride on the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway, a cherished heritage railway that captures the essence of South Oxfordshire’s picturesque landscapes. This nostalgic journey begins in the historic market town of Wallingford and winds its way to Cholsey, covering a 2.5-mile route that promises enchanting views and a tranquil escape into the countryside. As you settle into the vintage 1950s coaches, pulled by either a heritage diesel locomotive or a visiting steam engine, prepare to be transported through a living museum of rail travel, where the journey itself harkens back to a simpler, slower-paced era.

The ride offers passengers a unique opportunity to view local landmarks and natural beauty. Along the way, keep an eye out for the grave of the famed novelist Agatha Christie at St Mary’s Church, visible from the train as you approach Cholsey. The route also features several crossings where enthusiastic waves to stopped cars add to the charm of the trip. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy the sections of the journey near the gravel lakes, where a diverse array of birds and animals can often be spotted. The trip includes a brief stop at Cholsey Station, allowing time for photographs or a short walk to visit Agatha Christie’s resting place, enriching the historical experience.

Enhancing the overall experience are the dedicated volunteers who bring the railway to life, offering insights and maintaining the spirit of bygone days of steam. The Cholsey and Wallingford Railway not only serves as a delightful excursion through the countryside but also operates as a conduit to the past, preserving the rich railway heritage of the region. Visitors often commend the delightful combination of a serene train ride with the option of enjoying a traditional cream tea, making it a highly recommended attraction for those seeking both relaxation and a touch of nostalgia in Oxfordshire’s scenic setting.

TV Filming – Midsomer Murders

Midsummer Murders filing in Oxfordshire

Wallingford has gained fame beyond its scenic charm as a prime filming location for the beloved British TV series “Midsomer Murders.” Known as Causton in the series, Wallingford serves as the fictional capital of Midsomer County and has frequently appeared onscreen in various episodes.

Fans of the show might recognise the bustling marketplace and the iconic Wallingford Bridge as backdrops in numerous scenes featuring the show’s original protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, as he unravelled the mysteries of this seemingly tranquil town.

Download the Midsomer Murder (explore locations from the series in Wallingford) leaflet to help you navigate your way around Wallingford following the footsteps of Detectives Barnaby and Troy.

Visit Wallingford Town Information Centre for all the leaflets to help you explore Midsomer Murders in Wallingford, from walking trails, driving trails, location trails and also for books and memorabilia for sale.

Wallingford, steeped in history and enriched with cultural heritage, offers an enchanting escape for visitors seeking a blend of past and present. Whether you’re exploring its medieval market square, enjoying a leisurely stroll by the River Thames, or uncovering the legacies of literary giants. Accommodation options in Wallingford and the wider Oxfordshire area cater to every preference, from cosy bed & breakfasts and self-catering cottages to hotels and unique glamping sites, ensuring every visitor can find the perfect place to stay while experiencing the charm of this historic town.

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