Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Knoydart pub crawl, September 2012.

Knoydart Index.

Day 1 – Glenfinnan to Strathan, 9½ miles.
Day 2 – Strathan to Sourlies, 8 miles.
Day 3 – Sourlies to Inverie, 9½ miles.

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A Walk to the Pub.

rainbow

Allt N’ Chaoruinn glen towards Fraoch Bheinn and Sgarr Mhurlagain

Unless you’ve heard of Knoydart it’s very unlikely that you’ve heard of it. I heard about it a few years back when the local community bought the land out-right from private landlords as it made a small splash in the news at the time. (As I was to find out Knoydart is a land full of splashes, small and large!).

I remember hearing things about the area such as “the UK’s last wilderness” and “the most remote pub in mainland Britain”, both of which are rather enticing prospects. You and pretty much imagine what a highlands wilderness would be like, mountains and marshes, monarchs of glens and soaring eagles, and subtle reminders of ancient rebellions and clearances, and such. But I wonder what Britain’s most remote pub is like… could it be a ramshackle old tumble-down crofter’s hut with a little old wizened Caledonian hag of a landlady and a parlour bar, totally bereft of any visitors or would be a trendy gastro-pub with function-room to hire for stag nights and prices that would drive any sensible drinker off to Britain’s 2nd-most remote pub? Actually, I wonder where that is? You must feel sorry for it! Anyways, there’s only one way to find out what it’s like. And that of course is to go there.

There’s two ways of getting to the pub in question, The Old Forge, either get the ferry from Mallaig which involves payment and in these financially straitened times I didn’t fancy that. So the alternative is to walk, which by my reckoning would take three days – but at least is free. (Not counting the rather significant cost of actually getting to the start of course!)

And as they’re going to be on the way why not bag a few Munros along the way? A splendid walk was shaping up.

With valuable pointers from the fine people at The Walking Forum, in particular lasramblas and Highs and Lows, my pub crawl route, taking in four Munros, was going to be thus:

Day 1: Glenfinnan, Strathan, Upper Glendessary.

Day 2: Upper Glendessary, Sgurr nan Coireachan, Garbh Cioch Mor, Sgurr na Ciche, Sourlies.

Day 3: Sourlies, Mam Meadail, Meall Buidhe, Inverie – and the pub!

Another reason for the trip was to try a bit of wild camping, as all the other walks I’ve done have involved B&Bs with cushy mod cons like beds and running water so doing some proper camping for the first time since I was scout might be fun. And now I’ve figured out how to use my GPS properly I also realise that a ‘route’ and a ‘track’ are quite different things! (I must point out though that the GPS was used just for location-clarity and geeky-info like “Ooh 2.3mph – go me!” rather than follow the pointer navigation-for-dummies, not there’s anything wrong with that…) So how did it go? Top

Day 1: Glenfinnan to Strathan, 9½ miles.

I hit my first stumbling block a good few hundred miles short of the start. I had everything carefully planned – the Cally sleeper to Fort William and then hop across the platform to catch the Jacobite to Glenfinnan due to depart 15 minutes later, and should be in Glenfinnan before midday  for a reasonable start. But the sleeper was fully booked up for berths, and I didn’t fancy a seat all the way. So I decided to fly to Glasgow, stop overnight and get the first train to FW in the morning – which turned out to the same Cally sleeper train but from Glasgow a seat would be fine,  and the rest of the journey could go as planned. As for cost / duration it’s about the same, it’s just the usual faffing around at airports that was the problem. And security of course! Whoops. Having been in train mode I’d packed my bags accordingly only to be reminded at Luton airport check-in that meths wasn’t allowed (once I’d explained to them what meths was… I’m sure aftershave or Ukrainian potato vodka would have been fine but you don’t argue with these people!). So the meths had to be abandoned, not a problem losing £3 worth of fuel but now it meant I’d have to stop off in FW to get some more, I’d miss the Jacobite and have to get the next regular service which wouldn’t get me to Glenfinnan until getting on for 2pm. Bother! But at least the sun was shining.

jacobitest mary & st finnans
As I was in no rush in Fort William I watched the Jacobite (hauled by 45407 The Lancashire Fusilier to those interested) pull out and went off to find some meths. And kill three hours in Fort William without going in a pub! Not easy. But finally I got to Glenfinnan and my walk could begin in earnest. I’m not a Believer, but I do believe that old churches are rather nice, so I stuck my head in St Mary & St Finnan’s – the view of Loch Sheil from the door was heavenly indeed.

glenfinnan viaduct

It’s not long though before we see the first landmark of the walk. The magnificent Glenfinnan viaduct, it really does make a grand sight curving across the glen.


Its greyness is striking – what kind of granite is this I wondered. I hadn’t realised that it’s actually concrete. But as concrete goes I think it fits in pretty well in its surroundings. Them clever Victorians! The only thing that would’ve made this view any better would have been if the Jacobite had come steaming over, but alas that wouldn’t be happening for a few more hours. With a bit more planning that could be worth another trip one day… hmmm…

finnan Walking up Glenfinnan was very nice indeed, the track was clear and firm – and dry! And the weather was spot-on, plenty of sunshine and a nice breeze. The view down the valley was nice enough to require constant turning round to enjoy it, at which times I thought I might as well take a breather too.

irn bru bridgeirn bru bridge
There are a quite a few little footbridges along the way, of varying quality. I reckon this one over the Allt A’ Chaol-Ghlinne was the 2nd most “interesting”. I called it the Irn Bru Bridge – “made in Scotland from girders”! and it bounced and wobbled in a much more alarming way than the old Millennium Bridge ever did. But guessing that its bark was worse than its bite I still managed to do a bit of self-timer posing and not fall in.

Just after the Irn Bru Bridge I greeted a chap sitting outside the Corryhully bothy reading a book in the sunshine. He wasn’t very chatty, and quite why he was settling down for the day at 2pm I don’t know. Anyways, he was to be the last human being I saw until the following night.

glenfinnanfalls
The glen got nicer the further I got up, the track became “less and less” but the views continued. It was getting quite steep at parts though, and I was perspiring a little.

gate At the top of the glen the Finnan had disappeared in to the marshy bog that is its source, and the breeze at the top was very refreshing as the last bit was a bit of a clamber. Be a conscientious walker I was of course careful to close this gate behind me. As I got over the top the view was splendid.

rainbowLooking down the glen of Allt N’ Chaoruinn towards Fraoch Bheinn and Sgarr Mhurlagain would make for a marvellous spot to stop off for a cup of tea and a biscuit. The blue skies and sunshine were warming – once I’d found a rock to shelter behind from the wind. I took my pack off, and got all the necessary bits and pieces out, stove, cup, teabags, short-bread etc., which were of course at the bottom. But just as the water began to boil the sky darkened and within a minute it the wind was whipping up and the rain was lashing down. Down and horizontally. The hailstones were the size of, well, hailstones but they were fast, cold, hard and plentiful. I quickly got my jacket on, and as usual hopped round briefly like a demented pogo-er trying to get my waterproof trousers on. I got everything packed away pronto (after making sure to make my tea of course – no sudden storm is that bad!) including a still warm stove. Then I really struggled getting the rucksack cover on as my hands were numb from the bashing of the hail. For a little while I just gave up and draped it over the rucksack and crouched down exhausted behind the rock and the weather do its worse to my waterproofs, but then realised that this could be going on the rest of day. So I got the cover on, and hitched the pack on to my back, quickly downed the diluted brew and headed off down the valley. At which point it stopped and literally a minute later it had cleared up, and skies were blue again and a nice jolly rainbow appeared at the bottom of the glen. What a crazy 15 minutes! And what a time to choose for a brew. But at least it’s all gone now, and it’s all downhill from here for the rest of day. Hard stuff done, surely…?

marshyThis photo is looking back up the Allt N’ Chaoruinn with Streap on the left. The terrain down the glen was absolutely terrible – even dangerous, for want of sounding dramatic. Never mind the recent heavy but brief downpour, there must have been a lot of rain recently. The path had disappeared and everywhere was marshy and waterlogged, or very uneven with slippy rocks, watery hollows, ad-hoc rivulets and foot-size hollows disguised by long grass. Walking was incredibly difficult and I must have fallen over at least a dozen times. Mostly on my back, on which thankfully I happened to be carrying a large cushion :-) but on a couple of occasions I fell forwards or sidewards followed by a tumble or two. Quite worrying moments.

stagdoes
It took me getting on for two hours to walk the three or four miles down the glen, although I did pause for a little while to look back at the dear on the slopes of Meall An Fhir-Eoin. I didn’t notice at the time that the stag seemed to be trying to tell me something! Pretty much sums up the whole glen really.

fordmap
But things weren’t about to get any better just yet. The photo on the left is where the map says “ford”, and on the right is my GPS showing my efforts to find a more realistic fording point. I was pretty sure my feet couldn’t get any wetter but I didn’t really want to try it. The GPS also records my efforts to retrieve a lost hat in the woods!

rutsfire
On reaching the woods I thought there’d be a decent track – and there was. But to get to it (shown in brown on the GPS map above) there was another 100 yards of basically thick dark mud. The first bit of which was the two wheel ruts on the left. One of these contained a sturdy plank to walk along, the other contained 18 inches and gloopy black water. Guess which one I went for first! A similar thing happened twice more until the decent forest track was reached. I was getting a bit fed up by now, and losing my hat was actually a good thing, because finding it again was a bit of morale boost.

It was starting to get dark now, and up here when it gets dark it gets dark quickly and A’ Chuil bothy was still three miles off. As I didn’t know for sure if there was going to be room there or if it was going to be locked – or even still there! – I figured I’d get my tent up at Strathan as soon as I out of the woods. By the time it was up it was dark, but camping near some woods always means there’s firewood nearby. So the boots were drying and tea was prepared fairly quickly. I was in bed by 9.30pm with only distant honking deer for company, hopefully I’ll be awake by first light – tomorrow could be a long day! Top

Day 2. Strathan to Sourlies, 8 miles.

strathan

Morning at Camp Strathan

The previous night I was in bed nice and early, but I was so cold I hardly slept a wink all night. I ended up wearing a shirt, jumper and fleece inside my sleeping bag, plus trousers and socks of course, and a hat, but was still freezing. I’m not sure why – it could be that my new tent wasn’t quite up to it, or it just very cold outside, or perhaps it was the sleeping bag I’d borrowed off my Dad (much less bulky than my own but he knows his outdoor gear) or maybe that I kept sliding off the ground mat didn’t help. I don’t know – probably a combination of all those things. But it meant that I didn’t wake until after 8am, and wasn’t ready to set off until 9.15am. A good couple of hours after I intended. Bother!Streap and Beinne GharbhOh well, better late than never. At least it looked like a nice day looming. The walk up from Strathan is nice enough along a decent track, and looking back at Streap and Beinne Gharbh and the valley of annoyance – it looks much nicer from a distance!


As I marched along towards Upper Glendessary through light intermittent showers I was still pondering whether I would have time to do the three Munroes which were just to my north, and the fantastic sounding ridge walk. I said to myself that I’d see how I felt when I got there, as that’s when I’d have to turn off towards Sgurr Nan Coireachan, but as I went on I figured I’d be better off getting to Sourlies as early as possible to avoid the rush to pitch up and fire up like last night – I was now slightly envious of the smug chap at Corryhully yesterday enjoying his book his the afternoon sun and pretty soon decided just to plod on and forget the peaks. I managed to justify this to myself by looking at the slight wispy mists up on the tops (above left) – “ooh, could get nasty!” I thought! The view back towards Strathan along Glendessary (right) was nice although this particular stretch of path was again not much fun. Flooded all the way along, and many fords to cross. I’m sure it’s not normally like this, unless in Knoydart a species of grass has evolved to grow underwater! And with thick forest below limiting the views combining with constantly having to think about where to put your feet, and take awkward small steps this stretch was a bit dull.

Finniskaig I was mightily relieved to get to the top of glen and leave the Dessary behind, and although the top of Garbh Cioch Mor looked fine now I was glad I’d left them alone. It was all (more or less) downhill to Sourlies now, along the Finniskraig river all the way. The valley would make a fine view, if it weren’t for the self-timer’s lack of respect for a nose-wipe! It was very windy here.

Lochan A' Mhaim ford
The Finniskraig glen was much nicer walking than the Dessary. Above left the river flows in and out of Lochan A’ Mhaim and to the right is another one of those interesting things the OS call ‘fords’! At this one though I struggled to find a point to cross, and after eventually getting about half way across decided that I’d have to take the plunge. It’s only water after all! In the past my waterproof trousers have been prone to blow and flap about a lot in the wind, so prior to setting off I’d made some boot-straps out of old underpant elastic which so far had proved fine except when donning or doffing them! But here the modifications were to prove very handy. As my foot and ankle went clean under I was expecting a boot full of chilly water but with the strap holding my waterproofs in place and the pressure making a good seal, the water was kept firmly out. Excellent. As I looked down in surprise at my submerged but dry (or at least no more wet) foot I thought for a second or two how long I could keep it there, but then quickly thought maybe not and skipped out the river. Maybe these fords aren’t so tricky after all!

FinniskaigJust past Creag an Fhithich the path rises steeply, tough on the thighs but the view down back up the Finniskraig is well worth it.

nevisAnd looking the other way provides the first sight of Loch Nevis, it’s always nice to see your destination – but there again it seems that the closer the destination is the more slowly it approaches!

Allt Coire Na Cichefrog
After dropping back to the river level – 600ft in under half a mile – the footbridge over the Allt Coire Na Ciche was a welcome bit of level terrain, and luckily having to watch my feet enabled to avoid the little amphibious fellow resting in the middle of path.

sourliesThe sun and the tide were both out when I got to the eastern end of Loch Nevis. I decided to use the Sourlies Bothy tonight if possible – it can just be seen above the near end of the loch, in front a small clump of trees. I’d decided I didn’t really want to camp again. I was very glad as my hand landed on the latch – but initially dismayed to see it was bolted locked! Just walker’s delirium though – the bolt was on the outside, and presumably there to keep the mice from escaping. (You’ll hear about the mice shortly…) I was glad to be home but too bad the chimney was already belching smoke!

hammockIn the bothy at last and it’s to myself (for the moment) so why not take this opportunity to lark about on the hammock before anyone else turns up??

tea timeQuickly bored with the hammock I figured it was time for a beverage & shortbread before going wood-gathering. Finding a lovely spot for high-tea was not a problem.

woodfire
At about 250ft above the bothy I’d spotted a likely looking clump of trees, and clambered up there for fire-wood. Fortune was shining on me again as there was a sizeable branch already fallen, and not long after it was dragged down the hill, chopped up and ablaze. Two other lads turned up – Sergei and Tobias from Munich and immediately went off for more wood with typical German efficiency.  My timing though was spot on as shortly afterwards it started raining and didn’t let up for the rest of the night. Luckily though we had a splendid bothy fire to settle down to.

sunsetBefore the rain though I thought I should toast the Loch Nevis sunset with my last can of Sainsbury’s bitter. I had no beer left now, so getting to the pub was paramount! Although not having to carry a four pack around anymore wasn’t too bad. I dined again on noodles, baked beans with some stir-pasta sauce and parmesan-style-flavoured-powder and it wasn’t not too bad. The Germans were walking the exact opposite to me, and had left Inverie that morning and walked along the shore to get to Sourlies and had gather a bucketful of fresh mussels along the way. They assured me there were very tasty but I declined their offer, as I hate them. Mussels that is, not Germans. Top

Day 3. Sourlies to Inverie, 9½ miles.

sourlies

Morning above Sourlies

I didn’t sleep well again. I wanted to keep the fire going through the night – there was enough wood for a few more hours, but the Germans didn’t want to. So I was quite cold again, even though I had also had my coat on too along with everything else. But the main problem is that unbelievably this bothy – miles from anywhere – had mice staying there too. And very nocturnally-noisy there were. I heard them in my rubbish bag, alerted by the rattling beer cans, so I put that bag and my food bag on the top bunk. But they were quite active and it sounded like they were wearing hob-nail boots the noise they were making running about. They kept all of us awake, but the Germans came out of worse – the mice had found, unwrapped and eaten pretty much all of Tobias’s big bar of chocolate! Little blighters! Ha ha – maybe a later fire might have kept them at bay…

fire
The next visitors to the bothy would benefit from our wood gathering, and I hope they’d also appreciate my addition to the mantlepiece ornaments, provided to keep a beady-skull-eye open for sweet-toothed rodents.

deerpath
Off we went our separate and opposite ways, but not quite the exact opposite. The tide was now in so I had to take the high ground to get round the end of the loch. And quite how the path at the top of a steep slope at the top of high ground can be so waterlogged I have no idea. Wait, yes I do – this is Knoydart! Everywhere can be waterlogged if it wants. The two deer are still were watching me ever since my little trip earlier on with a shovel and are probably still wondering what I was doing! The high-level tide-in route was a bit hairy at times, especially in the morning drizzle – one foot wrong I’d be in the loch 50 feet below but there was no real alternative until the tide went out. Once over to the other side and the Carnach flood plain / estuary, call it what you will, and once again quite a bit of time was lost just trying to navigate through the boggy ground. I felt a bit like Frodo and his pals walking through the The Mere of Dead Faces. Thankfully no-one was staring back up at me though… I think.

Yesterday I was really glad I’d decided to miss out the peaks, as I would have really struggled otherwise. The late-start was probably a blessing in disguise. So today I figured I’d do the same and not bother with Meall Buidhe and just make straight for Inverie – and the pub! Always a wise choice I hear you cry.

bridgeBut with bridges like this one across the Carnach would I even make it to the pub!?

bridgeOf course I would – there’s clearly nothing wrong with this bridge at all! I was merely clinging to the one supporting cable for effect and didn’t do any self-timer re-enactments because that’s just silly. Honest!

carnochcarnoch
At the Carnoch ruins, with Sgurr na Ciche on the left I think and on the right looking up towards Meille Bhuide. That is going to a steep enough climb even just as far as Mam Meadail.

CarnachThe walk up to Mam Meadail was tough but the path was ziggy-zaggy and once up off the valley floor was easy to follow. Naturally the path was also a stream, but I’d come to expect that by now. Again the frequent rests made for good excuses to take in the views of the river Carnach and Carnoch ruins far below. Or should that be vice-versa…?

cairnThis modest little cairn marks the highpoint in the gap between Meall Bhasiter and Sgurr Sgeithe, just over 1800ft. From here I’d be going in the same direction as the streams in the footpaths, back down all the way to sea-level again.

inverieJust a little further on from the cairn and I got my first view of my final destination – Inverie at the other end of Loch Nevis. And I think Skye further on beyond. I stopped here for lunch, but the 3 day old cheese butty was more functional than satisfying!

I little down the path here I met Rob who was doing a bit of fell running and was staying at the bunkhouse in Inverie, which hadn’t occurred to me before. I was intending to camp again tonight but the bunkhouse was suddenly sounding like a better option. (And as camping was £4 per night, plus £3 to use the showers at the bunkhouse, I figured that the £15 per night for the bunkhouse was probably worth it. They also offer free tea, and there’s plenty of left-over food to choose from. Anyways, the bunkhouse is several miles away yet!)

monumentDropping right down now the Brocket Monument stands above the River Inverie with Rum in the distance. Below it is the Allt Gleann Meadail and in the foreground another rickety bridge with bits missing.


After crossing the River Inverie we start the long slog into Inverie itself and tonight’s tea goes past. This could be the chap staring at me whilst answering nature’s call a couple of days ago?

I wondered how the The Allt Dubh could flow from out of the top of the ridge but a glance at the map reveals the Loch Bhraomisaig is up at 1000ft just over the top. It makes for an impressive waterfall.

monumentinverie
The track goes on and on. On the left is the Brocket Monument from the other side and the view is back up Gleann Meadail. On the right is what you could call the Inverie suburbs, and to me almost looks a bit Caribbean. Almost! The spits of rain it didn’t feel it though.

graveyardwall
As we get nearer to Inverie the sights become less of-the-wild and more of-the-man, both in life and in death. The graveyards of the Kilchoan Estate are on the left, and an interesting variety of stone wall types on the right. The left section of wall is made up of long tall stones on their ends leaning against each other, like standing dominoes squashed up together. Then on the right is the more traditional type. It kept changing along the track – I’m sure there were good reasons for doing so back then. After the past few days this track was a veritable M1 – TWO Landrovers passed me! Hectic.

signsI think we’re definitely on the outskirts of town now, but I can’t believe it’s taken me two days to walk 16miles!! It’s about 14miles as the crow flies, so I’m guessing I was doing a lot of meandering.

I headed off down to the bunkhouse. When I got there there wasn’t a soul about. I sat down for a moment just glad to have reached somewhere! There were some instructions along the lines of “write your name down, choose a bed somewhere, and pay me when you see me. Anna (I’m away stalking).” So that’s what I did. (Well, sort of…!)

After a shower and a nice change of clothes – I hadn’t taken my shirt off in 3 days! – I felt much more presentable. Rob came back in, and I met my room-mate Benny from Belgium. No sign of Anna though – still away with the deer. So I headed off down to the pub – exhibiting post-walk stiffness reminding me that the walking shouldn’t really stop until the walking is over!

nevisThe views in the afternoon sunshine walking through Inverie were beautiful. Above is looking across Loch Nevis at the peaks of north Morar.

nevisnevis
Left is looking towards Rum, and on the right the two small monuments are The Bowlby Monument and Our Lady of Loch Nevis.

tea roomThe Inverie pottery and tea-room, and Sgurr an Eilein Ghiubhais basks in the last of day’s rays.

forgeHoorah – it’s the Old Forge! At last I have reached my destination and the whole point of the walk. I do like a walk that has an ultimate target. Not that there’s anything wrong with a plain old nice walk, but it’s always nicer to feel you’ve reached somewhere or done something. No matter how small there’s always a nice feeling of achievement.

The Old Forge is a fine and lovely pub – thankfully neither of the two things I pondered originally, it’s just a good honest no-nonsense decent boozer. Decent beer, decent food – all decently priced. And very lively. The crowd was mostly tourists and a few locals, but everyone seemed to be getting on famously.

sunsetThe beautiful sunset helped break the ice as a few us went out cameras at the ready.

t shirtblooded
And back inside from then on the rest of the evening was spent with fellow bunkers Rob and Benny and one or two others, and two of the barmaids, the lovely Geordie sisters Faye & Susie. A splendid evening was had by all, well by me certainly! (By the way if you happen to stumble across this I looked for you on Facebook but couldn’t find you!)

Susie above is wearing proof the Old Forge’s claim, I like the way it reads like an address. I wonder what the Royal Mail would make of that if I sent them a post-card…? On the right the young lad with his collar up is proudly showing off his freshly blooded face. He received many a congratulatory slap on the back.

harbourstars
The night skies just got better and better. And come going home town the clear skies provided the most amazing display of stars I’d ever seen. Unfortunately the many fine malts that were tasted in the Old Forge seemed to interfere with the focus on the camera! The blame for this lies entirely with those Gateshead girls. So the unfortunately the astro-photos weren’t as good as they might have been. But if you squint you can make out the Milky Way, amongst a billion or two other stars and things. Impressive stuff, even if blurry. Top

Day 4. Homeward bound.

nevis

Rum

travellerpole
The next morning was another fine day. On the way out of the bunkhouse I had to take a quick snap of the Morris Traveller in a barn. Every good farm should have a lovely old car in a barn somwhere. Traveller R1266 was lacking an engine though.  Breakfast was taken in the Pottery and Tearoom overlooking Loch Nevis and Rum in the distance.

ferry

Here comes our taxi home – Bruce Watt’s ferry to Mallaig.

inverieThe valley I’d walked down yesterday slips away into the mist.

monumentsThe Bowlby Memorial and Our Lady of the Loch a bit closer up.

bowlbyour lady
Bowlby on the left and Our Lady on the right. There’s more about these peculiar monuments here. It makes interesting reading.

dolphinCan you see the Loch Nevis monster?! Or is just a dolphin?!

eigg rumEigg and Rum approach.

rumlooking back
Rum on the left, and on the right the last view of Knoydart as the weather sets in.

jacobiteOn arrival at Mallaig we’re just in time to see the Jacobite pulls in. Can’t believe it set off before me and I beat it here!

Loch Eiltcallop
I get the train direct to Glasgow, and the views along the West Highland Line are rightly as well-known as they are. Loch Eilt on the left and looking down on the Callop River on the right.

viaductFinally we end up where we started, but now on top of the wonderful Glenfinnan viaduct – just as impressive from on it as being under it. And the journey is over. All that was left was to have my breath taken again away by two more beautful visions, once by Kira from Dusseldorf and then again by a jaw-dropping show in the skies above Glasgow. Sadly I’ll never see either of them again!

Knoydart is beautiful, Inverie is friendly and the pub is full of whisky – well worth a three-day walk. I am looking forwards to going back, and this time will try the Munroes again but without the camping gear. Lovely place – but don’t tell anyone!

track

Left is a plot of a route I ended up going – I need to buy some better maps for my GPS software I think! And the batteries run out just after Carnach, so I’ve filled that in best I can. Therefore I’m not quite sure exactly where I crossed the Inverie (which I could easily find out as it’s where the bridges are!), but it gives you an idea of where I wandering. All the photos I took(616) are available unretouched HERE. Top

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The Thames Path, September 2009.

The Thames Index.

Day 1 – Kemble to Castle Eaton, 16½ miles.
Day 2 – Castle Eaton to Newbridge, 23½ miles.
Day 3 – Newbridge to Abingdon, 24 miles.
Day 4 – Abdingdon to Goring, 21 miles.
Day 5 – Goring to Reading, 11 miles.
Day 6 – Reading to Marlow, 18 miles.
Day 7 – Marlow to Staines, 23 miles.
Day 8 – Staines to Richmond, 21 miles.
Day 9 – Richmond to Putney, 8 miles.
Day 10 – Putney to Woolwich, 21 miles.
Day 11 – Woolwich to Crayford Ness, 9 miles.

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Part 2. (East)

The second half – but still a long way to go. The Thames doesn’t end in London!

Reading mile post

Before I go any further with my account, I feel I should come clean. Right from the off I knew I was going to walk the whole thing. I’m sure any other LDWer knows that you can’t just walk some of a LDW, the whole LD of it has to W’d. I did do the first half in 5 days, as an honest and useful test as I’ve already mentioned. But the rest of it now was more about getting the whole thing done, and these bits of it not being far my home I reckoned there was no need to take time off work and plan accommodation etc., I would just do it day by day when it suited me. After all, with a LDW it’s not about how you do it – it’s all about that you do do it! And I did like this…

‘Day 8’ was, for reasons that I now cannot recall, actually the first bit I walked. And ‘day 10’ was split into 3 ‘sub-days’, which I blame on reduced day-light and increased lie-ins. So don’t be alarmed if you notice in the photos summer suddenly turning to late autumn, or it getting dark twice in a day. And perhaps the word ‘day’ here should be taken to read ‘stage’. And also  by ‘September 2009’ in the title of this part should more accurately read ‘July – October 2009’. But that’s not as neat. At the end of the day the only rule of LDWing is do what you like! Top

Day 6 – Reading to Marlow, 18 miles.

Once again we head off to Paddington but this time for a much shorter journey out west, and against the tide of the commuters heading east, although at this time of the morning it wasn’t a very strong tide. When I had battled across the town-planned centre seeing the river again was like seeing an old again, albeit a moody old friend who doesn’t say much let alone acknowledge you but one that looks exactly the same as the last time you saw them several, well, weeks before.

Trees in the mistI suppose if you like near the river you’d get used to misty mornings but to me they were always lovely. These trees are in the King’s Meadow – and rural false start as Reading has one last reminder just round in the corner in the form of a huge gas works.kennet mouth

Before the gas works we cross over the Kennet at the aptly named Kennet Mouth. Reading’s urbanisation nearly saw of this little area too, but campaigns to save it won the day and now we can turn right and walk all the way to Bristol if we chose. But we chose to cross over the Horseshoe Bridge and continue eastwards.
For next two days a lock would never be far away, and just as after Sonning Eye is Sonning Lock.

loosBO

The people at Sonning Lock have very much their own way of letting you know which way the public conveniences are. The guide-book says that Sonning itself – and its fine hostelries – are well worth a detour, its position on a county boundary making for interesting architectural styles. But my schedule made a detour impossible, and the time of the morning would make a detour to the hostelries pretty pointless. That is the one trouble with a well organised LDW (well, wellish), it doesn’t really leave much time for wandering hither & thither as you otherwise may wish. But I suppose the LDW provides plenty of wandering anyways.

sonning bridgeSonning Bridge is plenty picturesque though, especially in the morning mist and swirling down-weir waters. The boundary stone above is slap in the middle of the bridge.

The next stretch is one of the bits where the path has to leave the river as the bank is the preserve of the householders here. But one such householder seems more interested in railways rather than water, and has built a rather impressive model railway.

marsh lock causeway

I wonder gauge that is? I waited briefly for the early morning service, but guessed its departure time was still some way so resisting the urge to change the points I carried on to Marsh Lock. The long wooden causeway across the river to it is exactly as the guide-book describes, complete with seagulls. But that didn’t make it unpleasant, in fact it was quite a thrill – like a long stroll out on a seaside pier. And at the other end there was a surprise that wasn’t mentioned in the book…
rapids… canoeists surfing the rapids! Something I never thought I see on the river, I stood and watched for a moment, vicariously joining in their fun. And it does look rather fun but it’s still far too early for fun for me. In fact most times are probably too early for me for this kind of fun.



The more sedate charms of Henley a little further along are more in-keeping with the general sedateness of the Thames, with its Georgian bridge, boating museum and Hobbs & Sons; proud “waterman to the Queen”. The 16th Century tower of St Mary’s can be seen in the left photo above. On the right is Henley Reach where they have the thing that Henley is most famous for. This is the spot where they regatt, to coin a silly word. Never having seen anything of the Regatta is was still interesting to walk along where they actually do it – in less misty conditions.
templesmiths

At the end of the Reach if you look carefully you can see a naked lady. She sheltering in the cupola of a temple on Temple Island, and then just a bit further on the other side we pass Greenlands, home of the paperboy-done-well Mr W.H. Smith. I’d been to one of his fine news emporia only that morning and he’d be pleased that business was still brisk nearly 150 after Greenlands was built.

The fields and meadows here are pretty, but pretty unspectacular. Which makes for pleasant and easy if uninspiring walking.
roofhambledown

The eye-level rooftops of Culham Farm and the lovely view back at Hambledown make for nice distractions though.
Getting close to Marlow now and my energy levels were flagging a bit so when I saw the Old Bell claiming to have been built in 1153 I just had to pop in for sustenance.
marlow lockold bell

But when I went to the bar and ordered up a half of something or other, and some peanuts the barman said they had none, and offered me olives instead! To be honest inside it looked more like it had been built at 11.53am, so I didn’t linger. Lock Island, on the right, was just around the corner and signalled Marlow and the end of today’s day / stage was nigh.

Arrival in Marlow was timed with the sun getting ready to retire, rather like me. But unlike me it made for a very pleasing sight.
marlow

I had a welcome sit-down and a pint or two in the Marlow Donkey pub, while waiting for the Marlow Donkey train to take me back to Maidenhead for the mainline home. The hoards of school children on-board all had energy levels the perfect inverse of mine, but another stretch of the Thames was done. Top

Day 7 – Marlow to Staines, 23 miles.

frostBack at Marlow via a much quieter Marlow donkey and the morning is wonderful – crisp and clear, sunny and frosty. Weather to wake you up!

benchwinter hill

The frost clears quickly in the sunshine but even so thankfully I didn’t need a sit-down just yet. I wonder if this bench’s river-proximity it proof of global warming? On a day like who cares – Winter Hill looks great in the autumn light. (To viewers in the Granada region: no, not that Winter Hill!)

Cookham Holy Trinity churchyardCookham High Street
Every now and then the Thames Path wanders away from the river for access reasons, either physical or legal, but when it takes you past Holy Trinity churchyard and into Cookham you don’t really mind. Can you imagine a nicer high street?

maidenheadmaidenhead bridge
Maidenhead comes from the words maiden-hythe meaning ‘new wharf’, which came about when the first bridge was built in the 13th Century. The present Maidenhead road bridge dates from 1777 and rightly deserves its Grade I listed status.

sounding archThe best bridge along the whole river has to Brunel’s low-slung wonder the Maidenhead rail bridge, at the time the flattest arches in the world. They said it would collapse but after 170 odd years the InterCities glide over it as effortlessly as Brunel’s 7 footers. To me it looks just like JMW Turner portrayed it – can’t see any hares though…!

oakley court
The beauty of Oakley Court (hotel) and a majestic sweep are not spoiled even by a solitary piece of litter.

windsorA nice stroll into Windsor, but sadly HM wasn’t in today. There were a lot of swans though.

runnymedecoal pole
We all know what happened at Runnymede – 1215 I think the time was – but what I wasn’t so sure about was the purpose the white iron bollard. It is in fact a coal-tax post, and means that after this I’d have to pay duty on any coal I was carrying to the City of London. It also meant therefore that officially I was no back in London – and probably a good time to go home for the day. Incidentally, the locations of the surviving posts might make an interesting LDW in itself. One day… one day. Top

Day 8 – Staines to Richmond, 21 miles.
stainesAs mentioned earlier my trip to Staines was in fact done first of all – a kind of pre-training walk training walk, I think. Which explains the leafy trees and warm skies compared to the Marlow stage. I’d only ever heard of Staines from Ali-G, but it is in fact very nice – the bit along the river anyways.

welcomechersey bridge
Cli and John’s welcome-bench not long after joining the path was a nice touch, and Chertsey Bridge is most elegant.

little boat
I’m not sure which was more thrilling – the duck crossing, or a real-life Dunkirk little ship. Fermain V – was originally Silver Queen – and time I would see her would be in the Jubilee pageant.

shepperton ferryI never thought I’d actually be onboard a river boat on during my river walk, but at Shepperton you need to take the ferry to the other side. It works thus: you ring a bell and then some while later a chap wanders up and ushers you in to his craft for a couple of quid. What fun – and a nice sit down.

richmond_venturertraps
The river was getting busier and occasionally a bit congested where islands caused it to narrow. This young lad in the dinghy was stalled right in the way as the Richmond Venturer bore down on him blowing her hooter. He looked rightly flustered but managed to get out of the way just in time. The lack of tanks prowling around causing trouble was in part thanks to the tank traps still standing sentry over the river at Molesey.

topiaryhampton bridge
Further towards Hampton there’s a fine piece of topiary, although I’m not sure what it is. A small boy-pilot commanding a bird-plane? Still a pleasant thing to walk by though, as is Hampton bridge.

hampton ferryThe Hampton ferry seems to run by a similar principle as the Shepperton one although I could see where anyone would appear from if I’d rung the bell. Maybe one of the ducks would have taken me across… But I didn’t need to get to Hampton parish church St Mary’s today anyways.

hampton courtI think I recognise this modest abode – he still got his Hampton caught as they say. I’m glad the ferry took us over to the north bank so we could take a closer look. I was tempted to pop in but no time today, today is for being courted by the Thames, not being tempted by the courts!

kingston lockobelisk
At Teddington despite the river becoming general dull and suburban – which is only to be expected but doesn’t mean for a moment it’s still not pleasant – there’s still the odd interesting feature to note. On the left is Teddington Lock, which at 650ft long is the largest lock on the river. The guide-book and various internets say that this is the last – or first – lock on the river, and it’s all tidal from here down. But a few miles on the Richmond Lock puts paid to that. But I suppose the mood of the barrier many miles on makes it immaterial anyways. A little further along is the Thames Conservancy Obelisk, which signals that up from here the Environment Agency (nee the Thames Conservancy) are responsible for the river and down from here it falls to the Port of London Authority. I wonder if this ever causes coal-tax arguments based on the coal-tax post a few miles upstream?? It’s interesting little nuggets like this that make the walk so worth-while once the lovely idyll of the Cotswolds has been left far behind.

islandrichmond bridge
But there is still the odd pastoral scene to be seen – that’s Grover’s Island near Ham floodplains on the left and the fine Richmond bridge on the right thankfully signals the end of today’s Thames – I had a definite case of Thames walker’s foot, the medical explanation of which is that rivers are for floating down on walking down! Top

Day 9. Richmond to Putney, 8 miles.

beech
A nice short day today, and it starts off in Richmond with a plaque to a special tree – the Asgill House Copper Beech. I’m not sure what makes it special other than it being just rather big & old & nice, but that’s ok with me. Then shortly after we pass the only still functioning drawbridge along the Thames. Well, probably able to function if need be.

churchIsleworth Church could’ve been a nice Constabley vista, if it wasn’t for the modern brick in the way now.

brentfordkew
Any rural illusions are quickly shattered by the high rises of Brentford looming large not far away. Or are these just a mirage themselves? The back view of the unpalatial-looking Kew Palaces leaves me a bit unsure of what is what anymore!

strandStrand-on-the-Green looks like a lovely place to live, and I’m sure the estate agents make the most of that!

brewPeople had told me that the Mortlake Brewery – site of brewing since the 15th Century – had closed, even if it had only ‘brewed’ Budweiser of late anyways. It didn’t look like much was going on there, but the air was heavy with a lovely malty smell. So either Bud is still going on or the ghosts of brewers smell like brewers.
ventbale
At Barnes Bridge some work was going and I was pleased to see they’d done the correct thing according to PLA bye-laws and hung a bale of straw underneath to warn passing sailors of the work going on. The ventilation shaft on the left, presumably from a sewer and presumably Victorian, I just thought made a nice photo.

ham bridgeharrods
The wonderfully gaudy Hammersmith is best to known to me from the closing credits of Minder, and as we have to cross it we get a nice view of the Harrod’s depository enjoying the afternoon sun.

cottageboating
We’ve not seen any cottages by the river since a good county or two and Craven Cottage will surely be the last we’ll see now. When I passed by it was just after Bobby Robson had died, and I didn’t know at the time but he had once played for Fulham but I suspect he was dear to many English football fans.
We’re also now very much in pleasure boating country, both the leisurely and sporting varieties being evident.

bishops_park_planes

A sunny stroll under the old planes of the Bishop’s Park in to Fulham is a very pleasant way to end today’s stretch. Top

Day 10 – Putney to Woolwich, 21 miles.

Today’s bit should be quite manageable in one go, but like I said earlier daylight and lie-in issues meant otherwise! It’s also the bit that goes through the busiest most hectic part of the river and the bits that most people are most familiar with. The bits they think of when they think of ‘The Thames’, but as we are learning there’s a lot more to the Thames than Waterloo Bridge.putney rail bridgeThe day starts by crossing the Fulham Rail Bridge, another bridge well-known to me from my youth from the works of Dennis Waterman. This one from where he duffs up a bent prison officer in The Sweeney – he wasn’t happy. Much like I wasn’t the first time a train rattled by just feet away. Most startling!

park
Once over to the south side the autumnal planes of Wandsworth Park are a stark contrast to those of the Bishop’s Park on the other side just ‘a day’ earlier. Incidentally, the path split into two some time ago following either bank. I opted to stay on the south bank, for reasons I can’t remember now – if there was any reason at. I’m glad I did though as otherwise I would have missed one of the grandest porticos and colonnades along the whole path.

wandlePast the Wandle and the only ship-wreck we’ve seen so far. The 16 mile walk from here to the source of the Wandle is another walk that sounds quite pleasant, in an urbanny way. For another day though.

powertroops
In Fulham now and the a very forlorn Fulham Power Station, which hasn’t powered anything since the 70s. And the Albert Bridge, very pretty but so flimsy troops need to be told to march gently over it.

battsBut of all the power stations along the Thames there can only be one king. Certain sights by the river are always a thrill, and the 1930s art-deco Battersea is up there amongst the best of them. What a beauty. I hope they do something deserving of her.


The river now is getting a little self-aware, and of all these people rushing through this underpass I suspect there weren’t many who could claim to know fully the answer to the question. But I did, oh yes. Alas now the moon was up at Westminster and it time to go home, and first third of this ‘day’ done.


Starting again afresh as if nothing has happened down on the Embankment at Blackfriars Bridge. A bridge notable for because this is where the Fleet comes out underneath, or kind-of does when it’s raining a lot. But it still counts as the mouth of the Fleet.


They’re currently building a new station actually on Blackfriars Railway Bridge, which apparently is very exciting. The iron-oxide columns are from the old bridge, demolished not-so-long ago but the left the pillars there in case it affected the river bed and the new bridge took an unsavoury tilt. The crest of London, Chatham and Dover Railway is another Victorian delight by the river. Funny how few delights are post-Victorian….


The path take a clearly sign-posted diversion round some weaving back streets and busy main roads, and then past the Tate Modern. None of these things I like! But I was passing so much ‘wonderful’ art, I thought a nice arty-farty shot of St Paul’s and the Wobbly Bridge was in order.

wandleI can’t say I’m fan of Shakespeare much either – but his new globe is by no doubt the finest piece of Tudor-mockery along the whole way.


Winchester Abbey and the Golden Hind. The Bishop of geese fame, and Sir Francis Drake respectively.

wandleLondon Bridge used to be once upon a time such a splendid thing I don’t think anyone would deny it status as the 8th wonder, but alas now I think it’s one of dullest most perfunctory bridges on the whole river. Oh lovely old Bridge – what hath become of ye? Unless you want to travel to Lake Tavasu to see the new Victorian London Bridge’s home then I do really recommend you pop in to St Magnus the Martyr on the north side, where the old bridge met the City, where they have a huge marvelous model of the bridge built by the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. This in itself might be eligible for a ‘world wonder’ status, perhaps in the 20s or 30s.

wandleBut of course, due to there not being a proper London Bridge anymore, when ever anyone thinks of London and bridges they think of this piece of superb Victorian neo-gothic engineering-wonder. It needs no introduction!


But always be sure to peer through the gap at our river below, and feel the bounce of the buses as they pass. And you may wonder what the blue plate is in the corner of the bridge steps, well I’m reliably informed that it’s to stop gentlemen relieving themselves there. Very clever! All corners should have one, although whether such a busy corner as this needs one I don’t know.

wandleBelow the bridge is Dead Man’s Hole, and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. Except it wasn’t just corpses that were thrown in, plenty of bodies leap in before coming corpses and I’m sure the gates to the Hole are still is use to this day.


Past the bridge the tree planting near city wall are a little conspicuous, and the trendy expensive flats of Shad Thames make the mind wander with thoughts of what things were like back in the day…


Ominous clouds a-gathering over the glitzy new riverside redevelopments on the north side but St Saviour’s dock is looking a bit more real on the south. Still full of trendy apartments though. There’s a lot of them round here.


Time for some public art in the form of Dr. Salter’s Daydream – but whose stupid idea was it to put out a bench and then put a bronze man on it. He could have easily be stood making more room for weary walkers! But it wasn’t me that stole him! Honest. I much prefer the Jubilee monuments, I trust HM got a new this year too.


Isambard’s small but perfectly formed museum in one of his old pump-houses is well worth a visit, if you like that kinda thing and have nothing better to. The bascule bridge on Rotherhithe Street looks like a little test project for Tower Bridge.

wandleAt Greenland Pier there was a high-pressure airline in the water, and its leaks made it look like there were miniature Thames geysers. I stood a while watching and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, until the waves retreated slightly and revealed the hose. Bit of a disappointment really!


Another landmark here, and in this case it is quite literally that. It’s the boundary marker between St Paul’s Deptford and St Mary’s Rotherhithe which is also the boundary between Surrey and Kent. Another county crossed! But apparently it’s not in the right place now, but it’ll still do. I have no idea what the thing on the right is, but a big hulk of old rotting timber will also do for me. The steps down were too tempting not to go down and investigate. But I found nothing out. But it is always nice to get down on the foreshore to get a littler closer to the mystical dirty water.

wandleThe clouds over the City were looking very moody now – I wonder they signalled of the financial woes to come? Or had they already started then? I can’t really remember now. Impressive sight though.


Some sign posts are much help to long-distance traveler, whether or not I was looking for flat 1209. The information at Deptford Creek – the River Ravensbourne – was much more useful. Well, interesting.

wandleApproaching Greenwich and the river is wide and the skies are big.


The Naval College looking splendid and Nelson still standing proud protecting the pub he fought so hard for.


The 17th Century Trinity Hospital is the oldest building in Greenwich, but these is dwarfed by the 20th Century power station which is still in working order.
The mud on the railway-jetty suggests you shouldn’t really be stood on it when there’s a particularly high tide due.


Pleasingly there’s still quite of big dirty industry along this stretch, and just when I’d seen my first working crane I spied a few more on the side. Those ones are engaged in some of the sweetest work on the river – at the Tate & Lyle factory.

barrierThe Thames Barrier designed to prevent flooding and tide-control for Jubilee pageants is a grand sight.

wandleLooking back dusky London seems a long way away, and the Woolwich ferry signals we reached the end to this penultimate stage. The original Thames Path finished at the Barrier, but since then they’ve tagged on an extension. So it’d be rude not to carry on. Top

Day 11. Woolwich to Crayford Ness, 9 miles.


We start of the Woolwich arsenal, and if some old target practice was impressive enough how about a bit segment of the Iraqi super-gun that we heard much of a few years back?

wandle


A giant of a river now, but little does it know that we don’t need telling how long it is! We’ve walked each of those 215 miles Mister! Well, most of them – certainly more than the mere 100 miles it claims is possible. I was quite alarmed to read though that the Thames rises over 20 feet every day – I assume though it drops by the same amount too.
I would have loved to known something about this old pillbox though.

wandleThis beacon is at Tripcock Ness – so-called because no cable-hung – or cock-billed – are allowed past this point. Having read this I’m still none-the-wiser to what that actually means.


I wonder if the people of Inverness know we’re still thinking of them 1191 miles away? Although by  my reckoning 1191 miles would get you to Inverness and back…
Across the way we see the Barking Creek flood barrier drawn high over the River Roding. There are more flood barriers on the Thames than you might think!


I you can make out the sign-posts on the right, they seem to be suggesting that you may not cycle along the National Cycle Way. But if you’ve just ridden 1200 miles from Inverness you probably wouldn’t want to anyways.


Sewage solutions new and old. Bazagette’s fine Crossness Pumping Station – oh to look inside! and the new and silly looking Crossness Sewage Incinerator – oh to get away!


What leaves the modern sewage plant is as attractive as it is, only more appealing if you’re a seagull.

They’ve put up a little history lesson up here showing what the river was like in the times of mammoths, but if those are glaciers in the background then the Thames is just newly arrived here from its original course through St Albans – and those ladies are very hardy to go wading in to the water bare-legged. The vandals had made it clear what they thought of it.


I don’t think we’ve seen any fords on the river as yet but they don’t come much bigger than this one – the Dagenham motor plant. And perhaps this anchor was left by a skipper in a hurry to ditch it before he got to Tripcock Ness?


Signs of life and industry are starting to thin out now, but there are still odd bits and pieces and that make you wonder what went on there. Indeed what is still going on in there? There are lights on but is anyone at home? It all feels very mysterious indeed especially in the failing light.


More mysteries are conjured up by what’s been going on here…

wandleA rainy late afternoon by the time we reach Erith and the prom is deserted.


The trickles in the mudflats are like scale models on the Thames itself. But is London really that far away?? Told you the Thames doesn’t just end there.

deptford creek

wandleAt the River Darent at Crayford Ness, and the last flood barrier, we spy the mighty QEII bridge in the distance which is as high above the water as the central span of Tower Bridge is wide, we reach the end of the Thames Path. The final end. No more after this, no extensions, nothing. No sign, no plaque, no celebration, no fan-fare. That’s it. Over. But we know we’ve walked the full length of Thames, from source to (almost) the sea, and that’s enough. Now we’ve just got lengthy walk to Dartford station to look forward….

So long Thames, it’s been fun! Top

But don’t forget to claim your congratulatory patch or certificate to show off in the pub!
P1220273

All the Thames Path pics are here.

The Thames Path, September 2009.

The Thames Path Index.

Day 1 – Kemble to Castle Eaton, 16½ miles.
Day 2 – Castle Eaton to Newbridge, 23½ miles.
Day 3 – Newbridge to Abingdon, 24 miles.
Day 4 – Abdingdon to Goring, 21 miles.
Day 5 – Goring to Reading, 11 miles.
Day 6 – Reading to Marlow, 18 miles.
Day 7 – Marlow to Staines, 23 miles.
Day 8 – Staines to Richmond, 21 miles.
Day 9 – Richmond to Putney, 8 miles.
Day 10 – Putney to Woolwich, 21 miles.
Day 11 – Woolwich to Crayford Ness, 9 miles.

******

Part 1. (West)

A long way home.

Having heard my Dad’s tales of walking the Coast to Coast in the early 90s on, shall we say, more than one occasion, the temptation to have a go myself had been building gradually over the years and especially now that sunny beaches and nocturnal New York had become too tiresome and too tiring respectively it seemed like a good time to dust off my boots.

And then along came Julia bloody Bradbury, and every Tom, Dick and Harriet and their myriad dogs were planning the same thing. Oh well. And actually, there’s no point in denying it, I had watched Julia myself and she had whetted my appetite even more.

But first things first. I’m not a bad old walker and not too out of shape so was pretty sure that on a day by day basis I could handle the miles along and the feet up & down. But having never done a long distance walk before I had no idea how I’d get on doing those day by day miles & feet day after day. After day. After day… and with all my (relevant) worldly goods on my back. So I figured a practice walk would be in order.

I live in London where concreteless traffic-free walks are few and far between. But there’s a big wet thing that flows through the middle of the concrete and traffic and is, I’m told, at some point small and rather dry and in-between the terrain is not too strenuous and ever so slightly downhill all the way, so perhaps the Thames Path would be an ideal starter-LDW to test oneself’s readiness for Julia’s big one at some point. Sorry, I mean Wainwright’s big one. Top

Day 1 – Kemble to Castle Eaton. 16½ miles.

The Great man.

The great traveller.

With much help from the official website and with the official guides in hand (bought for a quid each from eBay – a little out of date, but they’ll be ok I’m sure) accommodation had been booked and I set off to Paddington. Paddington – my gateway to the west, usually this means the USA or the Caribbean but today’s destination is just as exciting – is a lovely station, and I always like to tip my hat there to another traveller – he at the end of his great journey as I start mine, and the Great man himself, without whom I’d be going nowhere!

A crossword later I was at Kemble – and immediately got lost by confidently turning the wrong way out of the station! Starting as I was meaning to go on possibly. After a sharp about-turn and another mile or so, I was there. The Thames was sourced and the walk could begin.

(Actually I’d better come clean at this point and admit that originally my plan was just to walk half of it, ie. the ‘nice’ bit. I’m quite familiar with the bits in London – why on Earth would I want to walk along the South Bank if I could possibly help it!? So from the source to Reading would do nicely to quickly test my LDW-ing capabilities,  we would leave it there…. or would we?!)

The source of the Thames

The source of the Thames was rather dry, as you’d expect it to be after a warm summer and on a balmy September day. A bit disappointing really, I hoping to see a tangible little trickle rather than a bone dry pile of stones. Oh well. I’m sure it will start sooner or later. Setting off down the field I almost immediately bumped into two people heading towards the source. They inquired whether it was that way, or whether it was wet or something, I can’t quite remember now. “Ohhhh… it’s impressive!” I told them with a hint of sarcasm, but actually it is quite impressive. It’s the source of England’s mightiest river! How could it not be impressive??

A little past the two other source-seekers came this dry grassy gully. Obviously the Thames bed, reassuring that I was definitely heading in the right direction but I wonder where the Thames water would begin.

I guess the only reason to build a wall across a river is when you know that the river isn’t going to be there for a lot of the time. But Remember to put holes in it for when the river is there!

I don’t want to sound like Sir Patrick Moore observing Mars, but there was lots of evidence of water flowing here once, but not for a while. Although at this spot it does look like it wasn’t all that long ago, so surely water cannot be far ahead. Although having said that by now I seeing how far I could walk along the actual river-bed rather than the footpath. Only an hour into my first LDW and I’m already setting myself silly challenges. Silly because it meant walking through a lot of bushes and brambles.

Eventually came the odd puddle, and they got bigger and had to be dodged with more agility until eventually the puddles became so big and frequent they just merged in to one long puddle. And this is called ‘a river’. The River Thames starts with a whimper not a bang, well at this time of year it does anyways. But hoorah – water! And we shall never far from it for next 100 miles or so.


I’m not quite why they’d have a weir this far upstream, and a rather ugly modern weir at that. For fish? There was no mill or race nearby. Just along from it was a lovely little bridge, surely the smallest bridge across the Thames. Who needs show-offy Tower Bridge and its fancy bascules?!



The first proper village on the river is the lovely Aston Keynes. And to me the Thames really does look like a proper ‘baby Thames’. Aston Keynes is home to four ‘prayer stones’, and if I remember correctly nobody knows how or when they came about. I imagine they’re not used so much these days.The next mile is the most boring along the whole river. It’s through a load of old flooded gravel pits, and the track is winding and heavily planted on both sides with birch trees, so that you can’t see anything at all on either side and feels very claustrophobic. And when there’s is a gap through the trees you still can’t see anything because there’s nothing to see, other than the odd glimpse of Manorbrook Lake. Luckily to break the monotony a young bullock was in the track in front of me, and had no option but to keep nervously trotting off 20 yards at a time, then stopping and peering back at me as I approached him – there was no other way for either of us to go! I can’t remember what happened to him. He wasn’t with me when I got to Cricklade.


After quickly passing by the tempting Red Lion in Cricklade, the river is still very still and we see the first bridge not meant for people. An obsessive LDWer notes these things!

I was coming towards the end of my first day and looking forward to refreshments in Castle Eaton – the red OS tankard symbol had kept me going so far! But then I suffered what you could call ‘bovinus interruptus’.
Walking through a field approaching Castle Eaton Bridge, and just a few hundred yards from the pub, I noticed at the other end of the field a lot of cows – as you’d expect in a field. Although I live in London I’m a bit of country boy at heart and quite familiar with fields full of beasts so thought nothing of it. But as I walked towards them they started walking towards me. How odd I thought and as I stopped to ponder they stopped, perhaps to ponder too. I started walking again and they started walking again. I wasn’t hugely worried at this point but didn’t want the inconvenience of walking through a considerable herd of cows so I swung to my right away from the river to skirt round them. But blow me – they changed tack too and again started walking towards me. What the devil are they up to I wondered as they got closer. Again I changed direction and headed to my left back towards the river – and so did they. By now we were getting very close to each other and I must admit I was getting a little worried, there were a lot of them – between 50 and 100 I’d wager. At the edge of river I saw what looked like an electric fence. Hoorah – a refuge behind voltage! I got to it just before the cows, who were getting excited now and some had been trying to mount others, leading me to surmise that it was a mixed gender crowd. Perhaps word had got back about me unintentionally chasing the wee bullock a few miles earlier? Anyways, if you could have seen my face you also would have seen it drop as I approached the supposed-electric fence only to realise it was in fact merely a length of string! I hopped over it anyways and clambered several feet down the bank, so that now I was penned in by the river on one side and dozens of interested cows peering down at me from the top. I wonder if they thought the ‘string’ was electric too? Or maybe they just couldn’t be bothered to climb down the muddy bank to get me, or perhaps they just meant me no harm at all? Anyways, as far as I was concerned I was in a pickle. Thick nettles and brambles blocked my way along the river, and I even thought about wading across, but had no towel. A branch across the river the width of my wrist even looked a tempting escape plan for a brief moment. Not even one day of my first – the by far the least challenging of LDWs – completed and was I to meet my end? (Or be stuck on a muddy river bank all night?!)

So. I went back along the river as far I could and I clambered up the bank. My plan was to walk back away from the cattle the way I came to the previous field and then work something out. I got up past the string back in to the field proper and started walking. True to form they all started following me, but only at a walking pace and thankfully my walking pace was slightly faster so I slowly pulled away. But it was a long way to the edge of the previous field so swung now to my left and headed over to the adjacent field. And they changed their course too. As I got nearer to the next field I could see that there was a real electric fence now, and a sparse hedgerow. I quickened my step, and using my map as an insulator lowered the wire and clambered through the hedgerow into a narrow strip of grass alongside a willow plantation. The very second I did that they went absolutely berserk, literally stampeding towards the hedge. The snorts and thundering hooves were a little worrying. They could have easily crashed through the hedgerow if they wanted, and I was ready to leg it flailing into the willow. Thankfully when they got to the hedgerow they stopped – perhaps wary of the real electric fence? Or just obedient to borders?

Angry cows

Phew, I thought to myself and started walking up the field, off-track but at last now in the right direction. Yet still they followed me along on the other side of the hedge watching me all the way, and the thought did occur to me that any minute the hedgerow was going to stop and we’d left facing each other again with nothing to save me. But luckily that didn’t happen and one by one they seemed to get bored and gradually wandered off back to their business. What a strange episode, and when I finally got to my B&B much muddier and later than I had intended they had been wondering where I’d been. I explained to the landlady the cow-saga and she told me her husband had experienced a similar thing a few months back. Bloody cows – I shall look forward to a big steak asap!

I was later told by my Godfather who works out in these types of places that they probably just thought they were going to get fed – yes! And I know what they were thinking of eating Uncle Dave!

The Red LionThe Malt House

The Red Lion was ok, but I was just relieved to be sat down with a nice pint of Otter bitter. For tea I had the “poacher’s pie”, even though when I enquired what was in it (which required a trip to the kitchen for the waitress to find out) I was told “mixed venison”. When it came it was just plain old cottage pie. Mixed venison indeed! But the Malt House B&B was absolutely lovely, and included a guided tour of the listed features of the old bakery and getting to help the youngest member of the family out with his homework over breakfast. Very nice. Top

Day 2. Castle Eaton to Newbridge. 23½ miles.

After a lovely night’s rest in the wonderful Malt House I was waved off as I strolled down the road like a favourite son heading off to war. It was early and the morning was bright and fresh, but out here in the meadows of Wiltshire a clear night can only mean one thing…

One misty moisty morning…

… mist! And although early morning low-lying mist makes for lovely vistas and atmospheric photos, the dew it lays down everywhere was a real problem. My Hi-Tec boots, although cheap and reasonably cheerful, had been worn in and were very comfy and certainly sturdy enough for walking through the Cotswolds. And the words “water proof” embossed on to them was reassuring, but as my brother later pointed out “Yeah, but it also says ‘Hi-Tec’ on them…” and he had a point.
I don’t think the all the world’s cleverest scientists and greatest engineers could develop a more efficient applicator of water on to footwear than wet ankle length grass.

After just a few hundred yards of walking through the riverside meadows my feet were soaking. And this would happen everyday. I dealt with it thus: after a couple of hours, or as long as I could bear, I would change my socks, and hang the wet ones on my rucksack to dry. After a couple more hours by mid-late morning the dew had been to seen to by the sun, and the wet socks were dryish too, so they were changed back and by lunch time my boots had dried out too. A bit of a drag, but this was a lesson learning exercise after all – and I’d learned not to buy Hi-Tec boots! (When I got back I had a lengthy email exchange with a lady from Hi-Tec who said I could return the boots and they would examine them and if there was a manufacturing fault she would exchange them. But by then were very worn in, and very comfy for every(dry)day pottering about so I declined. They were no good for LWDs anyways. After about 100 miles or so the insoles were completely knackered and lumpy, and causing soreness & blisters in the space between the balls of my feet and toes. Needless to say I won’t be skimping on boots again!)

The weather was sweltering, blue skies and sun everywhere. The wet grass, and indeed the temperature, had caused me to roll my trousers up. This later lead to sun-burned calves! You can’t win. More lessons learned though.



The 13th Century Church of St John the Baptist at Inglesham was a cool welcome break, well worth the slight detour.
Tracing the river from its initial dry bed and then puddles and trickles and watching it grow and develop is ticking off a series of ‘firsts’. There should be an I-Spy book of river development. Passing the first old lock-house was such a moment.

Roundhouse FarmRoundhouse Footbridge

Where Round House farms now stands there used to be the lock that connected the river to the Thames and Severn Canal, but it was never very successful and now I believe it’s in a very sorry state. Just downstream of it is Roundhouse Bridge, with an sign that instructs that swimming is prohibited between it and the bridge. It is about 10 feet away from the bridge! I wondered what is so bad about that little stretch of river!?

River ColnHere we encounter two firsts for the price of one. The first major tributary – the River Coln, and the first anglers. You can’t deny that it’s starting to look quite the smart little river now, sedate and unhurried – the Thames in its natural state and devoid of any tidal influences never hurries anywhere! The willows make for a nice photo I think.

Ha'penny BridgeI stopped for lunch at Lechlade, in the shade of Ha’penny Bridge – named after its toll was joined by a good half-dozen friendly swans. Lechlade is apparently as far as laden barges could reach up the Thames according to my guide. This may account for the failure of the Thames and Severn Canal a mile or upstream!

Pill boxSt John's Lock

Here we pass two more firsts, on the left is the first pillbox – part of old GHQ line. And on the right is the first lock – St John’s lock. I would become quite the expert on locks by the end of the walk. Well, I would end up knowing more about them than when I set off anyways. Many of the locks and lock-houses are nicely kept and have lovely cottage gardens. St John’s is adorned with some pretty little miniature houses, and has a very special lock guardian…

Old Father Thames… it’s Old Father Thames himself! Built originally for the grounds of Crystal Palace he was moved to the source where he had to sit in a cage and he could only occasionally see his river. Now’s he here and happily gongoozles at the passing boaters and frowns at the passing walkers.

Eaton WeirEaton Weir was the last old-fashioned flash weir on the Thames but it taken out in the 1930s. And the old inn that was here burned down a few years so now there’s not much left – just the name It is one of only two weirs on the river where there’s no weir.

Halt!After passing through a cornfield, with many a cob still lying about (too bad I don’t like corn on the cob) I could not resist a little tribute to the home-guard at another GHQ pill-box. “Halt!” I cried, “Who goes there?”. Thankfully “foe” would never have been the answer.

Radcot BridgeRadcot new bridge

Radcot Bridge, on the left, is the oldest bridge on the river and dates from the 12th Century. But it’s over a branch of the river that isn’t really used anymore. We use the newer bridge on the right which we cross over, and I think is the first time the path crosses the river.

Old Man's BridgeFrog

On the to way to Rushey Lock we pass Old Man’s bridge which seemingly goes from nowhere to nowhere, much like us old men really! Then at Rushey Lock I saw the biggest frog that I would see the whole length of the river. In fact it was the only frog I would see – it was very very warm, and frogs are definitely not mad dogs nor Englishmen and have much better ideas how to spend their days.

Rushey Lock weirRushey Lock is quite special in that it has a paddle and rhymer weir, which is operated by manually lifting the paddles in & out of the rhymers to control the water flow. There’s only two left now and British Waterways (or whatever they’re called now) want to replace them and sack the lock-keepers. I knew nothing of this at the time though, it was all explained to me further down-stream so it was fortunate I got this lovely snap of the paddles & rhymers. No-one knows why they’re called ‘rhymers’ apparently. If you know, answers of a post-card to…

Tadpole BridgeRickety bridge

Tadpole Bridge must have the cutest name of all the bridges, named after the hamlet of Tadpole, which with its 3 houses and 1 pub is a perfectly proportioned little settlement! To the right is the most rickety of all the bridges on the river. I was getting towards the end of the day now, and had realised that the rare bridge and occasional steps are welcome breaks to the monotonously flat walking and makes a pleasant change – indeed a rest & stretch – for the legs.

RapidsFriendly cows

Thames rapids and friendly cattle having a cooling paddle. The rapids are not natural of course, and why can’t all cows be like this!?

NewbridgeAt about tea-time and more or less on schedule I arrived at Newbridge, which is actually the joint 2nd oldest bridge on the river, being 50 years or so younger than Radcot bridge. The Thames’ refreshing waters sorted my burning feet while I admired the ancient structure. My accommodation for the night, the Rose Revived, is just over the bridge. I was actually sitting in the Mayflower beer garden here, enjoying a pint of Brakspear.

The Rose Revived

The Rose Revived

The Rose Revived was very pleasant, if business like – quite a change from the home-from-home of the Malt House, but the food and beer were fine and welcome. I had an amusing chat with a lovely barmaid called Vicky which ended up with a surreal discussion about making the curry of the day out of Sean, the barman. After a full day’s walking there’s nothing better than a full tum and bed by 9.30pm!
A couple of days later and much further down-stream, Vicky rang me up. How odd… what terrible thing had they found in my room?! But it turned out that months earlier when I booked the room I had paid a deposit, but when I checked out I had completely forgotten about it and so had the Rose Revived’s booking computer so I paid the full amount. Vicky was ringing to tell me she’d now noticed this oversight and would refund my credit card. How nice! Thanks Vicky. Top

Day 3. Newbridge to Abingdon. 24 miles.

Newbridge

The morning was bright again and not so misty but there was still a lot of dew in the meadows. But the view looking back at Newbridge is so lovely you can forget your soon-to-be-sodden feet for a brief moment.

Hart's WeirBoathouses

Here we see Hart’s Weir, the other weir where’s there no weir, but at least here there’s another one of those bridges that goes from nowhere to nowhere. The guide-book surmises that they might be left-over from long vanished footpaths or rights of way. And then further on we see some derelict boathouses. Dereliction is not common on the Thames in this part of the world.

Northmoor LockNorthmoor Lock

Northmoor Lock is where I got my lock education. I had by now read in my guide-book about paddles and rhymers and offering no explanation it just said to look out for them. So I was hunting high & low exploring the workings of the lock looking for them but to no avail – and as I didn’t know what I was looking for it’s no wonder. Then the lock-keeper showed up, and wondered what I was up to so early – it was only about 8am. I told him what I was looking for, and he chuckled that I wouldn’t find them on this lock. I wouldn’t find them on any lock… because they go on weirs (as already explained). True to the guide-book form he also told me about the campaign to retain the paddles & rhymers. He didn’t tell though that the ones here are now fibreglass! Anyways, my thirst for paddle & rhymer knowledge was sufficiently slaked I went to head off north along the river. “Where you off today?” he asked. “Abingdon” I replied. “Hahaha! It’s about 4 miles that way” he said pointing to the west. The Thames goes round a large loop here, round the Cumnor and Wytham Hill, the lock-keeper suggested I should take the short-cut – as I’m sure he does to every Thames Pather, but no my resolution was strong. And I stuck to the long way.

Northmoor LockLooking back at Northmoor Lock, you can just make out the paddles & rhymers on the left. Long may they remain!

Campers

I know it’s a camp-site here but do people really have to camp right on the footpath?? The ferry here is at Bablock Hyth which the guide says is the most famous crossing on the river, being established by the Romans and chain-hauled during WWII as it was so busy. The local publican operates a foot-ferry now, but if this is it it’s not very busy. Or the publican has found better things to do!

Swinford BridgeSwinford Bridge, named after where they used to ford swine (can you guess was beasts were once forded at Oxford…?), is one of the two privately owned bridges on the river. Don’t be fooled by the clouds in this photo, it is still very hot and rain was nowhere near.
big riverPixey Mead

The river getting bigger and more laid back by the mile now as it slowly curves it way through Pixey Mead, on the right. No pixies were evident though.

A34After a couple of days and 50 or so miles of nothing but meadow and not many people, the A34 Oxford bypass rudely barging its way over the river is a bit of shock. I guess there must be many life-forms nearby. Yes, in Oxford.

Oxford

The boundary post tells that we are now in Oxfordshire, or something to do with Oxford. The vacant top of it tells us that someone has nicked the ox off it. And Godstow Lock, on the right, tells us that we are half way done with the first half of the Thames. Where does the time go?!

Godstow Abbeyplaque

The remains of the 16th century Godstow Abbey chapel on the left, and a rather charming local history society plaque. I was hoping there’d be more of these… but there wasn’t. But there should be!

View of OxfordSignpost

The view of Oxford in the distance behind horses drinking in the river was a lot nicer than the signpost marking the official boundary of the city.

Rainbow Bridgetown

We pass the romantically named Rainbow Bridge over to Fiddler’s Island as we head into Oxford, on the left. Even though the path only passes through the outskirt of Oxford the sudden urbanisation after days of meadows really is a bit of a shock.

TrafficBut not as big a shock as the traffic! I’d barely seen a car since I left Kemble so the roaring hustle bustle of city life seemed most unusual. Which is why I felt it necessary to take a photo of a traffic jam! Needless to say I hadn’t missed this kind of scene much, so let’s move on sharpish.

bridges Bacon
Over a little bridge and under a big bridge, and a memorial to a chap who drowned in the river trying to save his son. It’s a bit worn but I like these memorials to ordinary folk. And then passed Francis Bacon’s lovely old house, in the middle of the river on the right.
Next came a lovely old house and strange old tunnel in a big wall, sadly I have no clue what either are. But they are intriguing none-the-less.
Fancy househole

rower
punt

Surprisingly the rower on the left was the first rower I’d seen, but as this is Oxford I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the first, and only, punt go past here too. I stopped for lunch at this spot, and for the 15 or 20 minutes I rested up (at about 1.15pm) the tower you can just see through the trees in the left photo clanged non-stop, and the two women sat on the opposite bank by the punt nattered on non-stop. Quite a noisy spot! Nothing against Oxford but I was keen to move on. Another thing I noticed about Oxford was people not saying hello. All the way along the path the people you’d see – admittedly not many – would all bid you a good morning or some such greeting, but as soon as you get near Oxford, more or less at the Rainbow Bridge, it stops. Tis the city way I suppose.

Iffley lockSandford lock
Leaving Oxford we head out in to more open country again, and pass two nice locks. Iffley Lock on the left and Sandford Lock on the right. Iffley Lock is one the oldest pound locks on the river, originally built in 1630. The guide-book mentions the ‘Sandford Lasher’, the particularly impressive weir outflow but I missed it. Probably enticed by the tempting looking King’s Arms on the other side. So near and yet so far! I also missed the preserved stone block from the 13th Century ferry that crossed here. Keep your eyes open at Sandford Lock should you be passing!

fieldhero

The day was getting on now and traipsing through fields like the one on the left was becoming a bit of a drag. The hard ruts were hard to walk through, as was the long grass. They’re all very flat but also uneven under foot, and they go on and on. And again it was very hot. If someone had offered me a lift in the boat they would have been a real hero as I far I as concerned at this point! (The boat is called Hero if you don’t get round to clicking on the photo…)

thing?I was starting to flag a bit, so the shady bench you can see here was very welcomed. As I was sitting there I started to wonder what the large iron thing is for? Something to do with boating I guess… but what? An upside boot-scraper for getting much of the bottom of boats? Any ideas anyone?

lock woodLock Wood on the other side meant that I was getting near Abingdon. Hoorah! But to me it looks more like Lock Jungle. I could have been walking along the Amazon here, it certainly was hot enough.

Abbey rems gatehouse

Into Abingdon now at last, past the Abbey remains and the gatehouse. I popped into the first pub I came to, the name of which I don’t remember. Obviously not looking like another office worker having a homeward-bound pint a lady asked me what I was up to. The Thames path isn’t a hugely popular route compared to other LDWs so she was a bit surprised. We chatted more and she knew the place I was staying at that night, conveniently just down the road and she warned me of the eccentricities of the owners. Oh dear… I emptied my glass and apprehensively headed off down the road.

abingdon B&BMy ancient B&B in Abingdon was wonderful! Very old, I’m sure I was told that some bits are medieval. The owners are eccentric as I was warned, but very sweetly and endearingly so. They told me they were going away that night so could I pay now, make my own breakfast and be sure to lock the door on the way out in the morning. Home alone! My room here is just to the left of the black sporty looking car, and the B&B consisted of that old building and the Georgian (?) building next to it.

bedroom hallway

My charming bedroom came complete with fireplace, period armchair and writing desk and authentic beams! The hallway was a delight. Not much plastic to be seen.
Abingdon was very busy as it was a Friday night, and I felt a bit conspicuous eating alone in a big busy smart pub surround by family celebrations and other groups outings. I back early and was sound asleep in no time. A shame really as I wanted to take in the atmosphere of the room a bit more, but not a chance. Zzzzzz….. Top

Day 4. Abdingdon to Goring. 21 miles.

Adingdon morn smoke on the waterbridge
A fine morning made for a lovely early start from Abingdon, and some nice views over the river, you really can’t beat this time of the day. And thankfully by now there was much more tow-path walking rather than lush meadows so the dew soaked boots was less of a problem.

church
St Helen’s in Abingdon rising resplendent behind the pleasant riverside houses.

almshouses entire pub

Although Oxford was a sudden urban shock, mile after mile of water meadow can get a little boring, so it’s a nice change to walk through areas like this – where there’s more to see but it’s not too built up and still has plenty of charm. St Helen’s 15th Century almshouses are on the left, and on the right the Old Anchor Inn – the only pub I’ve seen advertising entire for sale. But far too early for a pint, no matter what side of the river it’s on. It does seem that all the pubs are on the other side, hmmm. Probably a good thing!

abingdon old bridgeAbingdon Old Bridge, sitting protected in a quiet Thames backwater – some scrabbling through bushes was required to get this photo but I think it’s worth. It’s the ‘other’ 2nd oldest bridge on the Thames. (This and Newbridge vie for that claim, both being slightly newer than 12th Century Radcot bridge).

balloon didcot power station

The balloon was a much more pleasant airborne presence than the light aeroplane that was buzzing around much off the day. In fact, Didcot power station in the distance was more pleasant than the sodding little thing. It wasn’t even a micro-light so I wondered what he was doing up there? Mapping or surveying the area I decided, or maybe he’d gone up just to annoy me – which he was doing very well.

clifton hampdenSir George Gilbert Scott’s fine bridge at Clifton Hampden. He was practicing for St Pancras!

the barley mowThe Barley Mow, 1352, at Clifton Hampden – you might have heard of it, as: “…it would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay at. The heroine of a modern novel is alway ‘devinely tall’, and she is ever ‘drawing herself up to her full height’. At the Barley Mow she would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.” Jerome K Jerome, 1889.
Yup, we’re in Three Men in Boat country now.

flood flood

Markers showing the flood levels at Shillingford. Two hundred or so years ago the author would have been drowned had he been stood there posing for photos then!

shillingford bridgeShillingford Bridge.

Wallingford Bridge blue door
At Wallingbridge I took the opportunity of the shade to stop for lunch. It wasn’t nicest spot, next to a rowdy beer garden and just below a busy road but the shade was wonderful. As I munched my sarnies a model boat chugged by – you can just see it in the photo on the far side – seemingly all on its own. Shortly after I passed a blue wooden door / flap in a wall. What on Earth is it…?

littlestoke ferryThe site of the Littlestoke ferry, but it looks like the ferry hasn’t run for some time. It does look fordable though doesn’t it? I wouldn’t try it though. The path diverts away from the river for a mile or two now.

goringWhen we rejoin the riverside at Moulsford we’re not far from Goring, and again the views are most pleasant.

streatley lock

At Streatley Lock there is an old mill, which has its own little weir to create a head of water. And this weir is controlled by paddles & rhymers! Now the lock-keeper at Northmoor told me there were only two such weirs on the river – had I found a third?? I’m sure he hadn’t mentioned this one. Well I was excited anyways!

john barleycorn

Passing a sad unloved narrowboat (scrub that up and it could be worth 30 grand! I’ll have it!) we get into Goring. A lovely little place although deathly quiet for a Saturday night, which I had no problem with at all. Quiet that is until I went in the John Barleycorn for “food and water”. So this is where everyone was! There were no tables left they said, so I did my “ohh I’m walking the Thames  Path and I’m sooo tired” face and luckily it worked. Or I’d scared some people off. Either way, I was in bed not long after full up and relubricated for tomorrow’s last leg. Top

Day 5. Goring to Reading. 11 miles.

goring gapThe final day! And just 11 miles. A doddle, it’ll be over in no time surely? And not only the final day but another fine day. The Goring Gap, above, looking lovely veiled in early morning mist.

pill boxgwr

Just past the Grotto on the other side of the river we pass under one of IKB’s great GWR bridges, and next to it some later more brutal architecture, which thankfully unlike the GWR was never needed. I’m glad they’re still about it though, a reminder of how close things might have got, etc… Anyways, while I was there a First Great Western express rushing by, IKB’s bridge still coping with modern demands. Too bad those demands now are 4ft 8½inches wide and not 7ft ¼inch!

dellIt wasn’t until I got to Hartistock Wood that it occurred to me that there hasn’t been much woodland walking at all yet along the path yet, in fact this maybe the first bit. Certainly the first bit of any note (and that I can remember!). The coolness and shade of this lovely dingly dell was very pleasant.

chilternsOn the leaving the woods we’re suddenly into the Chilterns. Back into the heat, but still very nice.

hornselephant

Walking through Whitchurch we encounter many strange beasts! Mighty curious horned cattle, who refused a handful of grass that any self-respecting horse would have snuffled up in no time. And a naughty squirty elephant cooling himself off every few seconds. This was the best non-river water feature encountered along the way.

whitbridge millwhitbridge tolls

As we cross the bridge from Whitchurch to Pangbourne there’s a reminder of the tolls that used to be charged here on the toll house that still stands. Tolls are still taken, but not from us walkers. The right hand photo is Whitchurch Mill.

pangbourne meadowThe long sweeping majestic curve of the river as it rolls on by alongside Pangbourne Meadow, the little old hamlet of Mapledurham on the other side nestling in the woods is the very picture of quaintness, so I’m not sure why I didn’t take a picture of it.

racefry's island

Heading into Reading now, and alongside the River Promenade there was much excitement has there was a canoe-based sports day. I used the opportunity to observe the fun as an excuse to rest, or should that be vice versa…? Fry’s Island is on the right. Apart from at locks there had been very few islands in the river so far.

reading bridgeThis is Reading Bridge and is the last I shall see of the Thames (at least for a while… who knows?!). There’s a huge busy pub nearby called The Three Men in a Boat Tavern. Any pub that is a contrived marketing mouthful before you’ve even gone in does not appeal to me so I said a quick farewell and left the river, and had to re-adjust to one way systems, traffic lights and roundabouts as I tried to find my way through Reading town centre. I stopped off for a final Thames Path pint in the The Blagrave Arms, which is a big dirty town centre pub in a big dirty town centre. I’d been spoilt over the last few days!

It felt odd to be going home now, although the walk itself is nice and pleasant although not at all exciting or “an amazing experience” as you hear of most LDWs, it still becomes all you have to think about all day and every day. Now what am I going to do every morning if I’m not pulling my boots on and stepping out into the sunshine!?

But as a first-time LDW-taster test had worked well. Passed with flying colours I think. Mission accomplished. But I can’t really leave it at half-way can I? I owe to it Old Father Thames himself to follow his river all the way to sea, it’s just right and proper, right?

But that’s for another day – I have a train to catch. Top

On to part two…

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