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.

******

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 hardly 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much help from the official website and with the official guides in hand (bought for a quid each from eBay – a little out of date, but they’ll be ok I’m sure) accommodation had been booked and I set off to Paddington.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 few crossword later I was at Kemble – and immediately got lost by confidently turning the wrong way out of the station! 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!? 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 flooding 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 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 am very 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. In my delirium a tree 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 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 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 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 youngster 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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8 thoughts on “The Thames Path, September 2009.

  1. Gregg Neilson

    Eight years ago, I saw a magazine article about the Thames Path and longed to do it but got waylaid by the Coast to Coast and other LDWs. I enjoyed your writeup very much but if asked if I will ever walk it, I would answer in the words of the physicist Richard Feynman when, two days after asked the solution to a difficult problem, he said “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

    Reply
    1. Tim Post author

      That’s the best reply to so many questions! ;-)

      But as for actually walking it I’d leave it until all other LDWs are done, or the knees have finally given up and something not strenuous is required. Or perhaps day walks if you’re in the area. It’s a lovely walk, but not a lot happens! Like I say it was just a fairly risk-free practice LDW for me to see how I’d get on day after day. That said, in the words of the Icelandic quizmaster I’d started so I had to finish!

      Reply
  2. Rosemary Clapham

    An enjoyable read with lovely photos. The Thames Path has been lurking in the back of our minds but other LDW’s have taken precedence. Now that I’ve seen the photos it may move up the queue but for next year the Cotswold Way and possibly the Pembrokeshire Way are the walks of choice. I’m looking forward to reading your other reports, especially the WHW done in May 2012 as we also walked it then.

    Reply
    1. Tim Post author

      Thanks Rosemary! The upside of baking hot weather is good photos I suppose. I wouldn’t rush into the Thames Path, but it’s not the best but it is a nice. Will get on to the WHW soon – although I’m still having nightmares about Loch Lomond! ;-)

      Reply
      1. simonjkyte

        It is nice – but I am living in an old stables of Twickenham House on East St Helen’s – single brick, uninsulated , no central heating – LOL. Many thanks for comment re photos

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