Category Archives: The Thames Path

LEAFY SURREY.

 

An interesting weekend.

For the last 20 or so years Mel, a friend from school days, and I have completed an annual ‘pub to pub’ walking week on various long distance trails. We walked a stretch of The Thames Path last year and had hoped to continue this year but he has been in ill health so we didn’t make it. Instead to keep in touch I arranged to travel down to Woking for a weekend in Surrey, it turned out to be quite a busy few days.

First we walked a pleasant flat mile along the canal into Woking centre, rehabilitation exercise for him. This is the Basingstoke Canal which originally linked Basingstoke with the River Wey navigation and hence the Thames and London. Agriculture, coal and timber were transported from the end of the 18th until the early 20th century. Now a few pleasure boats use it but the towpath provides a pedestrian and cycle route between communities. The wildlife is reputed to be outstanding, we saw a couple of ducks. Linking the Living Planet centre, UK office for the WWF, to the town centre is the pedestrian Bedser Bridge built to commemorate the famous local cricketing twins, Surrey regulars in the 50’s. On either side of the bridge are statues of the pair, Alec bowling to Eric, but where’s the ball – lots of people were keen to point it out high on the wall of the nearby Civic Offices.

Our reason for crossing the bridge was to get to the Lightbox a gallery and museum centre. After paying our respects to H. G. Wells the author of The War of the Worlds, the Martians had landed on nearby Horsell Common, we enjoyed a coffee in their cafe. Short of time we omitted the main galleries with still life and sculptures in favour of the history of Woking. This fascinating exhibition highlighted Woking Palace, The Shah Jahan Mosque – the first purpose built mosque in the UK, Brookwood Cemetery – famous for being the London overflow cemetery during the 19th Century, Brookwood Mental Hospital, the importance of the railway to Woking, local heroes and commerce eg. Kenwood Mixers. All brilliantly laid out and explained – a worthwhile hour.

I walked wide eyed through the bustling shopping centre with its stalls of international street food and sculptures. 

‘Surrey Hills’
Sarah Holmes.
A local artist Inspired by 2012 Summer Olympics.

It is unusual for an arcade to be so alive. the afternoon drifted on but the evening was spoiled by a poor quality Indian Restaurant.

A sunny start next day and we were pottering on his allotment, The whole site was colourful and productive with plenty of keen gardeners doing their thing. I did some token weeding whilst Mel sprayed his heavy crop of tomatoes and as a bonus I came away with some nice fresh vegetables.

Another place where Mel could do some gentle flat walking was in Savill Gardens and that’s where, after a coffee in their extensive and crowded cafe, we found ourselves. We were almost the only ones wandering in the garden itself, don’t know where the other thousand people from the car park and cafe/shop ventured. The main event here is the spring Rhododendrons but I found plenty to enthrall me today. They have a splendid wild flower display for starters and the summer bedding was a blaze of colour. On the way were infinite colours of Hydrangea macrophyllia.

Next stop was the Air Forces Memorial, a memorial dedicated to some 20,456 men and women from air forces who were lost during WWII. Those recorded have no known grave anywhere in the world, and many were lost without trace. The name of each of these airmen and airwomen is engraved into the stone walls of the memorial, according to country and squadron. There is a complementary register with more individual details. This solemn and thought provoking site was opened in 1953 by Queen Elizabeth II and has an outstanding position above the Thames and Runnymede. Today there was scaffolding around the building and the upper terrace was blocked off but we still had views of Windsor Castle, the river Thames, a busy Heathrow and Wembley Stadium. An absorbing experience.

 

 

 

 

 

A late Buffet lunch was taken in the Runnymede Hotel on the river and what a buffet – everything you could think of was on offer, all first class quality – at a price. A lovely restaurant to relax in and watch the world go by on the Thames, the closest we got to walking the Thames Path this year.

It was in this vicinity that in June 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta giving political reform that has more or less survived the last 800 years. Hence a lot of tourists mingling along the riverside.

Home for a rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 8. A short loop, then back to Oxford.

Abingdon to Clifton Hampden.

By the time we arrived at Clifton Hampden we weren’t that far from Abingdon as the crow flies and were able to catch a bus back. This was the end of our week, the walking has been great and we intend to return to continue sometime in the future.

As I mentioned yesterday Abingdon is full of interest and it was maintained as we left the town bridge on the opposite bank of the Thames. Dog walkers were out in force and we met the lady walker using a boat and husband for backup – she must have been walking at our pace. We were soon in a very rural environment and enjoying the solitude, kites and buzzards were wheeling overhead.

 

Pleasant Abingdon living.

Pleasant Abingdon living.

Rural Thames.

Rural Thames.

A couple of locks gave us breaks and before long the elegant brick bridge at Clifton came into view.Our main objective before leaving the trail was a celebratory pint in the adjacent Barley Mow. The pub itself was a bit disappointing, as one customer asked  “where is the River?”,  but the beer garden was pleasant enough for a relaxing  drink. Looking back over the week I think quite a few of the riverside pubs have been over-hyped and overpriced, but you come to expect that in the Thames Valley. The village consisted of thatched cottages and a bus whisked us back to Abingdon and on to Oxford. Mel caught a train back home whilst I had time to look around Oxford. First I wanted somewhere to leave my luggage, train and bus stations no longer provide facilities but I found Oxford Backpackers Hostel did for a modest fee, well done them. I wandered without a map amongst the colleges, all of the famous names, and relaxed in the parks. Cycles were everywhere. Very few English voices were heard amongst the tourists or students. DSC01709

Spot the Gormley.

Spot the Gormley.

That was Oxford.

I just caught the last connecting train to Preston.

 

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 7. A busy stretch.

Oxford to Abingdon.

We were on the towpath fairly early on Sunday morning soon passing the classic Christchurch meadows on the opposite bank.  Already the river was full of cox-less fours and coxed eights, all being coached from the towpath by kamikaze trainers on bicycles. Each Oxford college has its own boathouse along this stretch. A significant number of runners were also pounding along, presumably college folk.

We also started to come across orange vested walkers staggering past us  with glazed eyes fixed on an end in Oxford. These brave people had set out from London yesterday at 8am and had walked day and night to get here 60 odd miles up the Thames. Heartbeat, the British Heart Foundation, will have benefited from their exertions.

There were various checkpoints for the walkers and backup from the Southern version of Mountain Rescue .

Sat by the lock at Sandford we were admiring a canal barge when the guy on board engaged us in conversation – ex-army with post traumatic stress he had been finding life difficult so bought the boat to live on for a life change. He had picked it up in Blackburn and had spent several weeks getting to here on the way to the Kent and Avon.  He regaled us with stories of travelling through the locks of the industrial towns and attacks from the local youths who see canal boats as a soft target. Best of luck to him.

We were flagging in the heat when we saw a poster for an art/coffee stop in the modern Radley College boat house. As part of an Oxfordshire art week the upper room had been set up as a gallery and coffee shop run by the lady artists themselves. A perfect place for a break and chat on the balcony looking out over the river.

On the opposite bank was the more romantic boat house of Nuneham House.

There were a lot of expensive riverside properties … … even this is probably out of our price range …As we approached the busy Abingdon Lock more and more Sunday strollers appeared  using local paths and riverbank.

Abingdon Lock.

Abingdon Lock.

Riverside Abingdon itself was an interesting old town to explore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 6. Dreaming of Spires.

Bablock Hythe to Oxford.

Unfortunately the ferry has gone which would have linked to the old towpath, the old winch is still there, instead soulless ‘caravan’ parks forced us away from the river for a couple of miles.

The rural walking was pleasant enough. Today’s walk encounter was a lady trail runner and her dog who passed us on her way to Abingdon, she had time to chat despite doing 20miles. We leisurely reached the river near Pinkhill wear and lock which was busy with pleasure craft. Hedged paths gave a change of scenery onwards to Swinford lock.where a stag party outing in sailor and pirate dress were abandoning there barge which was taking in water and listing, everyone survived.

More uncultivated meadows followed but unfortunately the only wildlife we saw were geese. Interestingly the banks were littered with opened fresh water mussels presumably by geese and ducks.

The noise of the approaching dual carriage way brought us back to civilization. Then it was over a bridge to the waterside Trout Inn which was packed despite the poor weather. Is it the setting, the good food or the Inspector Morse connection that draws people here. Despite only having one pint I managed to leave my sticks in the bar, we were well on the way to Oxford before I realised. This gave me the chance to view the ruined 17th century Godstow Abbey three times. Rain began for the first time as we followed the popular path towards those just visible Oxford spires. On the opposite bank was Port Meadow which has never been ploughed having been presented to Oxford by William the Conqueror.

Police activity in the street of our inn for the night had us worried, there was a cordoned off area as a ‘dangerous’ object was removed. The inn was packed with people unable to return home. We heard later it was a WW2 bomb. This was more exciting than the cup-final on TV.

We couldn’t understand the menu in the Korean restaurant visited but enjoyed an enjoyable meal, but I suspected most of the staff were in fact Chinese.   Back at our inn the beer was good but the accommodation dire.

I will return to look around Oxford on the way home.

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 4. Easy strolling.

Lechlade to Tadpole Bridge.

Today we have an easy stroll through through the flood meadows of the upper Thames.

Shortly after leaving Lechlade the first lock and weir are encountered, St. John’s. The Thames’ locks were constructed from the 17th century onwards and improved  navigation.  An increasing number of pleasure boats were moored up from now on but few were travelling.St. Johns Lock with Lechlade church behind.There is statue to Old Father Thames at St. John’s, originally designed for the Old Crystal Palace in 1854, moved to the source in 1958 and to its present position in 1974.

In the  next couple of miles the river meandered wildly. A common sight were WW2 pillboxes built to defend the Thames if an invasion occurred, they were all in good condition.

Another feature to keep recurring was wooden footbridges of a standard design linking fields and lanes across the river. These bridges were built to replace old demolished wears and have been themselves replaced over the years.

We diverted to the pretty village of Kelmscott where the Manor had been a home of William Morris, but unfortunately it was closed today. We grabbed a drink at the  upmarket Plough Inn which looked expensive for food.

'Arts and Crafts' in Kelmscott.

‘Arts and Crafts’ in Kelmscott.

Back on the river we walked through meadows with extensive open vistas. Buscot, Grafton, Radcot and Rushey Locks were all passed and appreciated, usually a seat was provided and water available. A feature of the locks were the lock keepers’ cottages with their tidy gardens, volunteers help out the Environmental Agency. Delightful places to  watch the river’s activities, they became a highlight of the walk eagerly looked forward to. The weirs enabling the river to flow past the locks all looked very high-tech.

Grafton Lock.

Grafton Lock.

A modern Weir.

A modern Weir.

Another wooden bridge.

Another wooden bridge.

Tadpole Bridge and The Trout Inn, one of many so named on the river, were easily reached marking the end of today’s stroll. The Inn was fully booked so using a taxi we had another night in the pleasant New Inn at Lechlade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 2. Cotswold Water Park.

Kemble to Cricklade.

These mornings are just made for walking, fresh and sunny. So we had a spring in our step following the infant river as it wandered through pastures and small Cotswold villages with their creamy stonework buildings.   It was a few miles before we saw our first decent sized trout which didn’t seem interested in the myriad of mayflies. Some of the meadows were waterlogged and would be impassable in winter. This whole area is one big flood plain. Several old mills were passed despite the Thames being merely a stream, one wonders where the power came from.

Thanks.

Thanks.

Looking for trout.

Looking for trout.

Mayfly.

Mayfly.

Be prepared to wade.

Be prepared to wade.

Mill conversion.

Mill conversion.

The river lead us straight into the rather too posh White Hart in Ashton Keynes, we retreated to the beer garden. This delightful village is renowned for its many bridges and crosses.

Most of the day was spent passing through the Cotswold Water Park and its 140 lakes created from gravel extraction.  A large estate development looked expensive with exclusive houses lakeside. An angler set off with a wheelbarrow full of equipment to hopefully catch a carp.  Disappointingly few birds were seen – swans, grebe, mallard and wagtails.

Nature reserve.

Nature reserve.

Luxury living.

Luxury living.

To catch a carp...

To catch a carp…

Just before Cricklade the Path skirts around the edge of North Meadow, A Nature Reserve where, the rare snakeshead fritillary flowers. We must have just missed out but there were plenty of buttercups.

The pleasant small town of Cricklade had a wide historic high street and provided a good pub room and a Thai meal.

 

 

THE THAMES PATH – day 5. The Lonely Stretch.

Tadpole Bridge to Bablock Hythe.

The taxi drops us back at Tadpole bridge. The  Thames Path now goes through Chimney Meadows National Nature Reserve, a vast area of wildlife rich meadows managed by the local Wildlife Trust. This section also has two more remote locks with lovely gardens.  There are no  villages close to the Path. There are more geese than ducks on the river and large family groups take to the water as we approach.

Ancient pollarded willows.

Ancient pollarded willows.

Despite its general isolation we are constantly reminded of nearby Brize Norton airfield  as planes land and take off regularly and those large helicopters ply back and forth. Where is all the traffic from?

?Boeing Globemaster.

 

We pass the wooden Tenfoot Bridge (although it’s much wider than 10 feet) and Newbridge that is so new it dates from the 13th century. Adjacent to the latter is the Rose Revival where we called in for a reviving drink, As seems to be the normal with these Thames-side gastropubs the place was packed with diners eating average but hyped up pub food, Us booted walkers sloped off to the beer garden with our drinks to enjoy an elicit banana. Sandbags were a reminder of the threat of high water.

Newbridge and Rose Revival.

Newbridge and Rose Revival.

 

Even after Newbridge the now much larger Thames is still remote and amazingly rural. I spent a lot of time watching Black Headed Gulls swooping over the river presumably catching insects. They always seem more common inland than at the coast.

At Bablock Hythe, where there used to be a ferry there is still a pub, luckily for us right on route for a nights stay.

Who did we meet today?

There is more boat traffic now – seems to be two types, the traditional long boats and the luxury cruisers. The people living on the canal boats were always happy for a chat on where they were going and the finer points of their well looked after barges.

On a smaller river boat we met a lady walking the Path with her husband cruising their boat down stream alongside. A good solution to Thames Path walking  – luggage transfer, coffee stops and accommodation all in one place.

Convenient trail walking.

Convenient trail walking.

We were caught up by an Aussie couple walking the Path which they had organised from home. They were enjoying the scenery, bird life and the beer.