This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.
This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.
The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.
There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.
Below is a recap and photos from the third section, with posts to follow for the next stages. Section one from the source at Kemble to Cricklade is here. Section two from Cricklade to Lechlade-on-Thames is here.
Day three of following the course of the Thames, Lechlade to the Rose Revived at Newbridge. A long, but glorious day of quiet and isolated sunlit riverside views, some good bridges, and plenty of birdlife.
We knew today would be our longest – and loneliest – day. Setting off from Lechlade, the town has a lovely profile with the golden stone of the ha’penny bridge and the buildings themselves stacked up a small rise above the river. We set off at a decent pace as we had some concern about beating the sunset that evening. We had enjoyed a decadent but slightly late breakfast at the wonderful Vera’s Kitchen. We would gladly have spent the whole morning there but time is daylight when walking in October and later.
The phrase of the day was boshing it, and bosh it we did, trying to keep our average speed up as close to 5km/h as possible. Not easy with large backpacks and sticky, slippery mud underfoot for most of the way, but a decent target which gave us time to stop and refuel along the way. With our destination not being a town or village but merely two pubs either side of an old bridge, we knew we would not be heading for the bright lights of the city on our final approach.
We doffed our proverbials to the reclining statue of Father Thames at St John’s Lock, and we passed many pillboxes along the way. The number of locks and pillboxes was quite fascinating really – or perhaps they simply serve as decent landmarks to gauge progress along this rather remote section of the river. The pillboxes certainly cast a slightly bleak appearance on the river banks given their perceived need, and the locks were somewhat surprising: I think I had thought locks could only ‘work’ on canals, but the Thames has locks every few kilometres here. They also tend to be both technically fascinating as well as aesthetically pleasing with well-manicured gardens and pretty cottages.
We had passed through a couple of cow fields on the walk already – the first being literally at the source, so we knew what we were in for, this walk passing through mostly farmland. But we had been anxious that the time would come that we found a field whose entrance or exit was blocked by cows, and at a field just past Ye Olde Swan pub at Radcot bridge, our number was up. As we approached the field gate, scores of adolescent cows – as fluffy and cute as they were curious and bolshy – descended. We got closer to the gate to assess whether they were likely to disperse, but the closer we got, the closer they approached, until several were poking their heads through, all trying to eyeball us. We paused for a moment until we noticed one particularly spunky young cow wrapping its huge tongue around the gate handle – with one swift lick, that gate would be open and a flood of curious cows would be with us.
At this realisation, we slowly doubled back, frantically checking the OS map for an alternative route. There was a decent option a short way back – a pain, but it really seemed like the only option. As we began to double back, we became aware of a couple in their 60s heading our way. As they neared us – and could see our bovine friends champing at the bit – we briefly chatted about our options, before one of them confidently but kindly told us he would be happy to lead the way, and so he did. Hiking pole in hand, he opened the gate and began clapping and hollering at the young cows (his wife a few steps behind telling us, “a few years ago I would have been the same as you but I’m getting more used to them now.”)
And just like that, the cows nervously retreated and the four of us marched on through, attempting to mimic our new friend’s authoritative vocalisations and confident strides. It turned out that both he and his wife were recently-retired private school teachers – a fact which now made his confidence at herding a large group of rowdy adolescents make complete sense. It also turned out that they had until a few years ago lived a few miles from where I grew up. They were a lovely pair, and the four of us spent the next kilometre or so chatting away merrily – as much from the joy of doing so as the endorphins coursing through us at having made it through quite an anxious situation. They left us at Old Man’s Bridge where we heard they quite often kayak on the river – they’ve taken to their new life in the country very well, by the sounds of things.
The rest of the afternoon was without further issue, our only notable companion being an RAF 747 circling overhead as it made several wide arcs around Brize Norton, we hope, practising go-arounds (or practising – and failing – landings). We arrived at Newbridge (insert disclaimer here about this in fact being the second ((or first?)) oldest bridge on the Thames) as dusk fell. And although bright lights were absent as predicted, we could see the pretty twinkling fairylights of the Maybush pub and then finally our own destination for the night, the Rose Revived on the other side of the bridge.
This historic pub, now run by Greene King, appears in many tales throughout the centuries, not least the lives of our guardian angels earlier (we learned that they were married there many years ago). I recently read a great diary written by a British cyclist in the 1920s and 1930s who quite often called in at the Rose Revived – usually for a Bass (or two) along with his lunchtime staple of cheese and bread. Things are a bit more modern now, with an extensive and enticing selection of cooked meals and drinks available.
Our day could have been slightly more eventful – we were rung mid-afternoon by a concerned-sounding duty manager who told us our reserved room was no longer available due to an undisclosed incident the night before. He had secured alternative accommodation, but this was not what we wanted to hear as we walked. Happily, once he knew we were on foot, he made efforts to ask one of the other guests booked for that night – ideally if they were travelling by car – if they would mind taking up the other rooms instead. The pub hosts many Thames Path walkers, he told us. By the time we arrived at the pub, all was well, and we enjoyed a warm welcome from all the staff we dealt with during our stay.