Walking the Thames 3

The first leg of the Thames Path from the source to Cricklade is some 12 miles long. It took me around 6 hours, including stops for lunch at Ashton Keynes, and some exploring.

After a very comfortable night’s sleep and good breakfast in the Thames Head, I left my suitcase and set off at 9:15. I had arranged for my bag to be moved by a company called …appropriately “Move My Bags”. (Cost £134 for four pick ups and drop offs between Kemble and Oxford).

Just 15 minutes from the Thames Head Inn, I reached the source….I am not sure what I was expecting. I had read that there was likely to be no water, which there wasn’t, but I was not expecting the total human isolation. There was no one around, just a herd of cattle, who didn’t seem in the slightest bit interested at the significance of the location.

The Source of the Thames

Looking away from the source, along the path that leads to the Thames Barrier in a mere 184 miles, one can be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about, and just where the river might have flowed.

The Thames is here somewhere….

Indeed for the first 2 miles of the path there was no water in sight. After half a mile or so, the path of a once-river appeared, and the first bridge over the non-existent Thames as it went under the A433.

The first bridge over the Thames
The dry Thames

About half a mile further on at Parker’s Bridge, some water appeared – a poor excuse for a river but enough to give the impression that something was happening.

Parker’s Bridge

By Ewen, some water had appeared, at times trickling along, at other times a little bit more forceful, but stroll not yet the flowing Isis.

But there is something quite spiritual following a river bed that will become significant in a day’s time at Lechlade. It may be insignificant now, but carries with it the future aspirations of a mighty waterway.

By Somerford Keynes, the water is freely flowing, reflecting the sunlight, now too wide to step over. But having walked for five miles looking for water, the path crosses the B4696 just south of Somerford Keynes and one is faced with shock. A huge expanse of open water that is Neigh Bridge Country Park, part of the Cotswolds Water Park which around Ashton Keynes covers an area of some 20 square miles incorporating 150 lakes.

As you approach Ashton Keynes the River Thames feels strangely isolated; nothing more than a small stream. But it cuts through a huge expanse of water with lakes either side. But at Ashton Keynes, the flow is funnelled into a neat channel that runs through the village, splitting in two as it reaches the main road.

The infant Thames enters Ashford Keynes

Yet it is here the walk becomes rather dispiriting, as the path veers away from the Thames and you don’t meet it again for another 3 miles until you hit North Meadow just outside Cricklade. Yet even this is dispiriting, as you lose it again after a mile, until you begin to leave Cricklade.

North Meadow is enormous space. A site of National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), it is 24.6 Ha and has been managed in the same controlled way for hundreds of years. Coming out of the meadow you leave the Thames and circle Cricklade in order to enter it at the north east top of the Main Street.

Here the path passes the Red Lion, where I stayed for the night. When I arrived, my bag was waiting in my room.

Room 3, The Red Lion

Cricklade is one of those rural towns with a main street of shops and services, bounded by rows of cars. It has two churches (both closed when I arrived). St Sampson’s with an unusual four pointed spire, and St Mary’s, now the Catholic church.

St Sampson’s Church
St Mary’s Church on the main street
Jenners Hall

Jenners Hall was a school in 1650, became a workhouse in 1720 for a century then reverted to a school until 1959.

Built around 1490
Cricklade’s functioning telephone box

Feeling a bit stiff tonight, but dinner was lovely, bed really comfortable. Breakfast vegetarian full english Now off on the second leg.

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