Walking the Thames

In 2019 I decided to walk the length of the Thames Path, gradually over several stages. This website takes you along that path, interspersing photographs with text and other references. All the photographs from my journey along the Thames Path have been collated into videos now on YouTube which are included below..

A Brief History of the Thames

The Thames flows through lowland areas of the midlands, and includes 146 sites of Special Scientific Interest and two National Nature Reserves. Some 30 million years ago the Thames fed into the Rhine, but when meltwaters formed the English Channel it changed forever. The Thames was looked after by the Thames Navigation Committee between 1751 and 1866, In 1866 the Thames Conservancy took over control of the entire river from Cricklade. Management of the river went to Thames Water Authority in 1974, and then onto National Rivers Authority, and now it is managed by the Environment Agency, whose own website is here.

A much fuller account of the history, geology and workings of the Thames can be found in the wonderful “Floating Down the River” website by Dot Hart.

History of the Path

The idea of a Thames Path had been around since the early 1930s as a way of joining up various towpaths that had fallen into disuse due to changes in transportation. In 1948 a proposal was put to Government, who agreed in 1949. It was some 30 years later that the River Thames Society and the Ramblers Association, worked together to produce a new proposal that was published in 1977. Some five years later the Countryside Commission undertook a feasibility study that declared the path was feasible. The Countryside Commission “ceased to exist in 1999 when it was merged with the Rural Development Commission to form the Countryside Agency This has in turn evolved into Natural England, partly by eventual merger with English Nature” (Wikipedia).

The path was declared a National Trail in 1987, and fully opened only in 1996. The path now extends from the source in Gloucestershire, to the Thames Barrier and onto the extension to Crayford Ness and Slade Green Railway station, a total of 188 miles.

In walking the path, and creating this site I have extensively used :

The first two are the official National Trail Guides and are excellent. They provide full and detailed route instructions along with OS route maps – though the path is well marked throughout. They also provide transport links, historical connections and accommodation suggestions. The second is the only one that covers the Thames Path Extension going the extra 8 1/2 miles beyond the Thames Barrier up to Erith and Crayford Ness railway station.

The third, by joel Newton does not provide step by step route instructions but has some 84 excellent detailed hand drawn maps of the entire route from source to Barrier, including key town centre maps with locations of restaurants, shops and hotels. Its information on shops, restaurant and accommodation along the way is particularly comprehensive.

The fourth comes with its own route map book, but goes from Barrier to Source, and as such its detailed maps and route instructions are less helpful if you are going the other way. It does have considerable detail on sites you see along the way.

I found all three invaluable. More information on the Thames can be found from the following sources:

For those interrested in art:

Many more links can be found on Dot Hart’s webpage.

The classic “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome, although over 100 years old, documents a fictional journey upstream from Kingston-upon-Thames to Oxford. I had avoided reading it, thinking it was a bit dated and twee. However, I relented for the second stage and found it really quite funny in places. More recently (2012), The Three Men in a Boat Companion, by Stephen Lambe, looks at the Thames in 1888 and 2000s with photographs comparing scenes from the book with those of today.

The entire 180 mile path is usually broken up into several stages roughly as follows:

  • Stage 1 – Source to Oxford (53 miles)
  • Stage 2 – Oxford to Henley-on-Thames (50 miles)
  • Stage 3 – Henley-on-Thames to Hampton Court (45 miles)
  • Stage 4 – Hampton Court to Thames Barrier (38 miles, plus 23 miles on north bank*)
  • Stage 5 – Thames Barrier to Erith (8 Miles)

*Between Teddington Lock and Greenwich the path includes both the “official” south bank route and the additional north bank route, each of roughly equal length.

On this website I provide detailed descriptions of the path along with associated historical links of places along the way, some of which has been taken from the sources I have listed above plus my own research.

Stage 1 – Source to Oxford

The Thames Path follows the River Thames from its source in rural Gloucestershire to beyond the Thames barrier – almost 200 miles in all. My plan is to do it all in 4-5 stages, each stage including four walking days.

Scenes of the path from Stage 1 – Source to Oxford have been collated into this 15 minute video:

This first stage took four days and each day is described in detail by clicking the links below:

This first stage is memorable for the growth of the river from a trickle to a navigable river and the relative seclusion you find along most of the route.

Stage 2 – Oxford to Henley

I started walking the Thames Path on Monday 16th September 2019 (See above) and after 53 miles, I got to Oxford on Friday 29th September 2019 via Cricklade, Lechlade and New Bridge. The Coronavirus pandemic halted any further attempt from March 2020 until August 2020, when hotels had reopened. I started this stage on Monday 10th August 2020 and got to Henley on Friday 15th August 2020.

This second stretch of the path would take me the 50 miles from Oxford (see here) to Henley-on-Thames via Abingdon, Wallingford, Pangbourne. Unlike the first stage, Stage 2 brings the walker into reasonable sized market towns, and ultimately into Henley, and the site of the annual regatta.

The photographs of this Stage 2 – Oxford to Henley-on-Thames has been made into a 20 minute video:

This stage took four days and each day is described in detail by clicking the links below:

Unlike Stage 1, this stage finds the river much busier, with narrow boats and cruisers, as well as the occasional canoe and kayak.

Stage 3 – Henley to Kingston-on-Thames

I was keen to get as much of the path completed before the weather got worse for walking, so started this Stage on 21st September 2020 and reached Hampton Court on Friday 25th September 2020.