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.

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 below plus my own research.

A Very 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 Thames 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.

The Thames Path by Leigh Hatts

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

A good photo gallery of the Thames in London is Thames Path Gallery by Rambling Man.

A particularly useful book to have with you as you walk is I Never Knew That About The Thames by Christopher Winn. This book follows the river from source to Leigh-on-Sea proving a fascinating miscellany on all sites along the way.

But possibly one of the most detailed biographies of the Thames is Peter Ackroyd’s 500 page “Thames. Sacred River“.

For those interested in art:

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

A number of people and companies offer holidays walking along the path including:

I have not used any of these and so cannot endorse or recommend any.

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.

A more recent account of a walk along the Thames path “From Source to Sea” is by Tom Chesshyre, (@tchesshyre). Tom walked the path in June 2016 and went right along to the Isle of Grain in Kent where the Thames meets the North Sea – 215 miles in all. The final stage, from Erith to the Isle of grain is unfinished and difficult to follow, and in 2021 is still under planning as part of the English Coastal Path proposals.

In reading his book I realised we stayed in four of the same hotels, had the same missing breakfast experience in The George in Pangbourne, and drank in 20 of the same pubs. I wondered why I too hadn’t managed to write 300 pages on my experiences. Until that is, I read his website:

TOM CHESSHYRE is the author of eight travel books that have taken him from Hull to Tripoli via assignments in North Korea, Nepal, India and Iceland. He has contributed to the The TimesThe GuardianThe Financial Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday. His magazine work has been for National Geographic TravellerGeographical and Condé Nast Traveller. On his travels he has been hijacked in Africa, met tornado-chasers in America and followed in the footsteps of Graham Greene in Haiti.

http://www.tomchesshyre.co.uk/biography/

Mind you, there isn’t one photograph in his book, so I have the edge there.

The entire 180 mile path is usually broken up into several stages roughly as follows – the first four being the official Thames Path. Stage 5 is the Thames Extension (See here by Leigh Hatts and here). Stage 6 is still under development.

  • 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 and onto Slade Green* (70 Miles)
  • Stage 5 – From Erith to Grain (under development) (30 miles)

*Between Teddington Lock and Greenwich the path includes both the “official” south bank route (27 miles) and the additional north bank route (29 miles), plus the extra 8 miles to Slade Green.

Luggage

One concern for the long distance walker is what to do with your luggage. I am, not a camper, and preferred the comfort of a room in a pub after a long day’s walk. I solved the problem of my what to do with my suitcase by using Deep Kapur of Move My Bags. Deep was extremely helpful, well organised and efficient. He managed to move my bag every day, so that it was already at my destination when I arrived – in some cases already in my room. The cost for four transfers of my 20kg bag (yes, it really was!) was around £130, though the price does rise as you get into London.

Beyond London

The official National Trail ends at the Thames Barrier, but the Thames Path Extension goes round to Erith and Slade Green. But of course the Thames goes as far as the Thames Estuary with the North Sea. At Slade Green, the path gets cut off by the River Darent. This requires a walk to Crayford, and along roads to Dartford to pick up the path on the east bank of the Darent. See OS Explorer Maps 162 (Greenwich and Gravesend) and 163 (Gravesend and Rochester), which take you along the Hoo Peninsular to All Hallows.

It is also possible to walk on some of the north bank of the River Thames from Tilbury to Leigh on the Thames Estuary Path. This is described by Diamond Geezer here. You can follow this path on Twitter (@thames_estuary). Maps are at Thames Estuary Stage 1 and Thames Estuary Stage 2. Though this path is a world away from the Thames Path.

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. There is also an extension for 8 miles onto the estuary at Crayford ess. 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 and fully navigable, 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.

All the photographs of this stage have been made into a 30 minute video, now on YouTube.

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

This stage was significant different from Stages 1 and 2 in that it included gradually less and less open space, and more populated towns and cities (Henley, Marlow, Windsor, Reading, Maidenhead) – even if these are usually skirted round. Consequently, there is much more to see and more to write about.

Stage 4 – Hampton Court to Thames Barrier and onto Slade Green

Further lockdowns delayed the fourth stage until 25th July 2021 as the warmer weather and longer days arrive and the lockdown eases. The “official” national path ends at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich, but the “extension” now exists east to Erith and Slade Green. This is because the path is interrupted by the River Darent, requiring a significant detour, and so seems a convenient place to stop. It is now possible to go further and follow The Thames round to the North Sea – see Stage 5 below.

This stage is quite different from the previous three and required a lot more preparation and preparatory reading to make sure I knew what I was going to see. From Kew Bridge the pace of interest hotted up considerably with monuments, buildings, bridges, and history appearing round every corner. In addition, I would pass near to the church of St Giles Cripplegate in the Barbican, where my earliest known ancestor, Thomas Gates, took his newborn son, William to be baptised in 1565.

So, on 25th July I took the train from Nottingham through London to Hampton Court and checked in at the Kings Arms Hotel. I decided to do both south and north routes while I was here and so followed the south route all the way to Slade Green, then came back to Teddington, where north and south split, and walked to Greenwich along the north bank. Unlike the four days that the previous sections had taken, this took me seven. Each day is described below along with photographs and video.

Transport for London

Transport for London has a website on the Thames Path which includes downloadable guides for each section from Hampton Court/Teddington Lock to Crayford Ness on both North and South banks.

North Bank

South Bank

Stage 5 – To the Medway??

This stage might have to wait. It is however covered in Tom Chesshyre’s book From Source to Sea on pages 264-294.

Peter Gates

Last updated July 2021