Today’s leg of the journey was a leisurely 11 miles from Cricklade to Lechlade, where the river is fortified by several other tributaries – The Churn, The Key and The Ray, and becomes deep enough to be navigable.
From Cricklade, the first four miles follows the Thames past Eysey, and Water Eaton until you reach Castle Eaton. There is some beautiful scenery here and I got the feeling the river was striving to make itself recognised. At this point, it was still nothing spectacular, just a stream winding it’s way through the countryside.
Castle Eaton is a sleepy village with a church and the first pub on the banks of the Thames, The Red Lion which had been closed for some time. Though now it is under new management (Rhiannon and Mark) and is being refurbished. My plan to visit and have a drink in every Thames-side pub was undone at the first hurdle.
Just after the pub is the 12th century church of St Mary the virgin, with an interesting spire in the middle that is probably 13th century.
From Castle Eaton the path diverges away from the river for four miles and it is only in sight briefly at Blackford Farm. These four miles take you through farmland with corn “as high as an elephants eye”.
At 20 miles from source, just before Upper Inglesham, the path has been rerouted away from the diversion along the A361, and now follows the Thames into Lechlade. At Upper Inglesham, the first boat appears, and by Lechlade the river has widened to become navigable at the head of navigation just before the town.
At Inglesham is the tiny Saxon church of St John the Baptist, which stands on a pagan mount. Little is left of the old village. The church was restored in 1888 with the help of William Morris who would row up here from his house in Kelmscott. It was closed when I arrived, but it is said to be spectacular inside with furniture of all ages, paintings and decoration.
Just beyond Inglesham is the confluence with the Thames and Severn canal and the Inglesham Roundhouse, built in the 1780s and now part of Roundhouse Farm. At this point the Thames-Severn Canal branched off and the roundhouse was the home of the lock keeper, who managed the locks at this end of the canal. The canal was intended to link Bristol and London, but leaked and was never commercially successful before it was replaced by the railways. I understand work is underway to re-establish the canal here.
We are now at the Head of Navigation of the Thames, and the bridge here acts as a warning to large boats not to go further.
As the river bends we begin to see Lechlade come into view and the church spire.
At Lechlade, we have a river worthy of the name. Wide, deep, freely flowing,and a string of boats pepper the north bank up to the Ha’penny Bridge and the Riverside Pub. With the opening of the Thames-Severn Canal this route became more important and in 1792 the ferry was replaced by this bridge taking its name from the 1/2p toll walkers had to pay – except those going to church. The toll was abolished in 1839 and all tolls went in 1871 though the name and the tollhouse remain.
The Riverside has a patio that stretches right to the river edge.
For some reason I now cannot remember, I chose to stay in The Old Swan Inn which has very comfortable rooms, but the Riverside is larger and much better positioned actually on the river.
The Swan is over the road from the church of St Lawrence.
Lechlade is an attractive and busy town with some very old properties on its main street. After a pleasant evening, dinner at The Riverside, sleep, breakfast at The Swan, I set off toward Newbridge.