Today’s walk – the longest day so far – was almost 17 miles of isolation. It is described in the guidebooks as the most remote part of the Thames Path and this was certainly true. For most of the walk, not only was there little traffic on the river, but I never encountered a soul. I found this surprising since it was a National Trail. However, given the nature of the path, it is not possible to follow shorter circular leisure walks. Instead there are locations, mainly pubs and bridges, where people come to eat and hang out; but they don’t meander onto the path.
Leaving Lechlade through a tunnel under the Ha’penny bridge, I set off. Early morning as the swans were waking up and setting about their daily routines
One unusual aspect of this section of the walk are the 11 pill boxes scattered along the path between Lechlade and Newbridge. Why they only occur here is not clear. They were built in 1940 as part of Britain’s wartime defences against an expected imminent German invasion – which never happened.
So they were built but never used and most are now derelict, decaying concrete sheds being left to rot. Most are full of rubbish, empty Coke cans and remnants of walkers’ lunches. But in 1940 they formed a line of defences along the Thames as an attempt to keep the Germans from sailing up the Thames and reaching the Midlands. They were never used.
This section of the river contains a number of locks, managed and staffed by the Environment Agency. There are 11 locks between Lechlade and Oxford including: St Johns, Buscott, Grafton, Radcot, Rushey, Shifford. More information on all locks is on the Visit Thames website.
The first lock you encounter is St John’s Lock, built in 1790, and now the first lock on the Thames, and home to the statue of Old Father Thames, keeping watch over the vessels and walkers passing by. Built in 1851 to sit in the grounds of the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace in London, he was bought by one of three Thames Conservators and sat beside the Thames Head spring at the source from 1958 until 1974 when he was moved to St John’s Lock.
Just along from the lock is St John’s Bridge, the oldest bridging point of the Thames named after the Priory of St John founded in the 13th century. Thre Order was dissolved by Edward IV in 1475 and all that remans ids some fragments in the garden of the Trout Inn which is the north side of the bridge.
One of the first footbridges over this stretch of the Thames is called Bloomers Hole Footbridge: “This was installed in 2000 to carry the Thames Path across the Thames. It is built of steel encased in wood to make it look like a timber structure.” It was the lowered into place in 2000 by helicopter.
One strange feature you see many times in this stretch of the river, are bridges which appear to come from and go to, nowhere in particular. These footbridges stand on the site of old flash-weirs, taken up around 1870. When the weirs were removed, rights of way claimed by local communities, would have gone with them. These were preserved by building a number of incongruous footbridges.
About a mile after St John’s, is the second lock, Buscot Lock.
Buscot Lock is the smallest of the 45 locks on the Thames. The manual beam-equipped pound lock was built in 1790, today it looks just as it did more than 200 years ago. Before the lock was built, there was a flash weir, where boats would ‘run the rapid’ downstream. When the lock was built the weir was owned by E Loveden of Buscot Park, who was a very strong champion of Thames navigation. The lock keeper’s cottage was built in 1791 and features a fish house. The old weir was renewed by Lord Faringdon of Buscot Park in 1909, and was replaced by the new cut and weir in 1979. It is a lovely weir pool which is now a National Trust picnic area and otters, kites and kingfishers can be spotted.https://www.visitthames.co.uk/about-the-river/river-thames-locks/buscot-lock
Buscott itself is on the south side of the river. The Church, St Mary’s, dates from 1200. Nearby is Buscot Park, administered by the National Trust. This was previously owned by Lord Farringdon, who would host Fabian Society meetings.
From Buscot, the river meanders some 4 miles through beautiful pastoral scenery through to Grafton Lock. Two miles from Buscot is a turnoff to Kelmscott, where you can find Kelmscott Manor – where William Morris lived for 25 years. Sadly it was closed for refurbishment.
When Morris first saw the Manor in 1871, he was delighted by this ‘loveliest haunt of ancient peace’; he signed a joint lease for the property with his friend and colleague Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist.https://www.sal.org.uk/kelmscott-manor/
The third lock is Grafton Lock, built in 1896.
A short distance after Grafton Lock, the river divides . The left hand branch going under a footbridge up to A4095…
…and the right hand branch goes under the rather narrow Radcot Bridge.
Radcot Bridge is often claimed as the “oldest bridge on the Thames”, having been built, with pointed arches of Taynton stone, around 1200. The Cistercian monks of St Mary at Cîteaux in Normandy were granted land for the purpose by King John. Much of the structure was broken down during the battle which took place here in 1387 between Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and troops loyal to Richard II, although it was reconstructed in 1393. The bridge was again severely damaged during the Wars of the Roses, and was largely rebuilt as it appears today, with a flattened centre arch.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radcot_Bridge
Just on the left of the Radcot Bridge, is the Swan Hotel, one of the first pubs on the river. In fact, given the re-opening of The Red Lion, in Castle Eaton, it is currently the third after The Riverside in Lechlade.
There was formerly a weir known as Old Man’s Weir, or alternatively Harper’s Weir, which had a footpath across it. This was an important crossing because it linked several towns. The weir had disappeared by 1868 but the bridge was still standing then as there were complaints about its poor state of repair. The weir piles were then removed and a new footbridge built. This bridge was also called the “High” bridge. By 1894 this “steep trestle with five openings had become unsafe and the present bridge was built.
From Old Man’s Bridge The river meanders and twists, until a mile on from Old Man’s Bridge is Rushey Lock, (and here) with the frog-like topiary bush. The lock was built in stone in 1790 by the Thames Navigation Commission. Rushey lock was reported as in a bad state of deterioration in 1857 and the weir also in 1871, repairs being needed on both occasions. The lock keeper’s house with a pyramidical roof was built in 1894, replacing an older one, and the lock was rebuilt in 1898. It takes its name from the rushes that used to grow nearby, the lock house was a guest house “ providing a peaceful retreat for famous names such as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn“.
About a mile on from Rushey Lock is Tadpole Bridge. Originally a toll bridge, it was first called Tadpoll Bridge. The bridge dates from the late 18th century, the earliest reference to it being in 1784. It is built of stone, and consists of one large arch carrying traffic along the B4449 Buckland Road.
Right by the Tadpole Bridge is the fourth pub on the Thames, The Trout. This is now a gastropub serving good food, with a riverside terrace.
Shortly after the Tadpole Bridge, through a few meadows, comes Chimney Meadow National Nature Reserve, at 620 acres it is one of the largest areas of unimproved meadowland in England. There is no chimney, as the word derives from Ceomma’s Island.
About halfway through the meadows is Tenfoot Bridge, built in 1869 on the site of another flash weir, removed in 1870
At one quiet spot, there was a rustling in a bush, which turned out to be a badger gorging on raspberries.
Around Shifford Cut, there are two more bridges, the last of which leads onto the path into Newbridge.
By 4pm, after some 17 miles, the Thames reaches Newbridge, and the stop for day 3. New Bridge is a 13th-century bridge carrying the Abingdon–Witney road (now the A415) over the River Thames.
The stop today was at The Rose Revived, The name going back to Oliver Cromwell and some story about a rose that …revived. Really comfortable room, good food. Very popular riverside terrace.
The bridge dates from the 13th century and is built in the same way as Radcot Bridge, which is slightly older. They were built by monks on the orders of King John in order to improve communications between the wool towns in the south of England and the Cotswold farms, and was named “New Bridge” as it was the youngest out of the three bridges built at the time (the third being the Lechlade bridge, replaced in the 19th century). It was originally much longer than it is now, with 51 arches and being 726 yards (664 m) long, compared with the current 12 arches.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newbridge,_River_Thames)