You’ve gathered by now that I like walking, and most likely have also picked up that I especially like walking by water. On my last Saturday in Oxford, I decided that come rain or shine I would set out south along the Thames Path and walk until I was too tired to take another step. At that point, I hoped I’d be near a town with a train station so that I could get back to Oxford. The main train line to London does follow the Thames reasonably closely, so the plan wasn’t based entirely on unfounded optimism. Mind you, a map might have helped, because for most of the way I’d have been unable to pinpoint my location any more specifically than ‘somewhere between Oxford and Abingdon’ or ‘somewhere after Culham Lock’.
I was lucky and it was mostly definitely shine. I picked up the river at Donnington Bridge, and was surprised how quickly I reached Iffley. I’ve usually started walking further upriver and Iffley is about as far as I get. It’s a village I am very fond of, primarily for its church, which is a great example of Romanesque architecture, and has some marvellous carving that if you ask me is distinctly pagan. Check out these birds (or are they dogs?) carved around the doorway. I had to balance on tiptoe to get these, the carvings lower down are so weathered as to be even less distinct.
The path beyond Iffley was uncharted territory to me and it was absolutely glorious. I think it’s about 8 miles between Iffley and Abingdon, and I barely saw a soul. There was a handful of rowers and a couple of motor boats out but not even any other walkers. The river itself was more than enough company.
Abingdon isn’t a town necessarily to inspire much enthusiasm when you approach it by car, but my goodness, by river it’s idyllic. The Thames winds through the old abbey grounds. At mid-morning on a perfect spring day, they were almost a cliche of green lawns and trees in blossom. It needed only floppy haired youths in cricket whites and I’d have been in a Merchant/Ivory production.
I hung around hopefully, but as no such youths appeared to be forthcoming, I strolled into town in search of quite a lot of food, because I’d set out without breakfast and by this point was bloody ravenous. En route to food, I spotted an independent bookstore and it is a measure of how hungry I was that I did not even break my stride.
I went back, though, and as soon as I walked through the door my eye fell on an entire shelf of Persephone books. How often does that happen? In sheer gratitude for the shop’s level of enlightenment, I bought High Wages, by Dorothy Whipple, and the Persephone notebook.
And then it was back to the river. South of Abingdon there were a few more pointers. It was 11/2 miles to Culham Lock, so although I was starting to get a bit tired, that seemed easy. The path narrowed, there was no one else around and the day continued so beautiful that I didn’t want to leave it.
After Culham it was 3 miles to Clifton Hampden, and I thought I could just about manage that and maybe pick up a bus there. Which is exactly what I did. Hot, tired, with aching feet and a touch of sunburn I was just in time to get a bus to Didcot Parkway and then a train back to Oxford.
I loved everything about that walk. It was 3-4 hours of walking at a fairly brisk pace and although I don’t know exactly how far I went, I think it was around 10-12 miles. On flat ground, that’s about the sort of distance I prefer, just enough to tire me out and clear my head.
The whole of the Thames Path from the river’s source to London is walkable. It’s 184 miles and the official guide suggests it takes about 14 days. There are places to camp. There are places to stay. Sounds like a plan to me.