The five best Thames walks

Rising in the Cotswolds and flowing into the capital – through castles, colleges and the Chiltern Hills – the Thames is a smaller river, a more liquid history. This waterway has seen it all, from Roman invasions and Viking raids to the signing of the Magna Carta and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It has been immortalized by people from Monet and Turner to Conan Doyle and Dickens. It’s not the UK’s longest river – that’s the Severn – but it’s the most impressive.

It is also a great place for walking. The entire river is traced by the Thames Path National Trail, which sticks as close as possible to the banks for almost 200 miles. If that seems a bit far, there are plenty of options for shorter walks – country loops or linear paths that make good use of the valley’s often useful public transport (see Visit Thames).

The region is blissfully bucolic in parts, busy in others, which ensures a good mix of nature and amenities. In fact, that’s the beauty of strolling along the Thames: wherever you walk you’re sure to have a refreshing dose of blue space, a great service of history, and a good pub or two.

1. Wittenham Clumps

You'll get a great view of the river from the top of Wittenham Clumps, or Oxfordshire's 'twin peaks'

You’ll get a great view of the river from the top of Wittenham Clumps, or Oxfordshire’s ‘twin peaks’ – PA Images / Alamy

He prefers… A bit of a climb

Start/end point: Dorchester

Length: 4km / 2.5 miles to 14.5km / 9 miles


Wittenham Clumps, Oxfordshire’s ‘twin peaks’, rise 120m and 110m, providing a fine view over a beautiful stretch of river. Start in winsome Dorchester – aka the Roman Doric town – where the little Thame runs into the Thames; a 4km loop connects the medieval village, its 12th century views of Abbey and Clumps. Approaching another 3km from Wittenham Bridge is yomp up the beech-wigged Clumps themselves, with a good lookout and evidence of Iron Age fortifications.

Finally, if you’re feeling fit, take on the third 8km circuit, via Long Wittenham. Enter the Pendon Museum, a miniature recreation of rural life in the 1930s, then follow the lovely curve of the Thames, back to the start.

Highlight: The plaque for the ‘poem tree’ – Joseph Tubb carved a poem about this landscape into a beech on top of the Clumps in 1844, but it fell apart in 2012.

Where to stay: Atmospheric Fyfield Manor (07779 722202), parts of which date back 800 years, double B&B from £120pn.

characteristic pub: Try the award-winning Plow Camra in Long Wittenham or Dorchester’s 16th-century White Hart.

Crazy restaurant: Five Little Pigs is a smart, low-waste, well-priced and delicious bistro in nearby Wallingford.

Information: The X40 bus links Oxford and Reading via Wallingford and Dorchester.

2. Henley & Hambleden

Try a picturesque walk through well-heeled Henley-on-ThamesTry a picturesque walk through well-heeled Henley-on-Thames

Try a picturesque walk through well-heeled Henley-on-Thames – travelinglight/istock editorial

He prefers… Making boats on boats

Start/end point: Henley-on-Thames

Length: 8-12km / 5-7.5 miles


Henley-on-Thames is well-heeled as far as rowing goes: some of the sport’s leading clubs are here, and the town’s Royal Stakes (July) were founded in 1839. This walk follows a one-mile course, 550 yards through the event. beautiful Chilterns countryside, past Temple Island and around Hambleden Lock and Mill (note in Doomsday Book, although this one is 18th century). Looping back to Henley from here, via the lower slopes of Remenham Hill and the Flower Pot Hotel, would be an 8km (5 mile) walk.

But don’t miss the 4km (2.5 miles) route across the lock to Hambleden. The collection of brick and flint houses, a Jacobite-style manor house and a 12th-century church are picture-perfect. Or rather, THE pictures: Hambleden has appeared on screen in everything from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Midsomer Murders.

Highlight: A fitting visit to the Henley River and Rowing Museum.

Where to stay: Doubles are available from £125pn at Hambleden’s foodie-focused Stag & Huntsman (01491 571227).

Characteristic pub: Henley’s 18th-century Angel on the Bridge serves local Brakspear beers on its riverside terrace.

Crazy restaurant: Run by Michelin-starred chef Ben Watson, The Golden Ball near Henley offers refined dining in a beautiful country setting.

Information: Henley has a train station.

3. Marlow to Windsor

There is much to admire on this stretch of riverbank, including Windsor CastleThere is much to admire on this stretch of riverbank, including Windsor Castle

There is much to admire along this stretch of riverside, including Windsor Castle –

It is best for… Food

Start/end point: Marlow / Windsor

Length: 23km / 14 miles


Marlow sits in a wonderful location, between meadows and wooded hills. It has attracted many literary figures over the centuries – such as Jerome K. Jerome, Mary Shelley and Kenneth Grahame, around whom Wind in the Willows is based. Now, it attracts foodies. The Coach (one Michelin star) and The Hand & Flowers (two stars) are both here. Opportunities for consumption continue as you follow the Thames downstream – perhaps a break at the Bounty pub, near Bourne End, which can only be reached on foot or by boat.

This is a more developed riverside, but that means there are many fine houses to be found and many interesting diversions, including the Stanley Spencer Cookham Gallery, the Tudor-style Dorney Court and the massive Windsor Castle.

Highlight: The sculpture, library and botanical heritage of the Cliveden Estate.

Where to stay: The Christchurch (01753 852359), located on Eton High Street, has B&B doubles from £130pn.

Characteristic pub: The Two Brewers, a small pub but right by the gates of Windsor Great Park.

Crazy restaurant: Boulters Lock in Maidenhead, for serving sustainable dishes in a houseboat on its own river island.

Information: Marlow and Windsor have train stations; Bourne End and Maidenhead stations offer options to shorten the route.

4. Lechlade to Oxford

The statue of Old Father Thames, located on top of St. John's Lock in Lechlade, is the starting point of this walk.The statue of Old Father Thames, located on top of St. John's Lock in Lechlade, is the starting point of this walk.

The statue of Old Father Thames, located on top of St. John’s Lock in Lechlade, is the starting point of this walk – Elmtree Images / Alamy

It is best for… A great weekend

Start/end point: Lechlade / Oxford

Length: 48km / 30 miles


Pretty little Lechlade is where the Thames enters its flow; this is its navigable boundary, where a statue of Old Father Thames sits atop St. John’s Lock, the first on the river. Lechlade is also a great starting point for a two-day Thames Path adventure through the Cotswold-tickling countryside reaches of the river, but with a grand finale among the dreamy spiers of Oxford.

It’s a peaceful walk – there are fewer boats upstream from Oxford, so there’s a better chance of seeing wildlife (watch the kingfisher). And along the way is the beautiful National Trust village of Buscot, the Gothic arches of Radcot Bridge (the oldest on the Thames) and the ruins of 12th century Godstow Abbey.

Highlight: Honeymooned Kelmscott Manor, the one-time home of William ‘Arts & Crafts’ Morris, now a museum.

Where to stay: Slap-bang halfway along this walk, the Rose Revived in Newbridge has several river view rooms; doubles from £85pn single room.

characteristic pub: Try two Trout: the Trout at Tadpole Bridge and the Trout at Godstow, both atmospheric riverside boules from the 17th century.

Crazy restaurant: The family-run Cherwell Boathouse offers upscale riverside dining, served alongside the Edwardian punting station.

Information: Lechlade is accessible by bus from Swindon. Oxford is well served by public transport.

5. The whole pig

There's no better way to get into London than to walk the river where it was bornThere's no better way to get into London than to walk the river where it was born

There is no better way to enter London than to walk the river from which it was born – Circle Creative Studio/E+

He prefers… Gambling the whole river

Start/end point: Source Thames / Woolwich

Length: 298km / 185 miles


Opened in 1996, the Thames Path National Trail weaves with the river, from its source near Kemble (an often dry patch in a field) to the Woolwich foot tunnel. Walking the whole route is a long challenge – most hikers take 14-16 days – but not challenging. The route is well signed, almost level, mostly free of steps and well serviced by hotels and pubs.

And it’s a journey that builds momentum, like the river. Things start small, quiet, rural, gradually grow bigger, bigger, busier. When you finally reach London’s heartland, it feels right: there’s no better way to enter the city than to walk the river from which it was born.

Highlight: Runnymede, birthplace of the Magna Carta (and modern democracy).

Where to stay: Macs Adventure (01415 303429) offers a self-guided 17-day Thames Path Complete tour from £2,520pp including B&B accommodation.

characteristic pub: Drop into the Red Lion in Cruachlather for a toast at the end of the first day, the old Mayflower in Rotherhithe to celebrate a walk almost done.

Crazy restaurant: Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn have six Michelin stars between them both in Bray.


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