Thames Path, 2013 – 2014

Thames Path (UK National Trail) 184 miles, 12 walking days, September 2013/August 2014

At 186 miles from the source at Kemble to the Thames Barrier in east London, the Thames Path UK National Trail sounds daunting but for the most part it’s easy walking alongside the river. This was my tenth UK National Trail and earned me the Long Distance Walkers’ Association Silver Certificate (yippee – I’m happy with that). Normally when we walk long-distance paths, we make use of a luggage carrier company to transport a bag every day from one B&B to the next. That way, we only have to carry day stuff in our rucksacks. On the Thames Path there was no luggage carrier; everything we needed had to be carried. When this happens, we travel as light as possible. I try to keep below 9kg/20lb and Carol 6kg/13lb.

My feet have spread considerably since I started walking long-distance paths and this caused major blister problems. Because of this, I walked the western section, Kemble to Reading, in 2013 with Carol and the eastern section, Reading to the Thames Barrier, in 2014 with Mark. Here are a few observations on the two walks.

Western section, 95 miles

2013: Kemble – Castle Eaton – Tadpole Bridge – Eynsham Lock – Abingdon – Wallingford – Reading

The source is a disappointment. There’s nothing there except a stone stating that this is the source and a small depression in the ground! The river gradually builds but doesn’t become recognisable as a proper river until Cricklade, 12 miles from the source. There were very few long-distance walkers on the path but a profusion of strollers, dog walkers, joggers, cyclists and fishermen plus lots of activity on the river. In the King’s Head and Bell at Abingdon, I sampled a terrific beer called Liquid Mistress IPA brewed by Siren Craft Beer brewery in Wokingham. I sent an e-mail to the brewery congratulating the brewers on creating such a fine beer!

Along the riverside between Tadpole Bridge and Eynsham, we came across a prolific flowering plant called, I found out later, Himalayan Balsam. The plant is voracious, taking over the ground in which it grows and destroying other wild plants. The Royal Horticultural Society’s website describes Himalayan Balsam as a ‘major weed problem’ and endorses balsam-bashing parties designed to clear the area to allow other natural wild plants to return and flourish.

We collected conkers to distribute around the house to keep the spiders away. It’s an old wives tale but it does seem to have worked.

Western section, 11 images to follow

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Eastern section, 89 miles

2014: Reading – Marlow – Windsor – Shepperton – Richmond Park – Pimlico – Thames Barrier

On the approach to London, we observed lots of river activity – canoeists, barges, motor boats, and so on – and some very desirable riverside residences. Marlow and Henley-on-Thames stand out as pleasant but expensive places to live. The walk through Central London was littered with landmarks: Windsor Castle, Richmond Park, Hampton Court, Houses of Parliament, London Bridge, the poppies at the Tower of London, the Shard, the City, Cutty Sark, O2 Arena and, finally, the Thames Barrier designed to prevent London from being flooded in the event of exceptionally high tides or storm surges moving in from the North Sea.

Eastern section, 11 images to follow.

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