The five best Thames walks

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

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

The region is wonderfully rural in some places, busy in others, which ensures a good mix of nature and amenities. That’s actually the great thing about a walk along the Thames: wherever you walk, you’re guaranteed an invigorating dose of blue space, a good dose of history and a good pub or two.

1. Wittenham lumps

You'll get great views of the river from the top of Wittenham Clumps, also known as the 'twin peaks' of Oxfordshire

You get great views of the river from the top of Wittenham Clumps, also known as the ‘twin peaks’ of Oxfordshire – PA Images / Alamy

Best for… A bit of climbing

Start/end point: Dorchester

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


Wittenham Clumps, Oxfordshire’s ‘twin peaks’, are 120 and 110 meters high and offer fine views over a beautiful stretch of river. Start in attractive Dorchester – also called the Roman town of Doric – where the Lesser Thames flows into the Thames; a 4km loop combines the medieval village, 12th century abbey and views of Clumps. Tackling a further 2 miles from Wittenham Bridge you can climb the Beechwoods themselves, for a good vantage point and evidence of Iron Age fortifications.

Finally, if you’re feeling fit, you can add a third 5 mile circuit, via Long Wittenham. Visit the Pendon Museum, a miniature representation of 1930s rural life, then follow a gentle bend of the Thames back to the start.

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

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

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

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

Info: The X40 bus connects Oxford and Reading via Wallingford and Dorchester.

2. Henley & Hambleden

Try a picturesque walk via affluent Henley-on-ThamesTry a picturesque walk via affluent Henley-on-Thames

Try a picturesque walk via affluent Henley-on-Thames – travelinglight/istock editorial

Best for… Floating around in boats

Start/end point: Henley-on-Thames

Distance: 8-12 km / 5-7.5 miles


Affluent Henley-on-Thames is synonymous with rowing: some of the sport’s most prestigious clubs are based here, and the town’s Royal Regatta (July) was founded in 1839. This walk follows the route for a mile and 550 meters through beautiful Chilterns countryside, past Temple Island and around to Hambleden Lock and Mill (mentioned in the Doomsday Book, although it dates back to the 18th century). From here back to Henley, via the lower slopes of Remenham Hill and the Flower Pot Hotel, would be an 8 km (5 mile) walk.

But don’t miss the 4 km long detour over the lock to Hambleden. This cluster of brick and flint houses, a Jacobean-style country house and a 12th-century church is quite a sight. Or rather, THE pictures: Hambleden has appeared on screen in everything from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Midsomer Murders.

Highlight: An atmospheric visit to Henley’s River & Rowing Museum.

Where to stay: Hambleden’s relaxed, foodie-focused Stag & Huntsman (01491 571227) has country-chic B&B doubles from £125 pn.

Characterful pub: Henley’s 18th-century Angel on the Bridge serves local Brakspear ales on a riverside terrace.

Cracking restaurant: The Golden Ball near Henley is run by Michelin-starred chef Ben Watson and offers fine dining in a beautiful rural setting.

Info: Henley has a train station.

3. Marlow to Windsor

There is plenty to admire on this stretch of riverside, including Windsor CastleThere is plenty to admire on this stretch of riverside, including Windsor Castle

There is plenty to admire on this stretch of riverside, including Windsor Castle –

Best for… Food

Start/end point: Marlow/Windsor

Distance: 23 km / 14 miles


Marlow is in a super location, between meadows and wooded hills. It has attracted many literary types over the centuries, such as Jerome K. Jerome, Mary Shelley and Kenneth Grahame, whose Wind in the Willows was set nearby. Now it attracts foodies. The Coach (one Michelin star) and The Hand & Flowers (two stars) are both there. There are still options to consume as you follow the Thames downstream – perhaps stopping at the Bounty pub, near Bourne End, which is only accessible by foot or boat.

This is a more developed riverside area, but that means beautiful houses to ogle and interesting distractions galore, including Cookham’s Stanley Spencer Gallery, Tudor-style Dorney Court and the enormous Windsor Castle.

Highlight: The sculptures, topiary and botanical exuberance of the Cliveden estate.

Where to stay: Tucked away in Eton High Street, The Christopher (01753 852359) has B&B doubles from £130 pn.

Characterful pub: The Two Brewers, a small but good old pub at the gates of Windsor Great Park.

Cracking restaurant: Boulters Lock in Maidenhead, for sustainable food served in a boathouse on its own river island.

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

4. Lechlade to Oxford

The statue of Old Father Thames lounging atop St John's Lock in Lechlade is the starting point of this walkThe statue of Old Father Thames lounging atop St John's Lock in Lechlade is the starting point of this walk

The statue of Old Father Thames lounging atop St John’s Lock in Lechlade is the starting point of this walk – Elmtree Images / Alamy

Best for… A wonderful weekend

Start/end point: Lechlade/Oxford

Distance: 48 km / 30 miles


Pretty little Lechlade is where the Thames comes into its flow; this is the navigable boundary, where a statue of Old Father Thames stands 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 river’s rural Cotswold tickles, but with a grand finale amid the dreamy spiers of Oxford.

It’s a gentle walk – there are fewer boats upstream from Oxford, so there are better chances of spotting wildlife (look out for kingfishers). And along the way are the charming National Trust village of Buscot, the Gothic arches of Radcot Bridge (the oldest on the Thames) and the ruins of the 12th-century Godstow Abbey.

Highlight: The honey-coloured Kelmscott Manor, once the home of William ‘Arts & Crafts’ Morris, now a museum.

Where to stay: Halfway through this walk, the Rose Revived in Newbridge has a number of rooms with river views; doubles from £85pn for a room only.

Characterful pub: Try two Trouts: the Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge and the Trout Inn at Godstow, both atmospheric 17th-century riverside drinking establishments.

Cracking restaurant: The family-run Cherwell Boathouse offers luxurious riverside cuisine, served next to the Edwardian punt station.

Info: Lechlade is accessible by bus from Swindon. Oxford is easily accessible by public transport.

5. The whole pig

There is no better way to enter London than to walk on the river that gave it birthThere is no better way to enter London than to walk on the river that gave it birth

There’s no better way to enter London than to walk on the river that gave it birth – Circle Creative Studio/E+

Best for… Cross the entire river

Start/end point: Thames Spring / Woolwich

Distance: 298 km / 185 miles


Opened in 1996, the Thames Path National Trail meanders along the river from its source at Kemble (an often dry spot in a field) to the Woolwich foot tunnel. Walking the entire route is a lengthy challenge – it takes most hikers 14-16 days – but not a difficult task. The road is well marked, almost flat, largely stile-free and well maintained with hotels and pubs.

And it is a journey that, like the river, builds momentum. Things start small, quiet, rural and gradually become bigger, grander and busier. When the buzz of London finally reaches it, it feels good: there is no better way to enter the city than by walking the river from which the city was born.

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

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

Characterful pub: Visit the Red Lion in Cricklade to toast the end of the first day, and the ancient Mayflower in Rotherhithe to celebrate the walk’s near completion.

Cracking restaurant: In Bray, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn have six Michelin stars between them.


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