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About the Thames Path
History of the Path
The Thames Path is one of the 15 National Trails of England and Wales (there are another four in Scotland where they are known as Long Distance Routes). Much of the trail follows the original towpaths along the river.
Where there wasn't a towpath (because, for example, that portion of the riverbank was privately owned), either access has been negotiated with local landowners to allow you to continue along the banks, or bridges have been built to connect the trail with the opposite bank, allowing walkers to continue following the river.
Occasionally, where neither of these is possible, there are diversions leading the trail temporarily away from the Thames.
Indeed, the path owes its very existence to some protracted negotiations and long, hard campaigning by the River Thames Society, the Rambler’s Association and Countryside Commission (now Natural England).
The story begins in 1984 when the then Countryside Commission published a study proving that the concept of a long-distance trail along the river was viable.
This led to the official declaration of the Thames Path as a National Trail in 1987 though there was still much to do before it was officially opened – complete with the iconic National Trail acorns – in 1996.
Responsible for the preservation of the Thames Path (amongst others) are Natural England, the Environment Agency, and the 22 highway authorities through whose territory the river runs. Much of the maintenance work, however, is carried out by National Trail staff and volunteers (www.nationaltrail.co.uk).
How difficult is the path?
Of all the great walks you could choose to do in the UK the Thames Path is perhaps the easiest. Indeed, the only aspect which makes it any sort of challenge at all is its sheer length.
Investing a decent amount of time in the organisation of your trip and accepting that your body may need a day’s rest occasionally will make the ominous sounding ‘184 miles’ far easier to cope with: indeed, you’ll be surprised how quickly your mile-count adds up.
With no need for any climbing equipment (there is only one gradient of note) all you will need is suitable clothing, a bit of money and a rucksack packed with determination. With the path well signposted and the river as your guide you’re unlikely to get lost.
As with any walk, you can minimise the risks by preparing properly. Your greatest danger on the walk is likely to be from the weather – which can be so unpredictable in England – so it is vital that you dress for inclement conditions and always carry a set of dry clothes with you.
How long do you need?
The Thames Path can be walked with relative ease in 15 days. I advise you not to do so, however, for whilst walking long distances across successive days is a great accomplishment, doing it so quickly allows little time to relax and fully appreciate many of the magnificent sights along the path.
Instead, I think it's better to plan for a couple of rest days (Oxford and Windsor being two spots where you may consider relaxing for a day).
Add a day's travel to get to the start of the trail and another to get home again and 20 days in total should see you complete the trail.
Yes you’ll be weary but you'll also have a soul that's been soothed by the flowing waters of the river and far fitter (and lighter) than when you left home.
There’s nothing wrong with attempting to complete the path as quickly as possible, of course, if that’s what you prefer – but what you mustn’t do is try to push yourself too fast, or too far.
That road leads only to exhaustion, injury or, at the absolute least, an unpleasant time.
When considering how long to allow for the walk, those planning to camp and carry their own luggage shouldn’t underestimate just how much a heavy pack can slow them down.
If you have only a few days or one week don’t try and walk too far; concentrate on one section such as the stretch between the source and Oxford or the approach to London. The river, after all, will still be there next time.
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