Worth watching out for.
— John Cleare
This book follows the Thames Path National Trail from the river's source in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier in London.
Officially 184 miles/294km in length (although it can be anywhere between 183¼ and 188½ miles, the actual distance you walk depending on which of several alternative paths you opt to take on the way), the path meanders, accompanied by its watery muse, through pristine and tranquil countryside, past historic sites and buildings, via pub, lock, weir and the occasional scattering of waterfowl to a city, once the fulcrum of an empire and now the heart of modern-day England.
The river, responsible for the metropolis’s very existence, inspires artists and authors, provides a home for swans, geese, and water voles, reflects the silhouettes of red kites and kingfishers, provides employment, entices adventurers and allows time for carefree pilgrims to meditate and think. And walking alongside it is a grand way to go for a ramble!
The path begins, as the river does, in a meadow in the Cotswolds. These early stages are lonely and wild, with the meadows and banks the domain of waterfowl and willows, while the riverbanks themselves are a collage of wild flowers, otters, fishermen and farmers.
As the waters deepen and spread, the settlements alongside begin to grow in both size and grandeur until, reaching Oxford, the solitude of the river slowly subsides and the trail becomes less about nature and more about history.
There are venerable towns such as Lechlade, Abingdon, Wallingford and Henley as well as numerous ancient churches, abbeys and castles.
Going through the ancient Goring Gap, dominated by the Chiltern Hills, you pass Runnymede – the site of the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago – and continue to Windsor Castle, where the constant rumble of the planes overhead hint at the ominous size of the city to come.
Yet walking through London is not blighted by sound, fury and concrete as many may imagine, as the river – and especially the route along the southern bank – remains relatively verdant, at least as far as Putney.
From here as you continue eastwards the views of Westminster and Tower Bridge are as fine as any along the Thames’s green and scenic upper reaches.
After central London the regenerated dockland areas of East London lure you to your journey’s end and the conclusion of a most enjoyable and varied riparian ramble, quite unlike any other in Britain.
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