Walking on water

Being 215 miles from its source to the sea, the Thames is England’s longest river. Other fascinating facts about this mighty waterway are that it connects16 cities or key towns, has 44 locks, 190 islands, hosts 38 main tributaries and is home to 200 rowing clubs and 125 different species of fish.

How many of us strolling London’s Victoria Embankment on the North or ogling Tower Bridge from the South Bank pause to wonder from where this vast expanse of water came? One of our National Trails, the Thames Path provided the answer. The source of the Thames is claimed to be a spot marked by dried boulders, at the edge of a field close to a disused quarry. But where? The underground spring is immediately to the North of the Roman Road; the Fosse Way, that is to say, the same road we know as the A46 as it takes its straight course from Leicester to Lincoln via Newark. Down in deepest Gloucestershire however it is the A433 passing just South of Cirencester.

The Thames Path is 184 miles long and ends at the Thames Barrier; the first 146 miles is non-tidal and navigation is not possible until Lechlade (of Great Train Robbery fame) some 23 miles from its dry start. The National Trail is divided into two fairly equal halves: the source to Reading and the second week to London itself.

For our long-distance plod this year, Julia and I walked most of the first half. As is usual in early September, the weather was fantastic – warm, sunny and dry. I would recommend this easy walk to anyone and a big bonus is that this trail (unlike, for example, the Speyside Way) actually sits on the river bank, crossing banks occasionally for variety. Lasting memories would be the vast flat fields with their cattle herds and corn crops, herons, buzzards, cheery lockkeepers, narrowboats and launches and for large blocks of time – absolute silence. The latter excepting the village of Benson where, one learns and ones ears cannot ignore, the RAF base a large helicopter fleet. Approached via high Hedges, it is quite a fag.

Unlike ourselves, the good people of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire have no need to renew their energy. Over a lateral distance of 90+ miles with wide horizons on both banks, not a single turbine and just one small solar farm.

Bibliography : The Thames Path – David Sharp – ISBN 1 84513 062 6.

John G Smith 22 September 2014