After more than 3 years dedicated to the Thames in the London area, I decided it was time to expand my horizons and explore the Thames Path a little further.
Oxford being my second home, it makes it easy for me to plan picturesque walks along the Thames.
A WALK FROM OXFORD (IFFLEY LOCK) TO ABINGDON
So far, this is one of my favourite walks in Oxfordshire, highlighting a section of the Thames Path on a curve to Abingdon via Iffley, Kennington and Sandford-on-Thames.
Lots of narrow boats, canoes & rowers, wild life and countryside delights to be seen.
To do this walk any justice, I would recommend to spend the day, planning a picnic or having a lunch/mid break at the stunning King’s Arms pub with great views on the Lock at Sandford-on-Thames.
It is possible to walk the Thames Path all the way from Oxford city Centre/Folly Bridge but I start from Donnington Bridge, which is the closest from Iffley Lock.
I usually take the bus back to Oxford from Abingdon.
You will find details of this route online or in useful guides for the Thames Path walks (see my bibliography section).
1.Oxford – Iffley Lock
The walk starts with the open fields of Iffley Meadows Nature Reserve and the Thames Path leading to Iffley Lock.
A notorious spot for university rowers, cyclists, locals and dog walkers.
Iffley Meadows (below) are ancient meadows, often flooded in winter, where the iconic snake’s-head fritillary flowers can be seen in spring.
Next to the meadows is the Isis Farmhouse, formerly the Isis Hotel, an early 19th Century pub, full of character and benefiting from a large beer garden with views on the Thames.
Beer used to be delivered by ferry boat.
Then comes Iffley Lock.
Formerly built in the 17th Century, little remains from the original work, the Lock was rebuilt in 1924 with a small Stone Bridge and the Lockkeeper’s house.
The Stone Bridge carries a bronze bull’s had and a coat of arms
The old 17th Century pound lock would have been located near the weir stream according to local maps.
If you cross the Lock and next to the weir, is the site of the former Iffley Mill.
Standing there since the 12th Century, it sadly burned to the ground in 1908, and was a well-documented event at the time; some photographs remain accessible online, not to mention the famous pictures of Henry Taunt when the Mill was still active.
It was used for grinding corn and other cereals.
Some stone work remains from the entrance gate.
Nearby, on the little lane up from the river going to the lovely Iffley village, a couple of millstones are displayed on front of a private cottage.
It is worth making a little detour to Iffley Village, with its thatched cottages & St Mary’s Church, one of the finest Norman churches, on a hill overlooking the river, almost unaltered since the 12th Century.
St Mary’s Norman Church
An ancient grave cross in the churchyard
2. From Iffley to Sandford-on-Thames
Back to the river towpath, the Thames grows in size near Kennington railway steel bridge, which is quite an eerie sight.
The Thames Path slightly disappears into green, open meadows.
The views of the river showing the Rose Island on the opposite bank are particularly stunning.
Now a private house, this property used to be the Swan Hotel, a public house owned successively by Morlands Brewery and Morrells brewery in the end 19th Century.
There was a ferry boat crossing and steps bringing the customers to the public house.
Traces of the landing place can still be seen today:
The walk continues ahead towards Sandford-on-Thames, crossing open fields, footbridges and beautiful weir streams.
Near Sandford-on-Thames is the Sandford Lasher, an impressive weir, it is now difficult to get close for great views of the Lasher as part of the path has been blocked to public access due to danger.
The name Sandford probably refers to an earlier river crossing (sandy ford).
Soon in the distance can be spotted the King’s Arms public house with tall chimneys and Sandford Lock.
The Kings Arms Hotel was converted from a malt house, used by the local Sandford Mill. The Mill, closed in the eighties, is now gone and replaced by flats.
The Mill can be traced back to 1100, it was owned by local monks for making bread. At a later date it was owned by the Knights Templar and used for grinding corn, and again rebuilt in the 19th Century.
Sandford Lock has been reconstructed, just like Iffley Lock, it was one of the first pound locks on the Thames in the 17th Century.
3. From Sandford-on-Thames to Abingdon
Past Sandford-on-Thames, the towpath continues into a wild stretch to Radley village, the river turns into a curve with lush pastures, farmland and woodland on the side all the way to Abingdon. This is your chance to spot cranes, grey herons and wild life on the Thames, with breathtaking views.
It is a scenically rewarding walk until you reach the historic town of Abingdon-on-Thames, with St Helen’s wharf and the 15th Century alms-houses.
Walking through woodlands and ideal picsnics sites
A grey heron in the Swift Ditch area near Abingdon
The walk finishes with the views of the old Abingdon Bridge and St Helen’s Wharf.
View of the spire of St Helen’s Church and wharf, with the almshouses facing the river.
THE THAMES IN OXFORDSHIRE : A WALK FROM PORT MEADOW (OXFORD) TO SWINFORD BRIDGE (EYNSHAM VILLAGE)
This is a stunning walk along the Thames especially on a sunny day, probably about 7-8 miles, and a must-seen for wildlife admirers.
I have not yet been brave enough to keep walking from Swinford Bridge all the way to Newbridge, as I reckon it would take the day and some extra effort.
For traditional pub lovers, I recommend a visit to the Perch (and its lovely garden) in Binsey and The Trout Inn at Godstow, not to forget a little detour to the Talbot Inn in the village of Eynsham for a well-deserved pint at the end of the walk.
The walk includes delightful sights such as the Evenlode stream (part of the Cotswolds), open pastures and meadow, some woodland and Swinford Toll Bridge.
1. Oxford Port Meadow to Godstow Nunnery ruins
I always start my walk from Port Meadow, Oxfordians ‘ favourite spot, an open grazing land left untouched from centuries.
If you are lucky, you will see some wild cattle and horses grazing on the land, sharing the space with rather aggressive & territorial geese, in spring and summer times.
The site really gives you a feel of the ancient Thames, inspiring landscapes demonstrating how open settlements and farmers would have gathered and lived along the Thames in Oxfordshire.
Many archaeological features are registered on the site, some visible from the naked eye, including survival and evidence of Late Prehistory/ Iron Age activity.
At a glance, you can spot low irregular mounds and some ring-shaped ditches, including the ancient scheduled monument Round Hill.
Lying in the grass, I noticed during my walk that some fragments of limestone remains on the surface, raising questions.
The river Thames and its streams would have acted as natural boundaries for ancient farm buildings and paddocks, I suppose.
Signs of erosion are visible on this stretch of the Thames.
Often, the site is flooded and resembles a lake or marshland, getting a bit boggy when the waters recede.
But time to continue the walk after enjoying the meadow, you are invited to cross a first footbridge, the Thames standing on the right side turning into a gentle curve, a second footbridge leading to ‘Fiddlers Island’ on the left.
Recent floods in December 2013 and the beginning of 2014 gave an impressive view of the site.
The second footbridge leading to ‘Fiddlers Island’ was completely under water.
Now in April 2014, the trees on Fiddlers Island are still showing signs of the flooding.
Time to turn right and follow the towpath of the canal, with sights of the local moored boats, heading towards a steel arched rainbow bridge, so the walk can continue directly along the Thames.
After some time spent walking in the meadow with open pastures & fields on the left, you reach Godstow channel and the remains of Godstow Nunnery/ Abbey.
First founded in the 12th Century, little remains of the site : ruins of the precinct walls and the small chapel.
It was also a nunnery, Fair Rosamund, mistress of Henry II, is said to have spent the last years of her life here.
Godstow channel also stands on the site. However, to continue on the Thames Path, it is required to cross the road leading to Godstow Bridge and the Trout Inn pub on the opposite bank and right side of the site.
I recommend to have a break half-way of the walk, sit in the Trout Inn terrace garden and enjoy a well-deserved refreshing drink with stunning views on the Thames.
2. The Thames Path from Godstow to Swinford Bridge & Eynsham
Back to open pastures and farmland on the way to Eynsham, with stunning views of the river.
The walk offers picturesque views of the Oxfordshire countryside.
Reaching King’s Weir, I find myself now close to the Cotswolds territories, walking along with delightful sights of lush pastures.
Crossing a concrete footbridge, I get a chance to admire the river Evenlode, which slips into the Thames.
Then, I continue walking successively into open pastures and the proximity of woodland by the river Thames until I reach Swinford Bridge at the end of my walk.
The lovely village of Eynsham can be accessed by crossing the Toll Bridge and walking a little further. I also recommend to stop for a drink at the Talbot Inn on the road, not far from the river Thames.