This hamlet has two interesting buildings to see.
The small church of St John the Baptist, 100m away from the Thames Path, has a wonderful atmosphere. It was sympathetically restored in 1877 by William Morris, the 19th century poet and craftsman who lived at Kelmscott Manor a short distance downstream of Inglesham. The church has a heap of interesting things: 13th century stonework, wall paintings of great importance from the 13th and later centuries laid on top of one another, 15th century screens, 17th and 18th century pulpit and box pews, and old uneven floors. But its greatest treasure is probably the Saxon carving of a Virgin and Child blessed by the Hand of God set in the south wall. The church, now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, is open unless essential conservation work is being carried out. Fingers crossed it's open when you visit!
The Round House, a few hundred metres towards Lechlade where the Thames and Severn Canal enters the river, is an example of the unusual quarters provided for lock keepers on this canal. Horses were stabled on the ground floor, people lived above and had a flat lead roof to act as their water tank.
The Thames and Severn Canal, one of the most ambitious canal projects to be undertaken, was the realisation of a dream to create a continuous transport link between the east and west of the country at a time when roads were usually impassable for heavy traffic. Engineers found a route from here to Stroud down the Cotswold escarpment but it required 43 locks in 45 km and a huge tunnel, the Sapperton Tunnel near to the source of the Thames, which ran for 3490 m. Unfortunately the canal was never really successful and the last barges used it in 1927.
Lechlade owes its prosperity to its location. For a long time, before the Thames and Severn Canal was built, it was the highest point on the Thames that laden barges could reach. Hence it's riverside was a busy wharf with boats being loaded with salt from Cheshire which had been carried down the Old Salt Way by pack horse trains, and wool, stone and cheese from the Cotswolds for the markets in Oxford and London. Indeed the town's name comes from a combination of the River Leach and 'lade', meaning to load. In 1816 there were 14 barges at Lechlade of 65 tons each, very much bigger than anything that goes up and down the non-tidal river today.
Walkers, however, no longer need to delve into their pockets to find the halfpenny toll since this was removed after a revolt of local people in 1839
The Thames Path crosses Ha'penny Bridge, a lovely old stone toll bridge still with its small toll house, as it approaches Lechlade. Walkers, however, no longer need to delve into their pockets to find the halfpenny toll since this was removed after a revolt of local people in 1839.
Lechlade has a strong association with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who composed works in the churchyard and once rowed up the river from Old Windsor with his mistress and a friend in 1815. One wonders why he didn't row down stream, it would have been much less work!
Old Father Thames
Now reclining comfortably, and securely attached to the lockside at St John's, Old Father Thames has not always fared so well. Sculptured by Rafaelle Monti out of Portland cement at a time when concrete had not become a common building material, the sculpture was exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition and then survived the fire that melted the Crystal Palace in 1936. Purchased by the Thames Conservancy, Old Father Thames was installed at the source of the Thames in 1958. Unfortunately he suffered a degree of vandalism in this isolated spot and was moved to his current resting place in 1974 to prevent further abuse.
This small village is the nearest to the Thames Path along this whole section and is well worth the short detour, especially on Wednesdays in the summer when Kelmscott Manor (note Morris's special spelling) is open to the public.
This Elizabethan house was the home of William Morris, the writer, socialist, artist, craftsman and manufacturer
This Elizabethan house was the home of William Morris, the writer, socialist, artist, craftsman and manufacturer from 1871 to his death in 1896 and is now a shrine to him and the Arts and Crafts Movement. The latter was responsible for the modern revival of folk music, old English traditions, vernacular architecture and English cottage gardening. The Manor is a lovely and unspoilt xample of the local architecture of this stone-building region and contains many of Morris's possessions and products of his genius.
Morris is buried in the local churchyard, his body carried there in an unpolished oak coffin borne in an open haycart painted yellow and red, decorated with vine leaves and willow boughs and carpeted with moss.
If you were to continue walking along the Thames Path, in several days time you would pass Kelmscott House on Hammersmith Mall in London, William Morris's town house.
Radcot holds the claim of having the oldest existing bridge on the Thames and is said to have had one as early as 958.
There are two bridges here; the younger one built by the Thames Commissioners over what is now the main channel, and the older one, although its precise date is not known, has parts dating to the 13th century. The bridge is of creamy local Taynton stone and Radcot was the wharf from which such stone was sent by barge to build St Paul's Cathedral.
Old Radcot Bridge originally had three Gothic arches ribbed beneath like a cathedral roof, and one parapet still carries the niche that once held a statue of the Virgin Mary. The middle arch, however, is now rounded having been dismantled in 1388 by Henry Bolingbroke (who became Henry IV) as a trap to catch royal favourite Robert de Vere, who was galloping south from Oxford on his way to support Richard II against Henry. The plan worked to some extent since various knights were stabbed in the river and Robert de Vere had to swim for it. But he did escape.
For those walking the Thames Path, Oxford City starts just inside the A34(T) bypass and the delightful riverside setting of the Trout Inn at Godstow. As you head south on the west bank of the Thames (or Isis as it is perversely known in Oxford), opposite lies the large acreage of common land of Port Meadow, the most ancient institution in the city. Bearing traces from the Bronze Age, the Saxon name 'Port' meaning 'trading place' indicates its ancient use.
It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest and carries extensive common rights to graze cattle, horses and geese. The citizens of Oxford enjoy legal rights of access over its entire 170 hectares (440 acres). It was on a boat trip upstream to Godstow, past Port Meadow, on 4 July 1862 that Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) first told the story of 'Alice in Wonderland' to the Liddell family.
An original village was demolished to allow for the landscaping of the Park by the famous Capability Brown
Just past the boathouses belonging to Radley College, on a rise across the river, you'll see Nuneham House built in 1756 for the first Earl of Harcourt. An original village was demolished to allow for the landscaping of the Park by the famous Capability Brown and was replaced by a model village along the main road. The village church went too, replaced by All Saints Old Church built in the style of a classical temple with a green domed roof on a site overlooking the Thames.
Little of the landscaping survived the second World War, but as you walk past you'll see, on its hill, the Carfax Conduit. This ornately carved stone cistern was moved here in 1786 having once stood at Carfax in the centre of Oxford dispensing fresh water from a reservoir outside the city.
Some of the earliest people to settle in the area close to the present day town were from the early Iron Age well over two thousand years ago. They built a fort on Castle Hill, one of the two hillocks that form the Sinodun Hills to the south of the river atop which stand the oldest recorded tree clumps in Britain, the Wittenham Clumps. If you have the time and energy it's worth making a short detour and climbing to the top of one of the hills for the great views they give. The hills and area around are a nature reserve owned and managed by the Northmoor Trust who allow you to explore.
If you have the time and energy it's worth making a short detour and climbing to the top of one of the hills for the great views they give.
If, however, you choose to head towards present day Dorchester from Day's Lock (where the annual World Pooh Sticks Championships take place each year!) you'll walk by the side of the Dyke Hills. This double earthworks provided defences for a pre-Roman town which was protected from all other directions by the rivers Thames and Thame. Today's Dorchester was built over a Romano-British town which grew up by the Roman road from Silchester and has a fine High Street, including two old coaching inns.
Early Christianity thrived in Dorchester. The great abbey church of St Peter and St Paul which dominates the town was built around 1140 on the site of an earlier Saxon cathedral dedicated to St Birinius. The church has some lovely 14th century glass and the unique Tree of Jesse Window.
Streatley and Goring
Divided by the Thames these settlements sit at the narrowest part of the Thames Valley where the dangers of flooding have always been less than in the flatter, wider places. Probably one of the oldest crossing points on the Thames serving the ancient routes of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way, the two settlements were linked during Roman occupation by a raised causeway. Drovers would have forced flocks of sheep and herds of cattle through the water on their route from the west country or Wales to the markets east of the river.
Until Goring Lock was completed in 1797, travellers continued to use the Roman causeway or a ferry which offered an alternative to wet feet. A tragedy occurred in 1674 when a ferry overturned drowning 15 people and another foundered in 1810. However, it wasn't until 1837 that work started on building a timber bridge, replaced by the existing one in 1923.
Goring has several pleasant inns, the oldest the Catherine Wheel was formerly a blacksmiths and still has black beams and a peculiar barn door half way up the wall.
Goring has several pleasant inns, the oldest the Catherine Wheel was formerly a blacksmiths and still has black beams and a peculiar barn door half way up the wall. Just around the corner is the 17th century John Barleycorn which stands across the road from Ferry Lane once the centre of ancient Goring.
Henley on Thames
This quintessential Thames-side town nestles under the beech woods of the Chilterns and still retains its old market town atmosphere. It now boasts a new museum, the River and Rowing Museum which opened in 1997 reflecting two of the town's major interests. Another enjoyable liquid found in Henley is the delicious ale brewed by Brakspears in the town, no-one should miss the opportunity of sampling it!
The best place to view Henley is probably from the east bank of the river just over the elegant 1780s bridge which the Thames Path crosses. If you look downstream from the bridge you'll be viewing the Henley Royal Regatta course, 2 km 21 m of remarkably straight River Thames, which is alive with rowing boats which visit from many corners of the world during Royal Regatta week, the first week of July. If you care not for crowds of smartly dressed people, and the chance that the Path is legally diverted away from the river, then you're advised to avoid Henley at this time of year.
In 1829 the first University boat race between Oxford and Cambridge was rowed along this reach attracting an audience of 20 000 before it moved to its current course between Putney and Mortlake, a few days' walk downstream. The town established its regatta just 10 years later.
With the pub, The Olde Bell, claiming to date from 1135, two tithe barns and traces of a priory established in the 11th century but dissolved by Henry VIII, Hurley is a place you might wish to make a short detour into.
More recently the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was planned in a crypt in the remains of the priory by John Lovelace of Ladye Place, Hurley and colleagues. This resulted in James II being forced to flee from England leaving the throne vacant for William III and Mary II. Once king, the grateful William rewarded the chief plotter by making him Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners.
The village also holds a festival each October on St Pyr's Day, the Hurley Marrow Wassail. A Marrow Queen carries the largest marrow grown that year by village gardeners around an orchard to sacrifice the 'tree bird' to ensure a good crop the next year. The tree bird is buried, toast is hung in the branches of the tree and cider or beer poured on the roots.
Bisham Abbey which dominates your view as you approach has played several roles in the history of England
Bisham Abbey which dominates your view as you approach has played several roles in the history of England and is now the Sports Council's National Recreation Centre. The current building occupies a site first used by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. One claim to fame the abbey has is that it was the only monastery in the country restored by Henry VIII after the Dissolution which wrecked it. Later it became a Tudor house given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from the same Henry. Some years on, Elizabeth I used to visit Bisham to stay with the Hoby family.
Lady Elizabeth Hoby was a brilliant, but eccentric woman. The story goes that she had three sons, one clever Edward, a fool Thomas and a dunce William who was incapable of writing and as a result was beaten to death by his mother. Lady Elizabeth's ghost is said to haunt the Abbey, wringing and washing her hands in the river. Interestingly, during repairs to the house some blotted copy books were discovered under the floorboards so perhaps there is a grain of truth in the legend.
Quarry Bank Woods which you'll see rising behind the church were devastated by the storms of 1987 and 1990 but are now being nurtured by the Woodlands Trust. Kenneth Grahame, who lived locally, is thought to have used these woods as a model for his Wild Wood in 'Wind in the Willows'.
Cookham has its roots in prehistory for here you will find two megaliths, the Cookham Stone and the Tarry Stone.
Cookham has its roots in prehistory for here you will find two megaliths, the Cookham Stone and the Tarry Stone. It was also a crossing point of the river for the Romans on the Camlet Way between Silchester and Verulanium (present day St Albans). After the Romans left Britain, the Danes and Saxons used the marshes and meadows by the river which still remain as common lands today.
Cookham's most famous inhabitant dates, however, from the 20th century, the classic modern painter Sir Stanley Spencer. Born here into a poor family, Spencer attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1908 to 1912 winning the composition prize with his 'Apple Gatherers'. Many of Spencer's paintings, even those of war scenes resulting from his First World War experiences, hid daily scenes of Cookham life and landscapes. In 1927 he caused a sensation with his 'Cookham Resurrection' by featuring naked bits of his wife Hilda.
Spencer lived in Cookham for 49 years. The chapel is now the Stanley Spencer Gallery, which you can visit throughout the summer and during weekends in the winter.
Windsor Castle has grown from being just a mound in William the Conqueror's time to the largest inhabited castle in the world today
One of the world's greatest buildings, Windsor Castle has grown from being just a mound in William the Conqueror's time to the largest inhabited castle in the world today. Many monarchs have made changes and additions with Elizabeth I extending the castle and building the North Terrace overlooking the river. She also told William Shakespeare to write her an amusing play and had the resulting 'Merry Wives of Windsor' first performed in the castle in 1593.
St George's Chapel inside the castle walls is arguably the finest Perpendicular building in Britain but it is the Round Tower with views over 12 counties (before recent local government reorganisation) that commands the mound. Extensive modernisation started in 1824 and was completed by Queen Victoria at a cost of more than £1 million. She, with her husband Albert, is buried in the Home Park.
Windsor Great Park and the old Forest of Windsor stretch out southwards as a huge expanse of land with avenues of trees and rides wide enough so that kings like George III and IV could follow the stag hounds in their carriages.
There can be few historically more important and symbolic places than Runnymede where the Magna Carta, some say, was signed under a large tree by King John in June 1215.
The exact location where this Great Charter was signed is unclear. Was it on Magna Carta Island across the river where the house there holds a stone tablet dredged from the river in the 19th century, reputedly the writing table on which the king signed and sealed the disaffected barons' demands? Or was it slightly further downstream at Ankerwyke Nunnery, now just a few ruins, underneath the massive ancient yew tree which still grows there despite being badly damaged by the storms of 1987? One of the few copies of the Magna Carta is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which you will have walked through if you have tackled section 3.
In the late 18th century Runnymede became a racecourse, conveniently close to Windsor and it is known that both George IV and William IV attended race meetings held on the level meadows.
The importance of Runnymede has led to the erection during the latter half of this century of the three memorials you'll see on the slopes of Cooper's Hill just away from the river. The earliest, the Air Forces Memorial (1953), records the names of over 20 000 service men and women who died in air raids and have no known grave. In 1957 the American Bar Association gave the 'temple' as a tribute to the world significance of Magna Carta and, adjacent to this, in 1965 an acre of land was given to the American people for the John F Kennedy memorial.
Cardinal Wolsey's palace is huge and dominating and it's perhaps not surprising that King Henry VIII found its display of wealth and power displeasing, partly the reason the Cardinal lost his head.
There's 3000 weapons on display in the King's Guardroom for those who like those sorts of things
Additions to the palace, which contains 1000 rooms, were made by both Henry and the later monarchs William and Mary. There's 3000 weapons on display in the King's Guardroom for those who like those sorts of things, paintings on the King's Staircase of the faces of all the parlour maids the artist, Verrio, bedded during his stay and a haunted gallery. It's Catherine Howard who has walked the latter since her execution for adultery in 1542 by her husband Henry VIII.
On the exterior of the palace is the Great Vine, planted in 1768 and still thriving, and the Astronomical Clock built in 1540 for Henry which also tells the time of high water at London Bridge. Away from the palace is the famous maze planted in 1714 and Henry's real tennis court, the first in the world.
You can visit the Royal Botanic Gardens directly from the Thames Path although you'll need to pay a little more to enter than the one old penny which was charged until relatively recently.
Until Victorian times these were the grounds of the royal palace of Kew which still stands in the Gardens. Built by a rich merchant to a Dutch design in the 17th century the palace in 1802 was home to the 15 children of George III and Queen Charlotte.
The Gardens are unique containing 40 000 plant species from all over the planet. There's also fine collections of plant drawings made on expeditions, some of species yet to be found again, and dried herbs and pressed flowers. In the 121 hectare (300 acre) parkland you'll find the high Chinese pagoda and, the most splendid building of all, the glass Palm House.
From 1431 to 1539 the site of Syon House and Park was occupied by a Brigettine convent but since then has been the southern seat of the Dukes of Northumberland.
The name Syon is derived from Mount Sion in the Holy Land. The Brigettine community comprised 85 people to reflect the total number of Christ's apostles and disciples and was a double order with 60 women and 25 men living alongside each other in separate accommodation but sharing the chapel. In 1535 the community refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the Church. As a result the Confessor-General, who led the monks of the order, was imprisoned in the Tower of London and, after a rigged trial, hanged. Two years later another monk died of ill treatment in Newgate Prison and in 1539 the convent was forced to close.
Elizabeth I gave Syon to the Earl of Northumberland and in 1553 Lady Jane Grey was rowed down river from Syon House, where her father-in-law the Duke was plotting to have her crowned queen. She reigned for a mere nine days before being imprisoned along with the Duke. They both were beheaded the following year; she was just 17 years old.
The square Tudor house you see today is hollow in the middle because it was built around the cloister garden of the convent. The house is now stone-faced and has superb interiors remodelled by Robert Adam. The lion, the crest of the Duke of Northumberland, which sits on top of the house originally stood in Northumberland Avenue in London and was brought here by barge.
The riverside of the Park, which was improved by Capability Brown, has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because it's a rare habitat on this stretch of the Thames, a tidal meadow that is flooded twice a day by the river.
Although difficult to now believe, Cheyne Walk on the river front in Chelsea was once just a village which attracted numerous writers and artists. Many of them are remembered by blue plaques on the houses where they lived, so look out for the names of Whistler, Turner and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who captured local scenes on canvas, and writers George Eliot, Henry James, Swinburne and Hilaire Belloc, to name but a few.
The Chelsea Embankment along which traffic thunders today was constructed in the 1870s on land reclaimed from the foreshore of the Thames and now separates Cheyne Walk from the river. There is, apparently, a secret passage under the Thames between Cremorne Pier and St Mary's Church on the south bank, but you'll not be allowed to explore since it's blocked.
Crosby Hall, an example of an old half-timbered mobile home, is in Chelsea. It was erected in Bishopsgate as early as 1466, survived the Great Fire of London of 1666 which destroyed most timber buildings, and was re-erected in Chelsea in 1910. Another building of note is the Royal Hospital founded by Charles II in 1682 as a home for old soldiers. The Chelsea Pensioners live there now, easily recognised by their 18th century style uniforms; red in summer and blue in winter.
Houses of Parliament
Westminster Abbey was originally built on an island in the Thames and mud flats used to be where the Houses of Parliament now stand. The old palace of Edward the Confessor was burnt down in 1834 and a competition to design a new one was won by Sir Charles Barry. His Gothic style building you see today took 12 years to build and has been the seat of Government since 1852. During the Second World War it was hit by 14 bombs and had to be partially rebuilt between 1948-50.
Big Ben, the bell in the famous St Stephen's clock tower, is named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first Commissioner of Works and weighs 14 tonnes.
It was cast in a foundry in Whitechapel Road and first rang in 1859. The large clock face measures 7.01 m (23 ft) across but can't quite compete with the clock on nearby Shell-Mex House which is 7.018 m (25 ft 3 in) wide, the biggest in Britain - it's nicknamed Big Benzine!
Look out for a flag flying from Victoria Tower and a lamp showing in Big Ben, it means Parliament is sitting.
Opened in 1894 and designed to allow tall ships to pass up and down the river, Tower Bridge rarely has to open these days. However the lifting gear hidden inside the bridge to raise the two 1,200 tonne bascules still does function.
A bus driver will well remember the time in 1952 when the bridge opened before the traffic stopped and the bus had to hop the opening gap over the middle of the river!
Tower Bridge dominates the landscape of the Pool of London and is one of London's best loved sights. You can walk freely over the bridge at road level, but you'd do better to pay the small fee which allows you to ascend to the walkway above, between the two Gothic towers. This gives great views of both the city and the river. Just upstream you'll see HMS Belfast, the largest British cruiser of the Second World War, now a museum, whilst downstream is St Katharine's Dock with its flotilla of interesting and old boats.
One of a series of anti-flood measures in the Thames estuary to prevent London being flooded, the Barrier was completed in 1982 at a cost of £535 million. The distinctive stainless steel hooded piers, which will have been visible to you for some time, hide four vast and six lesser shipping gates. When the barrier is open the gates lie flat on the river bed to allow shipping to pass, but when the weather, which is closely monitored, dictates they can be raised to close off the river in just 30 minutes.
The Thames Path goes under the control centre for the Barrier. Here you'll find etched into the concrete wall the 'Profile of the River Thames' by Simon Read. If you're finishing the whole of the Path this charts your journey from the source to the Barrier. If you've completed just a short section of this National Trail, maybe the etching will inspire you to visit more of it.
Fifty years later, in 1884, Greenwich was declared 0 degrees longitude at an international conference in Washington, USA and given Greenwich Mean Time so that standards in world time could be controlled.
Amongst the old docks and wharves south of the river lies Greenwich with its fine buildings and its place in world history. For it was here in 1833 that the first public time signal started operating at the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park which had been designed for Charles II by Le Notre, the creator of Versailles. Fifty years later, in 1884, Greenwich was declared 0 degrees longitude at an international conference in Washington, USA and given Greenwich Mean Time so that standards in world time could be controlled.
The Royal Naval College on the river front, designed by Sir Christopher Wren for Queen Mary II and completed in 1705, is on the site of The Palace of Placentia where Henry VIII and his two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, were all born. It was originally built as a very grand hospital for disabled seamen, but when they were awarded pensions in 1873 it became a college. Next to the College you'll see the Queen's House, designed by another famous architect, Inigo Jones, for James I. This is now part of the National Maritime Museum.
Just to the west of the College the tall masts and spars of the Cutty Sark will guide you to her in the dry dock at Greenwich Pier. Last of the great clipper ships she was built for speed to bring tea from China and, later, wool from Australia.