Top 8 Highlights of the Thames Path Walk

By Mark Wright

I have been lucky enough to enjoy two amazing walking holidays on the Thames Path. During the heatwave of 2022 my daughter Ebony and I walked the 59 miles from Oxford to Marlow, and the following summer we returned to continue our journey with a 58 mile walk to Westminster.

In my previous blogs, Reflections on the River Thames, and Return to the River Thames I focused mainly on the countryside around us, the fact there were hardly any hills, the food we ate, and in large part, just the experience of sharing extended time together in the outdoors and the benefit that can bring to our wellbeing. Here however I take a more specific look at some of the cities, towns and villages we visited, and what they offer both in terms of the Thames Path walk itself and as additional days for further exploration. If you’re wondering the reason for the odd number, and already the quick witted among you are saying it’s an even number, I set out to list my top five highlights. It immediately became six, and in the end, as you can see, numbered eight. Once read, I’m sure you’ll agree all are worthy of inclusion.

Oxford

Our introduction to the Thames Path was the city of Oxford, and as I said at the time, one night in Oxford isn’t really enough. Despite having a pretty good exploration over the course of an evening and again the following morning, I recall we left with a sense of sadness, knowing we really would’ve liked to have stayed longer.

Described in Matthew Arnold’s poem Thyrsis as the ‘City of Dreaming Spires,’ Oxford is renowned for its prestigious university and stunning architecture. Visitors can expect to find historic colleges such as Christ Church, Magdalen, and Balliol, each with their own captivating stories and beautiful gardens. The Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe, showcases a vast collection of rare manuscripts and books. Along the cobbled streets, charming pubs, bookshops, and cafes offer a friendly atmosphere to relax and soak in the city’s intellectual vibe. The Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest public museum, houses an eclectic array of art and artifacts spanning centuries.

With its rich cultural heritage, academic excellence, and picturesque surroundings, Oxford promises a truly enchanting experience for visitors of all interests. Just make sure you book an additional day so as not to leave with a heavy heart.

Abingdon

Arriving in Abingdon we were immediately struck by the beauty of this historic market town. Any thoughts that the remainder of the week wouldn’t live up to the magic of Oxford soon disappeared.

Abingdon boasts a rich history, charming architecture, and scenic surroundings. Take time to explore the historic town centre which features well-preserved medieval buildings, picturesque streets, and a traditional market place. The town’s iconic landmarks include the magnificent Abingdon Abbey, founded in the 7th century, and the elegant County Hall, a grand neoclassical building dating back to the 17th century. Abingdon also hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year, including music festivals, art exhibitions, and theatrical performances, adding to the town’s vibrant atmosphere.

With its scenic beauty and lively cultural scene, Abingdon offers visitors a truly memorable experience in the heart of Oxfordshire. We will certainly return one day.

Goring

We didn’t actually stay overnight in Goring during our walk on the Central Thames Path, however we did make time in the afternoon for a good look around, and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Nestled on the edge of the picturesque Chiltern Hills, Goring delivers a quintessential English village experience with its charming streets, historic landmarks, and stunning natural surroundings. It is of course famed for the idyllic Goring Gap, where the River Thames meanders gently through lush meadows flanked by wooded hillsides. The iconic Goring and Streatley Bridge, a graceful stone structure spanning the river, provided a picturesque backdrop to rest and enjoy our afternoon snack. The village itself boasts quaint streets lined with historic buildings, traditional pubs, and boutique shops.

Goring is the midway point on another of our holidays, The Ridgeway, a delightful 87 mile trail spanning the North Wessex Downs and the Chiltern Hills, separated of course by … you guessed it, Goring Gap.

Sonning

There are some places you visit where your immediate reaction is, I’d like to live here. Sonning is one of those very places! In his travelogue, Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome described Sonning as ‘The most fairy-like little nook on the whole river.’

This charming Berkshire village offers visitors a serene retreat with its idyllic riverside setting, historic architecture, and scenic splendour. At the heart of the village lies the iconic Sonning Bridge, an impressive stone arch structure spanning the river and serving up stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The village’s rich cultural heritage is evident in landmarks such as the picturesque St. Andrew’s Church. Sonning’s quaint streets are lined with delightful properties and the historic Grade II* listed timber-framed village pub provides a perfect setting for travellers and locals alike to sit out and share tales on a summer’s evening. Of course you’re not reliant on visiting the pub for friendly conversation. As I described in my blog Reflections on the River Thames, one of the highlights of our trip was talking with a gentleman tending to his son’s garden in the village. He was a lovely gent, such great company, and he took a real interest in Ebony and I and life in the Lake District. We’d have happily spent the entire evening talking with him.

With its timeless charm, natural beauty, and peaceful ambiance, Sonning, like Oxford, was a difficult place to wave goodbye to.

Henley-on-Thames

Henley-on-Thames was another location we walked through without staying overnight, but just had to spend a little more time exploring. We could sense the town had far too much to offer to simply remain true to the path and pass on by.

Synonymous with rowing excellence and riverside charm Henley offers visitors a delightful blend of historic landmarks, scenic beauty, and cultural vibrancy. The town is renowned for its annual Royal Regatta, a prestigious rowing event attracting competitors and spectators from around the world. Henley is also home to the River and Rowing Museum, celebrating the town’s rich rowing heritage and showcasing a fascinating collection of artifacts.

We explored the charming streets, marveled at historic buildings, browsed the boutique shops, and wrestled with which of the quaint cafes to visit. Our conclusion? … With its idyllic setting, vibrant atmosphere, and rich heritage, Henley-on-Thames offers a memorable experience for visitors seeking relaxation, recreation, and riverside charm.

Marlow

Marlow is perhaps the most memorable of all the places we’ve visited on the Thames Path. We’ve had the good fortune to stay there twice. In 2022 we celebrated our Oxford to Marlow walk with good food and live music. The following year we were reacquainted with our charming hosts as we prepared for our walk to Westminster, which you can read about in my blog Return to the River Thames.

Visitors to this picturesque town should expect a vibrant atmosphere with its lovely streets full of independent shops and inviting cafes. The town is renowned for its culinary scene, with several award-winning restaurants serving up delectable cuisine. Marlow Bridge, a graceful Georgian suspension bridge offers stunning views along the river and is a delightful spot for a leisurely after dinner stroll.

As with many other locations along the Thames Path there are opportunities for boating and river cruises. Marlow is also home to the annual Marlow Town Regatta & Festival, a prestigious rowing event attracting competitors and spectators from around the country.

Quite simply, Marlow exudes charm and tranquility, and whether you’re there to celebrate the end of one section of the trail, prepare for the next, or even enjoying a midway stop over on the full Thames Path, you are assured of an unforgettable experience.

Richmond Upon Thames

Leaving Petersham Meadows and walking into Richmond upon Thames on a glorious summer’s afternoon we immediately sensed we were in for a great evening. We’d enjoyed an idyllic day of walking and we were ready to eat well and enjoy a refreshing drink or two by the riverside.

Richmond upon Thames, in southwest London, serves up a charming blend of historic landmarks, scenic beauty, and vibrant culture. At the heart of the town lies Richmond Green, a spacious and verdant public square surrounded by elegant Georgian townhouses and lined with trees. Nearby, Richmond Park, one of London’s largest Royal Parks, offers acres of tranquil green space, perfect for some quiet time ahead of walking into Westminster. Richmond is also home to Richmond Palace, a former royal residence dating back to the 16th century, and the iconic Richmond Bridge, a handsome stone arch bridge spanning the river. The town’s bustling high street is dotted with boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, and cosy cafes, making it a popular destination for shopping and dining.

With its idyllic setting, rich history, and vibrant atmosphere, Richmond upon Thames is a wonderful overnight location in the heart of London’s countryside. We certainly enjoyed it to the full.

Westminster

The final leg of our 2023 holiday saw us make our way to Westminster. We savoured the leafy walk through Battersea Park knowing this would be our last encounter with anything that resembled countryside. Westminster however, although completely different to everything we’d experienced so far on the Thames Path, was a hugely enjoyable experience. As you might imagine it was incredibly busy and it was all rather exciting. After freshening up and enjoying some good food we walked the streets till dark, no doubt adding another four or five miles to our overall tally, and rounding off our holiday by standing beneath Big Ben as it struck ten o’clock marking time for the late evening news.

For readers who maybe aren’t  aware, Westminster, situated right in the heart of London, is a historic and iconic district renowned for its political significance, majestic landmarks, and vibrant cultural scene. At the centre of Westminster lies the Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament. This architectural masterpiece showcases stunning Gothic Revival design and is a symbol of British democracy. Nearby, Westminster Abbey stands as a magnificent example of medieval architecture and serves as the coronation church for British monarchs. Visitors can explore the bustling streets surrounding Parliament Square, where historic monuments and statues pay tribute to influential figures such Benjamin Disraeli, Nelson Mandela and Millicent Fawcett. Westminster is also home to Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the King, and the expansive St. James’s Park, offering tranquil green spaces and picturesque views of London’s skyline.

With its grand architecture and cultural landmarks, Westminster is an enthralling destination for anyone walking the Thames Path.


If Mark has inspired you to walk some of, or perhaps all of, the Thames Path, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d be delighted to answer any questions you may have. You can  email us [email protected] or call 017687 72335. If you haven’t already done so, why not take a little time to read Mark’s previous blogs  Reflections on the River Thames, and Return to the River Thames.

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The whole trip was just fantastic, I have recommended it and you to so many people. All we had to think about was the walk each day and what we were going to see. The organisation of it all was faultless and left us to just enjoy it all.

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The staff are very friendly and efficient, the info packs with supporting info are great, the accommodation options are varied and excellent.

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