Thames Path Walk
September 24 - October 8, 2002
The idea for this trip actually began in 2000 when Will found some information on the Thames Path and a walking tour organized by another company. Will and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun. Our wives were supportive but thought we were nuts. Unfortunately that tour was fully booked and it was uncertain if it would be repeated. We did the "Archaeological Pub Crawl of Great Britain" that year as sort of a consolation.
This trip was booked through Instep Walking Holidays. Earlier this year we found the Instep site on the web and realized it was just what we were looking for. They would make all our reservations and see that the luggage was moved every day. Other than that we would be on our own. It all worked out perfectly. Instep has many years experience in providing self guided walking holidays and other walking services (including baggage transport). It is family run (Ann & Mick Hartley) and they provide an excellent service. - Highly Recommended.
Tuesday, September 24 - Houston
We flew from Houston on Continental. Our flight left Bush Intercontinental Airport on-time at 6:55 PM. We had good winds and it was a very fast flight. We hit 700 mph ground speed several times.
We arrived London Gatwick Airport over 30 minutes early, then sat on the ground for 20 minutes waiting on a gate. There was a Tube strike on so we took local trains in to Putney Station rather than taking the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and then having to take a taxi. We did have to change trains at Clapham Junction. The bags were a bit of a hassle but we mansged. We had to walk across the Thames dragging our bags as the Travel Inn was on the other side of the river. This was not too bad as the station was only about ¾ mile from the hotel. The Travel Inn is a modern budget hotel. The room and hotel were fine. Lunch was "Bangers and Mash" at the Eight Bells pub, just behind the hotel. The beer was London Pride (Fuller's). Both lunch and beer were very good.
In the afternoon, we took the train to Vauxhaul Station and then walked to Parliament and Westminster where we toured Westminster Cathedral. The next pub was the Red Lion on Whitehall. The beer was Tetley Bitter (Carlsberg-Tetley). We walked on to Waterloo Station and caught the train back to Putney. The pubs before dinner were: The Spotted Horse, Putney Bridge Rd. where we had a Young's Bitter, the Flute and Whistle where we had a Fuller's Special (ESB), and the Golden Lion, where we had a Bass Bitter.
Dinner was at Fisher's Fish and Chips on Fulham High Street. This was the best Fish and Chips I have ever had in London. Will agreed. We intend to return. Back to hotel and in bed by 8:30 PM. It was a long day! The Travel Inn is a nice modern economy hotel.
Up at 6:00 AM and breakfast at 6:30 AM. We were the first in the hotel restaurant. It was a full English Breakfast including fried bread and beans, but the quality was only fair. We left out bags at the hotel for pickup and began walking at 7:30 AM. Just before Richmond, we met two ladies who were walking the path in the normal direction (downstream). They were doing it in stages, a few days at a time. One was from Oxford. Both were in their late 60s early 70s.
We arrived in Richmond about 11:35 and stopped at the White Cross Hotel (on the Thames Path) for lunch. Had two Young's Bitters and Chicken Curry for lunch. We left the White Cross about 12:40. Our afternoon stop was at the Boaters Inn in Kingston (Lower Ham Rd). I had an Adnams Regatta and Will had a Greene King IPA. We continued on into Kingston and arrived at the Hotel Antoinette about 4:00 PM. Our luggage had arrived but a liter of Scotch was missing from Will's bag. I called the car hire firm and griped. They pled no knowledge.
First pub was The Spring Grove (13 Bloomfield Rd) where we had a Young's Bitter. They had no food. Went to The Kelly Arms (2 Glenthorne Rd) , had another Young's Bitter and ate Chicken and Mushroom Pie for dinner. It was fair. Returned to hotel.
The breakfast at the hotel was fair, but they did not start serving until 7:00 AM. We left the hotel about 8:10 and were back on the river at 8:30.
We walked through Hampton Court Palace and then on to Walton-On-Thames. Lunch was at The Anglers pub. The beer was Jack O'Legs (Tring) and lunch was Green Chicken Curry. Both were very good. After Lunch we continued on to Chertsey, arriving at the Crown Hotel (7 London Street) about 3:30 PM. Our luggage arrived in good shape and Will's bottle of Scotch mysteriously reappeared (same car hire firm) We had a couple of Young's Bitters in the hotel bar. Dinner was a Pizza at the ASK Restaurant (Italian, 1-3 London Street) just down from the hotel. Afterwards, we had a ____ beer at The King's Head (103 Guildford St ).
We left the Crown Hotel in Chertsey about 8:55 and were back on the river at 9:15. We arrived Staines about 11:15 and enjoyed the Saturday Street Market in Elmsleigh Centre. I bought a new battery for the cell phone. We had lunch at The George pub (2-8 High Street). The beer was Abbot Ale (Greene King), and lunch was Lamb Kashmiri. Both were very good.
We arrived in Windsor at 4:00PM. The first pub was the Royal Oak, just by the Riverside Train Station. The beer is Director's Bitter (Courage) (Jeanne and I enjoyed this pub on our visit to Windsor in 1996). We walked through town and found the Halycon House. We found three pubs and had dinner in the last: The Mitre, London Pride (Fuller's) (Will had Boddingtons' Draft Bitter); The Vansittart Arms, Caledonian Deuchars IPA, The Bexley Arms, Courage Best Bitter (Will had London Pride)
We left Windsor at 8:55 AM. It was very foggy. Rather than return through town, we proceeded directly to the A332 Bridge and crossed the river to the path on the North side. We arrived in Maidenhead at 12:30 and had lunch at the Thames Hotel. Lunch was Scampi and Chips and the beer was Ruddle's Best Bitter (Greene King). We continued on, arriving at Marlow at 4:30 PM. We passed up The Two Brewers to go to The George and Dragon. It was a modern pub. We left and crossed the river to check out the famous Compleat Angler. It was a fancy hotel. We returned to The Two Brewers and had a Marlow brewed IPA (Rebellion) and a Brakspear Bitter. I called Mr. Wells who advised us that there was no food near the B&B and that we should eat in town. We ate at Wimpies. I had a quarter pounder with fries and soda (£4.40!). Mr. Wells picked us up and we arrived at Merrie Hollow about 7:15 PM. This was our first non-en suite room but there were no other guests. Despite the non-en suite, this was a nice B&B and Mr. Wells was a gracious host.
Breakfast was porridge, at our request as we were becoming a bit tired of "Full English Breakfast". Mr. Wells drove us into Marlow about 8:30 and dropped us at the bridge.
We arrived at The Flower Pot in Aston about 11:30 AM. Lunch wasn't served until 12:00 AM so we had a Brakspear Bitter. Lunch was one of the poorest excuses for a hamburger I have ever had - a meat patty and a bun, nothing else. We proceeded on to Henley on Thames, arriving at The Angel about 2:30 PM. Beer was another Brakspear Bitter. We continued on to Shiplake Station arriving a little before 4:00 PM. I called for the arranged car, which arrived just after 4:00 PM and took us in to our B&B in Henley. We could have easily taken a train instead.
We visited two pubs before dinner. First was The Anchor where we had a Brakspear Oxford. Here we met Ken and Peter, local characters and Ruger, the brown Labrador gun dog and official greeter. The second pub was The Argyll where we had a Ruddles. Dinner was at the Himalayan Restaurant (Nepalese). Will had a HOT! Chicken Curry and I had a Mixed Curry. Dinner was excellent and the Nan was exceptional. Back to room at 7:50 PM. The room was en suite and quite nice. Our host, George Mills was a character, but he cooked a very nice breakfast.
This was our worst day. The long distance (too long), late start, and hills at the end made for a late arrival and our first blisters.
The hire car picked us up about 9:10 AM and returned us to Shiplake Station by 9:30 AM. We had lunch in Reading at The Crown on the Bridge (3 Bridge Street, Caversham Bridge). Lunch was an excellent Tuna Baguette (just tuna and mayonnaise on a toasted baguette) washed down with a Brakspear. After lunch we continued on to Whitchrch where we found the Thames Path's longest diversion from the riverside and a fairly steep climb. It was during this diversion that the blisters began to appear. We finally arrived in Streatley about 6:05 PM. Here, for the first time our directions failed us. We were coming from the river on B4009. The directions were, "Turn left at the Bull Pub. 150 yards, 1st left "The Coombs". We found The Bull, turned left on A329 and marched for at least 400 yards before giving up. We returned to the Bull, had a Bass and asked for directions. Correct directions are, "Turn left AFTER the Bull pub." We found Pennyfields (the B&B) with no trouble and Maureen, who was becoming concerned by now, greeted us with a glass of wine. We returned to The Bull for dinner where I had an excellent Filet Mignon. A long day that ended well. This (Pennyfields) was probably our nicest B&B. The Vanstones, Maureen and Roger are gracious hosts who know how to cater to guests.
Roger took us to Wallingford Station in his 1968 Bentley. This saved almost 6 miles and avoided a 1 ½ mile walk along the very busy A329. We began walking at Wallingford about 8:30 AM. We arrived at The Barley Mow in Clifton Hampden about 12:40 PM. The beer was Caledonian IPA and lunch was a Ploughman's with Stilton (very good). We left the Barley Mow about 1:15 and stopped at Clifton Lock where Will had a lunch of canned tuna.
We arrived Abingdon at 4:00 PM and found the B&B with no problems. The luggage had arrived but they had scrambled the reservations. No twin bed rooms available, only a double. We chewed them out and adjourned to The King's Head and Bell while the proprietor sorted out the rooms. The beer was an Abbot Ale. We returned to find we now had a twin bed room and all was well. Dinner was at the Thai Orchid Restaurant where I had Tam Yam soup and a hot beef dish (both very good). This was our second non-en suite room. This was the poorest B&B and our second poorest room. It was, however, clean and certainly adequate.
We left Abingdon at 8:30AM and walked to the Abingdon Weir where we found the path closed. We retraced our steps and found the diversion went through the Abbey ruins. The diversion was well marked for those walking downstream, but not at all for those going upstream. We left Abingdon for the second time at 9:30 AM. We arrived at Sandford Lock at 11:55 AM. Lunch was at The King's Arms. The beer was Courage Best Bitter and lunch was a Cheddar Ploughman's (good). We proceeded to Osney Bridge in Oxford and took a local bus to Cummnor Hill, arriving at the Gables B&B about 3:15. The B&B is aptly named and our room and en suite bath were truly in the gables.
The nearest pub was The Seacourt Bridge Inn where we had a Pedigree and a Banks. Dinner was across the street at the Bilash Restaurant (Indian). The food was very good. The Gables qualifies as our second best B&B only because of the room we had (in the Gables). The en suite bath was particularly interesting (see photo). We had to kneel in the tub to shower. Despite the bathing difficulties, we found the Gables to be an excellent place to stay and Sally and Tony Topics are excellent hosts.
Today was our day off. We took the bus in to George Street and signed up for a 2PM walking tour of Oxford. This was graduation day and most colleges were closed to tours. We were assured that the 2PM tour would be able to tour at least one college. We wandered through the Covered Market and ended up at The Hobgoblin where we had a Titanic Best Bitter. Next we wandered to The Grape where we finally found Old Speckeled Hen. Lunch was a Cornish Meat pie in the Covered Market. Mine (the Tin Miner's Traditional) was too big and a little dry. Next time I'll know to just get a regular Traditional. The next pub was the White Horse, a famous pub sandwiched between ____ Booksellers. The beer was Timothy Taylor's Landlord. We were beginning to see a lot of Graduates in their gowns.
We had a nice guide for the walking tour. She took us into Queen's College and we saw the Dining Hall, the Gardens, and the Chapel. Our guide explained that the Library, the other key component of an Oxford College, was always off-limits to tourists.
The next pub was The Bear, a famous old pub. The beer was Bombadier. Next was the Old Tom where we found Old Speckeled Hen again. The Publican asked us to try a couple of bottled ales which we did, but told him that they did not compare to Old Speckled Hen.
We returned to the Cumnor Hill area and had dinner at the Bilash Restaurant again. I had Chicken Koresh (excellent). We crossed the street to The Seacourt Bridge and had a Pedigree for a nightcap.
We left the Gables about 8:55 AM and walked to Osney Bridge, arriving at 9:25 (about 1 ½ miles). We spent some time wandering through the ruins of Godstow Abbey and then stopped for a beer at The Trout Inn at 11:00. The Trout Inn is the old Abbey Hospice. We continued upstream for a picnic lunch at King's Lock, the first "Paddle & Rhymer" lock we've seen. The lock keeper's friendly dog helped us with lunch. We left King Lock about 12:10 and arrived Eynsham Lock at 1:10. After a brief rest we continued on, arriving at Bablock Hythe about 3:05. The pub was The Ferryman Inn and the beer was Ruddles Country. Continuing on, we passed Northmore Lock at 4:05 and finally arrived at Newbridge and The Rose Revived pub at 5:00 PM. We had an Old Speckled Hen and called Mr. Curtis who picked us up and drove us to his B&B in Southmoor. Dinner, Stilton and Broccoli Soup and Spaghetti was at The Hind Head. The beer was Moreland Bitter.
This was our third non-en suite B&B. It was clean and comfortable but not in the same class as Pennyfield or the Gables.
We had an early breakfast at 7:30 AM. This was supposed to be another 17+ mile day but we decided there was no way. We asked Mr. Curtis to take us to Duxford Farm rather than return to Newbridge. Although we had to take a cross-country trail (well marked) from Duxford Farm to Tenfoot Bridge, this saved 3 miles and gave us a reasonable walk for the last day. We were at Ten Foot Bridge by 9:05, Tadpole Bridge by 10:05 and Rushey Lock by 10:55. We arrived at Radcot Bridge at 12:55 and tried The Swan for lunch. The beer was Ruddles and Abbot Ale but the food selection was poor. We had a picnic lunch instead. We continued on, stopping at St. John's Lock (the last lock on the river) for pictures with "Father Thames". We arrived at The New Inn Hotel in Lechlade at 4:15 PM.
We did it! We checked in and headed for the pubs. We started in the hotel. Beer is Archer's Best Bitter. Next is The Swan. This one looks good for dinner but it's too early. The beer is Flowers Original (Boddington). Next is the Crown Inn, beer is Worthington Bitter (Burton). Next is the Red Lion, beer is Flowers Original. This one appears to be a good place to eat, but no food on Sunday night. We begin to worry. Back to the Swan. They also have no food on Sunday night. Our choices are the Tandori Restaurant or the New Inn Hotel. We go Indian again. The Chicken Jalfrezi was HOT! and very good. The Nan was excellent.
The room at the New Inn Hotel was large and adequate but we found the worst shower of the whole trip in the bathroom. The hand held shower head was position sensitive. It ran boiling hot when held at the rim of the tub and stone cold when raised two feet. We were not impressed with the hotel pub or the restaurant. Overall, this qualified as the poorest room of all.
Our car picked us up at 8:15 AM ant took us to Swindon where we caught the 9:20 train to London, Paddington. We arrived Paddington at 10:25 and were in the Travel In at Putney Bridge by 11:25 (via Tube). We toured the Tower of London (again for both of us), then proceeded to Harrod's for Teddy Bears as requested by the wives. On return we had a Bass Ale at The Eight Bells. Later we had a London Pride at The Golden Lion and then dinner at Fishers Fish and Chips on Fulham High Street. It was still excellent.
Tuesday, October 8 - London to Houston
We requested a cab for 6:00 AM. He picked us up at 5:55 and deposited us at Victoria Station at 6:10. The 6:15 train was waiting so we boarded immediately and purchased tickets on board. We arrived Gatwick at 6:45. There were no problems with check-in and we had a croissant and coffee to spend our extra pounds. Our plane left on-time at 9:55 and we had a smooth flight back to Houston.
Total Walked - 131 miles
It was a great holiday and the Instep arrangements were virtually flawless. Two days, however, were scheduled for 17-18 miles and that is too far in our view. We were most comfortable at 12 to 14 miles a day which allowed for a bit of sightseeing and a fairly early (4-5 o'clock) conclusion to the day's hike. Of course one always wants to do the whole thing, but we feel it would be better to skip a few of the less interesting bits of the walk in the interest of somewhat shorter days. If we were to do it over again, we would make only a couple of changes.
We would take an extra sightseeing day at Windsor. Oxford was too far for the first break. We probably should have picked Windsor for the break, but even better would be to take a sightseeing break in both.
No 17-18 mile days. The Shiplake to Streatly piece would be fine if there were a way to skip over Reading. There is not much to see on the path through Reading. A taxi through Reading would turn this into a reasonable day -- even with the Whitchurch diversion at the end. We did this same trick on the last day, stopping at Newbridge and continuing on from Duxford Farm. We don't think we missed anything.
This was a great holiday and we hope to do another towpath walk (arranged by Instep) in the future.
Copyright © 2003 by J. E. Rickenbacker. All rights reserved.