Planning a Thames Path walk

Last updated 1 March 2017

Statue of Father Thames at St John’s Lock, Lechlade

Father Thames, standing guard over St John's Lock, Lechlade

The River Thames isn’t the longest river in the UK – that honour goes to the Severn instead – however the Thames is certainly the best known, and arguably the mightiest of the UK’s rivers. Over the years it’s been a key trading route, both for the import and export of goods to the country, or for transporting items internally as well. Without the Thames, London simply wouldn’t be the city it is today.

Given the river’s importance, it’s only natural that someone would want to make a walking trail that follows it. That’s the Thames Path National Trail, and it’s a National Trail like no others.

It doesn’t follow the whole of the river’s journey – it stops some miles off the coast at the Thames Barrier – but the trail follows a good chunk of it. And as it goes along, you see the river change. At one end it’s a narrow rural waterway, and at the other, a massive expanse of industry and commerce.

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Inside This Guide

  1. What is the walk like?
  2. The route
  3. Planning an itinerary
  4. Finding and booking accommodation
  5. Getting to/from the Thames Path
  6. Guide Books and Maps
  7. And finally, and any questions

What is the walk like?

Geese and a barge, on the River Thames near Mapledurham

Walking on the Thames Path will take you on a journey. Whichever end of the trail you start from, you’ll walk and watch the river change.

The Thames goes through many changes. There’s the quiet, rural Thames near the source; barely bothered by visitors. Then there’s the Thames at leisure, passing through riverside towns and villages, where the water is visited by powerboats and barges. As you get closer to London, the towns get bigger, and the earthen paths begin to give way to tarmac and paving flags. There’s royal Thames with castles and palaces, historic Thames as you visit the site where the Magna Carta was signed. And then there’s suburban Thames, before arriving near Westminster for full on tourist Thames. Finally you leave the centre of London and head to industrial Thames where business and commerce rules.

This makes the Thames Path one of the most distinctive and varied walking trails in the country.

By the nature of the fact that it follows a river, the Thames Path is a pretty flat walk with no real hills to speak of. At many points, it is paved, making walking easy, and for most of the trail there are lots of facilities available.

Thanks to good paths, the vast majority of the Thames Path can be walked all year round. There may be times where there may when flooding may cause problems, however should this occur, generally there are plenty of options for bypassing any problematic areas that arise.

However this is not true of the section between the source and Oxford. This section is especially prone to flooding in winter months, and there are often few alternative routes. If it is under flood, you can end up having to do substantial detours, as the river spills over into many fields. Even paths some distance from the river, that you may think will be ideal alternatives, can be under water and un-usuable. As such, we recommend that the section between the source and Oxford is best attempted between May and October.

The route

From the source to the Thames Barrier, you can see the route of the Thames Path in the map above. Note that this is a guide to the route only, and whilst pretty accurate, is not guaranteed to be 100% correct.

The main Thames Path is shown in red, with the Thames Path Extension (from the Thames Barrier to Crayford Ness) shown in green.

Planning an itinerary

Sign above a tunnel denoting the eastern end of the Thames Path

180 miles from here to the source of the Thames

For centuries the Thames was a hugely important trading route, allowing goods to be shipped to and from the capital, and exported across the world.

The result of this is that numerous towns and villages grew up along side the river, a fact that is a huge boon to the Thames Path walker. It means that, for the majority of its length at least, the Thames Path has plenty of facilities along its route. And that means plenty of options for splitting up your walk.

Because there are so many options, we’ve not produced a series of specific itineraries, but instead split the trail up into a number of “sections”. Some of these sections are longer than others, and in most cases you will probably want to combine multiple “sections” into a single days walk.

Once you hit the Greater London boundary, the ability to chunk up the Thames Path in different ways increases enormously, thanks to an increase in river crossings and the presence of a highly frequent efficient public transport network (any Londoners who are tempted to laugh at this comment would be well advised to spend a week outside the capital relying on public transport, especially late at night.) As such, this section has been split into two sections: one for the Thames Path ‘in the country’ and another for the Thames Path ‘in Greater London.’ Like the official guide book, our definition of ‘country’ is from the source to Hampton Court. And for ‘Greater London’ it’s Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier.

The ‘country’ section

Each of the locations listed below has accommodation, shops and at least one pub, unless otherwise noted. Generally they are major towns or large villages. Any places with limited accommodation are noted. Where there is a railway station available on or near the route, this is marked with a *.

Stage From To Distance Notes
Miles Km
1 Source of the Thames Kemble *
2 Kemble * Ashford Keynes
3 Ashford Keynes Cricklade 7 11¼
4 Cricklade Lechlade 11 17¾
5 Lechlade Kelmscott [1]
6 Kelmscott Newbridge 14 22½ [2]
7 Newbridge Oxford * 14 22½
8 Oxford * Radley * 6
9 Radley * Abingdon 6
10 Abingdon Culham * 6 [3]
11 Culham * Wallingford 11¼ 18
12 Wallingford Cholsey *
13 Cholsey * Goring and Streatley * 4
14 Goring and Streatley * Pangbourne * 7
15 Pangbourne * Tilehurst * 5¼km
16 Tilehurst * Reading *
17 Reading * Henley-on-Thames * 14
18 Henley-on-Thames * Marlow * 13¾
19 Marlow * Bourne End *
20 Bourne End * Cookham * 2
21 Cookham * Maidenhead *
22 Maidenhead * Windsor * 10½
23 Windsor * Staines * 13¼
24 Staines * Shepperton * 9
25 Shepperton * Hampton Court * 10

Notes

  1. Limited accommodation at the village pub only. Alternative accommodation is at Lechlade. No shop.
  2. Limited accommodation at the Rose Revived pub. Alternative accommodation can be found a few miles off route at Brighthamton, or Northmoor. Alternatively, a bus or taxi ride will take you to the towns of Abindgon or Witney.
  3. Culham station is a mile away from the village. Culham has no shop.

The ‘Greater London’ section

Once you hit Greater London, the ways of breaking up the Thames Path increase enormously. There are also plenty of tourist-related diversions that you may want to enjoy whilst breaking your walk. Because of this, we have provided distances between locations where there is a nearby railway or London Underground stations, although the whole London section is rarely far from a bus service as well. For added complexity, for most of the London section there are two alternatives – you can walk on the North Bank or the South Bank. In our experience, you’ll have a better time on the South Bank. It stays closer to the river, and has better views. However where the section can be walked on the North Bank, we have included that distance too.

Stage From To Distance (North Bank) Distance (South Bank) Notes
Miles Km Miles Km
1 Hampton Court * Kingston-upon-Thames * 3 5
2 Kingston-upon-Thames * Teddington * 2
3 Teddington * Richmond *
4 Richmond * Kew Bridge * 4 3 5
5 Kew Bridge * Hammersmith/Barnes * 4 4 [1]
6 Hammersmith/Barnes * Putney Bridge * [1]
7 Putney Bridge * Vauxhall Bridge * 6 6
8 Vauxhall Bridge * Westminster Bridge * 1 1
9 Westminster Bridge * Waterloo Bridge * ¾ ½ 1
10 Waterloo Bridge * Blackfriars Bridge * ½ 1 ½ 1
11 Blackfriars Bridge * London Bridge * 2
12 London Bridge * Tower Bridge * ½ 1 ½ 1
13 Tower Bridge * Wapping/Rotherhithe * 1 [2]
14 Wapping/Rotherhithe * Greenwich Foot Tunnel * 6 [2]
15 Greenwich Foot Tunnel * Thames Barrier * 4 6 [3]

Notes

  1. Distance to Hammersmith for north bank, and Barnes for South Bank
  2. Distance to Wapping for north bank, and Rotherhithe for South Bank
  3. Nearest railway station is Woolwich Dockyard. Alternatively, follow the Thames Path Extension to Woolwich
    1. The Thames Path Extension

      Although the western end of the Thames Path National Trail is at the Thames Barrier, you don’t need to end there as the Thames Path Extension carries on another ten miles to Crayford Ness. This is fully waymarked and generally referred to as the Thames Path on signposts, but uses a picture of a Thames Sailing Barge as a logo instead of the National Trail acorn. It is shown on the map above in green.

      Whether it is worth it depends though if you’d rather end your walk at the sleek metallic majesty of the Thames Barrier, or at a quiet patch of land near a scrap metal yard.

      Still interested? These are the distances:

      Stage From To Distance
      Miles Km
      1 Thames Barrier * Woolwich (Foot Tunnel) * 2
      2 Woolwich (Royal Arsenal) * Erith * 7 11¼
      3 Erith * Crayford Ness 2

      Note that there is no public transport Crayford Ness. There are two options: walk back to Erith, or carry on follow initially following the London LOOP before following the LOOP link signs to Slade Green railway station.

      Breaking the walk up for several trips

      The Thames Path passes many railway stations along its route, meaning its extremely easy to split the route up into several trips. Indeed, if you live in London, or near the Thames, it’s an absolute doddle to walk most of the Thames Path in day hikes. The options are endless.

      The one section that is an exception to this is the section from the source to Oxford. Unless you live locally, this is likely to require a four day trip to complete this section as there are no railway stations, and limited public transport.

      Extending your walk

      As well as the Thames Path Extension, the Thames Path intersects with a large number of walking trails on its journey. There are too many to list here, but notable trails include the Ridgeway and the London LOOP. At the western end, near the source, the Wysis Way runs for 55 miles/88km and connects with the Offa’s Dyke National Trail at Monmouth, and the Cotswold Way National Trail.

      Rest days

      The country section doesn’t have that many sections well worth spending a whole day in, although there are several towns like Abingdon and Henley where an hour or two spent exploring, would be a hugely re-warding experience.

      The most obvious place to stop is the university city of Oxford, where you can easily spend a day wandering down its narrow streets and checking out its sights.

      Once you hit Greater London, the Thames Path takes you past numerous tourist attractions. Indeed it’s well worth, if you have the time, to walk shorter days in Greater London and take in some of the fantastic sights on the route. Obvious contenders include Hampton Court Palace, Tate Britain, the Houses of Parliament, the South Bank (including the London Eye, Borough Market, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and maritime Greenwich. And that’s just the options that don’t involve leaping on a bus or a tube train. Even if you live in London, there’s plenty to see and explore.

      Finding and booking accommodation

      The Magna Carta Memorial, Runnymede

      The Magna Carta Memorial. Celebrating a legendary document, just a short way from the Thames Path.

      As it travels through many larger towns and villages, you’ll have no problems with finding accommodation. The Thames Path National Trail website includes a detailed accommodation guide, although inevitably its not comprehensive, especially in London (far from it.) That means alternative accommodation can be found using your favourite search engine.

      If staying in London, you may find it easier to stay in the same place for a couple of nights, and use the capital’s excellent public transport to get to and from your accommodation.

      Hostels and bunkbarns

      The Thames Path is served by a number of hostels, although most are in London. Those near to the trail are:

      The YHA also has several other London hostels, and a full listing can be found in the London section of their website. There are also independent hostels, although often targeted at a younger clientèle.

      Camping

      Most of the camping opportunities on the Thames Path are in the western end, in the more rural sections. This includes the option to stay the night on some lock islands. The Thames Path accommodation guide includes known places to camp.

      Due to the nature of the trail, wild camping is not generally advised or possible. Under English law you are not legally allowed to wild camp without permission of the landowner.

      Getting to/from the Thames Path

      First Great Western train at Tilehurst station

      A train sits at Tilehurst station, just metres away from the Thames Path.

      As has been noted above, the Thames Path is extremely well served by the National Rail network in the country section, with most stations having regular services to London – either direct or by changing once. Train times and connections can be found on the National Rail website.

      In the Greater London section of the trail, the Thames Path is extremely well served by public transport in the form of National Rail, London Underground or London’s extensive bus network. To plan journeys in London, visit the Transport for London website.

      Guide Books and Maps

      Me, standing next to a giant map of the Thames, in a subway

      Sometimes you just need to stand next to a giant map on a wall

      First up, guide books, and you simply can’t go wrong with the two official guide books, published by Aurum Press. Both were last updated in 2016.

      The Thames Path in the Country by David Sharp and Tony Gowers, covers the trail between the source and Hampton Court. It includes plenty of information about the trail, as well as Ordnance Survey Explorer scale (1:25,000) maps for the whole route, and show plenty of the area around the route as well. The book also includes information about public transport options.

      The Thames Path in London by Phobe Clapham, is the book for the London section between Hampton Court and the Thames Barrier, with detailed coverage for both the North Bank and South Bank options. It also includes the Thames Path Extension, enabling you to extend your walk to Crayford Ness if you wish.

      As well as masses of detail, and local information, the book has one glorious feature: it’s maps. It uses the Ordnance Survey’s 1:10,000 scale. This is an easy to use street map, with road names and everything. This is incredibly useful when you’re trying to navigate your way through the Greater London area. As far as we know, this is the only Thames Path guidebook to use these maps, and the benefits of navigating the Thames Path this way should not be underestimated!

      For planning a multi-day walk, you may well find the Trailblazer Thames Path guide book to be of great benefit. These incredibly detailed books list a multitude of accommodation providers, pubs, and other services on the trail. They also include maps and walk instructions, although the maps are hand drawn, and we prefer the detail provided by a proper map.

      When it comes to maps, an excellent choice is the A-Z Thames Path Adventure Atlas. This range of maps are an excellent alternative to carrying individual Ordnance Survey maps, and gives you the whole of the trail – and a good area around it – in a single, slim volume. The maps are at the Ordnance Survey Explorer scale of 1:25,000. This is not ideal in London, and the Thames Path in London’s maps are better, but for the rest of the route, this is a great book to have.

      As ever, there is a Harveys Thames Path map, at Harvey’s scale of 1:40,000. The scale is too small to be truly useful in London, however may be useful in other areas. However generally for the Thames Path, we recommend the higher scale of the Explorer maps as you will benefit from the extra detail.

      Finally, if you fancy filling your rucksacks with paper maps containing the fine work of the Ordnance Survey, then these are the ones you need:

      We thoroughly recommend the Explorer scale, and the Landrangers really won’t help you once you hit London.

      And finally, and any questions

      Topiary sculpture of a child riding on a bird

      The Thames Path, for all your topiary needs.

      If you’ve got this far, then hopefully you’re preparing to put your walking boots on very soon. I hope you have an excellent walk.

      And if you’ve any questions about the Thames Path, feel free to ask them below and we’ll do the best to answer those we can.

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