Thames Path Stage 19 (Part 1): Lechlade to Inglesham

Published 11 January 2017

Statue of Father Thames at St John's Lock, Lechlade
Father Thames, standing guard over St John’s Lock, Lechlade

It was with a hint of trepidation that I awoke from my slumber. What would the Thames Path offer for me today? Storm Imogen had blown herself out, but given my experience the day before, it seemed extremely likely there would be some flooding on the Thames somewhere. How many detours I would need to take? Would I have to spend yet another day walking down busy roads rather than enjoy the river I’d come to see?

I did have some cause for optimism though. Looking at the map, it transpired that beyond the town of Lechlade, the Thames Path kept its distance from the river, and where it did get close, there were a ready supply of alternative routes and roads I’d be able to take. Perhaps naively, I felt there was cause for hope.

But first, I had to find my way back to the Thames Path.

The Five Alls pub, Filkins
The Five Alls, Filkins

My abrupt change of accommodation the previous night meant I was some way from the river; the Five Alls pub that I’d stayed in was in the village of Filkins, a few miles down a main road from the town of Lechlade-on-Thames, where I’d be able to pick up the Thames path again.

It would mean missing the section between Kelmscott and Lechlade, which was unfortunate but not a major disaster. Looking at the map, it looked like a section of the walk that would be particularly prone to flooding; the path mostly ran in a narrow area between the river and a field boundary, and if the river had expanded into the field, I’d be completely stuck. So, the previous afternoon – before I’d even known I wouldn’t be staying at Kelmscott – I’d decided that I wouldn’t even bother walking that stretch, but would walk down the road instead. It would be a far safer option.

Now with my plans forcibly revised, there was little point in making the extensive detour back to Kelmscott just so I could walk down one bit of tarmac that was a bit closer to the river. Let’s face it, one road is pretty much the same as another.

With my plan made, I pulled on my boots – still sodden from the previous day – and headed out to a grey, but at least rain free morning.

From the Five Alls pub, getting to Lechlade was simply a task of walking down a busy A-road for a while; a road that thankfully came equipped with a wide verge, and a mile or so along, a footpath. Although I could easily have bypassed it, my intention was to head to St John’s Lock on the east of Lechlade.

The lock keepers cottage at St John's Lock
St John’s Lock – the first on the Thames

In some respects St John’s Lock is like any other lock on the Thames; it has gates, a smart looking lock-keepers cottage, and so on. But the lock is also special as it is the highest lock on the river, and it also marks the navigational limit of the Thames for most vessels. At one time boats could make their way beyond Lechlade and connect up with the Thames and Severn canal, however the canal was abandoned in 1927. As for the river, only smaller boats can make it upstream to Cricklade, and they can only do it when conditions are favourable. And that means most go no further than Lock Number 1.

And the conditions at Lechlade were certainly not favourable, and there was little chance of anyone was going through St John’s Lock. As I got nearby, all I could see was water. The Thames had spilled over into the adjoining fields on an epic scale, and the water levels were very high.

Beyond the lock, the Thames Path too was heavily submerged. I stood at a gate, idly looking at the water covered path in front of me. It was clear I wasn’t going to be following it from here – not that I’d expected to – although the conditions weren’t putting everyone off.

“You just come from that way?” asked a hardy soul decked out in waders and waterproofs, with two bouncy dogs dancing around his legs.

I replied with the negative.

“I just came to see how high it was,” he went on. “Last time it was like this, the bank was high enough to get through. Think I’ll give it a go.” and with that, off he went, with his dogs splashing merrily alongside him.

Halfpenny Bridge at Lechlade - surrounded by heavily flooded fields.
Flooded fields and Halfpenny Bridge at Lechlade

Waders, I thought. That’s what I needed for this trip. And that’s just what I didn’t have. For, in many years of walking, I’d never actually needed them. They weren’t exactly on my normal packing list. And with a shrug, I went off to explore the rest of St John’s Lock.

The remainder of St John’s Lock’s attractions consisted of a public toilet, a shed that containing a display about attempts to restore the old Thames and Severn canal, and a statue of Father Thames that had originally been displayed in the grounds of the Crystal Palace Exhibition in South London in 1854, before later being installed at the lock after several years spent at the source of the Thames.

And with that admired, I went in search of a path I could actually use. I’d spotted on the map a byway called Landscombe Lane ran roughly in the same direction of the river, and would eventually meet up with the Thames Path on the other side of Lechlade. It seemed like a perfect plan, although one swiftly abandoned when I found that it too was heavily flooded and completely inaccessible.

Duly consulting my map once more, I traced out another option that ran roughly in the same direction as Landscombe Lane, following public footpaths through fields, to the tiny hamlet of Buscot Wick, before picking up a country lane to meet the end of Landscombe Lane.

Thankfully this option proved to be far enough away from the river for it to be usable, even if the fields were a little waterlogged. No mater, I thought happily, at least it was usable. Although my happy mood was swiftly removed seconds later when I put my hand down on a gate post only to find someone had wound the end of some barbed wire round it; the result of which was me frantically searching for clean tissues in my pockets in order to stem the flow of blood from three puncture wounds in my left hand.

Well, clearly things had been simply going far too well.

The A361 road, with cars on it, near Lechlade
The A361 – surely the Thames Path’s finest moment

No sooner does the river arrive at the junction with the former Thames and Severn canal, and the river tow path ends. With no commercial traffic heading further up the Thames, clearly there was no demand for a tow path. And with no need for anyone to build tow paths, and a lack of tow paths meant no obvious routes for the Thames Path to follow. And so, between Lechlade and the source, the trail spends far less time next to the Thames than at any other point on its 184 mile journey.

Sometimes the trail gets to stay reasonably close to the river, but at others it has to make quite a substantial detour. And few are bigger than the route the Thames Path follows from the village of Inglesham. It was here that I picked up the trail again, and here I was going to have no problems with pesky flooding. None at all, for the Thames Path goes nowhere near the water and spends no time at all on paths. So what does it do then? Well, the Thames Path joins the A361 for a mile or so, travelling along it for a mile and a bit.

My guidebook implored me to catch a bus or call a cab rather than walk down the road, but after all I’d been though, a little traffic was hardly the worst obstacle the Thames Path could throw at me. So I set off along the road, walking safely along its wide verges, admiring all the wonderful sights. Who wouldn’t enjoy a display of the fast food related litter, miscellaneous road-kill, the putrefied remains of a dead sheep, and a gently decaying pink bra, that lined the roadside?

The bra was especially perplexing. How did it get there, and why? Why just that item of clothing and no others? It was extremely confusing, but then I arrived at the village of Upper Inglesham where, thankfully, I could leave such enigmatic mysteries behind. Well, the excitement had simply proved too much for me.

Although the Thames Path was leaving the main road, it wasn’t due to return to the river for a couple of miles, which suited me fine as it meant there was a good chance that I’d actually be able to stick to the proper route for a while without having to make impromptu detours.

Flooded field at Upper Inglesham
Flooded field at Upper Inglesham

But such optimism was short-lived. Half a mile along through a walk along the side of fields and once again I found my hopes thwarted. The path went into a corner of a field and into another, but the field corner was heavily flooded, with the path completely lost under it. I climbed a gate in an adjoining field, wondering if I could somehow get back to the Thames Path from there, but things there were even worse. Everywhere I looked, the path was hidden under brown, moody looking water.

Once again I was out of options. All I could do was head back to Inglesham and the main road. And with a deep, resigned sigh, I did just that.



12 January 2017 at 7:32 pm

Barbed wire: nothing summarises the misanthropic nature of farmers better. Really can’t understand why smooth wire isn’t used in place of the barbed variety.

Maxim Del Mar

24 June 2021 at 7:43 pm

I’ve just completed the Thames Path a few weeks ago – it might interest you to know that since your visit, they have now created a new route which stays a bit more faithful to the river’s course between Lechlade and Kempton. Follows the river half the way, then goes off through fields and woods, but avoids the A361! I think (if you haven’t already), it would be well worth you coming back to stretch of the path when it isn’t flooded!

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

25 June 2021 at 9:31 am

Good news Maxim – I do have it in mind to head back and re-do that last section in better weather when I can get the time!

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