Thames Path Stage 17 (Part 2): Pinkhill Lock to Newbridge

Published 9 November 2016

The slipway at Bablockhythe

Riverside access at Bablockhythe

Earlier in the day I’d left Oxford and had a pleasant stroll. But what did the afternoon hold?

Beyond Pinkhill Lock the Thames Path headed inland; away from the river and down farm lanes and through a series of fields lined with several piles of cut-down tree branches and trunks, which gave the impression that someone had been preparing for a truly epic bonfire party.

Then I came to a road and a bus stop that was surrounded by daffodils poking their heads out of the spring soil. Someone had placed an old garden bench in the bus shelter, and even the old black and white signpost that pointed motorists towards Northmoor and Stanton Harcourt, had floral décor, with a ring of daffs growing around the base. For a bus stop on a quiet rural lane, it was rather a pleasant place.

The bus stop sat on a corner of the main road, on a junction with a narrow lane leading off to Bablock Hythe, where people crossed the Thames in Roman times, and where a ferry had operated from the 13th century. These days though, it’s better known for two caravan parks and the Ferryman public house.

Sign near Bablockhythe, with a mention of ferry and a question mark scraweled next to it

Ferry?

The sign for the Ferryman at the roadside advertised a “ferry across the Thames” next to which someone had rubbed a large question mark in dust. They were obviously a tad confused, for a ferry hasn’t operated since the 1950s and there haven’t been any regular services from the pub since; a fact perhaps rued by the cyclist who had turned up on the opposite bank and who shouted across to find out if there was a bridge anywhere, and who would be needing to cycle a bit further if he wanted to get any refreshment.

It wasn’t far beyond the Ferryman that I encountered something I’d been expecting all day: a flooded path. If there’s one time of the year you can expect the Thames to burst its banks and spread its way through a field, it’s winter, a fact that means only a muppet would plan a walking holiday along the Thames at that time of the year. Yeah, well, let’s not go there.

Here, not far off the glorious sounding “Hanging Copse”, the river had spilled off into the field, creating a wide and deep channel that was far too big to splash my way through. There was no option but to go round the edge of the field.

Flooding near Appleton

Beware! Flooding!

It could have been worse. So much worse. But all I actually needed to was follow the edge of the field, where there was just enough of a gap for me to walk along without getting my boots wet. And then, right at the far end, the water was narrow and shallow enough to get through quickly, allowing me to rejoin the Thames Path on the other side with relative ease.

Well that was the intention. In fact the water was rather deeper than I’d expected, and it was only by frantically running through it, that I kept most of it out of my boots.

Back next to the river I approached Northmoor Lock, and not long after I saw the first riverside residences I’d seen on the river all day to be honest. Whilst there are many downstream from Oxford, up here things were a lot quieter. The few riverside buildings I’d seen had been mostly pubs or those at locks.

Here though, people clearly resided with riverside views, and the buildings that they lived in were a motley bunch. One house looked like a dilapidated scout hut, whilst another was a well built and rather grand looking ‘manor’ house that would have looked far better had the grounds not included two boatsheds in such bad condition that they looked like they were about to collapse into the river at the slightest gust of wind.

Riverside house near Appleton

Riverside houses near Appleton

Nearby, a lone footbridge crossed the river allowing people to walk from one deserted field to another, just in case going from one deserted field to another for absolutely no good reason was something you wanted to do. I didn’t. But I did want to cross the flooded path that I found in the next field, although this one proved significantly easier than the last, requiring a mere stride over a stream of water to get round.

And then I was on the home straight.

I had a room booked at a pub that sat next to Newbridge, and after a cold afternoon – the sun having gone in after lunch, replaced by a stiff and very cold wind – I was definitely looking forward to kicking off my hiking boots and relaxing in a bar with a pint.

There was just one snag: the state of my boots.

Gate surrounded by water

Try getting to this gate whilst keeping your boots clean!

For most of the day the wet and often waterlogged grass had kept my boots in a damp but relatively mud free state. But now as I approached my destination, the paths turned into veritable mud pits. By the time I was near the pub, my boots were absolutely caked in the stuff, and even dunking them in the river from the safety of a small landing stage, did little to help. So it was that anyone passing by would have seen me squatting in the pub’s car park, poking at my boot’s treads with a series of soggy and rotting sticks, before standing up and stomping my feet on the tarmac in an attempt to get all the muck off.

After fifteen minutes of activity and a final rising in a puddle, my footwear was finally in a state where I didn’t feel like the pub’s management would banish me outside at first sight, so I approached the front door and went inside. Naturally I then found that none of it really mattered as the Rose Revived’s floor was lined with stone flags. I could have trampled in as much mud as I liked!

Well in the pub area anyway. The stairs up to the bedrooms, that I followed after picking up my room key, featured a lovely thick carpet, and somehow I suspected that someone, somewhere would have been rather grateful of my attempts to keep it clean.

Slightly muddy looking boots

Mostly cleaned walking boots, but with still some mud lingering...


Despite being over a mile from the nearest village, and some way from any other residences, Newbridge has two pubs; one on each side of the river. The Rose Revived sits on the north bank, whilst the Maybush takes the south.

There are a couple of places in the UK where you’ll find a similar situation, and the pubs almost always date back to a time before a bridge was built across the waterway. In such times, people had to either cross by ferry, or wait for conditions to be good enough that the river could be forded. If the weather was bad, or the water levels too high, travellers could be stranded and left with little choice but to seek refuge in the nearby warm and welcoming hostelry.

It seemed unlikely that was the case at Newbridge though. Despite its name, it’s one of the oldest bridges on the Thames, dating back to the 13th century and there’s been a pub on the north bank for almost as long. Quite how there was enough demand for two pubs in this isolated location, I couldn’t work out, although perhaps it had something to do with the river’s role in the transportation of goods to London. With few villages and facilities in the area, it’s easy to imagine small inns being full of riverfolk stopping off for refreshment before continuing on with their journey.

The Maybush pub, at Newbridge

The Maybush pub...

Built in the 18th century, the Maybush has had a more chequered history than its neighbour on the north bank. Its location next to the river has seen it closed due to flooding several times, and the pub closed its doors completely in 2011, only re-opening them four years later when it started a new life as an ‘eco-pub’.

I wasn’t entirely sure what being an eco-pub entailed, and I was looking forward to finding out, but it wasn’t to be. The Mayflower’s winter opening hours meant it didn’t open on Sunday evenings, meaning my idea of conducting a short pub crawl and determining which of the two pubs was the greatest, could never to be.

In contrast to the Maybush, the Rose Revived’s recent history was more prosperous. In recent years it had become a large food-based enterprise with ample parking, rooms to stay in, and a sizable children’s playground. The “Revived” part of the pub’s name is a recent affectation; the pub was known as The Rose until an extensive refurbishment a few years ago when it became part of a chain known as “Old English Inns”. Most importantly for me, the Rose Revived served food on a Sunday evening, and appeared to be doing a roaring trade.

The Rose Revived pub at Newbridge

...and it's neighbour, the Rose Revived

And so it was that I spent the evening at one of the Rose’s window seats, reading my book (a historical thriller, and still nothing to do with Inspector Morse), occasionally supping beer and even less frequently looking out of the window and watching rain hit the river. Every now and then, a wonky floodlight would turn itself on and illuminate the bridge arches, casting light on the cars that used this ancient crossing. And as they did I supped a little more beer, and idly wondered what the next day would hold.

I would be heading into the remotest, most isolated part of the Thames Path. And, for good measure, the weather forecast looked like it was going to be absolutely terrible.

Rambling Man walks the Thames Path

The whole Thames Path adventure is available to read now for Kindle, iOS, Kobo, and Google Play or other e-readers.

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