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Thames Path 3

Kelmscott again – nothing – old bridges – sandwich! – more nothing – a weir – flatness – gradient – home ground

For the third installment of our Thames Path saunter, Robin and I again prevailed on my long-suffering support driver beloved life partner Dan and cadged a lift back to Kelmscott, which by the light of day we could see was a charming, old-fashioned sort of place (if somehow even smaller than it looked in the dark).

This man is great. Both of these men, in fact.

The track from Kelmscott down to the river quickly gave way to open fields, and we soon found ourselves out in what felt a lot like the middle of nowhere (at least by Oxfordshire standards).

Dimly visible in the background is a pleasant riverside home, one of only two we passed on this first stretch. I like to think that the two households are frenemies.

A mile or so along the river we came to Grafton Lock, which combined equipment in perfect repair and manicured grounds with a general air of abandonment in a way which was strangely unsettling.

The Upper Thames out of season. Spooky.

Another couple of miles of empty riverbank (apparently Wednesdays in early December are not peak walking season?!) brought us to Radcot Bridge. I’d done some research in advance of the walk this time in order to identify the things worth photographing, and I was prepared with an interesting piece of trivia regarding Radcot Bridge – it’s the oldest bridge on the Thames, dating from around 1200. However, as I was smugly imparting my knowledge to my companion, I realised something that the guide I read had omitted to mention – Radcot is on an island and there are, in fact, two bridges.

Radcot is also home to the Olde Swan pub, where we ducked in briefly for a quick pot of tea. The country had just come out of the second lockdown of 2020, and as the bartender hurriedly pulled on her mask she observed that we were the first customers they’d had in four weeks. Strange times.

The pub was charming and decked out in its festive best, but we still had a lot of ground to cover so we finished our tea and carried on downriver.

Aww look it’s Christmas!

A short while later we came to Radcot Lock, where I took no pictures because I had other things on my mind.

For the original Thames Path walk, Robin tried to overcome my last-minute nerves by promising an excellent sandwich (which completely worked because I am easily bribed with food). On subsequent outings, he’d been perfecting this recipe so that by this point the Thames Path Sandwich was a thing of art. A thing of beauty. It seemed almost wrong to call it a sandwich, it was more like a symphony of bread and cheese and pure bliss.

The point is that by 11.30 I only wanted one thing. So when we came across some picnic tables just downstream from Radcot Lock, well…

Sourdough, smoked ham substitute, brie, relish, rocket, jalapenos and pure joy.

We ate half our sandwiches, reluctantly saving the rest, and pressed on.

From Radcot Lock to Rushey Lock, the next noticeable milestone, is about 3 miles. It’s beautiful and empty but somehow kinda samey after the first half an hour.

At Rushey Lock we got to walk over a weir, which broke up the monotony a bit.

A short distance further along the river is Tadpole Bridge, home of the Trout pub and nothing else. Then it was back to empty nothing. And at this point a terrible realisation crept over me. Something I’d known in the back of my mind for a long time but never really comprehended.

Oxfordshire is really flat.

How did this happen? How did I go from Aberystwyth, where there’s mountains and coast, to settling down somewhere where you can walk all day without crossing a single contour line?

As I reeled from this personal crisis, we reached Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve, where thanks to the aforementioned flatness we were able to watch a birdwatching hide being constructed some miles away before eventually passing it and exchanging a few words with the volunteer who was building it (apparently it’ll be open soon if watching birds in a featureless wasteland is your thing).

Shifford Cut was unusual in its length, consulting the map it appeared that in this one place some keen engineer had decided to circumvent the Thames’ characteristic whimsical loopiness with an extra-long lock cut.

A little later, some 6 hours into the walk, we finally found a hill.

Well, sort of.

My brother celebrated by taking his clothes off.

You’ll have to head over to Robin’s blog if you want to find out why.

For a brief but enjoyable period we walked through trees along the edge of the slope, somehow the woodland felt quieter and more secluded than the miles of open fields.

Emerging from the woods, we suddenly realised we were on familiar ground. Another bend or two brought the welcoming sight of Newbridge, only a few miles from our house (close enough for the two pubs there to count as local – we live in the countryside).

Built in the 13th Century, the inaccurately-named Newbridge (presumably because it’s newer than Radcot?) is the second-oldest on the river.

We got more tea at the Rose Revived and sat out on the riverside terrace to await our ride home.

Next time…
LocationsKelmscott -> Newbridge
Time6.5 hours
Distance12.7 miles
Cumulative Distance39.4 miles

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