The Walking Englishman Walks The Thames Path

A personal record of my walk of the Thames Path National Trail with a written journal and with photographs. Tracklogs for GPS units and for use with Google Earth are available for download for each stage.

Journal, Photographs and Download Files

Stage 4: Swinford Bridge to Abingdon
Google Maps Open Source Maps

Statistics and Files
Start: Swinford Bridge Finish: Abingdon Distance: 15.8 miles (25.4 km)
Time: 6-8 hours Climbing: N/A Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Swinford Bridge
Start: Swinford Bridge Finish: Abingdon
Distance: 15.8 miles (25.4 km) Time: 6-8 hours
Climbing: N/A Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

The Walk:

River Thames near King's WeirRiver Thames near King's Weir
Trout Inn, favourite of Inspector MorseTrout Inn, favourite of Inspector Morse

I was up and away before 6.00am. And that is after making myself breakfast at my superb accommodation in Eynsham. Back at Swinford Toll Bridge, I crossed over the Thames and turned left down steps to follow the Thames Path and Oxford Green Belt Way for the first mile of today's sixteen within the thick foliage cover provided by the edge trees of Wytham Great Wood. As I did so I thought of being close to the spot where Sergeant Lewis narrowly avoiding a grisly fate in Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse story 'The Way through the Woods'. It was set in Wytham Great Wood. Luckily I had no bother although birds chattered in the nearby treetops all my way through to the light in fields beyond the wood which are home to Oxford University Farm, John Krebs Field Station. I was bearing down on the city of Dreaming Spires today. First though I had plenty more of the Thames Path to follow, first significant point of call being King's Lock where I watched a Heron doing a low fly past. Beyond the lock I followed the path under the traffic noise afflicted modern A34 Thames Bridge to soon reach the serenity of the impressive twin arched Godstow Bridge. Beside it was the Trout Inn, a favourite watering hole of the fictional Inspector Morse. I can see why he loved it. It is in an idyllic setting beside bridge and river.

Godstow AbbeyGodstow Abbey
River Thames and Wolvercote CommonRiver Thames and Wolvercote Common

A little beyond the Trout Inn I came to the imposing ruins of Godstow Abbey, set in a meadow near to the river. Godstow was originally built as a nunnery for an order of Benedictine nuns in 1133, so the crumbling stones I could see were set in place around 900 years ago. Now that is old. Adjacent to the beautiful religious artefact is Godstow Lock which I would have failed to notice had the path not led me directly to it from the superb craftsmanship of ancient stone masons. All in all I was being enchanted by beautiful scenes on a beautiful day. The 26th of August, 2021 was one of gorgeous sunny weather on the Thames Path. The sunlight glistened in the waters of the river as I walked along the riverbank with the vast spread of Wolvercote Common unveiling on the opposite bank.

Cow enjoying a drink in the ThamesCow enjoying a drink in the Thames
Medley FootbridgeMedley Footbridge

A herd of cows were ambling along the north side riverbank, taking advantage of the grazing rights of the common. A fair few off them were paddling in the river, some just standing and chilling. Others drinking. I stopped walking for a moment. It was lovely to watch them. Then I continued on. As I did so the realisation that I was approaching the city of Oxford became apparent. People were appearing from here, there and everywhere. Dog walkers, joggers, ramblers, amblers. All enjoying the lovely morning as much as I. With the numbers I was regularly coming across it felt more like a weekend morning that a Thursday. Then again, it was only a couple of days from the Bank Holiday weekend which I would realise only too well in a couple of days time. More about that in 30 or so miles time. For now, I passed a number of boating clubs and boatyards. First was Medley Sailing Club, second was Oxford University Canoe and Kayak Club and third was Bossoms, the first boatyard. Just beyond the boatyard I crossed the pretty arched Medley Footbridge. It has two alternative names, Rainbow Bridge and Subscription Bridge, the latter a leading clue to how it came about.

Arriving in OxfordArriving in Oxford
Christ Church College, OxfordChrist Church College, Oxford

A second footbridge led me on to Fiddler's Island which I walked the length of to a third footbridge heralding my arrival in suburban Oxford at New Osney. It was at this point I decided to leave the Thames Path and explore the city of Oxford. I had been before, a couple of times, and had fell in love with the city of Dreaming Spires. So off I went, city exploring. First I indulged myself with morning coffee and bacon sandwich in a cafe before heading on a swift sightseeing tour. Gloucester Green Outdoor Market was just getting going with its colourful displays and here I treated myself to a bag of original wine gums. Not those soft modern imitations. Then it was whistle stop walking visits to Sheldonian Theatre and History of Science Museum, Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera and then a series of colleges culminating with Christ Church College. From there I walked down to Folly Bridge where the Head of the River pub is. I already knew that, having stopped in the hotel for a long weekend some years earlier. Over eight miles of walking already done, including a tour of central Oxford and it was still only 10.00 o'clock in the morning. I was chuffed with myself.

The Head of the River, OxfordThe Head of the River, Oxford
Capsized pleasure craft near Donnington BridgeCapsized pleasure craft near Donnington Bridge

Rowers were sculling up and down the Thames as I walked on the concrete path beside the river. That is the problem with towns and cities, the ground gets hard on the feet. I had not really noticed it in the tour of Oxford, tarmac being less unforgiving on the feet as concrete. But I noticed it now. My feet were warming up and feeling the strain so I had to slow my pace down. Which was not an issue. I had made good time and could have ambled at a mile an hour to my stage finish in Abingdon if I wished. Not long after Folly Bridge I arrived at a regimented series of buildings all looking the same. One after the other they were the boathouses and clubs of the Oxford Universities stood side by side on Boathouse Island. The island stands on the confluence of the Thames and River Cherwell. It was a busy river path here, lots walking, some cycling. However as I continued to walk further south towards Donnington Bridge the crowds faded away. It was not long before I was back to alone and with my thoughts to myself. Farewell lovely Oxford.

Graffiti on the foundations of Donnington BridgeGraffiti on the foundations of Donnington Bridge
Boathouse and narrowboat near Sandford LockBoathouse and narrowboat near Sandford Lock

From the heavily graffiti covered Donnington ridge, which must have been done from boats, or hanging from ropes, goodness knows, I ambled from hard stand concrete, cum softer tarmac, and back to unmade Thames Path. Phew, a relief. "What am I thinking, I have got London to come yet" I thought, but that was way in the distance. For now I resumed a leisurely and most enjoyable ramble, first passing Iffley Lock and then continuing on along a heavily foliaged stretch of the path with greenery of all sorts encroaching on me. If it had been wet I would have got soaked. Fortunately it wasn't. From the encroachment I came into delightful open meadows and not afterwards to the scenic surroundings of Sandford Lock where the King's Arms was enjoying a busy lunchtime trade. Not far beyond Sandford Lock I came to another heavily foliaged area of the walk. This one was more of a problem, I was drilling myself through a thickening expanse of Himalayan Balsam. Pink flowers gave the game away. They were everywhere, all native species evicted. "Where is my machete!".

Radley Railway BridgeRadley Railway Bridge
Trendell's Folly in Abingdon Abbey GardensTrendell's Folly in Abingdon Abbey Gardens

I heard the train pass before I saw the bridge. The iron latticed structure of Radley Railway marking my 'two miles to go' point. A rather good Banksy type Iron Man was waving at me from the far side platform of the bridge. I was impressed. Afterwards it was not long before I arrived at Abbey Meadow, heralding my arrival on the outskirts of Abingdon. My walk on the Thames Path through the meadow was necessarily diverted by volunteers carrying out essential path repairs which I appreciated. After thanking them for their good work while I passed by, I then migrated from Abbey Meadows to Abbey Gardens, a lovely area of parkland which was being enjoyed by many. Locals and visitors alike, all appreciating the lovely atmosphere in the parkland. It was just approaching 2.30 in the afternoon as I strolled through the gardens so I took time sat myself down on a bench and chilled out watching the day go by for half an hour before moving on to find my nearby accommodation. Time for an afternoon snooze before going out to explore Abingdon and find somewhere for a pint and bar meal. It was the perfect day.

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