November 6, 2023
A Guide to Walking & Cycling the Thames Path
Starting in the Cotswolds and finishing in the centre of London, the Thames Path is a favourite trail of walkers, runners, and cyclists.
It’s a popular route for both multi-day hikes and epic adventures walking its entire length, from the source in the Cotswolds to Woolwich in London.
Since at least the 5th century AD, the River Thames was used as a trading route, which resulted in many towns and villages being built on the banks of the river. The Thames Path follows the river through these villages, historic towns, and bustling cities as well as meadows and countryside.
As a public footpath, the Thames Path is predominantly a walker’s route. However, there are a few sections you can cycle – we’ve outlined these for you at the end of the article.
Whether you’re looking for the most beautiful sections, or to walk the full 185-mile (298 km) route, this guide will provide everything you need to know about walking and cycling the Thames Path.
Where does the Thames Path start and finish?
The Thames Path National Trail starts in Trewsbury Mead, Gloucestershire, and finishes at the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, London. The source of the Thames is marked with a stone inscribed with the words:
“The Conservators of the River Thames 1857 – 1974.
This Stone was Placed Here to Mark the Source of the River Thames”.
Although the National Trail finishes in Woolwich, in January 2022 the English Coast Path from Grain to Woolwich was opened at the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, a little to the east of the Thames Barrier. This new section connects with the Thames Path National Trail, creating a continuous ‘Source to Sea’ route – 232 miles (374 km).
How do I get to the source of the Thames Path?
The largest train station near the source of the Thames is Cirencester, from here it’s a 12-minute taxi/drive to the start. Otherwise, take a train to Kemble, and it’s a 23-minute walk. On Google Maps, it’s marked as ‘Beginning of the River Thames’.
How long is the Thames Path?
The Thames Path National Trail is, to be absolutely precise, 185.2 miles (298 km).
Walking the Thames Path
From conditions underfoot, signposting, fitness levels, and seasonal timings to a stage-by-stage breakdown and sights to keep an eye out for along the way, we’ve pulled together all of the key elements of walking the Thames Path.
What are the trails like?
Towards London, the Thames Path trail is generally tarmac, but as you get into the countryside it turns into compact gravel trails and riverside meadows.
How well is the trail signposted?
The Thames Path is a National Trust trail, so it’s well-signposted the entire way. However, we recommend taking a map or watch/phone with a downloaded GPS route.
How fit do you need to be?
If you’re planning to walk the full length of the Thames Path or even a few days back-to-back, then a good level of fitness is required. While it’s not too undulating, it is a lot of time on the legs – but it’s a great option for a first long-distance route.
What is the best time of year to walk the Thames Path?
The best time to walk the Thames Path is during the summer months (May to September) when it’s dry. However, we’ve had some balmy shoulder seasons, so if the weather’s looking dry, there’s no reason you couldn’t go in April or even October. Just be mindful of the shorter daylight hours.
Are there many places to get refreshments?
Yes, there are many cafes, restaurants, pubs, and shops to buy refreshments during the walk, as the river passes through villages, towns, and cities.
Are there many places to stay?
Yes, there are many hotels, rentals, and campsites along the Thames Path, especially in the major towns and cities. We recommend booking these in advance, especially during peak season.
What’s the most beautiful section?
On foot, Marlow to Windsor is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Thames Path National Trail.
Both historic towns, as you walk from Marlow, surrounded by rolling country fields, and descend upon Windsor, the famous Windsor Castle can be seen towering above the water.
What are the most iconic sights?
- St John the Baptist Church, Inglesham; Visitchurches.org.uk.
- Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve, Brampton; Bbowt.org.uk.
- Oxford – we recommend spending a morning here exploring if you haven’t visited before.
- Abingdon – for the historic town and Abingdon Abbey; Abingdon.gov.uk.
- Wittenham Clumps, Abingdon; Earthtrust.org.uk.
- Abbey Church, Dorchester-on-Thames; Dorchester-abbey.org.uk.
- River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames; Rrm.co.uk. If you follow the Royal Regatta, be sure to stop in here. The town is also quaint, with many shops and eateries.
- Hambleden Lock, Hambleden.
- Marlow – the perfect place for lunch at one of the many pubs overlooking the river.
- Windsor Castle; Rct.uk.
- Cookham – famous as the home of artist Stanley Spencer. The Chapel is a memorial gallery to his work. Artuk.org.
- Cliveden Estate, Maidenhead; Nationaltrust.org.uk.
- Hampton Court Palace, Hampton; Hrp.org.uk.
- Old Deer Park, Richmond; Richmond.gov.uk.
- Ham House, Richmond; Nationaltrust.org.uk.
- Kew Botanical Gardens, Kew; Kew.org.
- Syon Park, Brentford – the opposite side of the river to Richmond and Kew Gardens; Syonpark.co.uk.
- Battersea Park and newly refurbished Power Station; Batterseapowerstation.co.uk.
- South Bank, London (for the Houses of Parliament, London Eye).
Now to the big question: how to walk the Thames Path? We recommend breaking the walk up into 15 stages, covering 10-18 miles per day.
Day 1: Trewsbury Mead (The Source) to Cricklade – 12.3 miles (19.7 km)
From the source of the River Thames, Day 1 takes you through meadows and quaint Cotswolds villages with plenty of tempting options for lunch.
Just before Cricklade, you’ll see the National Nature Reserve where, in late April, the rare Snakes-head fritillary flowers spread like wildfire.
Day 2: Cricklade to Lechlade – 11 miles (17.6 km)
Make sure your route is up to date for Day 2, as the new National Trust route now ‘mostly’ follows the river, rather than the A361.
Look out for St John the Baptist Church in Inglesham (Visitchurches.org.uk), before following the trail the rest of the way to the pretty Cotswolds town of Lechlade.
Day 3: Lechlade to Newbridge – 16.4 miles (26.2 km)
This is the longest of the sections on the Thames Path. Wonderfully remote, the trail follows the river as it winds and grows in size.
You’ll go through another nature reserve, Chimney Meadows National Nature Reserve, before passing the oldest bridge (dated 1200) on the Thames, at Radcot.
In Newbridge, there’s a pub on each bank, to get some food and recover from the day.
Day 4: Newbridge to Oxford – 14 miles (22.4 km)
The path to Oxford is rather quiet, passing boats, locks, and toll bridges.
Just before Oxford, you’ll pass through the ancient Port Meadow, before reaching the city near the train station.
Day 5: Oxford to Abingdon-on-Thames – 9.9 miles (15.8 km)
A slightly shorter day today, which leaves plenty of time to explore Oxford in the morning, should you wish.
Leaving the city, head south towards Abingdon, a history-rich town with an incredible town hall and abbey, founded as early as 675AD.
Day 6: Abingdon-on-Thames to Wallingford – 13.5 miles (21.6 km)
Following the river, you’ll loop north and see the Wittenham Clumps, before reaching Castle Hill (one of the Clumps), with its Iron Age fort (Wikipedia.org).
Be sure to take a look at the impressive Abingdon Abbey, at the start of the walk, and the great abbey church, in Dorchester-on-Thames, built around 1140.
Day 7: Wallingford to Tilehurst – 14.8 miles (23.7 km)
Today’s walk begins in the countryside, in the shadows of the Berkshire Downs and the Chilterns. You’ll pass through Goring Gap, the narrowest part of the Thames Valley, before continuing onto Tilehurst, just outside Reading.
If you wish to continue onto Reading, where there’s more accommodation and restaurants; it’s just a few miles down the road.
Day 8: Tilehurst to Henley-on-Thames – 12.3 miles (19.7 km)
On the outskirts of the busy commuter town of Reading, the Thames Path heads towards the quieter village of Sonning, and its 18th-century hump-backed bridge.
From here, it’s a quiet trail to Henley-on-Thames, famous for its Royal Regatta and the River & Rowing Museum.
Day 9: Henley-on-Thames to Marlow – 8.7 miles (13.9 km)
Henley-on-Thames and Marlow are two of the most beautiful towns in Berkshire, so today is relatively short, giving you enough time to spend in each one.
As you come into Marlow, look out for Bisham Church on the opposite bank. Marlow has plenty of restaurants and riverside pubs, where you can really soak up the feel of the town.
Day 10: Marlow to Windsor – 14.3 miles (22.3 km)
Today’s walk leads to Windsor, possibly one of the most iconic places on the Thames Path. Home to the famous Windsor Castle and some very grand houses, it’s a beautiful walk, especially Cliveden Estate, which can be seen from across the river.
Day 11: Windsor to Shepperton – 13.7 miles (21.9 km)
Hopefully, you had some time to explore Windsor before embarking on today’s walk. Today, the walk noticeably gets closer to London, passing Runnymede, the more built-up Staines-upon-Thames, and finally, Shepperton.
Day 12: Shepperton to Teddington – 10.9 miles (17.4 km)
From Shepperton Lock, you can either cross the river and follow the towpath on the south bank (if the ferry is operating), or continue on the primary road, which takes you north to cross Walton Bridge.
Hampton Court is a wonderful place to stop for lunch and Kingston-upon-Thames has plenty to offer, including a large shopping centre if you need supplies.
Day 13: Teddington to Putney: South Bank Route – 11.6 miles (18.6 km), North Bank Route – 14.1 miles (22.6 km)
From here to Woolwich, you can choose which side of the Thames to walk on. On the south, you’ll find Richmond Park, Kew Botanical Gardens, and Ham House.
On the north bank, there’s slightly less to see; however, Syon Park is certainly worth a mention.
Day 14: Putney to Tower Bridge: South Bank Route – 10.5 miles (16.8 km), North Bank Route – 10.3 miles (16.5 km)
You can reach the south bank by Wandsworth. Notice how developed this part of the river is, with new homes dotted along the way. The Thames Path also goes through Battersea Park, before reaching the newly renovated Power Station.
The north bank follows the edge of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and then onto the centre of London and its most famous area, where you’ll find the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, and the London Eye. If you’re on the south bank you can cross over one of the many bridges at any time to see these sights.
Day 15: Tower Bridge to Thames Barrier and Woolwich Foot Tunnel: South Bank 11.2 miles (18 km), North Bank to Island Gardens – 5.5 miles (8.8 km)
The final day! Depending on how much time you want to spend exploring London, you could do days 14 and 15 together, especially if you choose to walk the north bank.
Keep in mind that if you take the north route, you’ll need to cross to Greenwich via the foot tunnel by the Cutty Sark, where you can continue to the Thames Barrier.
The south bank does offer a few more sights, like the historic Greenwich and O2 Centre (O2centre.co.uk), so if you have the time, we’d recommend sticking south.
Once you’ve reached the Thames Barrier, you can either continue your walk to the sea, another 47 miles (76 km) or take a tube back to one of the main train stations in central London (London Waterloo, London Bridge, King’s Cross St Pancras etc.), where trains are available to a wide variety of locations.
Cycling the Thames Path
So that’s the walking side of things wrapped up. The next key question is: can you cycle the Thames Path? And the answer is… yes, but only part of it.
Which sections of the Thames Path can I cycle?
- Godstow Bridge to Oxford Ring Road A4142: 5 miles (8 km)
- Reading Bridge to Sonning: 2.5 miles (4 km)
- Staines Railway Bridge to Laleham: 2.4 Miles (3.8 km)
- Shepperton Ferry to Teddington Lock: 11 Miles (17.7 km)
- Hampton Court Station to Weybridge Lawn: 6 miles (9.8 km)
If you’d like a longer ride, there’s a 99-mile (159 km) cycle route, which runs from Woolwich to Oxford via Windsor and Reading. It takes you as close as you can get to the Thames, as well as through Richmond Park and Windsor Great Park.
To extend this, and make it to the source of the river in Trewsbury, follow routes 57 and 48 towards Cirencester. For routes 1, 4, 5, 57, and 48 follow them on Explore.osmaps.com.
If you want to make the route shorter, Reading offers a great train service to many UK locations.
What type of bike do I need?
The Thames Path is predominantly gravel and grassy banks, with some tarmac sections, so we’d recommend a gravel or hybrid bike.
How hilly is it?
The Thames Path itself is pretty flat. Although the cycle routes, which go near the Thames Path but not on it, may have a few hills.
What are the most beautiful sections to cycle?
The 99-mile (159 km) cycle route goes through the Great Windsor Park, and from here to Oxford passes through quaint villages.
Between Reading and Sonning is also a lovely stretch along the river trail; plus, there’s a great pub called The Bull in Sonning (Bullinnsonning.co.uk).
Where are the best places to stop for cyclists on the route?
Following the path out of London, you’ll soon stumble across Hampton Court, which is always a lovely spot to grab a quick coffee.
Next, head to Windsor, snap a photo outside of Windsor Castle, and grab a cinnamon bun from the iconic Cinnamon Cafe (Cinnamoncafe.com).
In Wargrave, there’s a great cycle cafe, Velo Life, hidden down a country road, which is right on the river Thames. It’s well worth a little detour (Velo Life Instagram).
In Abingdon-on-Thames, about two-thirds of the way to Oxford, there’s a pub on the river called The Nag’s Head (Thenagsheadonthethames.co.uk). This is a lovely place to stop if you need a little rest before the final push to Oxford.
Once you reach Oxford there are plenty of things to do. We recommend locking your bikes up safely and having a little tour around the city.
What public transport is there?
There are a lot of train lines near the Thames Path, the major ones being London Waterloo, Reading, and Oxford. Most South West Trains allow you to take bikes on board; however, you may need to book a ‘bike space’, especially if it’s busy (Southwesternrailway.com).
Whether you’re walking or cycling – or opt to do a hybrid of the two – the Thames Path is a great way to see this part of the country. It’s an incredibly accessible yet rewarding route filled with varied vistas and lots of history.
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