THE THAMES PATH
Stage 4: Newbridge to Lower Radley
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
While waiting for the bus the previous evening, I had noticed a sign outside the Rose Revived pub advertising that they served breakfast. Returning by bus from Swindon to Southmoor and then to Newbridge, I was soon enjoying a hearty breakfast under an umbrella in the pub's riverside beer garden (picture 1) with a good view of the pointed arches of the 13th century bridge through the weeping willows at the water's edge.
The pub seemed to be a popular overnight stop for walkers, with a couple of small groups emerging from upstairs and heading off down the path while I waited for breakfast.
While I was having breakfast, the Taynton stone of the Newbridge was glowing in the morning sunlight, but by the time I had finished eating and wanted to take some photos, the sun was disappearing behind some rather ominous dark clouds (picture 2).
A little after nine o'clock, I set off along the Thames Path, which runs through the beer garden and off along the north bank of the river. There were quite a few boats moored on the downstream side of the bridge (picture 3) and I soon passed a small boat hire business before the path continued beside a wood and wire fence that encloses a grassy meadow (picture 4).
At the end of the meadow, the path passes through a wooden gate and follows the river bank along the edge of a field where a small herd of cattle were grazing on the path (picture 5). Following the towpath around the bends of the river, the path passes Hart's Weir Footbridge (picture 6) which preserves a right of way that crossed a primitive weir here until 1880.
The towpath continues by tranquil fields, occasionally passing buildings on the opposite bank, including an attractive boathouse surrounded by weeping willows (picture 7). About four kilometres from Newbridge, the path reaches Northmoor Lock and Weir (picture 8), the second and last paddle-and-rhymer weir on the Thames.
The Thames Path passes by the edge of the lock before heading out into more quiet fields as the river takes a northerly path. Another two kilometres downstream, the path reaches Bablock Hythe, once an important ferry crossing point, but now the site of a pub and a fairly unattractive caravan and chalet park. The Thames towpath changes to the opposite bank here, but as the ferry stopped running after World War II, the Thames Path must head away from the river. The path turns left and passes the chalet estate, continuing along the minor road until a black Thames Path sign points to the right through a gate and into a sheep-grazed field of long grass (picture 9).
The route follows the left-hand field edge ahead for around 1200 metres to meet a narrow sealed lane, which the route follows to the right. When the lane ends, the path goes through a kissing gate and turns left along another field edge, through a gate and diagonally across the next field to cross a concrete bridge with a gate on it. Through another gate, the path crosses diagonally right through a large meadow where hundreds of sheep were grazing (picture 10), soon rejoining the bank of the Thames.
The path follows the riverbank for a short distance before cutting across a loop in the river to reach Pinkhill Weir (picture 11). The path crosses the weir onto the wooded lock island and a path leads to Pinkhill Lock (picture 12), where the route crosses the upper lock gates to reach the south bank of the Thames and rejoin the towpath.
The path follows the river bank for a short distance before being forced to leave the river just beyond a footbridge due to the towpath having eroded away. Instead the route follows a fence-lined footpath up to the B4044 Oxford Road. About 200 metres along the road to the left, the path turns down the driveway of the Oxford Cruisers boatyard and returns to the river's edge, where it turns right and follows a partly eroded section of the towpath through some trees and out into open meadows (picture 13).
As the river winds its way through the meadows, the limestone arches of Swinford Bridge soon come into view with several dozen boats moored nearby (picture 14). Swinford Bridge, built in 1769, is one of two privately-owned toll bridges on the Thames. Governed by its own act of Parliament, the 5p toll for cars reputedly represents a charge of 1p per wheel (if you count the spare). The name Swinford indicates that this was once a place where swine forded the Thames.
The path heads under one of the arches of Swinford Bridge and almost immediately passes Eynsham Lock (picture 15), one of the last locks to be built on the Thames in 1928. Beyond the lock, the Wytham Great Wood comes down from Wytham Hill to the river (picture 16) and the Thames Path spends a few hundred metres traversing the shady path through the edge of the wood.
Back in open meadows again, the path soon passes opposite the point where the River Evenlode flows into the Thames. Around this confluence, there were a number of boats moored on the far bank and several tents of varying sizes (picture 17).
More open meadows follow, with the path crossing a concrete bridge over a weir that takes water from the Thames into the Seacourt Stream, which flows off towards Wytham Mill (picture 18).
Beyond another meadow, the path passes along the lock-side of King's Lock (picture 19), built around the same time as Eynsham Lock in 1928. Downstream from the lock, a bitumen path shortcuts two loops in the river, but I stuck with the official route of the Thames Path, which stays close to the tree-lined bank of the river. Soon the path passes through a metal gate and under the fifty-year-old A34 bridge (picture 20).
Along the riverbank, the route quickly reaches the newer, brick, section of Godstow Bridge (picture 21). (The much older stone bridge crosses a channel that branches off to the right.)
The path crosses the road at the end of the bridge and then follows a broad gravel track past the ruins of Godstow Abbey (picture 22), which was founded in 1139, badly damaged during the civil war in 1645, and then further damaged by pilfering of stone for other building projects.
The gravel path passes by the lock-side of Godstow Lock (picture 23), built in 1924 to replace an earlier lock of 1790. Leaving the lock, I saw several rowers heading up the other channel (picture 24), which leads to boathouses on the Wolvercote Mill Stream. Following closely behind the rowers was a small motorised craft, from which the rowers' coach was bellowing instructions into a loudhailer.
Across the river is Port Meadow, a vast expanse of water meadow used for grazing cattle and horses. In winter, part of Port Meadow is flooded by the Thames and sometimes even freezes to become a popular temporary ice-rink.
The Thames Path continues to follow the gravel path, much of which is shaded by trees, and I was passing more and more people out for afternoon walks. Despite the trees, there were still plenty of good views across the river and Port Meadow, where I saw a large herd of cattle grazing by the water's edge (picture 25) and farther on I also saw a large flock of geese on the opposite bank.
At a bend in the river, the path passes Bossom's Boatyard, from which there was a good view across Port Meadow to the Oxford skyline (picture 26). Just past the boatyard, the Thames Path crosses the steel arch of Medley Footbridge (picture 27) onto a narrow strip of land that forms the west bank of the navigable channel of the Thames.
As I crossed the footbridge, the first of three narrowboats passed under the bridge (picture 28). On the other side of the narrow causeway is a small marina, which can be seen through the trees on the left of the picture.
The route follows the paved footpath along to the far end of the causeway. There another footbridge crosses the water into Port Meadow, but the Thames Path continues ahead over a smaller footbridge onto Fiddler's Island (picture 29).
The path follows the shady riverbank along Fiddler's Island -- a surprisingly tranquil entry to the busy university city of Oxford. At the end of the island, where waterways meet the main Thames navigation channel from the right and left at a place known as Four Rivers, the route crosses another arched footbridge (picture 30) and continues to follow the main channel along the back of a long row of houses with allotments on the opposite bank. The path soon reaches Osney Bridge (picture 31), where the route climbs up to the road and crosses the bridge to the opposite bank, then descends steps back to the riverbank.
Osney Bridge was the point where I had originally planned to end the day's walk, around 22.5km from Newbridge. However, I had made fairly good time so far and the weather was much improved, so I decided to keep walking to Lower Radley, the next public transport point near the river.
From Osney Bridge, the Thames Path follows a riverside path parallel with East Street. On the opposite bank, the path passes some pretty houses and a large brick warehouse (picture 32). This straight section of the river is a man-made channel, dug by 13th-century monks from nearby Osney Abbey to drive their mill.
A short distance later, the path crosses a footbridge and a weir to reach the lock island at Osney Lock. The lock was built in 1905, replacing an earlier lock that was opened in 1790 when this channel became the main navigation.
The route passes along the lock-side and then across another footbridge over the weir stream as it rejoins the lock cut. The next section of the path is screened by trees, which hide an industrial estate and briefly give the illusion of being nowhere near a bustling city until the path passes under the Osney Rail Bridge (picture 33). This is the first time the Thames Path meets a railway line.
The riverside path now curves around the Grandpoint Nature Reserve to pass under Gasworks Bridge (picture 34), originally built in 1882 to carry a railway line, but now used as a pedestrian bridge. Continuing downstream, the path passes under the Grandpoint Bridge (picture 35), another pedestrian crossing.
Around another bend in the river the path crosses a footbridge and then climbs up to cross the road at Folly Bridge before returning to the riverbank. The path soon passes two cricket grounds that are mostly hidden by trees, while a little further along the far bank are a long line of university boat houses (picture 36). Beside the last college boathouse the River Cherwell joins the Thames.
There were quite a few rowers along this part of the river and plenty of joggers and cyclists were passing me on the path. In fact, the entire path since Osney Lock had been quite busy, though unfortunately only one cyclist seemed to have learned how to use their bell to warn pedestrians of their approach on the narrow path.
The Thames Path keeps to the riverside footpath as it passes under the Donnington Road Bridge, passes by the Isis Inn, and continues on towards Iffley Lock (picture 37). Below the lock, the path passes under the Isis Bridge, which carries the A4074 Southern Bypass Road, and a short distance later crosses a footbridge over a side-channel and then passes under the Kennington Rail Bridge.
There were now considerably fewer walkers and cyclists on the path, as I followed the path past several meadows and then across three footbridges over various channels that flow into a weir known as the Sandford Lasher. Now on a grassy lock island, the path soon reaches Sandford Lock (picture 38), with the village of Sandford-on-Thames on the far bank of the river.
An earlier lock built here in the 1630's was one of the first Pound Locks in England. The current lock, built in 1972, drops the level of the Thames by around 2.7 metres, the largest drop of any lock on the river.
The path passes by flowerbeds at the side of the lock and continues to the end of the lock island, where it crosses another footbirdge back to the towpath on the bank of the river. For the next two kilometres, the path follows the course of the river past mostly open farming land (picture 39), eventually reaching the large boathouse of Radley College (picture 40).
After crossing a footbridge over the slipway and passing a small cottage, the route reaches the end of a lane. At this point I left the Thames Path, having covered 31.9 kilometres from Newbridge.
Heading up the lane, I soon reached a T-junction in the hamlet of Lower Radley, turning right and soon left to follow the lane up to Radley Station, about 1500 metres walk from the Thames Path. Consulting the timetable posted at the station, I discovered that I had about 90 minutes to wait for the next train to Didcot Parkway, where I could change onto a mainline train to Swindon. Fortunately, I also discovered that there is a pub on the main road in front of the station, and I was happy to pass the time there.
I felt surprisingly good after walking more than 33 kilometres, which is the longest day's walking I have done in England so far. The big breakfast with which I had started the day at the Rose Revived had certainly stood me in good stead for a long walk.