Thames Path

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Thames Path
Thames Path sign, Thames Barrier.jpg
The Thames Path sign at the end of the walk, by the Thames Barrier
Length184 mi (296 km)
LocationSouthern England, United Kingdom
DesignationUK National Trail
TrailheadsKemble, Gloucestershire and Thames Barrier, Charlton, London
UseHiking, cycling
Elevation
Elevation change110m
Highest point110m
Lowest point0m
Hiking details
SeasonAll year
SightsLondon, Hampton Court, Windsor, Oxford, Lechlade, Cricklade
Hazardsflooding

The Thames Path is a National Trail following the River Thames from its source near Kemble in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier at Charlton, south east London. It is about 184 miles (296 km) long.[1] A path was first proposed in 1948 but it only opened in 1996.[2]

The Thames Path's entire length can be walked, and a few parts can be cycled. Some parts of the Thames Path, particularly west of Oxford, are subject to flooding during the winter. The river is also tidal downstream from Teddington Lock and parts of the path may be under water if there is a particularly high tide, although the Thames Barrier protects London from catastrophic flooding. The Thames Path uses the river towpath between Inglesham and Putney. Historically, towpath traffic crossed the river using many ferries,[3] but crossings in these places do not all exist now and some diversion from the towpath is necessary.


Description and access to the river[edit]

The general aim of the path and the object of occasional path changes is to provide walkers with a pleasant route and access to the river, as much as possible. The Thames Path provision naturally falls into three distinct areas.

Source to Lechlade[edit]

The Thames Path uses all available riverside rights of way between the traditional source of the river in Trewsbury Mead and Inglesham, but is unable to run alongside the river in several places. The Thames Path starts beside the monument for the source of the river and follows the stream down the hill towards Kemble. On the stretch between Ewen and Somerford Keynes you pass through fields and there are a number of watermills. The path then follows the river through Cotswold Water Park to Ashton Keynes where the river divides into a number of streams; the path partly follows one of these and rejoins the main river by Waterhay Bridge. The path wanders to and from the river amongst more gravel pits until Hailstone Hill, where a branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal formerly crossed the river on an aqueduct. There is a riverside path into and out of (but not within) Cricklade and all the way to Castle Eaton. The path next follows country lanes, a short stretch along a backwater to Hannington Bridge then goes across fields to Inglesham. In 2018 the path incorporated a section of permissive path alongside the river at Upper Inglesham.

Above Inglesham the river is not dredged and is mostly its natural self without the benefit of locks with weirs to control water levels so it is shallow, weedy and swift and the river level fluctuates, hence flooding of riverside paths is common. Today the Environment Agency manages the Thames between Cricklade and Teddington, and maintains the right of navigation for small boats up to Cricklade, however the towpath now stops just upstream of Lechlade. The Thames Navigation Commission paid little attention to the navigation above Lechlade, because the Thames and Severn Canal provided an alternative route for barge traffic; sections of the footpath that run alongside the river around Cricklade were probably pre-existing towpath.

Navigation with locks and towpath[edit]

Thames and Severn Canal joining the Thames with former canal warehouse to left and Round House behind it, covered in greenery.
St John's Lock, near Lechlade

The Thames Path uses the existing Thames towpath between Inglesham and Putney Bridge wherever possible. The towpath owes its existence in its current form to the Industrial Revolution and the Canal Mania of the 1790s to 1810s. The Thames has been used for navigation for a long time,[4] although owners of weirs, locks and towpath often charged tolls. However, it was not until a little after the Thames Navigation Commission were enabled by a 1795 Act of Parliament [5] to purchase land for a continuous horse path that the non-tidal navigation (and hence the towpath) was consolidated as a complete route under a single (toll charging) authority, upstream to Inglesham. This improved the ability of horse drawn barge traffic to travel upstream to the Thames and Severn Canal, which had opened in 1789. The commissioners had to create horse ferries to join up sections of towpath (for example at Purley Hall), as the Act did not allow them to compulsorily purchase land near an existing house, garden or orchard. The City of London Corporation, who had rights and responsibilities for the Thames below Staines, from a point marked by the London Stone, had similarly bought out the towpath tolls of riparian land owners as enabled by an earlier Thames Navigation Act in 1776.[4] Although both development of the railways and steam power supplanted horse drawn boats on the non-tidal Thames from the 1840s, the towpath still exists little changed, except for the discontinuance of the ferries, some of which were still running until the 1960s.

The canal entrance is the present day limit of navigation for powered craft and is one and a half miles upstream of the highest boat lock near Lechlade.[6] Today, between the canal entrance and Putney Bridge, the towpath still allows access by foot to at least one side of the river for almost the whole length of the main navigation of the river, but not mill streams, backwaters or a few meanders cut off by lock cuttings, since towpaths were originally only intended to enable towing of barges. The main exception to this is a stretch of river without any dedicated path by Home Park, Windsor. The Windsor Castle private grounds were extended to include the riverbank by the Windsor Castle Act 1848, involving the building of Victoria and Albert bridges and the removal of Datchet Bridge. This accounts for the Thames Path's diversion from the river at Datchet. There are also two other short lengths of river missing access: between Marlow bridge and lock, and either side of The Swan public house in Pangbourne. Other than these exceptions, between Inglesham and Putney, the Thames Path only makes diversions from the remaining towpath due to the lack of a lock, bridge or ferry to cross the river in the original locations.

Temple Footbridge built in 1989 for the Thames Path

Historically, there have been replacements for towpath ferry crossings with bridges at Goring and Clifton Hampden and the path across the weir at Benson Lock (towpath ferry was upstream)[7]. In recent times, crossings have been created for the Thames Path; the Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry was restarted in 1986, Temple Footbridge near Hurley was built in 1989, a footpath attached to Bourne End Railway Bridge in 1992 (ferry was upstream)[8], and Bloomers Hole Footbridge was built in 2000. No other replacement river crossings have been created for lapsed ferries, so the Thames Path has to divert away from the towpath to cross the river elsewhere, leaving some sections of towpath unused. Walkers can still use the towpath to visit the lengths of river navigation not on the Thames Path, with two exceptions, where there are now isolated sections of towpath not connected by any public path (or ferry) at either end. The first is 1km downstream of Mapledurham Lock, the lack of two ferries formerly diverting around Purley Hall accounts for the path's diversion from the river at Purley-on-Thames. The second and most downstream is a section of towpath within the National Trust grounds of Cliveden; here the lack of three ferries accounts for the path's diversion from the river at Cookham. Note that when Cookham Lock was built in 1830, Hedsor Water became a backwater and lost its towpath.

Cliveden from the River Thames

The Locks on the River Thames are pleasant places to visit on the Thames Path, and in summer some have facilities open for visitors. The locks at Cookham and Whitchurch are not on the Thames Path. Whitchurch Lock cutting was built through an island in the river and public access to the lock over the weir from Pangbourne or across the millstream at Whitchurch-on-Thames was closed in 1888 to avoid the loss of tolls on Whitchurch Bridge; as a consequence Whitchurch Lock is the only Thames lock that is inaccessible by foot – it is only accessible by boat.[9] Cookham Lock is still accessible although is not on the Thames Path. The Thames divides into several streams here and the towpath does not connect up without ferries; access to this lock requires a 10-minute walk across Odney Common on Formosa Island and the Lock Island (former Mill Eyot) to Sashes Island. Marlow Lock access requires a short walk through the town streets. All the other locks have obvious access from the Thames Path. Lock building by the Thames Commissioners had improved the whole river navigation from Inglesham to the upper limit of the tidal reach at Staines by 1789. On the tidal Thames below Staines, six new locks were built by the City of London Corporation to improve the navigation between 1811 and 1815.

There are also a few lengths of river bypassed by navigation cuttings just off the Thames Path which are still fully accessible at Desborough Island (formed by Desborough Cut), Penton Hook Island (a meander cutoff formed by Penton Hook Lock) and accessible for part of the length at Duxford (towpath follows Shifford Lock cut) and Sutton Pools (towpath follows Culham Lock cut). The lock islands at Boulters Lock, Caversham Lock and Shepperton Lock can be visited in addition to Penton Hook; any footpaths across other lock islands only allow access to the path alone.

Tideway[edit]

The Boat Race, viewed from Chiswick Bridge, looking at the crowds on the southern (Surrey) bank towpath

There is a Thames Path on both sides of the river downstream of Teddington Lock, the southern path including the original towpath as far as Putney Bridge. Due to the locks built by the City of London, the river is now tidal downstream from Teddington Lock. A further lock with a low-tide barrage (rather than a weir), was built in 1894 downstream at Richmond Lock to improve the navigation by maintaining water level upstream to at least half-tide level. Today, the Port of London Authority manages the tidal river, including Richmond Lock and barrage. Wharfs and jetties are generally confined to the northern (Middlesex) bank between Richmond and Putney. This stretch of tideway (known as the Upper Rowing Code Area) has special navigation rules to accommodate the activities of a number of rowing clubs, and includes the course used for The Boat Race. Chiswick Eyot is on this section and is notable as being the only tidal island on the river.

The Millennium Footbridge with St Paul's Cathedral in the background

Historical records state that the towpath started at Putney.[10] Downstream of Putney, there are jettys and wharfs on both banks of the river, and sections of the Thames Path(s) often have to divert away from the river around riverside buildings.[11] Since London was such a busy port, it is likely that the riverbanks were never designated as towpath. Sailing, rowing, and following the rising and falling tide were the means of movement until the 19th century, Thames sailing barges being typical. Crossing the river was more of a priority, as evidenced by the many Watermen's stairs giving watermen and passengers access to the tidal river.[12] Thames steamers became more common for transport on the tidal Thames from 1815 until the railways dominated public transport.

In central London, there is much to see and the Thames Path is one of the Mayor of London's Strategic walking routes.[13] The Thames Path Cycle Route is a black-signposted route that follows the river between Putney Bridge in the west and Greenwich in the east. It mostly follows the Thames Path, but diverges in various sections, especially where the path follows a footpath-only route. It also links National Cycle Route 1 (east of London) with National Cycle Route 4 (west of London).[14]

Route[edit]

The route of the Thames Path can be divided into these sections:

The Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry reopened 1986

Thames crossings[edit]

Bloomers Hole Footbridge, built in 2000 for the Thames Path

The list below gives the points where the Thames Path crosses the river between Cricklade and Teddington. Above Cricklade, the Thames is a stream and in some places there may be no water except after rain. Below Teddington there are paths on both sides of the river until the Greenwich foot tunnel, after which the path is only on the south.

The list is in downstream order. The letter in brackets indicates whether the path downstream of that point takes the northern or southern bank (using north or south in reference to the river as a whole, rather than at that specific point).

Bridges and ferries are listed in full under Crossings of the River Thames.

The river can be crossed at about a third of the locks, although some of these crossings are not part of the Thames Path. Locks are listed under Locks on the River Thames.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Thames Path". nationaltrail.co.uk. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  2. ^ "Thames Path". ramblers.org.uk. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  3. ^ Fred. S. Thacker The Thames Highway: Volume II Locks and Weirs 1920 – republished 1968 David & Charles http://thames.me.uk/thacker1920.htm
  4. ^ a b Fred. S. Thacker The Thames Highway: Volume I General History 1914 http://thames.me.uk/thacker1914.htm
  5. ^ http://www.the-river-thames.co.uk/manage.htm The River Thames — Its management past and present
  6. ^ http://thames.me.uk/ThamesHall.htm
  7. ^ towpath ferry from Rivermead to upstream of Benson lock http://thames.me.uk/s01341.htm
  8. ^ Spade Oak ferry http://thames.me.uk/s00790.htm
  9. ^ https://whitchurchonthames.com/lock.html
  10. ^ http://thames.me.uk/Thamestour1829.htm
  11. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/feb/24/private-london-exposed-thames-path-riverside-walking-route
  12. ^ http://www.watermenscompany.com
  13. ^ https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/walking/thames-path
  14. ^ http://www.bexley.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3185
  15. ^ Bablock Hythe ferry http://thames.me.uk/s01970.htm
  16. ^ towpath ferry upstream of Shillingford http://thames.me.uk/s01352.htm
  17. ^ Littlestoke ferry http://thames.me.uk/s01310.htm
  18. ^ Moulsford ferry http://thames.me.uk/s01290.htm
  19. ^ Gatehampton ferry (Basildon ferry) http://thames.me.uk/s01235.htm
  20. ^ Purley Hall ferries http://thames.me.uk/s01180.htm
  21. ^ Lashbrook ferry http://thames.me.uk/s01052.htm
  22. ^ Bolney ferry http://thames.me.uk/s01050.htm
  23. ^ Medmenham ferry http://thames.me.uk/s00862.htm
  24. ^ Aston ferry http://thames.me.uk/s00860.htm
  25. ^ Chalmore Lock http://thames.me.uk/s01320.htm
  26. ^ Cookham ferry ; http://thames.me.uk/s00770.htm
  27. ^ Cookham Middle ferry (Lock ferry) (Hedsor ferry); Joan Tucker Ferries of the Upper Thames 2013 ISBN 978-1-84868-967-1
  28. ^ My Lady ferry (Cliveden ferry) ; http://thames.me.uk/s00748.htm

Coordinates: 51°40′N 1°15′W / 51.667°N 1.250°W / 51.667; -1.250