Thames Walk Challenge

At the start of August 2013 the idea for a big event of walking the Thames was raised. It is a 180 mile challenge that as a club we decided to take on. We will walk the path from the Thames Barrier in East London all the way to the source, the Thames Head, near Cirencester.

The plan will be to start in September and finish before the end of Rotaract year in June. The trip will occur in a number of stages, with the length increasing to become a large two day challenge at the end.

As a club we will be raising money in the form of sponsorship on behalf of our chosen charities.

The mini summary below shows how we are getting on:

TripStartFinishMilesDone
1Thames BarrierWestminster Bridge12.1
2Westminster BridgeRichmond15.2
3RichmondHampton Court8.2
4Hampton CourtStaines-upon-Thames12.4
5Staines-upon-ThamesWindsor8.3
6WindsorMaidenhead7.3
7MaidenheadBourne End3.9
8Bourne EndHenley-on-Thames11.5
9Henley-on-ThamesTilehurst11.5
10TilehurstCholsey12.1
11CholseyDorchester9.0
12DorchesterAbingdon9.0
13AbingdonOxford8.5
14NorthbridgeOxford14.0
15NorthbridgeLechlade15.0
16LechladeCricklade11.0
17CrickladeThames Head12.0

Along the way we will be keeping a photo journal and an online blog.

Leg 16 - Lechlade to Cricklade

October 2015

By Karl Bolt

After a break during the summer we have finished the penultimate leg of the Thames Walk Challenge. This leg took us from Lechlade to Cricklade on a lovely autumnal October day.

Only three of us; Matthew, Andy and myself, undertook this leg. This was one of the longer legs, at around 15 miles, but as there were only three of us, progress was remarkably quick.

There was the usual car juggling this time, and both cars drove to the finish point at Cricklade first. The only excitement from this was a dog on a roof next to the car park that was quite angry. After this we drove to Lechlade in a single car to recommence the journey.

As soon as we reached the start of the walk we noticed a sign that stated that not all of the Thames Path has been constructed yet. So instead of walking along the peaceful, tranquil Thames, we had to walk along the slightly more perilous A361. As it was a Sunday, the road wasn’t too busy, but there weren’t any signs of where the path that reconnects to the Thames. So after some frank discussion, we went down a farm path with the vague hope of finding the Thames.

The farm path yielded mild success. We found a path that was parallel to the Thames, but not along it. However, we persevered along the path in the hope that we would eventually find the Thames again.

There was jeopardy where a field had electric fences around it, but this hazard was successfully surmounted. Along the way was several large solar farms dotted with cameras and more electric fences.

After this rather long detour from the Thames, we found it again. The Thames was noticeably smaller then when we left it just outside Lechlade. Eventually we stopped for lunch in the rather peaceful village of Castle Eaton. This meant we had passed the halfway point of the walk, with only around 7 miles to go.

The remainder of the walk was far less eventful than the first half, but items of note included ginormous apples, blackberries, and multiple crossings of the Thames.

Eventually, after 27,000 steps (we didn’t actually count, but relied on a Fitbit) we reached Cricklade. The Thames by this point could be crossed quite easily with just a pair of wellington boots, and this indicates one thing; the source must be close.

That leaves only one final leg from Cricklade up to the Source of the Thames. Hopefully we’ll get this done in the new year.

Leg 15 - Northbridge to Lechlade

April 2015

By Andy Evans

We're back in the game.

After a break for the winter, we have climbed back on board the good ship Thames Walk Challenge. This is our penultimate stage of the walk, which started in London almost two years ago.

We start from the village of Northbridge - which isn't really a village at all - rather, just a pub. After a long drive to the start point, our good driver folks Becky, Naomi and Matthew drove on further still to take their cars to the finish point in Lechlade-on-Thames, while the rest of us drank tea in the very lovely Rose Revived and waited for them to return.

This stretch of the river is much quieter than the rest. Long gone are the thriving river communities, the busy towns, the bustling cities and the well-trodden paths. No longer is it necessary to dodge the cyclists of Oxford, the buildings of London. There are no more wide, sweeping pathways. No more fishermen.

This lonely quarter of the Thames feels somewhat forgotten, meandering its way calmly through the Oxfordshire countryside.

The grass is emerald green here, and lies in great expanses either side of the river. Spring has shown her face to us today - her blossoming trees, frolicking lambs, waddling goslings and the far-off scent of summer. With springs in our steps, it is not long before we stop for lunch beside the river.

The water is glassy smooth, and fools us with its direction. The wind, though calm, is enough to blow the surface of the water upstream, leading us to believe for a moment that we may actually be walking the wrong way!

Alas we are not. It's preferred, during these times of such closeness to nature, not to rely on modern technology to find our way. Begrudgingly we take a moment to verify that we are indeed making a correct path (thanks, iPhone!) and continue.

As we pass through St John's Lock, we pass the first lock on the River Thames.

The river is slowing, as are our legs and feet. It is not far from this lock that we first glimpse the spire of Lechlade church - but like an oasis in the desert, it never seems to get closer! The river twists now, denying us a straight passage to the town. Eventually though, we reach our destination - fatigued but happy.

One more leg to go. We'll miss this river.


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Leg 14 - Northbridge to Oxford

October 2014

By Matthew Burdett

If you were superstitious, you would have expected "Leg 14" of our Thames Walk challenge to be more successful than number 13!

This time we decided to go for a public transport combo of train and taxi to get to our start point called Northmoor. Sadly, our "mega discount" train ticket saving of Groupsave 4 for the price of 2 turned out to be the not quite so great 1/3off. Once at Oxford, our taxi drivers seemed intent on taking us for a scenic route. We probably should have realised the little village of Northmoor was an unusual place when none of the taxi firms Andy surveyed seemed to know where it was. But we boldly hopped into our two cabs, and off they took us into rural Oxfordshire. And kept taking us....

Only when the President's car in front decided we were heading too far and turned us back did the cab drivers actually consult their satnav. Fearing the fact we may end up totally lost before even starting, we stopped as soon as we found the Thames at Newbridge (4 miles further from Oxford than intended)! Although there was a delightful pub, as it was only 11am we needed to press on!

Our walk took us past many scenic views, and as with many stretches now the "Thames Path" veers away from the river a few times. We found a picturesque bridge called Swinford Bridge, that looked a bit like the crossing at Maidenhead, and I discovered in a farmer's field a slightly smaller "mini bridge" to hide under.

As this was my first Thames Walk, I'd heard rumours we stopped for a pub lunch en route each time. Alas, I was disappointed when we got to Bablock Hythe and everyone else produced a splendid packed lunch, and I had nothing at all! However, we pressed on and continued through some very scenic locks like Pinkhill Lock. Andy found a tree to do his best Lion King impression. We also found some stiles that oddly went nowhere but a hedge.

Finally, after crossing under the A34 our taxi drivers had errantly taken us down earlier, the views of Port Meadow opened up. The dreaming spires of Oxford were in sight. We passed by Godstow Abbey, an ancient former abbey that the menfolk of Oxford used to frequent, and a strangely abandoned railway bridge, and what seemed like some kind of fishing derby. But this was good news - because before we knew it we had completed the leg 14 by returning back to the Oxford station. And, I might add - having navigated rather more successfully than taxi drivers had in the morning. Bring on the (slightly shorter) leg 15 from Tadpole Bridge next time!

Leg 13 - Abingdon to Oxford

September 2014

By Andy Evans

As it turns out, 21 minutes is not enough time to get from Reading to Abingdon.

Continuing with the theme of previous Thames Walk escapades, we (or at least a few of us) were to be starting the walk late. After a slightly misjudged schedule (my fault) and getting lost (also my fault), we made it to Tilehurst to collect Jorge 30 minutes later than planned.

Way behind schedule, we hit the road. The road from Reading towards Abingdon is twisty, windy, awkward and bumpy. We hit every red light, got stuck behind every horse box and every lorry in existence! The 'Hero of Navigation' award goes to Naomi for getting us there and back sans Sat Nav!

Therefore it was a relief to finally get down to some walking. And we had some catching up to do. So late were we that the others had already begun. Despite this, within an hour of quick walking we had caught them up, and we stopped for some lunch.

We watched a rather entertaining scene on the river. A group of around twelve boys were having sailing lessons, and it didn't seem to be going entirely to plan. None of them capsized, however, despite coming very close to other passing vessels!

Onwards we walked, this time at a more relaxed pace. We hit another diversion (not so serious this time), passing through more wonderfully picturesque countryside we have come to know so well from the Thames valley.

We were soon at Iffley Lock, a lovely spot which gave us a photo opportunity with a few geese. We also came across a rather drunken canal boat (the sign on top of which claimed it to be owned by the Rebellion Beer Company).

Green parks and large residences gave way to riverside boat houses, adorned with crests from colleges unknown. Oxford sits very naturally on the Thames: it creeps up on the walker, but not unpleasantly so. Before long, we were well into the city, amid the dreaming spires.

We knew this because there were millions1 of bicycles - we had a hard time trying not to get run over!

It was a short walk from the path to the train station. We took the bus back to Abingdon, to our cars, and home. We would have loved to explore the city, but we were far too tired. Next time!


1 - Not really.

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Leg 12 - Dorchester to Abingdon

August 2014

By Andy Evans

It certainly seems to be a theme, becoming lost at the start of a Thames Walk.

As we progress further up the Thames, the path, as the river, becomes narrower and less well-trodden. In some places it is hard to follow, awash with misleading signage, seemingly pointless detours, and often wanders far from the river it supposedly follows.

Victims to this, Naomi and I (only the two of us walking today) duly followed the signs for the public footpath we expected to lead to the Thames...only to be led back, moments later, to the point at which we started!

We soon found our way towards the river. We passed through 'The Gate' and along a grassy, uneven footpath skirting several fields. The skies above us screamed of rain, rain which we'd already swiped from our windscreens that morning on the journey to Dorchester. About half an hour into the walk, the first large, cold, autumnal raindrops fell.

We vowed not to admit defeat and staunchly left our raincoats in our bags, pressing on regardless. As forecast, the clouds eventually blew over to leave a sweltering, late-August Afternoon, humid in the sunshine beside the harvest-ready crops.

A short lunch stop beside Clifton lock followed, with greetings to a friendly lock keeper, and onwards we walked, Naomi setting a blistering pace. An advantage of walking as a small group is that you can cover ground much more quickly. Before long, we were only a few miles from Abingdon.

The path is more overgrown here than at the start - the vast open meadows have given way to narrow, hedge-lined jungles. On the outskirts of Abingdon we passed a seemingly endless regiment of fishermen scouring the river for the day's catch. Dodging their hooks, lines, and poles, we arrived at Abingdon, pretty hot and tired, but with a charmingly elegant finishing point.

For a few miles, I'd been thinking about nothing but ice cream - thankfully we found some!

Leg 11 - Cholsey to Dorchester

July 2014

By Naomi Rich

Having finally made it to the start point after a bit of confusion and getting lost (sorry!), we began the first walk of the new Rotaract year from Cholsey to Dorchester, led by the new Personal Development officer Ben. We'd been to Braywick and Maidenhead Beer Festival the day before but no one seemed too hungover or tired, especially with the leisurely start time of half 11, so a good excuse for a lie in!

Unlike the first walk I went on, we actually saw the Thames from the beginning!

From Cholsey we walked up to Wallingford along the river which was a surprisingly flat and sunny walk although rather hot! Unfortunately the customary goodies were bought, not made – letting the side down there, sorry! Wallingford was very pretty with its old buildings, bridge, and play areas - bridges were quite a theme along the way to Dorchester. Apparently Wallingford was a Saxon stronghold and there were some old ruins on a hill on the way to Benson along with the seemingly customary WWII bunker. On the way to Wallingford we stopped to help a lost dog, although in the end it turned out he wasn't lost – just rather confused!

In Wallingford we saw some signs about the Thames Path being closed at Benson Lock but didn't really pay much attention! Having walked another 45 minutes, we found the path was closed off due to damage during the floods, so we had to take a detour through the fields and along a narrow path by the main road. We passed a vineyard but didn't stop or we'd never have made it home!

After the detour we had lunch at Shillingford Bridge which was ultra posh with an outdoor pool with sunloungers and a hotel (although we made do with a patch of grass by the river). The hotel made for a rather posh loo break. Some families went past in canoes, apart from one canoe being pulled along by a boat and the rather cute kids were apparently 'cheating'!

We then continued along the river and passed the 'Poohsticks' bridge from another Rotaract event.

Shortly after the bridge, we left David and Shirin to walk the 8 miles to Abingdon in the heat while we went on to Dorchester and the pub for a cold drink!

The walk took us through fields and some impressive allotments where they were holding a local archaeology event – I think we've got some way to go with Braywick before we reach that standard! We finally made it to the pub with a rather odd landlord, and then it was home for dinner and a nap...apart from David and Shirin who were still on their way to Abingdon!

Cheers for a lovely walk Ben! And I'll try not to get so lost driving next time!

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Leg 10 - Tilehurst to Cholsey

June 2014

By Helen Baxter

After a few hours of gardening at Braywick Heath Nurseries the day before, my legs were not feeling ready for a 12 mile walk! However the weather forecast seemed good for the day's walk ahead of us. We all met at Tilehurst station at 10am where we welcomed a couple of new people to the club.

We set off from where we’d finished the last walk and continued along that path for a few minutes. We then came across a locked gate saying ‘Private Property’! So we turned around and went back to the station area. There we saw a Thames Path sign pointing along the road and down another path.

Once we were on the correct path we decided to always keep a look out for the Thames Path signs. This turned out to be a good decision as the walk today took us away from the river quite a lot. We walked through some lovely housing estates and pretty forests which made a really nice change from the flat river path. The change in scenery along the way was lovely, although there were a few hills to go up and down.

From Tilehurst we went through Mapledurham, Purley, Pangbourne and Goring and Streatley. Luckily for us Sophie made some delicious Rocky Road muffins and yummy cookies! We enjoyed these before we stopped for a picnic lunch next to the river.

After lunch we continued towards Cholsey where the last mile or so became very muddy and overgrown. This involved leaping over some muddy puddles and dodging stinging nettles. A very energetic walk! Then we reached Cholsey where some people went to the local pub for a well deserved drink.

Overall another great walk and good weather! Looking forward to seeing how the scenery changes from here onwards.

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Leg 9 - Henley to Tilehurst

June 2014

By Clare Kelly

Lucky for us the sun was shining as we got the train to Twyford, from where it was necessary to get a bus replacement service to Henley. We stood at the bus stop at the back of the station, awaiting our carriage.

Soon after, we get a phone call from Ben saying the bus actually goes from the front of the station! After a short bus journey we arrived to start our walk from Henley-on-Thames to Tilehurst, a journey of around 12 miles.

Jumpers were soon coming off as we started walking. As we were walking towards Sonning there were fields and more fields, full of buttercups. Finally we got to the lock at Sonning, where it was time for hot dogs (and of course ice cream) and also homemade banana cake.

We enjoyed having a sit-down break, watching the boats go through the lock. Along the way there was lot of 'aaah!'s every time we saw a duckling. We also got to see some black swans which were very very pretty.

Then it was on to Reading through more fields and over the bridge. We had a quick pit stop at Ben's house, then headed on to Tilehurst. The last mile I grew tired and hot and just wanted to sit down, but managed to get to the railway station in time for train back home. Tilehurst is not the prettiest of stations, so we were limited as to where we could take our final picture...

It was only when I got home that I realised I was sunburnt! I did not need to bring my rain coat this time!

We all had a good time!

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Leg 8 - Bourne End to Henley

April 2014

By Ben Carroll

What an interesting walk!

Our 8th leg kicked off from Bourne End Station on Sunday 27th April.

It was the first time I've visited this stretch of the Thames so even though we were hit by some morning showers, the unfamiliar scenery combined with two very cute dogs Rob and Sophie had brought along made for an exciting start.

Off we headed, our waterproof hoods going up... then down... then up... then down again, as we found the weather playing games with us.

Not too long thereafter though we were rewarded with a long stroke of brightness that defied the Met Office weather forecast and which continued to get better as the day went on. :)

Our long river walk would take us past an eclectic mix of grassy open fields and luxury houses, and at times some very muddy trails with puddles amassing.

Creative approaches encouraged.

The first main town we came to along the route was Marlow. With its charming history and architecture, it was the ideal spot to break out the snacks and take in the local sights.

Venturing forward, we found the next half of the walk was full of little surprises, with ducklings, goslings, chickens, cows and the odd peacock awaiting us. This must be our cutest walk to date.

Reluctantly pulling ourselves past all these sights, we were not long then approaching the final stretch to Henley. Both a surprisingly straight and deceptively long path this part was, but with the sun now out in full and a beautiful cupola on nearby Temple Island, we were motivated to keep going.

At a final count of 26,841 steps and with legs well in need of rest, we reached our end point at Henley and settled down with a well deserved drink in the Angel pub.

Well done Maidenhead Rotaractors!

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Leg 7 - Maidenhead to Bourne End

April 2014

By Andy Evans

Torches.

The final comment from David, just before I left the house. Well remembered! This was to be an evening walk, and to my knowledge, the first section of the Thames Walk completed in the hours of darkness.

Starting from Boulter's Lock, we were to walk to The Bounty at Bourne End, a rather quirky little boozer next to the river, inaccessible by car and only accessible on foot via a dark and sinister pathway next to the railway line. This was all to come.

Having dropped the cars off in Bourne End ready for the return trip, we made tracks shortly after 8pm as a pack of nine further northwards up the Thames.

A warm and balmy evening, the skies threatened rain, but we escaped unscathed. As the path wove between the trees of the South bank, we found ourselves on ever-stickier and ever-muddier ground, the day's earlier rainfall not yet cleared.

A short while later we found ourselves in the town of Cookham, passing through an aging churchyard. The spookiness of the mossy, crumbling gravestones scattered amid the long and tangled grass contrasted rather vividly with a jolly tune from the church's bells. Our shadows, silhouettes worthy of a horror movie, danced on the walls of the tower as we crept past the yellow floodlight of the churchyard, and on into the darkness.

Following the river again, we crossed into a larger field of tufty grass and on into a wood. Houseboats lined the banks of the river, but the smells of smoke, dinner, the clatter of plates and sounds of laughter soon ebbed away as we continued deeper into the woodland. The front pack of walkers had separated from the others. Over my shoulder, through the gloom, I could see nothing but the fading amber glow of a dying torch, gently bobbing through the night.

...and then there were lights in the distance. Not the final, desperate glow of a dying torch this time - no! - these were lights of pure brilliant white, lights of hope, civilisation, and the promise of beer. We had come upon Bourne End's riverside community, at the heart of which lay The Bounty, a pub welcoming walkers with dogs and muddy boots. We didn't have a dog, but we certainly had plenty of muddy boots.

On into The Bounty for a well-deserved pint and a game of Jenga, which our tenth Rotaractor of the evening Matt B, who met us there, seemed to pull out from nowhere. This was honestly the longest game of Jenga I've ever played - well done to Clare for finally bringing it to a close!

After this, lifts back to Maidenhead, and home.

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Leg 6 - Windsor to Maidenhead

March 2014

By David Irvine

The heavy rain and flooding continued in January and February, so with high river levels we waited until mid-March to continue our walk upstream.

The day was sunny and warm, but with the recent mix of weather the team were out in a range of outfits, from extra warm Buffalo clothing to simple shorts and t-shirts, with most going for the middle ground.

We followed the river on the southern side out of Windsor to the A332, before crossing over the river and under the road bridge to continue walking on the northern side of the Thames.

We recognised Windsor Racecourse, visible on the other side of the river, from volunteering at the Race For Life which is held there every summer. Mildly interesting fact: the racecourse is one of only two figure-of-eight tracks in the country!

Passing the racecourse we pushed on through Boveney Lock and alongside Dorney Lake, the setting for a number Team GB triumphs Team GB triumphs during London 2012 Olympics.

Spring was approaching and buds and blossoms we just beginning.

The team continued on to Bray Lock where Ben C, previous winner of the coveted Cookie Award, decided to step up a mark and produce two types of cookies, tiramisu and champagne, which were received enthusiastically.

Approaching Maidenhead, cries of "Echo" and "Hello" were heard as the Sounding Arch was tested. Built in 1838 to the design by Brunel, the bridge had at the time the widest and flattest brick archs in the world; each span is 128 feet with a rise of only 24 feet.

7 miles from our start we completed the walk with a finishers' drink at Boulters Lock prior to wandering into town in time to watch the rugby, England vs Wales in the Six Nations Championship.

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Leg 5 - Staines-upon-Thames to Windsor

January 2014

By Mellissa Cooper

My journey to the starting point at Staines-upon-Thames was a well co-ordinated mission with the input of my gracious Italian housemate as well as fellow Rotaractor, Ben C. I owe you both big time; pint on the next leg?

To cut the story of my mini adventure short - I was travelling all the way from Bristol. So a 6:30am wake up on a Sunday was required (ouch!) after a very late night out to get the 7:40am train to Reading. Yes, very hardcore and dedicated indeed!

There were two small problems though; I hadn’t brought my wellies or waterproofs with me to Bristol (essential items for any walk in sunny Britain) but thankfully Ben C could collect them from my housemate and we made it to Staines on time.

The 7 brave Rotaractors who made it to Staines were not deterred by the threat of wind, rain or flooded paths. So a certain Matthew whose last initial must not be named who bowed out because of the rain, what can I say... disappointing! (Tsk tsk of man or Minnie Mouse?)

First and foremost, there was a quick photo opportunity under Staines bridge of the faithful 7 Rotaractors who were determined to battle the 9 mile course to Windsor.

Brollies were already up 5 minutes into the walk. Brollies? Seriously... maybe we weren’t that hardcore afterall...

The beautiful scenery and the calm flow of the river led us to the Bell Weir lock. The route to Windsor is fairly flat and as such quite easy to navigate.

There were also lots of opportunities for short bursts of chit chat to get to know the other Rotaractors, especially as I am quite new to the club.

Our next notable landmark was site of the signing of the Magna Carta. For all you law and history buffs, you will probably know the significance of this monument at Runnymede.

Welly deep water had flooded the paths. It was definitely the best decision to wear wellies and a good excuse to splash about in the water and mud (one of the highlights of the walk).

The flooding, however, forced us to abandon stretches of the Thames path and do a bit of road walking instead.

Under the arch of the entrance to the Church of St Peter and St Andrew in Old Windsor, surprise yummilicious cookies were on offer, baked by Ben C (boys secretly do take the Bake Off seriously then!).

High on our sugar fix, we were buzzing with energy (especially Becky M) and ready to calmly carry on with the remainder of our walk.

Mr President, armed with a very fancy camera, captured the lovely scenes from the rest of the walk. We even spotted some very cute summer gazebos along the river, maybe next time they will invite us round for tea and cake.

Finally, the first views of the majestic Windsor Castle (small curtsy to HRH) visible even in the overcast sky and arrival at the car park marked the end of our epic partly Thames path partly road walk!

A hot beverage and warm shower were well and truly earned by all for the effort (A* obviously).

Bring on the next leg!

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Leg 4 - Hampton Court to Staines-upon-Thames

November 2013

By Sophie Condie

On Sunday 17th November, seven of us set off on a slightly cold, but dry day from Hampton Court in the direction of Staines-upon-Thames.

This was the leg I had been looking forward to as I was able to walk straight back home!

Thankfully, our journey to Hampton Court wasn’t as eventful as the previous leg of our walk, and all we had to contend with was half of the group missing the intended bus and arriving slightly late!

Very soon after leaving Hampton Court, we came to the second lock on the Thames, Molesey Lock, where we passed a weir and Molesey Boat Club.

The further we progressed, the prettier the path became as it felt like we were walking through an autumnal tunnel.

Soon after this, we came across Hampton Church, an impressive building which dates from 1831.

We soon arrived in Sunbury and came across our second lock of the day, and some tired seagulls taking a rest, and just a bit further down the path in Walton, we found a boat named Sophie up for sale!

We continued down the path which soon led to a ferry crossing in Shepperton. We were all pleased at the prospect of sitting down, even if it was just for a minute.

After leaving the ferry, we set off on the mission of finding lunch and soon realised that we may have crossed the river too soon. Luckily, there was a comfy pub, the Thames Court, around the corner with just one table left for us to sit at.

We enjoyed our enormous roast lunches, but as the days are still becoming shorter, we had to continue our walk soon after finishing.

The walk was beginning to become a lot more rural now, so after leaving the pub, we walked through some large meadows and passed under Chertsey Bridge, and next to Chertsey Lock, our fourth of the day.

At this stage, I started getting excited as I recognised Laleham Park, and knew we weren’t far from Staines!

Penton Hook Lock approached, our fifth of the day and we continued on our path.

Once in Staines, we saw a giant metal swan next to the river and the Swan Pub, our designated finishing point of the day.

We had crossed another 12.4 miles off the walk!

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Leg 3 - Richmond to Hampton Court

October 2013

By Craig Baxter

With weather warnings for the worst storm in years heading towards the south of England a team of intrepid Rotaractors and friends woke up to find a rather more pleasant morning than expected – the calm before the storm.

Happy that the clocks had gone back during the night we were all up early (for a Sunday) to make our way to our meeting point in Richmond to begin where we had previously left off.

But this seemed a bit trickier than we would have hoped, with diversions, outdated satnavs, a bus with a flat tyre and poor service on the tube, made getting to the start point feel like an epic quest on its own.

Finally gathered, the eleven river wanderers headed off. With the wind at our backs we headed off in glorious sunshine.

Considering we are still walking through a London borough, the path is already starting to feel rural, with large houses (definitely in the seven figure price range) on the north river bank. We even passed some meadows with cows.

Sophie recounted an old wives tale (not saying she is an old wife) that if the cows lie down in a field there will be rain. We surmised that if eight out of the ten cows were lying down that must surely mean that there was an 80% chance of rain... and there was but luckily after we had finished!

Along the way, we passed many impressive buildings which included: The Royal Star and Garter which is a home for disabled ex-service personnel; Marble Hill House which is in the care of English Heritage; and Ham House which is a National Trust building.

It is surprising how open and peaceful the Thames Path is within Greater London with large open spaces flanking the river.

After walking through the edge of some woodland we came across Teddington lock and weir with its attractive lock-keepers cottages. Apparently the lock is the tidal limit of the Thames... after all that walking we hadn’t even left the sea!

Soldiering on we continue until we reach Kingston. Kingston marks the end of the Thames Path on both sides of the river which then becomes mostly gravel next to Hampton Court Park which formed part of the grounds of Hampton Court Palace.

Eventually we pass the impressive gold leaf gates of the Hampton Court Palace formal garden and are able to catch our first glimpses of the building. We make our way up to the front entrance of the palace, which was the former home of King Henry VIII, to admire its construction as well as take a group photo to prove completion of this leg.

We were all now extremely ravenous and made a bee-line for the closest pub. Unfortunately the first was full so we crossed the river and went straight into the nearest restaurant which luckily still had a table for eleven.

A well deserved lunch was had as well as a lesson in Italian … piccante means spicy hot!

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Leg 2 - Westminster to Richmond

September 2013

By Robin Ogilvie

We set out for the second leg of our challenge on 29th September with the planned kick off of 10am requiring a horribly early wake up call for a Sunday morning! Daylight hours are getting shorter though and we had just over 15 miles to cover so needed to make a prompt start.

The journey to the start point at Westminster was, on paper at least, more straight-forward than for leg 1, but planned engineering works and our natural refusal to take a rail replacement bus meant that we had slightly convoluted journeys.

We spent a fair amount of the train into London confused by the number of huge men we saw in American football jerseys until we remembered that it was the day of the International Series visit to the city by the NFL, with the Minnesota Vikings playing the Pittsburgh Steelers that afternoon at Wembley Stadium.

Everyone made it through the throng of tourists though and at just after 10am, our group of 9 intrepid walkers headed off. The first sight on our route came almost immediately as we enjoyed the uninterrupted view of the Palace of Westminster on the other side of the river.

The scene was interrupted somewhat by a group of very drunk and noisy tourists who had set up camp on one of the benches on the path. Given the hour on a Sunday morning, we couldn’t work out if they were starting very early of finishing very late!

A bright yellow London Duck Tours amphibious vehicle happily chugged along the river passing us in the opposite direction and we remember thinking that must be a great and fun way to see the city. We were shocked however to later discover that one of these vessels had caught fire that morning forcing a number of tourists to abandon ship by jumping into the river. We have now decided to definitely stick to the Thames path, rather than the water, for our journey!

We continued on, crossing Lambeth Bridge to the north side of the river which we followed for a mile or so until the next significant sight came into view; Battersea Power Station. This iconic Grade II*-listed building, the largest brick building in Europe, had just finished its farewell tour, being open to the public as part of the Open House London season. It is now going to be converted into a riverside park of flats, shops and offices so it was wonderful to get a last glimpse of the building as it was before the Malaysian developers move in!

Crossing the river once more at Chelsea Bridge, we walked along the edge of Battersea Park and soon found the Barclays London Heliport in our way on the path. Deciding not to cause an security incident by strolling across the helipad, which actually struts out quite far into the river, we followed the path round the block and were disappointed that no helicopters came into land whilst we were there.

By this time our tummies were starting to rumble and so we decided to stop off at the next pub we came across which turned out to be The Boathouse at Putney. We had been lucky with the weather again and so it was warm enough to sit outside as we enjoyed our fish and chips and cider. The enormous and wonderful scotch eggs for starters were also a particular highlight!

After lunch we pressed on along the river, passing Fulham Football Club on the other side (which had recently been relieved of one of the most bizarre and incongruous statues in London) and passing a strip of rowing clubs, at which we were happy to be fleeced of a few pounds by a group of young girls who had organised a cake sale to raise money for cancer research.

The grey skyscrapers of central London were soon a distant memory as the path suddenly became very green and leafy. We walked along the edge of the tranquil WWT London Wetland Centre at Barnes and after a few more miles arrived at the world famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

There were a few tired legs at this point, and the daylight was beginning to fade so, after a quick ice-cream stop, we continued along under the canopy of trees before arriving at Richmond Lock, our planned finishing point, at around 5pm.

We were very happy to have completed the second leg of our river odyssey and took in a series of great sights that are often missed. After 15 miles though we were even happier to be heading home for a hot bath and a glass of wine though!

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Leg 1 - Thames Barrier to Westminster

September 2013

By David Irvine

On 1 September 2013, five Rotaractors plus one set out to walk from the Thames Barrier to Westminster Bridge, a further two having accomplished the feat the week before in the rain.

This was the first part of the walk that is to cover the whole of the Thames Path. The first leg of our walk started with a long journey from our homes to the distant East London. Cars, trains and tubes all had to be used to reach the destination.

Following the long journey to reach the start of our walk, team members were eager to use the facilities on offer in the Thames Barrier Visitors Centre.

Disaster struck as one member’s phone took a head first dive into the public toilet but we remained undeterred.

After a quick pose for a photo at the start, off we went.

This was going to be a great journey taking us through places we knew well, as well as the not so familiar parts of the Thames just around the corner.

As you step into the first tunnel, a scaled map of the Thames gives you a glimpse of all the places you will pass.

Coming out of the tunnel, we saw the other side of the barrier, after which we seemed to walk for hours before seeing the next landmark we knew, the O2 Arena and the Emirates AirLine CableCars.

Industry, factories and raw material processing plants existed in abundance along this stretch.

Soon a photography competition was underway; Matt with his Canon 550D, Rob with the inferior Nikon D3200 and David with the Panasonic Lumix TZ20, which could hardly compete with the other two but didn’t give up. We explored hidden spots and angles and took numerous photos.

The first major photograph delay came as we reached the CableCars and the O2.

Matt favouring the close up of a single carriage, with the plane in the background,

Rob favouring the ship and the tall support structure emanating from the river,

and David, entirely unsure of the best angle, capturing the whole scene.

Another loo break ensued and the group set off again, though unfortunately at this point we had to lose one member, who had a flight to catch but still had decided to start the walk with us.

We were now five, three boys and two girls.

Before we realised, we were reaching Greenwich, our first river crossing of the journey.

As it was lunchtime and we had been on the go for a few hours, we decided to visit the Greenwich Market. Delectable food, with the chorizo sandwich being favoured by four and a Thai curry by the other.

The Isle of Dogs was our next destination, but first we needed to walk under the river. Fed and refreshed, we set off again, reaching the Isle of Dogs after passing through the tunnel.

Our walk followed the Thames around the Isle of Dogs until we reach some building works. A diversion ensued into a children’s play area, and an inevitable break occurred as a climbing frame and slide combined into one to present an attractive object of fun.

We found ourselves back on the Thames Path just in time to see the Clipper Round the World Race heading down the Thames. The buildings now were starting to get larger, and the terraces and balconies seemed more and more luxurious as we closed in on Tower Bridge.

The Thames Path started to wind around the buildings, as every other building had its own river front access, so we were restricted in places to the street. Unsure of which path to follow, we tried them all.

A mirror allowing us to see round a corner presented a chance to get a group photograph. We decided to take advantage of this.

Just over four hours, and Tower Bridge and the Shard were now in sight. Our team took some time to absorb the view.

Continuing on, we crossed the river again at Tower Bridge and stopped for a short break to rest our legs and rehydrate before continuing.

We passed London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, finally glimpsing Westminster Bridge in the distance.

Our walk was now over. After seven hours of walking, the first leg was complete and it was time for a break.

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