Absolute Escapes’s latest offering, the Thames Path – Central, offers a perfect introduction to long-distance walking and a fantastic opportunity to familiarise yourself with some of England’s finest landscapes and towns.
Travelling from source to sea, the River Thames flows for 215 miles through 9 counties past some of England’s most recognisable sights. Our Thames Path – Central itinerary covers the cream of the crop, starting and ending in two of the UK’s most well-known historic towns – Oxford and Windsor – as well as visiting many other picturesque towns such as Abingdon, Henley-on-Thames and Marlow.
The Thames Path – Central is the ideal walk for those interested in history, architecture, and nature.
Starting in the world-famous university city of Oxford allows for the opportunity to visit some of the historic colleges. Harry Potter fans may like to visit New College, where scenes from The Goblet of Fire were filmed, while history buffs will love University College, Balliol and Merton, the three oldest colleges established in the 13th century.
Those looking for that perfect Instagram shot can’t miss Hertford Bridge – an ornate bridge linking two parts of Hertford College.
Once you’ve explored the nooks and crannies of the colleges, there’s still plenty more to see in Oxford. My personal recommendation is to stop off at the Oxford Covered Market, which, with its myriad of enticing food and independent craft stalls, is a feast for the senses and can easily be enjoyed for hours on end.
Elsewhere, a trip to the Ashmolean Museum is a must. It is the oldest public museum in the world and contains significant works such as drawings by Michelangelo, antiquities from Prehistoric Egypt, and countless other fascinating artefacts.
The Thames flows through picturesque towns, villages and civil parishes, each as charming as the next with their own history and points of interest.
Just 10 miles downstream from Oxford, you’ll come across the historic market town of Abingdon-on-Thames; an idyllic town with charming streets, fantastic eateries, and a beautiful riverside setting. It is also host to the rather unique event of ‘bun throwing’, where major Royal occasions are celebrated by around 4,000 currant buns being thrown from the county hall to eager spectators! The County Hall Museum even has a display of buns from previous events.
Further downstream, you’ll pass through Wallingford, Goring, and Pangbourne, walking alongside riverside meadows and field edges, and crossing from Oxfordshire into Berkshire.
Beyond Pangbourne, there are several more charming villages, the most notable of which is Henley-on-Thames, site of the Henley Royal Regatta. The annual regatta attracts thousands of visitors, eager to watch the highly awaited rowing event of the year in which Oxford and Cambridge Universities compete head-to-head.
Outside of rowing season, Henley is a delightful place to visit, adorned with flower arrangements, lovely riverside pubs, and a quaint English high street. For those looking for more information on Henley’s rowing history, a visit to the River & Rowing Museum is a must.
My favourite stop on the Thames Path is the picturesque town of Marlow, a bustling market town with historic buildings and a great selection of independent cafes and restaurants.
From Marlow Lock, there is a delightful view back to the town featuring the tower of the All Saints Church.
For those keen on bird-spotting, the Thames Path is a delight! Swans and their cygnets can be spotted swimming along the river in summer, herons adorn the banks of the river year-round, seeking their prey in the water of the Thames, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch the blue flash of a kingfisher flitting across the river.
As well as bird sightings, the Thames Path also offers the chance to switch off and enjoy the beauty of the nature surrounding you.
Weeping willows trailing into the water, wildflower meadows and constant companion of the flowing river by your side allow for a chance to reflect on the simple beauties in life.
Your walk will end in the historic town of Windsor, dominated by Windsor Castle and the surrounding Great Park. Windsor is the largest occupied castle in the world and is open to visitors year round, apart from when the Royal Family is in residence.
Highlights of the castle include the State Apartments which feature some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection, the changing of the guards, and the surrounding 5,000-acre park and gardens.
Across the Thames, Windsor’s twin town Eton is home to Eton College, one of the most prestigious private schools in the world. Eton College alumni include nineteen British Prime Ministers, members of royal families from all around the world, and two Nobel Prize winners. Eton has a lovely old English charm that can be enjoyed on a walk along its high street.
The Thames Path – Central offers the perfect introduction to long-distance walking, with the winding riverside path providing a varied yet easy to navigate route.
Innumerable points of interest along the way provide for sightseeing opportunities, and the terrain is unchallenging yet engaging.
Those with an aversion to heights will be delighted to know that the Thames Path only has one hill on the entirety of its route, between Goring and Pangbourne!
Complex navigation is not required as the path largely follows the river (although we’d recommend having a map, just in case!), and there are plenty of lovely places to enjoy a great meal and a refreshing drink each evening, such as the Angel on the Bridge in Henley.
Both Oxford and Windsor are well connected by public transport, and can easily be reached from London.
These arguments aren’t to say that the Thames Path – Central isn’t for those who have already completed a long-distance walk. In fact, it has so much to offer that it should appeal to even the most seasoned walker. Whether it’s historic castles, quaint villages, or majestic waterfowl, a riverside ramble from Oxford to Windsor has something for everyone.
P.S. Absolute Escapes offer award-winning self-guided walking holidays in the UK & Ireland. Our Thames Path – Central package includes carefully-selected accommodation, bag transfers, guidebook/map, and everything you need to enjoy an unforgettable walking holiday on this beautiful long-distance trail.