I believe the first two minutes of the BBC's London Olympics opening ceremony coverage on 27th July 2012 sowed the seeds in my mind that it would be so good one day to walk the length of the River Thames. Fast forward seven and a half years and in January 2020 I finally decided I would challenge myself to walk the Thames Path from London to the source and then document the experience online.
If you are outside the UK and are unable to view the following video, here's a YouTube link https://youtu.be/p7YHDfLxZi0
Armed with my Senior Railcard, Bus Pass and rations, I initially did a series of one day walks that I could easily do by travelling to London by train from my home in Northamptonshire. The public transport system in and around London is so good that these walks required virtually no planning. Later walks into Oxfordshire and beyond needed a little more thought, requiring the car and at times, overnight stays away from home.
I deliberately chose sunny days for my walks, or at least days that started out sunny. I wanted my photographic memories of the walks to really bring out how beautiful our country is and the Thames, its bridges, locks and weirs in particular. I really don't like photos with totally monochrome grey skies; to me they detract somehow from the subject matter and make them dull. People who know me well will know how much grey sky weather can affect my mood. In extreme cases I have been known to revisit places on holiday to retake photos I’d taken earlier in the holiday when the weather wasn’t sunny. My Thames Path walks were to be no exception to my seemingly bizarre behaviour; I repeated 4 full walks and 2 partial walks!
In addition to being fortunate enough to pick and choose the days I did my walks, I had no need to do all of them in order; hence why for example I didn’t do the Thames Barrier walk until I’d completed the walks as far as Hampton Court. For the sake of completeness, I walked along both the south & north paths through London.
Bearing all the above in mind and with the idea fresh in my mind, I did my first walk on January 4th. It was of course a sunny day! The middle of January was mild but unsettled. Towards the end of the month I did another 3 walks.
February was windy and exceptionally wet. We had Storm Ciara on 9th, Storm Dennis on 15th and Storm Jorge on 28th. Nevertheless, in between I managed another 4 walks.
At the beginning of March, my progress came to an abrupt halt, thanks to major flooding of the Thames near Sonning-on-Thames and of course COVID-19 lockdown that started officially on 23rd. At the end of May and without breaking any lockdown rules, I restarted my Thames Path walks by walking from Tilehurst to Sonning and then all the way back again. It felt so good to be making progress again. However, walking from A to B and walking back to A again wasn't going to be practical for the rest of the trail. I had to wait until the beginning of July, when I could legitimately use public transport again, before I could resume my Thames Path walks. In July I did 9 walks, completing the trail on 21st. In August I completed the north bank walks in London. In September we had some amazing weather and I repeated 4 of the 'grey sky' walks I'd done earlier.
With having to get to the start of each walk, getting back from the end, backtracking due to flooding, going off piste to investigate points of interest en route etc, I found that I was walking considerably further than the projected distance each day. Having said that, I managed to easily complete each walk in one day.
Having completed my original challenge and enjoyed it so much, I decided I would repeat it in 2021. However, this time I would walk from the source to the Thames Barrier and I would strive to complete the 184 miles in a fewer number of sections.
With the official opening in January 2022 of the newest section of the England Coast Path between Grain in Kent and Woolwich, it is now possible to walk from the sea to the source of the Thames along a continuous way-marked route. The Thames Path itself has been extended slightly from the Thames Barrier to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel where it meets the England Coast Path. The total distance from sea to source is 232 miles. I’ve decided to challenge myself in 2022 to complete this walk in 18 or less non-consecutive days, starting in April.