Tadpole Bridge to Lechlade – July 13th & September 17th
This section begins at Tadpole Bridge in Oxfordshire on the north bank of the river. Between here and the end of the walk at the town of Lechlade in Gloucestershire, the path crosses the river a number of times as it snakes its way through wide open rural countryside, passing the very small villages of Radcot and Kelmscot, all the time continuing to get narrower and shallower. On this section there are pillboxes and bends in the river galore!
This section is meant to be about 10.5 miles.
After a lot of planning, I decided I could do the last 3 walks to get to the source of the river by staying in Lechlade for 2 nights. I knew that public transport at Tadpole Bridge was non-existent, at Lechlade it wasn’t that much better, Cricklade had a reasonable bus service and Kemble (the closest village to the source) actually had a railway station with trains to Swindon. For my planning to work, without costing me too much money in car park charges, I would have to walk this section on the 3rd morning of my trip. Even so, this was the one walk where I would have to resort to getting a taxi.
When I first did this walk in July, I did it in reverse, starting at Lechlade and ending up at Tadpole Bridge. The day started quite bright but very soon it became more and more cloudy. This of course upset me – a lot! Never mind, I’d driven a long way to get to Lechlade, so I would have to make the best of it. Very soon after leaving Lechlade, I caught up with a fellow walker, who I recognised from breakfast at the hotel I stayed in. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I carried on past him. Because I kept stopping to take photos, he caught up with me eventually. We started talking and in the end I decided that I’d walk with him to Tadpole Bridge and he would then carry on to the end of his walk at Newbridge. As he was carrying a heavy holdall on his back, he was walking slower than I would normally walk but it didn’t matter on this occasion. He had some fascinating stories to tell me and I hope I didn’t bore him too much with mine. When we said our goodbyes at Tadpole Bridge, he told me he was grateful that I had in fact made him walk faster than he would have otherwise walked. To get back to my car, I then walked the 2 miles to the A420 bus stop at Buckland, got the S6 bus to Farringdon but then had to resort to a £15 taxi ride back to Lechlade.
As I said at the start, the weather for this walk was pretty cloudy, so my “Can’t Bear Grey Sky Photos” affliction meant this would have to become a candidate for repeating on a sunny day! The week of amazing weather we had midway through September thankfully provided the opportunity. This time I would do the walk from Tadpole Bridge to Lechlade. Even though the start was 80 miles from home, on this occasion I was quite happy to do this and drive home on the same day; in fact, to be honest I was suffering from post-Thames Path Walk withdrawal symptoms. I parked my car at Buckland Turn on the A420 in a quiet layby round the corner from where the bus I would catch later in the day would drop me off.
To get to the river at Tadpole Bridge, I took the road into Buckland, a very pretty village with Cotswold stone buildings. After 2 miles I reached the river at Tadpole Bridge. At the end of the previous section, the Thames Path was on the north bank of the river and today’s walk continued on the same side. The first mile of this walk was along a tarmacked track providing access to Rushey Lock and a campsite. Rushey Lock was yet another really attractive lock with a lovely stone lock keeper’s house and immaculate garden. The star attraction was the large topiary frog on the lawn, with its blue eyes overlooking the lock! The path crossed the lock onto the lock island and then across the weir to get to the south bank of the river.
The river in this section does have a large number of bends and this walk showed me just how tight some of these bends actually are, since the path ran right alongside the river. I’m sure long narrowboats in particular would have to take extreme care. A couple of miles further on Old Man’s Bridge came up. This is a narrow wooden footbridge over the river, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. A bit of research revealed to me that this bridge was built in 1894 and maintains a historical right of way across a weir that was previously here. The Thames Path continued past his bridge and very soon reached Radcot Lock. Unusually, the lock keeper’s house was single story. It was built in 1986 after the old house was demolished due to subsidence.
Soon after Radcot Lock, a short backwater branched off to the left of the river. A metal bridge crossed this backwater onto an island that for the most part was given over to a campsite with striking tepees. The path continued between the tepees and the river. On the opposite bank was a very attractive riverside pub, Ye Olde Swan. Straight ahead was Radcot Bridge, or at least one of the 3 bridges that cross the river and backwaters at this point. The bridge in front of me was Canal Bridge AKA Radcot New Bridge, a single arched stone bridge just wide enough for one boat. The path crossed the river at this bridge and continued along the north bank. Looking back towards Canal Bridge, the original Radcot Bridge came into view. This bridge claims to be the oldest bridge across the Thames, having been completed by 1225. Only parts of the original bridge now remain. The third bridge, Pidnell Bridge wasn’t visible from the path. As it was now about 1 o’clock, I sat on the riverbank and ate my lunch.
Carrying on, a mile further on I arrived at Grafton Lock. Nothing much more to say about this that hasn’t already been said about how well the locks are looked after. The path continued through wide expansive meadows. I walked past a herd of grazing Friesian (or maybe Holstein?) cattle who really weren’t bothered by me. When I did this walk in July with my fellow walker, these cows were certainly a lot more vocal and active as my videos show. I think they were calling out to the farmer that it was milking time!
Another wooden bridge came up next – Eaton Footbridge. Like Old Man’s Bridge, this bridge maintains a right of way that existed at the time a lock and weir at this site were removed in 1936. It looked like the former lock keeper’s cottage is now owned by the Anchor Boat Club. The path continued past this bridge. After another series of tight bends, the river reached a wide wooden bridge that took me onto the island at Buscot Lock; yet another lock with exceptionally well tended gardens. To return to the Thames Path it was necessary to cross the footbridge across the weir.
Beyond the lock, the river took still more tight bends, one of which was a really long hairpin bend. As the path was fenced in, there was no way of bypassing these bends but this didn’t bother me as it was such a lovely afternoon. Yet another wooden footbridge came next – or so it seemed. Bloomer’s Hole Footbridge was built in 2000 but is made of steel and is encased in wood to make it look like a timber structure. It was commissioned specifically to carry the Thames Path across the river. Apparently, a Chinook helicopter from RAF Brize Norton lowered the two 27 metre steel beams into place! Needless to say, I crossed this bridge back onto the south bank of the river.
A brick built bridge came up next, carrying the road between Lechlade and Farringdon. Walking beneath this bridge the welcome sight of the spire of St Lawrence Church in Lechlade could be seen. The final upstream lock of the river, St John’s Lock was on the other side of the bridge and naturally, it didn’t disappoint. In the front garden of the lock keeper’s house was the statue of Old Father Thames. The statue was commissioned in 1854 for The Crystal Palace's grounds. It was purchased by the Thames Conservancy in 1936 and later moved to the traditional source of the Thames at Thames Head in 1958. It was relocated to St John's Lock in 1974 after continued vandalism. The statue sculpted by Raffaelle Monti is Grade II listed. The weir paddle on his shoulder was definitely not original!
After St John’s Lock, the path continued through wide open meadows again before reaching Halfpenny Bridge in Lechlade, a very attractive Grade II listed stone built bridge dating from 1792. It was once a toll bridge. The original small, square toll house on the north side of the bridge still stands. Lechlade marked the end of this walk. Having stayed here back in July, I made my way to the New Inn Hotel and refreshed myself with a lager in their huge riverside garden. I still had to get back to my car of course in Buckland. I called the taxi firm I’d used before and they took me to Farringdon. From there I caught the S6 bus to Buckland Turn which is where my car was. I then drove home.
Although it was so rural, second time around this was a thoroughly enjoyable walk.