Wittenham Clumps - September 7th 2021

My Walk

The 2.7 mile section of the Thames Path between Shillingford Bridge & Day's Lock isn’t desperately interesting in my opinion. The first mile takes you away from the river & onto the busy A4074. For the rest of this section, the river is often obscured by trees and hedges. As you get closer to Day’s Lock you have Dorchester on your right, dominated by the Abbey and to the left you see the Wittenham Clumps; in fact, you can see The Clumps for miles around.  The name comes from the clumps of the oldest known planted hilltop beeches in England, covering the summit of a pair of chalk hills. The hills and surrounding land attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The Earth Trust, an environmental learning charity, is the guardian of The Clumps and all this land – see https://earthtrust.org.uk/about/

Having wondered for a long time what the views of the Thames would be like from The Clumps, I decided the time had come to wonder no longer! An online blog written by the good people at walkthethames.co.uk  had previously alerted me to the fact that maybe there was a more picturesque way of getting from Shillingford Bridge to Day’s Lock, by taking the left bank of the river via The Clumps rather than the right bank. So, I chose a spectacularly sunny and very warm (29° warm!) September day and decided on a route starting and ending at Benson Waterfront.

There was a special and simple reason for choosing Benson; the Waterfront Café sells raspberry ripple cake! This is the only establishment I’ve ever come across that sells this cake. On a hot sunny day, I couldn’t think of anything nicer to finish off a walk than cake and a cold beer. I’d seen details of walks that take in more of the surrounding area than I was proposing to walk but I really wasn’t bothered. All I wanted was to walk to The Clumps to experience the views, walk down to Day’s Lock, return to Benson along the Thames Path, have my raspberry ripple cake and beer and then drive home to Northamptonshire – simple!

With the rough instructions I’d picked up from the Walk The Thames website, I set off from Benson Waterfront at about 11:15 in the direction of Shillingford. Upon reaching Shillingford Bridge, rather than turning right as I’d normally do, I turned left and crossed over the bridge. I then just followed my nose along a few tracks and paths. As I ascended, I soon spied a small clump of trees at the ridge of a very large cultivated field. Surely this can’t be one of the famous clumps I thought. I now know that the trees mark the position of Brightwell Barrow, a Bronze Age round barrow that is now a Scheduled Monument. Carrying on my ascent, before very long I reached the summit with the 2 clumps clearly defined. The first hill is named Castle Hill and the second, slightly higher one is named Round Hill. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the most beautiful 360° views of the countryside – and that was before I’d even caught sight of the Thames winding its way towards Clifton Hampden.

With just the sounds of red kites calling, I spent about 40 minutes taking in the views before descending in the direction of Little Wittenham and Day’s Lock. At the bottom of the hill, I followed the signs and crossed the first Little Wittenham Bridge onto Lock House Island, followed by the much more attractive bridge from the island onto the right bank of the river. I believe this second bridge is the one where the World Poohsticks Championships were held for three decades until 2015. I was now at the point where the Thames Path would normally have brought me. To get back to Benson, I followed the Thames Path.


At Benson Waterfront I found a table right by the river where I spent the next half hour enjoying a San Miguel and yummy raspberry ripple cake. Reflecting on my short walk, I decided that it was an absolute no-brainer; getting to Day’s Lock from Shillingford Bridge via Wittenham Clumps is definitely the better way to go in future – it was absolutely stunning. In fact, I’ve decided that the view I got of the Thames from the top of the Clumps is easily better than the view of the river from Richmond Hill – and that view is protected by an Act of Parliament! Additionally, there is virtually no difference in distance between the two routes.


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Jubilee River