Bourne End to Henley-on-Thames - July 20th
This walk starts at Bourne End on the north bank of the river. It passes through meadows before reaching Marlow, where it briefly leaves the riverside and continues through the town. It rejoins the riverside shortly after the beautiful bridge across the river. At Temple Lock the path crosses to the south bank and continues through mainly open countryside to Henley-on-Thames.
This section is meant to be 11.5 miles.
There were one or two sections that I was relieved to reach the end of and tick off as completed, as I did not find them desperately interesting. This walk however was not one of these. The fine weather had a lot to do with it but I could happily do this walk time and time again. Definitely one of my two favourite walks along the Thames. There was a good reason for the delay in doing this section. One of my sisters lives about 45 minutes from Bourne End and she wanted to do this walk with me. However, we could never find a suitable day when we were both free, the weather was fine and our lockdown rules permitted us to mix. With just this and one other walk to complete the Thames Path, I decided I’d do the walk on my own.
To make it easy to complete the final walks, I’d been staying at a Premier Inn in Oxford. I drove down the M40 to the start at Bourne End. Walking from the car park to the start, I passed a Co-Op where I bought a meal deal lunch. A sign in the village directed me towards the Thames Path and I soon reached the riverside and Bourne End Marina. The railway bridge I’d crossed at the end of the Windsor to Bourne End walk was just to my left. After the marina, the path continued almost all the way to Marlow through open meadows, whilst on the other bank were numerous, large and attractive riverside properties of Cookham. It was so tranquil and beautiful.
Shortly before reaching Marlow, a concrete road bridge carrying the A404 across the river came into view. Not long after this bridge, the channel funneling river traffic towards Marlow Lock came up. At this point, the path left the river and numerous Thames Path signs directed me along residential streets into the town. However, one of the signs was for the lock itself. I walked down to the lock which was a hive of activity. There were great views of the weir, the road bridge and the town from here.
I retraced my steps back to the Thames Path signs and then continued towards Marlow town centre, emerging at the beautiful All Saints Church. To the right of me was Marlow High Street, looking resplendent with red, white and blue bunting hung from one side of the road to the other. To the left of me was Marlow Bridge, a Grade 1 listed suspension bridge opened in 1832. Only light traffic up to 3 tonnes is allowed to cross it these days. Although the Thames Path doesn’t cross it, I walked across and back to fully admire it.
The path rejoined the riverside shortly after the bridge, initially passing through a public park that is extremely popular with picnickers and swans! On the day of my walk, the fine weather brought out a lot of walkers along this part of the path; hardly surprising really. Between here and the next lock, the urban feel of the path quickly gave way to a more rural feel, with fields to the right and occasional large riverside properties on the other side of the river. Of note, was Bisham Church and the National Sports Centre at Bisham Abbey.
Temple Lock and weir came next. Like Marlow Lock, this was a hive of activity. After the lock, Temple Bridge came up. This footbridge was opened in 1989, specifically for walkers who wanted to get to Henley-on-Thames without leaving a footpath. Before the bridge was constructed, walkers had to take a road away from the river, passing through Marlow and Bisham. The Thames Path crossed this bridge to the south bank. Having crossed Temple Bridge, the path continued alongside the river until a wooden bridge came up, just before Hurley Lock. I crossed this bridge onto an island and continued past the lock itself until another wooden bridge taking me back to the south bank came up.
The path now opened up into a meadow, with a large caravan park behind – Hurley Riverside Park. There were plenty of people picnicking and generally having fun on and by the river. With continuous trees on the north bank, it’s no wonder this spot is so popular, as it’s so pretty. After the park, the path continued alongside the river, through the hamlet of Frogmill. For the next mile, the river took another gentle bend and the path continued by its side in open fields with cows and sheep. It was so tranquil and peaceful, with the occasional boat going past.
Eventually, I got the biggest surprise of the walk, as the signs for the path directed me away from the riverside onto a private estate, Culham Court. I know I’ve probably over-used the word ‘beautiful’ in my ramblings but Culham Court and the whole estate really are beautiful. The 650 acre estate was bought by a Swiss financier in 2007 (he paid £10 million more than the asking price!) and since then he has been painstakingly restoring it. In 2016 he opened a brand new Roman Catholic chapel on the estate in an imposing position, overlooking the river. The Thames Path has a right of way through the estate. At the time of my walk, I was really fortunate to see a herd of white deer. Culham Court itself is a Grade II listed mansion dating back to the 1770s. The owner clearly likes lawns, as the gardens have the greenest grass and most perfect stripes I think I’ve ever seen! Naturally, the estate is also home to a riverside cricket pitch!
After leaving the estate, the path continued down a narrow country lane to a pub – The Flower Pot. This did look very welcoming but with lockdown having only been lifted a couple of weeks earlier, I decided to press on. After about 200 yards, the Thames Path was back on the towpath. For the next half mile, the path ran next to a meadow that was popular with people picnicking and enjoying the river. The weir at Hambleden Lock came into view next. I’m going to use that word ‘beautiful’ yet again. From the lock, you are able to walk all along the weir to the village of Mill End. Although it was going slightly off piste, I couldn’t not do this walk and it only took a few minutes. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking here.
After Hambleden Lock, the river started to bend one more time as it headed for Henley-on-Thames. The path opened up into fields, one of which contained a herd of cows. On the other side of the river, the campus of Henley Business School came into view. Gradually, the path became more formalised as it turned into a concrete path and the closer I got to Henley, the more people there were walking along it.
Temple Island in the middle of the river came up next. On it is a folly, built in 1771. In 1987, Henley Royal Regatta was able to buy a 999 year lease of the island and the folly. The regatta course starts roughly 300 yards below Temple Island. It is dead straight, 1 mile and 550 yards in length and finishes at Phyllis Court Club, close to Henley Bridge. On this final stretch of my walk, were numerous boathouses and motor boats of all sizes. With the UK emerging from lockdown, it was pleasing to see a couple of large pleasure cruisers on the river with plenty of tourists on board.
I finally reached Henley Bridge, the end of today’s walk. The bridge was built in 1786 and is Grade 1 listed. It’s another of the bridges I find very attractive. I crossed over the bridge and bought a takeaway coffee. I then sat by the riverside to drink it and watch the world go by – the perfect accompaniment to the piece of cake I’d brought with me!
To get back to my car, I walked to Henley-on-Thames railway station, donned my face covering and caught the first of 3 trains that would get me to Bourne End. Whilst this sounds tortuous, there were very good connections. On the drive back to Oxford, I stopped off at a country pub for my tea. A very long day but such a satisfying one.
Definitely in my top two favourite Thames Path walks.