Cholsey to Dorchester – July 7th and September 18th
This section starts at Cholsey on the south bank of the river. It follows the river into Wallingford, where the path very briefly takes to the streets. Once back by the riverside, the path continues to Benson Lock, where it crosses the lock and the weir to the north bank. Continuing by the riverside, the path gets to Shillingford where it leaves the river for about one mile of street walking. Once back by the side of the river, the path continues to Day’s Lock on the outskirts of Dorchester.
This section is meant to be about 9 miles.
This was another of the walks that I’d originally done in July. On that occasion the weather was overcast for much of the day and I didn’t desperately enjoy the walk. When I repeated the walk in September, the weather was so much better and needless to say, I enjoyed it a lot more. I’ll describe the September walk here.
It was a last minute decision to repeat this walk. I drove from my house to one of the Oxford Park & Ride sites. I decided I’d get some money’s worth out of my bus pass and got the bus into Oxford, where I then got another bus to Wallingford. One more bus took me to the top of Ferry Lane in Cholesey. Ten minutes later I was back by the river where the previous section had ended. Throughout the day I would hear and see helicopters. This is because RAF Benson was never far away and is home to 2 helicopter squadrons.
The path started by going through Cholsey Marsh nature reserve. It was very rural and tranquil – apart from the occasional helicopter of course. A very impressive modern boathouse belonging to Oxford Brookes University came up next on the left. Apparently, Oxford Brookes are the team to beat in the UK as far as rowing goes. They also produce many rowers who go on to represent and win medals for Great Britain in the World Championships and Olympics.
The rural feel of the path was shattered by a steel and concrete bridge carrying road traffic over the river and this marked the start of urban Wallingford. This bridge is called Winterbrook Bridge. It was built in 1993 as part of a bypass of Wallingford town centre. Another boathouse came up on the left. This was Oxford University Boat Club’s boathouse; a larger and even more impressive boathouse than Oxford Brookes’s! It is Oxford University Boat Club that competes against Cambridge University Boat Club in the annual Boat Race along the Thames.
The path briefly left the river as it reached the centre of Wallingford. It rejoined at Wallingford Bridge. I did this walk twice but on both occasions I think I must have missed at least one Thames Path sign, since I reached Wallingford Bridge by 2 different routes. Wallingford is a typical market town with lots of character and was definitely worth spending a little time investigating.
Parts of Wallingford Bridge date back to medieval times. It actually has 22 arches, only 5 of which span the river. Anyway, after admiring the bridge and taking in the views from the bridge, I continued along the path. In no time at all, the rural feel of the walk returned, with wide open meadows to my left. The walk from Wallingford to Benson Lock was very popular with people – and who could blame them! I think a lot of them were heading for the café at Benson Waterfront. The impressive weir and then the lock at Benson came up next. The garden of the lock keeper’s house was especially neat and attractive, with razor sharp cut hedges! The Thames Path crossed onto the lock island and it then crossed the weir to the north bank of the river. Since starting the Thames Path walks, I seem to have developed a fixation for locks and weirs and I now find Benson to be one of my favourites.
Having prised myself away from the lock, I came to Benson Waterfront. Benson Waterfront is a campsite that also rents out and sells riverside lodges as well as boats. The Waterfront Café is also there. It certainly has an idyllic location. Carrying on, the path became very rural again, with wide open meadows. As I approached Shillingford, a large number of park homes became visible on the opposite bank. They are part of a very large home park for old duffers like me aged over 50!
Shillingford Bridge came up next. The present bridge dates back to 1827 and is of course Grade II listed. I’ve said it before but I found this to be one of the most beautiful bridges across the Thames. Staying on the same side of the river, the path now took me away from the river, firstly down a private road that instructed me very clearly to turn right at number 74 Garden Court. This I duly did and sure enough I then followed the Thames Path signs. I did this walk twice and I suspect on both occasions I missed a sign. On both occasions I continued along a narrow lane emerging at some very large and attractive houses. Carrying on I emerged on the main road linking Oxford with Caversham, thankfully only about 100 yards short of where I should have been.
This road was very busy but thankfully one side of it had a pavement. The Thames Path continued along this road for about a third of a mile but for my safety I walked on the pavement side of the road. The instructions I’d been following the first time I did this walk weren’t very specific about how far I’d have to walk along the pavement before turning off towards the river again, saying only that it was ‘about a couple of minutes’! After a couple of minutes, I looked across the road for a Thames Path sign but there was no sign to be seen. Eventually though I saw the smallish sign at a gap in the hedges. For the benefit of anyone reading this who is going to do this walk, the Thames Path sign is directly opposite a huge road sign directing traffic for Dorchester to take the next left turn.
I didn’t find the final part of this walk desperately interesting, mainly because for much of it, the river was obscured by small trees and bushes. The landscape on both sides of the river consisted mostly of meadows, bushes and trees. After nearly a mile, the path crossed a wooden bridge over the mouth of the River Thame. The Thame is a tributary of the Thames and is about 40 miles long. Shortly after this bridge, the Thames made a 90 degree turn to the right and Little Wittenham Bridge came into view. This was a very welcome sight, as it signified I was just about at the end of this section of the river.
Little Wittenham Bridge is a footbridge that spans the river in 2 sections, with Lock House Island in between. Unsurprisingly, the lock house for Day’s Lock is situated on the island. Until 2015, the bridge was used as the bridge for the final of the World Poohsticks Championships! Apparently the event got too popular, causing parking and H&S issues and is now held on the River Windrush, near Witney.
After passing under the bridge I arrived at Day’s Lock. Unfortunately, my arrival coincided with a hideous looking houseboat wishing to pass through the lock and spoil my photos! These rental boats look like floating garden sheds, although I do accept they are utterly practical. The chortles of the lock keeper and a fellow walker confirmed that it wasn’t just me. They also shared my view that this craft looked out of place on the Thames and shouldn’t really be allowed!
Ordinarily, the end of one of these walks would require a further walk of no more than a mile to reach public transport. This walk was different. From Day’s Lock I had to follow public footpaths for about one mile to reach the edge of Dorchester. The footpaths gave good views of Wittenham Clumps (I think the one in view was Round Hill). Wittenham Clumps are apparently the most visited outdoor site in Oxfordshire, giving spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Having reached Dorchester, I walked through the village, passing first a Catholic church and then Dorchester Abbey. Dorchester is a very pretty village, well blessed with pubs but sadly not public transport. At the time of my September walk, there were just 4 buses a week – 2 on Monday and 2 on Wednesday; however, the times of the buses were not conducive to starting or ending a long walk. I was aware of this before I started my walk on a Friday and from when I did my earlier walk, I knew I’d have to walk another mile from the centre of Dorchester to the main Oxford to Caversham road to catch a bus back to Oxford. Thankfully I only had to wait a few minutes for a bus. Once back in Oxford, I got the Park & Ride bus back to my car. I then did the short drive to the Cowley Premier Inn, where I was staying that night.