Lechlade to Cricklade – July 11th
This walk follows the Thames between the 2 towns of Lechlade and Cricklade. Dividing the walk into 3, the first and third sections mostly follow the river bank, whilst the middle section only meets the river occasionally. Castle Eaton is the only village of note along the route.
In the autumn of 2017, a long talked about improvement to the Thames Path opened. Up until then, the walk to Cricklade involved walking along the A361 for more than a mile between Inglesham and Upper Inglesham. The path now follows the river bank.
This section is meant to be about 11 miles.
This was to be the first of my three walks over the weekend of 11th to 13th July and involved staying in Lechlade for two nights. For my planning to work, I had to get to Lechlade from Swindon by public transport for the start of this walk. This was without doubt the most tortuous experience of my public transport journeys along the whole Thames Path – but it worked.
On the Saturday morning, I first drove to Swindon railway station where I parked the car and walked to the bus station. The centre of Swindon was as I remembered it from the last time I went there many years ago. Suffice to say that wasn’t a great memory. From Swindon I caught a bus to Highworth, where I had to wait 45 minutes for a bus to Lechlade. I had a wander around the town whilst I was waiting for the bus. The contrast with Swindon was amazing; it’s a really attractive, traditional market town. I finally arrived at Lechlade at about 1 o’clock. Even though my luggage was in my car in Swindon, I checked into my hotel – the New Inn hotel in the market square. I then set off on my walk to Cricklade.
Lechlade is normally considered to be the end of the navigable river but there is a right of navigation as far as Cricklade. Small craft may be able to travel for a further three miles beyond Lechlade when there is plenty of water in the river. My walk started at Halfpenny Bridge on the south bank of the river. It was a pleasant day and plenty of people were out relaxing by or on the river, along with a thirsty herd of cattle. After almost a mile, the river took a sharp bend to the left but straight ahead was an appropriately named building “The Roundhouse”. The Roundhouse was built in the late 18th century. It was the lock keeper’s house at Inglesham Lock. The lock marked the end of the Thames and Severn Canal at the point it flowed into the Thames. It is Grade II listed. The canal has been closed and derelict since the 1920s but in 2010 a restoration group managed to acquire the lock and 500 metres of canal. The long term aim is to restore the whole canal. Reconstruction work of the lock itself finally began in 2016 and as at the end of 2019 had been finished. There is no public access to the lock.
A gate into the next field had a notice on it advising me that the Thames Path route had changed ahead. Rather than crossing the field diagonally as I think I was meant to, I took the long route and walked alongside its edges. I got a bit of a shock when a full sized manikin, dressed as a soldier and sporting the head of a mouse or rat appeared to my right from the garden of what I assume was Inglesham House! Anyway, I reached the correct gate in the field and followed the signs that took me past St John The Baptist Church. Before the new path opened, the route would have taken me away from the church and onto the A361. The new path took me onto the river bank and was very well signposted.
By now the river was getting really narrow in places and the only river craft I would see would be kayaks. For much of the rest of this walk I could hear the sound of jet engines to the north of me. I knew I was only a couple of miles from RAF Fairford, which is home to the Royal International Air Tattoo in July each year but which had of course been cancelled for 2020. The US Air Force have been using Fairford for long range heavy bombers since 1955 and I was really hoping I’d see at least one aircraft in the sky; sadly, this was not to be the case.
The new river bank path eventually veered away from the river to the left taking me through an impressive corn field. It rejoined the ‘old’ path near to Upper Inglesham and then continued through more fields away from the river until I was directed to the streets of Hannington Wick, a tiny hamlet. Having crossed Hannington Bridge, the path turned off the road again at a really attractive stone built house. After a few occasional glimpses of the river, the path continued through more fields until it reached the outskirts of Castle Eaton, a typical small Cotswold village, complete with its village pub that was proving popular after the post-lockdown reopening of pubs a week earlier. The walk from Hannington Bridge to here, effectively cut out a long slow bend in the river. Looking from the road bridge over the river, it was hard to believe this was the mighty River Thames!
From Castle Eaton, the path now followed the river more closely. The river was so overgrown with reeds in places that it was hard to imagine how any craft could possibly make any real progress. Another 2 miles further on I was directed to cross a footbridge onto the north bank of the river. About a mile later another footbridge brought me back onto the south bank. Half a mile further on, the rural atmosphere of this whole walk came to a shuddering halt as a reinforced concrete bridge carrying the main road connecting Swindon with Cirencester crossed the river. Having walked under this bridge, the first houses of Cricklade and the tower of St Sampson Church came into view. After walking through one final meadow, I ended up in the centre of Cricklade and the end of today’s walk.
I celebrated reaching the end with a trademark piece of coffee & walnut cake whilst I waited for the bus back to Swindon. It would have been difficult to eat on the bus wearing a face mask! I only had to wait 10 minutes and it was an express service thankfully. On the bus I assessed my feelings about the walk. Knowing I wouldn’t be seeing that much of the river, I think I saw this walk as a pleasant enough walk but not really very interesting. However, it did get me within 12 miles of the source of the Thames which is the main thing.
Once back in Swindon, I walked back to my car at the railway station and drove to Lechlade.
The New Inn Hotel came with an excellent Trip Advisor rating. They seemed to be following COVID-19 guidelines in the pub and restaurant areas, so thanks again to Trip Advisor, I had the recommended curry for my tea that night. The pub had a really good atmosphere with everyone sticking to the social distancing rules.