Swinford Bridge to Tadpole Bridge – July 21st
This section starts at Swinford Bridge on the south bank of the river. The river snakes again to Pinkhill Lock, where the path crosses to the north bank. The path leaves the river for the next bend in the river before rejoining briefly. It next leaves the river and continues for about 2 miles through a mixture of fields and roads before eventually rejoining the river at the Ferryman Inn in Bablock Hythe. Now following the towpath, the path continues to Northmoor Lock, Newbridge, Shifford Lock and Chimney Meadows, before eventually reaching Tadpole Bridge, close to the village of Buckland.
If this section sounds like it’s going to be a long walk, that’s because it is. According to the map, it’s about 15 miles. It’s probably the most rural of the walks I did.
This was the missing link in my journey from the Thames Barrier to the source, as I hadn’t done the last few walks in order. In hindsight I do regret having done the walk from Cricklade to the source of the river 9 days earlier than this one, as on completion of today’s walk, I didn’t feel the elation I should have – but never mind.
Anyway, for this walk I’d been staying at the Cowley Premier Inn on Oxford Business Park, the site of the former Morris Motors factory. I stayed there a number of times whilst I was doing the Thames Path walks west of Reading. I liked its location and the fact that it took COVID-19 really seriously. The fact that they also did unlimited full English breakfast at the attached Beefeater had nothing to do with it of course.
Knowing I had a long walk ahead of me, plus another 2 miles to get from the end of the walk to the bus stop back to Oxford, I set off early and caught a bus into Oxford city centre. Knowing also that this was going to be a walk almost entirely in the countryside, I bought a meal deal lunch at Tesco. With 20 minutes to spare before my bus to the start of the walk at Swinford Bridge arrived, I had a very quick mooch in the centre of the city.
It was a perfect day for the last walk and Swinford Bridge looked amazing in the early morning sun. The start of the walk was through open meadows, following the river as it snaked its way through the countryside. There was no wind to speak of and the river was completely still. After about a mile, the path had to leave the river very briefly to get past a boat hire company’s premises. Once back on the towpath, the path continued to Pinkhill Lock. Once again, the garden at the lock was a credit to whoever maintained it. The Thames Path crossed to the other bank at this lock and it was necessary to cross the lock and the weir to get to the other side. The path left the river again briefly, as the river snaked around another bend. Having rejoined the towpath once more, the path then left the river for the next couple of miles, passing through a mixture of fields, meadows and tracks until it reached the hamlet of Bablock Hythe.
At Bablock Hythe the path rejoined the river by walking down the road into a large caravan park and continuing to the Ferryman Inn. There used to be a cable ferry crossing at the Ferryman Inn to the other side of the river; however, from what I’ve been able to ascertain, this stopped in 2007. The building certainly isn’t a looker but it does have a fantastic position right by the river. For another mile and a half, the path continued alongside the river in open countryside, before Northmoor Lock came into view. Once again, the gardens were immaculately kept, complete with a striped lawn!
A mile further on was a footbridge across the river to Netherton but the path continued past this. The river was now getting noticeably narrower and shallower. Another mile and Newbridge came into view. Newbridge is a road bridge across the river, that is anything but new. It was built in the 13th century and is one of the two oldest surviving bridge across the Thames. The bridge is in 2 sections. One section spans the river and is Grade I listed and the other section is dry underneath, except when the river floods and is Grade II listed. Drinkers are spoiled here. There are 2 pubs on opposite sides of the river – the Rose Revived on the side I was on and the Maybush Inn.
I couldn’t avoid the Rose Revived as the Thames Path passes through their garden! With such a lovely view of the bridge and the boats passing under it, I stopped for a soft drink & a packet of crisps. Duly refreshed, I crossed the bridge to the south bank of the river, from where I could see the 2nd section of the bridge. Continuing along the path, I found somewhere to sit by the riverside and eat my sandwich.
Another two and a half miles and the path came to Shifford Cut. A footbridge over the old navigation of the river took me onto the island bounded by the cut and the old navigation. A sign advised me that I was entering Chimney Meadows, a 600+ acre nature reserve that would extend for much of the rest of this walk. The path continued along the cut and about half way along, another footbridge took me across the cut onto its north bank. Another half mile at the end of the cut the old navigation emerged.
A final footbridge came up called Tenfoot Bridge. This bridge connects Chimney on the north to Buckland on the south. The Thames Path ignored this bridge and carried on as the river snaked its way again for another 2 miles. Eventually, the most welcome sight of Tadpole Bridge came into view. Tadpole Bridge is a road bridge connecting Bampton on the north to Buckland on the south. It dates from the late 18th century and is Grade II listed. This however was of no great concern to me at 14:45 on Tuesday 21st July 2020. What was important to me was that I had now completed the missing link in my challenge to walk the entire length of the Thames Path in 2020.
There is a pub at Tadpole Bridge called The Trout. Had it been open I would have celebrated in the customary fashion; sadly, it was closed. Tadpole Bridge is not served by any public transport, which I knew only too well. I was too mean to phone for a taxi, so I continued on foot for another 2 miles to the main A420 at Buckland, where I knew there was a regular bus service back into Oxford – the S6. The sight of the bus stop at Buckland Turn was possibly more welcoming to me than Tadpole Bridge! Thankfully I only had to wait about 15 minutes for the bus. Back in Oxford, I got a final bus to the Oxford Business Park at Cowley and this was then followed by a very short walk to the Premier Inn.
This was the day I walked the furthest on my Thames Path walk – over 42000 steps or 20.4 miles according to my FitBit!