Tilehurst to Cholsey - July 6th and September 19th
This section starts at Tilehurst and for the first 1.5 miles takes to the streets before joining the Thames as Mapledurham Lock. From here the path continues to Pangbourne, where it crosses its striking toll bridge to Whitchurch onto the north bank. For the next couple of miles, the path leaves the river and for the first and only time involves some gentle hill climbing. Once back by the riverside, the path continues to Goring-on-Thames where it crosses back onto the south bank. It then continues to Moulsford, where it leaves the river one more time for a bit more street walking. Once past Moulsford Prep School, the path gets back to the riverside where it continues until the end of the walk in Cholsey.
This section is meant to be about 11.5 miles.
This is one of the sections that I walked twice, firstly in July and then again in September. It’s an extreme example of how the weather affects my mood. When I first did it in July, the weather was OK but for much of the walk, the skies were quite grey. The walk was OK but I was almost relieved when I reached the end and could tick this section off. When I did it again in September, the sky was blue from the outset and when I reached the end, I can honestly say it was one of my top two favourite Thames Path walks. The climb up from Whitchurch and then down through the woods added real variety to the walk. It goes without saying that I’ll describe my September walk!
I’d stayed at the Cowley Premier Inn overnight, as I’d repeated the Cholsey to Dorchester walk the day before and it made sense in terms of driving to stay over. I drove to Didcot Parkway station and caught the train to Tilehurst. To get to the Thames Path at the point where I did the Sonning to Tilehurst section would involve walking almost a mile towards Reading. The path then follows the river upstream for more than a mile, past Tilehurst station, before leaving the river and taking to the streets of Tilehurst. Having done this in July, I saved myself at least a mile of walking by turning way from Reading at Tilehurst station.
So, from Tilehurst station I walked along the main Oxford road until I reached the railway bridge the Thames Path emerged from. The signs directed me through a small private wood. I emerged onto the unbelievably neat & tidy, well-heeled streets of Purley On Thames. In fact I'm surprised the residents allowed the numerous Thames Path signs to be errected in their estate. Eventually, the path led me down a residents-only road that continued to Mapledurham Lock.
Once past the lock, the path opened up with meadows to the left and the Chilterns to the right. The views in September were even more stunning with the leaves on the trees starting to change colour. Plenty of people were out on the river, as well as walkers and runners on the path. After about 1.5 miles, the path entered Pangbourne Meadow, a large, grassy meadow, very popular with people to meet, relax and enjoy the river. At the end of the meadow was Whitchurch Bridge, built in 1902 and Grade II listed. The bridge connects Pangbourne in Berkshire with Whitchurch-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. It’s one of 2 toll bridges across the Thames. A car is charged 60p to cross! Thankfully pedestrians are free, since the Thames Path crosses the river here. I could see Whitchurch Lock from the bridge but couldn’t see any way of getting to it. I subsequently discovered that it’s the only lock on the Thames that is accessible by boat only.
Now on the Whitchurch side of the river, the Thames Path signs directed me down a small private drive and then down an alley that brought me out at a church in the village. Whitchurch is a really pretty village. The path continued uphill along the high street and eventually the signs directed me down a really pleasant tree lined track, wide enough for vehicles. Eventually the track narrowed and the path then quite dramatically dropped down into a valley and then up the other side, emphasising that I was now in the Chiltern Hills. On Google Maps, this is marked as ‘Slope’! I would say that this was really the only time on the entire Thames Path where people might possibly struggle, although there are steps cut into the path on the way down at least.
The path was now in a wood called Hartslock Wood and was slowly descending back down to the level of the river. With the leaves on the trees starting to change colour this was a really pleasant part of the walk. Gradually I could see glimpses of the river through the trees as the path descended. About now I passed a pillbox by the side of the river. This was the first one I had noticed and would be the first of many I would pass for the rest of my journey along the Thames Path. Pillboxes were part of the country’s last line of defence in WWII in the event of a German invasion and were built in 1940. They were made of thick, reinforced concrete. Thankfully, they were never needed. About 6500 still remain in the UK. The origin of their nickname is disputed; some say their shape is similar to the boxes pills used to be dispensed in, whilst others say it’s linked to the letter slot on a pillar box.
Eventually, the path reached the riverside again and continued towards Goring-on-Thames. The path passed under Gatehampton Railway Bridge, which is actually 2 bridges running parallel to each other. They were built 50 years apart from each other and are Grade II listed. As the path got closer to Goring, a large, white, derelict property appeared on the opposite bank. This is called The Grotto House and is Grade II listed. It was originally built in 1720. Over the last 300 years it has had a varied ownership list. The current owner wanted to make it into a private residence but it was just not viable. It now has planning permission to convert into a luxury country hotel and private members’ club.
Goring and Streatley Bridge came into view next. It links Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire with Streatley in Berkshire. It’s actually 2 bridges because there is an island in the river that each bridge is anchored to. The Goring side of the bridge overlooks the lock and on the day of my walk, plenty of people were looking down at the comings and goings in the lock. Having seen a sign to say Goring was a previous winner of ‘South Of England Village Of The Year’ 10 years ago, I decided to have a wander and at the same time buy a sandwich for my lunch. It certainly is very pretty. I returned to the lock to take a rest and eat my lunch before setting off again.
The Thames Path crossed the bridge to the Streatley side and then carried on, past the entrance to a hotel, before turning right towards the Parish Church of St Mary and Moulsford. Back by the riverside again, the path passed through mainly open fields on my side. On the other bank were a number of attractive large houses. Cleeve Lock came up next and the path then continued to a riverside pub – the Beetle and Wedge Boathouse at Moulsford. At this point the path left the river and continued up the hill to the main road, where it turned right, continuing through Moulsford. After passing Moulsford Prep School and its huge playing fields, the signs for the Thames Path directed me back towards the river, just before some farm buildings.
Before reaching the riverside again, I had to walk under Moulsford Railway Bridge. As with Gatehampton, the bridge is actually 2 bridges running parallel to each other and built about 50 years apart. These bridges are similarly Grade II listed. The final part of the walk wasn’t desperately interesting, as the path passed through Cholsey Marsh nature reserve with trees and bushes hiding the river for the most part; however, it was only half a mile, so no big deal.
This walk ended at Ferry Lane, Cholsey. The village does have the benefit of a railway station and is just one stop from Didcot Parkway, which is where my car was parked. The only downside was that the station was a further mile from where I left the Thames Path. The service to Didcot was hourly. Thankfully I only had to wait 10 minutes for a train.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable walk – second time around!