Walking holidays in the UK are definitely not in short supply, and with so many options to choose from you often find yourself feeling like a child in a sweet shop, so many good choices and so little time. After a while though, that child inside starts to find a taste for certain sweets, and before you know it you’ve found your favourite flavour, and you’ve set aside all of the other wonderful choices on offer. Well, this is where I found myself this summer. Being a keen hillwalker and living in Scotland is undoubtedly a winning combination, but with such good weather this summer and with so many other options right on my doorstep, why not try something new? Why not reach for something else in the sweet shop?
One of many Bridle Paths along the route
National trails are an excellent way for anyone who wants to get into long distance walking to get a feel for it. These trails are well-established walks which are well maintained and usually very easy to follow; this makes them ideal starting points for beginners, or indeed for people who want to experience some of the very best walking the country has to offer. In my search for something that would give me a different experience to walking in Scotland, I thought the best place to start would be somewhere accessible to everyone, somewhere I could walk at my own pace and absorb my surroundings, somewhere where the people don’t accept Scottish money – The south of England, more specifically, The Thames Path.
The Thames Path was ideal for a few reasons. I was planning to start my walk just outside of the town of Kemble, at the source of The River Thames, this meant catching a flight to London and taking a train from Paddington Station directly to Kemble. This is the perfect, trouble-free way to start your walking holiday: no transfers, no swapping trains and no connections. I was planning for my walk to last through the week, which meant the itinerary from Kemble to Oxford was perfect, it would be four days of walking and leave me with plenty of time on Friday to have a look around Oxford before my journey home. The walk itself was also a great choice, as it follows the river, the walk is entirely flat which allows you to really take your time and enjoy your surroundings, very different to panting and sweating your way up the side of a mountain.
Delightful Wind in the Willows riverbanks
The Thames Path is very different to most of my previous walking experiences, from the source of the river (a solitary ash tree in a field) the path to Oxford is a winding oasis of thick vegetation, classic English countryside views and a wide variety of wildlife. Without the constant challenge of dealing with gradient change and variating underfoot conditions, the Thames Path is a good way to get a taste for somewhat relaxed long distance walking, with the longest day being around 16 miles, you have plenty of time to admire the scenery or enjoy a pub lunch at one of the many riverside inns and hotels dotted along the banks of the Thames. For more experienced walkers, you may find that this section of The Thames Path doesn’t offer a lot of variation and you probably won’t find yourself flopping down onto your hotel bed with exhaustion, before even taking off your boots. What it does offer though is a fantastic way to experience some beautiful tranquillity in the English countryside. I found myself stopping quite often just to watch some simple, yet enjoyable sights on the river.
The most common wildlife is the humble cow. (complete with fashionable hairstyle)
The wildlife is one of the most interesting highlights of the trip, never before have I found myself so fascinated with trying to capture the best photo possible of insects fluttering between flowering plants, frogs making their way to the cool water from the warm dry grass or even just the local cows taking full advantage of a dip in the river on a hot summers day. As you move down the river, you’ll also notice an increase in the number of avian residents on the river, possibly the hardest to spot but the most visually spectacular is the Kingfisher, which can be spotted most commonly just before reaching Oxford.
The Thames Path is undoubtedly one of the most unique walks in the National Trail network, for the first time I found myself focusing less and less on the actual walking, and far more on the finer details of the experience. It offers a very different taste to the world of walking and provides you with the opportunity to really enjoy where you are and soak in your surroundings. Although it might not be considered your traditional idea of relaxing, walking from Kemble to Oxford is definitely one of the easiest ways to enjoy an entirely stress-free walking holiday.