Shillingford/Warborough to Goring, 12.5 miles (20km)
The day started hot. I was very aware that we would have to keep a close eye on hydration as Mrs Three Points of the Compass has been using just a small waist pack on this slackpacking holiday and there is only so much water I can, or wish to, put in my day pack. But I was confident we would also find the odd waterside cafe to supplement. We each had two mugs of tea before we even went down for breakfast, and also camelled up on water before saying goodbye to our lovely host Shirley and setting off back down to Shillingford to rejoin the Thames Path.
We were headed to Goring. This is situated in the Goring Gap, between the Berkshire Downs and the Chilterns. The geological accident of a wide and safe crossing has meant that it has also been a major crossing point of the Thames since Celtic times. Our trail had noticeably altered over the last couple of days. The flat surrounding fields had altered to lumps, then definite hills, the river twisted in direction as it sinuosly made its way, finding the easy route, the way through. Our riverside walk remained gentle and devoid of ascent as a result.
I enjoyed this days section. It may not have been as lonely and isolated as much of the previous two days, but the river had built a workmanlike character about it. Boats, all recreational, cruised up and down. Far too fast for my liking, their wake breaking on the banks and bobbing slumbering Mallards in the shallows. Mums on paddleboards, earnest boaters on smart Thames Cruisers, idiots on a first day out in a motorised punt, three pissed fisherman on a tiny inflatable, single sculls, fours and eights, some accompanied by shouty encouraging support.
The banks had changed too. The closed season was over and many of the gaps in the vegetation lining the banks were occupied by fishermen, no women. Silent and intense, or sweating and half intoxicated, or friendly, or indifferent. One was hacking at vegetation and digging a level support for his chair, another shirtless sweating individual laboured with maneuvering a trailer full of gear along an overgrown path, he admitted he couldn’t decide if it was stupidity or commitment.
We took our breaks. Many were brief. A little shade and a hint of a breeze, time for a water stop. A couple of halts were longer. Our simple lunch break, comprised of a handful of leftovers from last evenings al fresco meal, was a bit of a disaster. We halted beneath the intense shade lockside and prepared for a 20-30 minute rest. It wasn’t to be. Ants covered the ground and quickly found us. I was brushing them from my shirt, hat, face and arms for the next mile.
The Ridgeway National Trail was on the other side of the river when the two of us followed the Thames Path below Brunel’s magnificent curved, contorted, echoing brick built railway bridge. Sadly, the other side of the river has the best view of it as vegetation now obscures much.
I had passed through picturesque Goring when I completed the 87 mile Ridgeway back in 2016. That National Trail enters the town, crosses the river and continues down a short section of the Thames Path.
Tonight’s accommodation, our final one on this first half of the Thames Path, is the ‘JB’, a renaming/rebranding of the John Barleycorn Inn in Goring-on-Thames. This had originally been an ale house in 1810. Needless to say, original oak beams are in abundance. I know as I have knocked my head on enough of them already. It doesn’t have many guest rooms and it was only our early booking with our accommodation providers that had secured us one of them.
So how have the past few days been? Both Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass have enjoyed this path immensely. It has been different to every other National Trail I have walked. It is simple walking and difficult to get lost, it is never dodgy or sketchy. There is no discernable gradient. We walked more ups and downs on our day off in Oxford than on the trail itself. There have been some parts a little overgrown, a few nettles to deal with. But I walked in shorts and poloshirt and never regretted the decision. The challenge for some might be the weather they encounter. In June 2022 we had temps up to the thirties, most frequently mid 20s. But I spoke to Thames Path section hikers that were returning to complete parts of the trail that had been under water when they last attempted it earlier in the year. For the most part the tread is good and would suit almost anyone with a modicum of capability. It is, by far, the easiest of the National Trails, but no less an experience for that.
There are a number of companies that can organise walking holidays on the Thames Path and other longer trails. We used Contours for our June 2022 hike of the first half of the Thames Path. It is an expensive option when compared to either backpacking or planning your own trip, however it does take the hassle out of planning and gets you a foot in some accommodation that may be block-booked. Certainly our sedate Thames Path holiday had met the criteria previously demanded by Mrs Three Points of the Compass and it looks as though the remaining eastern half of the Thames Path will be completed in similar fashion. As to my next longer trail, that will be a return to solo lightweight backpacking. More on that particular adventure later in the year.
The Thames Path
The Thames Path: Kemble to Cricklade
The Thames Path: Cricklade to Lechlade
The Thames Path: Lechlade to Tadpole Bridge
The Thames Path: Tadpole Bridge to Bablock Hythe
The Thames Path: Bablock Hythe to Osney Bridge, Oxford
A day off in Oxford
The Thames Path: Osney Bridge, Oxford to Abingdon
The Thames Path- Abingdon to Shillingford/Warborough