A study in power
The Thames Path is not the only British long-distance path to take a river as its theme, but it is the only one with National Trail status; and with the attraction of the great sights of London unfolding as you walk, it’s understandably one of the most popular.
Its upper reaches are beautifully green too, as the river flows past the Chilterns at Goring Gap and finally to its Cotswold source near Kemble. Lovers of heritage can admire Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, and the dreaming spires of Oxford. Plus, it’s hardly a navigational challenge – just make sure you follow the signs across the occasional weir, and be alert to a few diversions away from the river itself, especially towards the source.
The Thames Path is my current National Trail ‘project’, and I’m going against the usual flow by walking upstream – otherwise, I’d be walking home. I’m at Oxford, with three long days or four shorter ones left, and hoping to do them in one hit this autumn. Before that everything as far as Goring has been done as an out-and-back day out from home, though as you will see not in sequence.
For me, the combination of navigational simplicity and the tourist wow factor paradoxically seem to be working against my full enjoyment of the path. So the notes on the next two pages are a little different to those elsewhere: they examine, first and foremost, the power that has emanated from some of the major places on the route, with sketchy route notes following.
Power – in terms of river flow, a bit; in terms of privilege, rather more. For what makes this path worth walking is not the physical challenge – average height gain, two feet per mile – as the opportunity to reflect on how the river has shaped English lives over the centuries, sometimes for good, but all too often for the benefit of the few. There aren’t too many long-distance paths where you can have such a sustained and critical relationship with the landscape through which you are passing.