Overview: Historical Oxfordshire countryside
Overview: Historical Oxfordshire countryside
You can start this trip from Didcot or Culham stations as well, but the route from Appleford is most straightforward one. In Didcot you can stop and visit the railway centre; going from Culham, you'd pass either through the Culham lock or Clifton bridge, by the Barley Mow pub.
We've chosen Appleford as this enabled us to shortcut the great bend of... More
There are elements of 12th and 13th century Norman masonry in the church. The route leaves the village here along the bridleway to Long Wittenham.
Two major features dominate the landscape south of Thames: a massive Didcot Power Plant to the West, and Wittenham Clumps to the East.
The village has ancient history, stretching back to Bronze Age; the Saxons ruled by one Witta made the area important in the period before Alfred the Great. The houses are old and rich; there's a village cross dating back to 7th century, and a cruck house on the eastern side, possibly 800 years old. The church is 12th century, and has a Norman... More
Wittenham Clumps dominate the landscape of this area, twin hills with bits of woodland on the top. One of them had an iron fort on the top, on the other stands a tree with a long poem carved some time in XIXth century by Joseph Tubb
The early Gothic church in Little Wittenham has an inexplicable star of David in the portal, and 16th century alabaster sarcophagus inside. There's a nature reserve on the nearby Wittenham Clumps.
You cross the Thames via Little Wittenham Bridge, famed for the World Poohsticks Championships. Across you find yourself in the Dorchester fields.
The path crosses some pastures and reaches a low ridge - actually ancient defenses of the city which was established and fortified by the Romans
Dorchester Abbey was found in 1140, now only the church and a college building remains. The church is famous for wall paintings and stained glass - it also has a tea room.
Two old coaching inns remain in Dorchester, The George being one of them. The town itself looks to me like a mini-version of Windsor or Eton, a couple extremely picturesque streets. Apart from the two coaching inns and abbey, there is a post office, Co-op shop and a well-recommended restaurant in a 16th century inn building, Fleur de Lys.
Past Dorchester, leave the main road and follow the path along Thame until it reaches Thames. We're back to Thames Path.
The Thames Path diverts to Shillingford, and goes back to the river by the Shillingford Wharf, a lovely, quiet place with a bench beside a thatched boat barn. From here, it goes around the grounds of Shillingford Court, which, as the satellite photo reveals, contain some sort of Celtic Cross labyrinth...
There's been a bridge here at least since 1301, but the current structure is 19th century
Thames Path crosses the river back to the southern side over the Benson Lock and Weir. The passage is a bit scary, with a roaring waterfall under your feet.
A number of pillboxes can be seen all along the Thames here, part of WWII defenses - presumably having something to do with a major RAF airport in Benson. Look out for massive Chinook helicopters flying by!
Wallingford reminds me of one of those fairy-tale towns that appear once every hundred years on full moon with inns full of revellers, only to disappear in the morning. It seems to be in the middle of nowhere, and to have little of significance; and yet the restaurants are full, campsites and hotels are crowded, and there's even a Waitrose... More
Northern ramparts of Wallingford Castle are the first signs of the town as you approach from the north. Built by the Normans to the defend the ford (once on the main route from London to Gloucester and beyond), expanded upon by 13th century kings, it contained a prison for important royal prisoners, including Edward I and Margaret Anjou. Nowadays,... More
There are two campsites in Wallingford, across the bridge - this one is smaller, and by the riverside instead of deeper inland. It belongs to the same people who run the nearby lido, and, apparently, if you come late and leave early it's free, as we couldn't find anyone to give our money too...
A tudor-style gate to the castle grounds holds a pub; there's another pub just opposite, by the river; a few more nearer and around the town market.
We dined at Avanti, run by a pair of Italians - it was full of people all night, and had lots of recommendation stickers on the window; rightly so, the food was of quality we never expected to find on... More
In the middle of Wallingford Square stands a Corn Exchange building, now a theatre; the old post office, built during Edward VIIth's reign, was transformed into a cafe. The church is still a church. Stock up on supplies in Waitrose superstore.
Part of defences on the border between Wessex and Mercia, these low earthen walls are the best preserved Saxon fortifications in England, another witness to the importance of this area.
With its numerous hotels and inns, and two good quality campsites, Wallingford makes the best place to stop for the night. If you decide otherwise, there is a number of ways to reach Cholsey, the nearest railway station. There is a regular bus service, a 90-min stroll along the Thames, and lastly, a heritage railway that in summer uses steam... More
If you decide to take the Thames Path, it will lead you under what looks like an old gate in the town walls towards the hamlet of Winterbrook.
Red Kites are a major feature of this area; if you fail to spot half a dozen of these majestic birds along the way, count yourself unlucky.
The path follows pastures, fields and some rich mansions; more pillboxes appear among the trees.
The last stretch of this route follows a nature reserve, where even more kites can be spotted.
We didn't find much to do in Cholsey; the road from Thames to station passes by a Fair Mile Hospital, a small convenience store and a pub. Later however we've learned of the real source of fame for this small village - Agatha Christie is buried on local cemetary, having died in Winterbrook in 1976