Tamesis Fluvius
The Thames Path from
the Source to the Thames Barrier

Purley to Henley

Saturday 15 April 2017

One week on from leaving the Source in Gloucestershire, Day Eight of our journey was set to take us not only past the half-way point but also past the one hundred mile mark. It was also a day where the nature of the route changed significantly, as a good proportion of the route was urban for the first time as we passed through the town of Reading. There would also be some quieter sections to balance that out, but with the day ending in the busy town of Henley and being the Saturday of Easter weekend, we knew that we were going to encounter by far the largest number of people with whom we had so far shared the path. For most of this section the path tightly follows the river, with only the very final stage taking us away from the Thames at Lower Shiplake.


After an early morning bus journey from Reading back out to Purley, we were able to pick up the Thames Path right by the bus stop as it headed through the housing estate. After reaching the end of a cul-de-sac, the path cuts through a small wooded area before emerging onto the A329 main road towards the centre of Reading. Very soon we were directed down the side of the Roebuck pub to a bridge over the railway line and steep steps down towards river level. The next mile of the path follows the railway very closely past Tilehurst station, but with a thick line of trees between the two there is little sign of the railway except when a train thunders past.

Emerging by a boatyard, we headed on towards Reading's Thameside Promenade, where we were accompanied by a considerable number of early morning joggers and yet more rowers in training. After a brief rest on the Promenade, with its views across to some impressive houses on the edge of Caversham on the opposite bank, we passed under the busy Caversham Bridge which takes traffic into the centre of Reading. The path runs past a number of housing developments near to the town centre as well as the entrance to the large Thames and Kennet Marina, before reaching the Wokingham Waterside Centre. It was here that we first encountered the competitors in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, which was on the second of three days across the Easter weekend.


The canoeists were calling in to the centre as a checkpoint on their route and as we headed away from Reading, they became a regular sight along the river, remaining so for the rest of the day. After a brief stretch of open parkland, the path moves into the trees which take it past the grounds of Reading's Blue Coat School. This stretch led us towards the Tea Garden at Sonning Lock, which we had identified before setting out as the perfect location to stop for lunch. After waiting for a boat to pass through the lock, we were able to cross over to the island in the lock for our lunch break, thankful that there was some indoor seating as on another overcast day, it was actually quite cold.

Heading away from the lock, the path next arrives at Sonning Bridge, which carries the B478 between the village of Sonning on the southern bank and the hamlet of Sonning Eye across the river. Like many others, the bridge crosses either side of an island in the river and the Thames Path crosses to that island before heading away from the road and across a footbridge to the northern bank. Back in Oxfordshire, we continued along what was the most rural section of the day, still accompanied by a steady stream of canoeists passing us. After passing two large islands in the middle of the river, we approached the boathouses of Shiplake College, with the point where the route runs through the college grounds standings at about the one hundred mile mark.


Shortly after passing the college, we stopped for a brief rest near Shiplake Lock, just before the point where the Thames Path turns away from the river. The route actually cuts off a large corner as it takes a more direct route towards Henley, heading first through fields and then into the village of Lower Shiplake. After reaching the centre of the village and crossing over the railway line, the path continues northwards almost parallel to the river, with a succession of private residences keeping it out of view. As we continued down the road the houses became ever larger and more impressive, until a narrow footpath took us back to the Thames for the final approach to Henley.

As was becoming a daily pattern, the closing stage of our route saw us joined by a large number of dog walkers from the town. The overcast weather of earlier had given way to more sunshine which undoubtedly drew more people out for the afternoon, but a strong breeze meant that it was still far from a warm day. Having passed more luxurious houses on the opposite bank, we reached the weir of Marsh Lock, which is accessed via what is surely the longest walkway over any weir on the Thames. After passing the lock, another long walkway returned us to the bank at which point we left the path behind for the day, although we had another mile or so to walk to our Airbnb overnight accommodation.