Walking the Thames Path National Trail

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Day 1: The Source to Castle Eaton (16.5 miles)

We woke early. We had to. We needed to get from South West London to the middle of rural Gloucestershire early enough to allow us to do nearly 17 miles to our first campsite.

From Kemble station it was meant to be a short walk to the source of the Thames, and as we were going to walk the rest of the river we thought it would be daft not to start at the beginning. Thus inspired, we took off at a fair pace along a path towards the source. I think it's fair to say that I wasn't in the best of moods when it emerged that, despite Alice being a geography graduate, she took us in completely the wrong direction at a certain interchange of gates and thus added nearly a mile-long detour!

However, we eventually arrived at the source and were able to begin our long walk back to London.

The first day was overcast, with the odd rain shower, but this wasn't too much of a problem as we were covering such a relatively long distance with full packs - and without having done much walking since we did Hadrian's Wall! We were indeed rather sweaty.

It wasn't until at least 5 miles into the walk that we saw so much as a glimpse of the river. The worst drought since the 1970s had taken a massive toll on the usually swollen river, and its bed was dry.

This first day was a bit of an oddity compared to the rest of the walk. The barely-visible river was disappointing, but the walk too was not the most interesting. The villages we passed were hardly "picturesque" and there were some sections of the path, such as a stretch through fields behind Eysey, that were silly in the extreme due to the path leading straight through the middle of fields of crops! This was, in hindsight, nothing compared to what we were to experience later, but as our first day's walk it was certainly a testing one!

Alice did, however, propose an interesting game to play en-route: Thames Path Test Match Pub Cricket. We were introduced to the game of Pub Cricket by some friends, but an extended version of it over nearly 2 weeks was a great idea. The game is simple: one person goes in "to bat". If you pass a pub whose name features something with legs (such as "The Bull") you score the number of runs indicated by the number of legs in the pubs name (in the case of The Bull it would be 4). If the pub name does not have any legs, you are out and the next person goes in "to bat", scoring runs in the same way.

We camped that night at the Second Chance Caravan Park in Castle Eaton. In fact, it was about 1/2 mile outside the village of Castle Eaton, so we had an enjoyable(?) stroll to and from the pub for our dinner that night. As I ordered my food at The Red Lion (an easy 4 runs), Alice had a chat with two people at the bar. It took quite some time for them to realise the full extent of what we were doing:

"You're walking the whole path?"
"Yep - from here to London."
"Where are you staying?"
"We're camping just up the road."
"Oh, right. So how did you get your stuff here?"
"We carried it."
"No, I mean where have you left your car?"
"In London. We took the train to the source of the river and walked to here."
"Carrying all your stuff?"
"Including a tent?"
"F*****g hell. That must weigh a ton!"
"It does. Thanks for reminding us."
We ate well. The pub also had its own beer, which was a lovely pint. I think we also benefited from the return 1/2 mile walk to the campsite as it gave our leg muscles an opportunity to stretch out.
posted by Scotty at 10:00 PM

For two weeks from the end of July, Alice and I cast off the constraints of modern living. We packed a tent and some sleeping bags into our packs, filled our water bottles, and buckled our boots ready for a 184-mile walk along the Thames Path National Trail.

Starting at the source of the river near Kemble in Gloucestershire, we followed the river's twists and turns until we reached the Thames Barrier at the river's estuary.

This blog is a record of our walk.

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