Which direction to take?. Choosing in which direction to walk along The River Thames can make quite a difference in how enjoyable it all is especially during the Winter bearing in mind that the River basically runs across England from the West to the East (although The Thames
does enjoy some magnificent bends in the process - take a look at a map of Abingdon for instance and see the loop there). On some sections if you are walking in the Autumn or Winter and start out during the morning then the sun will be very low and will be on your back if heading towards the East so no problem
with glare. However walking in this direction and with a strong north to north east wind (which can be quite normal at that time of the year) means you are walking right into the wind - warm gear needed in other words.
Public Transport options between Oxford and Abingdon - there is a good bus service operating along this route - the distance is around 10 miles and takes about 25 minutes. Buses: X2, X3 and service 35 numbered buses run from Oxford St. Aldgate to Abingdon (X's actually end up going on to Didcot) and back every 10 minutes or so, Because of the high cost and difficulty of parking in Oxford City if using a car to get to the start the best place to park would be in Abingdon (There is plenty of car parking next to the River Thames near to Abingdon Town Bridge but you do have to pay sadly.
The Thames thunders through these weirs which are known as Sandford Lasher however due to a variety of accidents and drownings the weirs are completely blocked off. To get a look at the weirs just a little way further along the Thames Path go over a field sometimes next to the weir stream and then Sandford Lasher can be seen quite well (**also see a little below). Shortly after the bridge the path arrives at Sandford Lock at Sandord-on-Thames. Sandford Lock has the greatest fall of water on the River Thames with a drop of 8'10" - the lock is 174 feet long and 21'9" wide. Around here there are several bench seats plus a nice grass bank which is just right for sitting on and having a drinks break whilst watching not a lot going on (or you can cross over the river and visit the public house which is sat on the bank opposite). The mill which once stood here has been nicely converted into flats and overlooks the lock.
Having passed the lock the Thames Path crosses a small bridge and then goes left through a car park to continue via a gate. (**Just over the bridge on the right there is a a stile into fields - divert this way and you can go back to get a really good view of Sandford Lasher however you have to cross a wide muddy stream on the way and as of August 2012 the planks across it are barely crossable - hopefully it will be fixed). Back on The Thames Path this stretch of the walk is shrubbed and tree lined until open fields are reached at the end of which is Radley College Boathouse where there are some nicely placed bench seats. Radley railway station can be reached from here and also Bus no.35 stops at the station. Now going along a long stretch with the river swinging in an easterly direction another railway bridge passes overhead and then near some dilapidated picnic table take a look across the Thames where you can see Swift Ditch (Backwater) and also it's weir are clearly visible. The Thames originally split into two streams here with both routes once navigable however Abingdon's monks eventually succeeded in making the river's course through Abingdon the main route. Swift Ditch is now unuseable and silted up and it eventually re-joins the Thames at Old Culham Bridge (see the walk below).
The Thames Path leaves the river just as it reaches the outskirts of Abingdon - the path is narrow and just a small amount of rain makes it very difficult to walk without slipping all the time on the muddy surface. This condition underfoot gets noticeably worse for the last few hundred yards until the path reaches Abbey Stream in Abingdon itself. Cross the bridge and turn left to soon arrive at Abingdon's weir and Lock and of course The Thames. Cross the lock and turn right to follow the Thames on down to Abingdon Town Bridge. Abingdon itself is well worth a wander around and has some really beautifully restored old buildings such as the County Hall - also St Helen's Church and it's Alms houses which date back to 1446 are right next to the river. The town has an extensive set of gardens where some of the original Abbey walls and ruins still exist - also there are children's play areas - this can all be found by going past St Nicholas's Church and through the Abbey Gateway.
As the path gets to the far side of the meadows it reaches a clump of trees and shrubbery and The Thames Path goes over a wooden bridge crossing Swift Ditch where you can see Old Culham Bridge. However before this footbridge on the left you can leave the Thames Path and go through the trees via a gap in the wire fence to reach one of the features along this short route - Culham Old Bridge. The old bridge goes over Swift Ditch which was the original navigational route of the Thames before it was diverted through Abingdon. Culham Old Bridge is built of stone and was erected in the 1420s - the bridge is the site of a skirmish (the Battle of Culham Bridge) on the 11th January 1644 during the English Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. Having enjoyed looking at this old bridge if you go on over it the path takes you on the right of a house and out onto Culham Road - turn right past the house and shortly rejoin the Thames Path again. The Thames now takes one of it's regular large loops as it makes it's way to Culham Cut - easy to walk along this is a beautiful part of The Thames although at times there is so much foliage on the banks it's a hard to actually see the river. The open countryside ends when the path enters into quite heavy foliage and woodland - a lovely path to walk along which eventually arrives at a footbridge. By now The Thames itself has headed away towards Sutton Courtney and the Thames Path is actually going alongside Culham Cut. If you continue past the footbridge then Culham Lock is not too far away. However it is certainly worth crossing the footbridge - follow the path to soon arrive at the Thames itself and the start of Culham's excellent set of weirs at Sutton Pools on the edge of Sutton Courtney. Note that the path from the Cut over to the weirs goes over water meadows and may be too boggy or even flooded and therefore unuseable after heavy rain.
Having wandered around the weirs as an alternative to going back to the footbridge go back to where the weirs started and turn right and follow the River Thames as it loops round passing more views of the weirs and as it approaches Culham Lock there are great views of two more beautiful Thames Bridges the first of
which is Sutton Bridge. Continue following the path which will take you back onto the road between the two bridges - turn left and over the bridge to be back on The Thames Path at Culham Lock.
Right next to Culham Lock there is a fairly large car park which has always been free to park and as of January 2013 this remains the case. Buses do operate services from Wallingford to Abingdon but the bus stop is rather a long way from Culham Lock as it's up on the main road (see bus services 114 and 116) - the railway station at Culham is also way away from The River Thames. Incidentally this short stretch of the Thames Path might be best enjoyed by walking a somewhat longer and we think very nice circular walk (please see two options for this described on our Culham Walks topic).
Other topics we have about walking and enjoying The Thames Path:-
Thames Path walk at Lechlade
Thames Path Walk Newbridge area
The Thames Path walk into Oxford
Benson area walks on The Thames Path
Thames Path Goring area walk
Reading to Maidenhead walk on The Thames Path
River Thames Locks and Weirs
River Thames Old Bridges