4 walking days
5 nights accommodation
Walking distance 40 miles
This itinerary starts in Reading, a busy railway hub and therefore easy to get to. The walk takes you through “rowing country” where teams from around the world compete at various places along the way including Henley and Dorney.
The Path is well signposted and follows the riverbank almost all the time.
Towns and villages are encountered frequently.
The section between Henley and Marlow is as pretty as anywhere on the Thames. You will also see some of the finest country houses along the Thames and enjoy the historical sites at Windsor and Runnymede.
Day 0 Arrive at Bel and the Dragon, Reading
Reading is the largest town in England. Despite its modern appearance it is an ancient city. Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 and it is believed Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, rests here. Reading is famous for its 3 B’s: biscuits, bulbs and brewing. Sadly, they have all long gone.
You will stay at Bel and the Dragon, a hotel that was once part of Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit factory and is found on the Kennet and Avon Canal, next to the Riverside Museum.
The canal, which runs all the way to Bristol, will take you into the centre of Reading. So why not wander along and see the Abbey ruins as well as Reading Gaol, once home to Oscar Wilde?
Day 1 Reading to Henley 9.3 miles
To reach the Thames you leave the front door of the hotel and follow the Kennet Canal for a half mile to where it meets the Thames. You follow the right bank of the river until you reach Sonning three miles later. Sonning is a delightfully pretty village. In fact, it is so beautiful that it has become popular with the rich and famous: George Clooney, Teresa May and Uri Geller (remember him?) all live here.
You cross the river and follow the left bank for 3.3 miles to Shiplake, a small village that makes a suitable lunch spot with a pub and shop.
It’s an easy 2.5 miles to your destination of Henley. At March Lock you get the path takes you on boardwalks across the river to the lock on the other side. As you approach Henley you will pass the River and Rowing Museum, a great place to stop and learn.
Henley is a grand town, renowned for its Royal Regatta which takes place in the first week of July each year. The Regatta has been going since 1839 and teams compete from all over the world. It’s also a big social event along with Ascot and Wimbledon with spectators decked in striped blazers and straw hats.
You will stay at the Leander Club, the home of British rowing. It is the oldest non-academic rowing club in the world. Rooms at the club are named after the universities competing in the regatta including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.
There are plenty of restaurants in the town if you don’t feel like eating in the hotel.
Day 2 Henley to Cookham 12.9 miles
This is a longish day – designed so that you can arrive in Windsor early the next day. You start by walking along the riverbank outside the hotel past the site of Henley Regatta. Across the river is Fawley Court, believed by some to be the inspiration for Kenneth Grahame’s Toad Hall.
You keep following the river, past the beautiful Temple Island with its folly and Hambledon Lock until, three miles into your walk, you leave the river briefly and walk through the estate of Culham Court, another beautiful mansion complete with a deer park full of white deer.
After 6 miles from Henley you will arrive at the lovely village of Hurley, a great place to stop for lunch: there is a pub and a tea shop. It’s a popular spot for picnics.
As you leave Hurley, you will see Bisham Abbey across the river. It’s home to the National Sports Centre. Marlow, with its magnificent suspension bridge, is two miles away. Past Marlow you will cross the river at Bourne End and it’s a short hop through Cookham Marsh where you should see plenty of sailing dinghies.
Cookham is a pretty village by the river with a good choice of restaurants. You will be staying at Bel and the Dragon (remember that name?) Yes, it’s a sister hotel of where you stayed in Reading. No biscuit factory this time. You’re staying in a 600 year old coaching inn.
This is the only night on the itinerary where you are staying in a small village. So enjoy the peace and quiet that Cookham offers. Cookham Moor, which lies just behind the hotel, is an ancient common now owned by the National Trust. Villagers once had the right to graze their animals on this land.
If you get a chance, you should visit the Stanley Spencer Gallery. Spencer was born in Cookham in 1891 and lived there all his life. The gallery is open until 5.30pm in the summer months.
Day 3 Cookham to Windsor 9.9 miles
What a treat we have in store for you today! Within minutes of setting off to rejoin the Thames from your hotel you will see, in the distance, one of the greatest country houses in England: Cliveden.
Cliveden was home to the Astor family and is, of course, the infamous site of the Profumo affair. In fact, a few yards further on, you will see Spring Cottage which Stephen Ward rented.
The walk down to Maidenhead is firm underfoot and you will pass between the river and the gardens of many a grand house.
You arrive at Maidenhead bridge at about half way. The town is a mile away but there is a shop and a hotel by the bridge where you can get lunch. Unless you have something more grand in mind: for a mile further on you will see, temptingly across the river, the Waterside Inn at Bray. Bray is home to two of only five “Michelin three star” restaurants in the country, the other being Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck.
The stretch of the Thames to Dorney is through wooded glades and you will see Bray Film Studios and Oakley Court (where many Hammer Horror films were made). At Dorney Lake, site of the rowing events in the London Olympics, the vista opens up and you will see Windsor Castle calling you in the distance.
Having hopefully arrived in the early afternoon you should have time to explore this wonderful town. You also have a short day tomorrow so you could postpone some until then.
You will be staying at The Christopher, a boutique hotel on Eton High Street. After a short rest, take a walk across the bridge and up the high street and admire the castle on your left. It’s the longest-serving royal residence in Europe. It’s open until 5.15pm so you should have a chance to visit.
At the end of the high street is Park Street. Go to the end and you will step onto the Long Walk, a carriageway that leads straight from Windsor Castle, through Windsor Great Park, to a statue of George III just visible three miles away. This is the route that the Queen takes every year when she visits Royal Ascot.
Back at your hotel, you can wander in the other direction towards Eton College, the most famous school in the world. The school is not a campus. Its buildings straddle the high street so you can quite easily get a glimpse of school life as boys rush between buildings dressed in their morning coats. Tours are offered on Friday afternoons between April and August.
Day 4 Windsor to Staines 7.9 miles
If you didn’t get a chance to explore Windsor yesterday, you can this morning as you have just under 8 miles to walk today. The Path follows the Thames out of Windsor where you will have good views of Windsor Castle across the Home Park. You will soon pass the village of Datchet and then Old Windsor where you can stop at the Bells of Ouzeley for refreshments.
An alternative is to go through Windsor town centre and follow the Long Walk through Windsor Great Park and rejoin the Thames at Runnymede. It’s not officially the Thames Path but it’s a jolly good detour and about the same distance.
Once out of Old Windsor you will walk through the fields of Runnymede where King John reluctantly signed Magna Carta back in 1215. There are a number of monuments here worth visiting: the Magna Carta and JFK Memorials both being close to the Path. The Air Force Memorial on top of Cooper’s Hill is also worth a visit. Although further, on a fine day you will be able to see London in the distance.
After the highlights of the last two days Staines may strike you as something of a disappointment. Despite its modern appearance, Staines is very old indeed being an important river crossing in Roman times. It’s now a useful railway junction and therefore a convenient place to end this section with trains back to Windsor, Reading and London Waterloo.
You will be staying at the Boleyn Hotel in the old quarter of town. The hotel lies quietly away from the busy modern commercial centre that dominates Staines. The hotel features its own Indian restaurant and there are plenty of other options for dining back across the bridge.
Prices inclusive of bed and breakfast plus baggage transfer between hotels. A map and guide book is also included. You will have unlimited access to our local team in the event of difficulties.
Price per person assuming shared occupancy: £630
Price per person assuming single occupancy: £970
Rest days can be purchased but prices vary depending on category of hotel.