My journey started with an early drive to Didcot before dawn on Sunday morning. There, I parked by Sophie’s house (who joined me on the last leg) by which time it was just getting light. I walked to the station to catch the bus. The 33 Connector runs from Didcot Parkway to Wallingford. But Google maps got me to walk a weird way in the opposite direction from the station. I realised as the bus was due to arrive…and there it was heading towards the station as I frantically ran all the way there. Luckily it was running late and I got in, got a ticket and took my hat and gloves off, and caught my breath.
By Station Road further in Didcot, the bus driver had an altercation with people, asking a van to move out the way and a lady in a Christmas hat came shouting at him at the window. He proceeded to get out the bus again and gave a phone call. Then we went back on our way.
At that point I was a little worried of timings. I felt it was then likely I would finish these 14 miles in the dark, perhaps for the last hour. I did bring a headtorch and a reflective vest so it was a risk I’d prepared for. I hadn’t anticipated it would be because of the bus however! (but that never happened as I finished before sunset)
It was very cold all day.
I started from Wallingford bridge and walked on the south bank of the Thames, past Wallingford Castle meadows, which is a lovely kind of nature reserve. From there, looking back at Wallingford allows you to see St. Peter’s church spire, which is quite a pretty sight.
It was quite windy which made a cold day feel sharply cold. I was wearing woolly gloves, a hat and my winter hiking shoes. I am glad I swapped from my trail running shoes to the warmth and comfort of these winter shoes because the start of the walk from Wallingford was muddy and wet on the ground. Even though, a bit further, as I approached Benson, there were some dry patches, the mud then proved a bit of a regular theme through the day.
It was so nice to be back there by the Thames, especially when I started to hear the sounds of the water by Benson’s lock, now becoming a familiar and reassuring feeling: it’s a nice place to come back to every fortnight.
At Benson lock, there is a little bridge to go over to the lock, and then another bridge crossing to the middle island with a beautiful little lock house from the early 20th century. From then I was on the North bank of the Thames.
By Benson Marina, in the waterfront park where there’s a small swimming pool which is the moment empty because of winter weather and probably COVID. Through the trees, there, on the other side of the road, we can see just about the Benson church. Then I went past a Waterfront Café which looked lovely but was closed so I’ll come back there another day.
The Thames past is diverted away from the riverside at Shillingford bridge.
The walk along the road in Shillingford was horrible. It’s not very nice. I was glad to get back to the Thames. There I had my sandwich in a bus stop, feeling sorry for myself having failed to bring my phone charger pack (which I usually always take with me). It was cold and pretty grim!
After Shillingford, I noticed my phone’s battery power (which I also use as my camera) had halved since it was fully charged at 08:00. The brightness on my phone was too high. As a result I decided to turn off a lot of function on the phone and switch it to airplane mode to save battery.
Sadly, I went past Dorchester-on-Thames and could just about see its church but I couldn’t stop and visit without making myself late and risking walking in the dark. It’s meant to be a lovely Roman town and I hope to return and visit some day soon.
I went past a few fields with sheep. I was hoping for less windy and cold as I crossed back over to the South bank just after Dorcherster-on-Thames but I just walked totally straight in headwind for much of the rest of the day.
Day’s Lock was nice and I saw a handful of people around there, a contrast to the relatively lonely morning of walking so far. I thought I was going to cross on the first bridge (very shiny!) but I ended up crossing over the weir. Crossing the Thames on a weir doesn’t fail to be entertaining and exciting. There is something special, maybe some kind of adrenaline rush, to find yourself over a thin bridge, looking down at the strong water flow under your feet and hearing the rush of the river. I don’t get tired of it.
The cold was making my face very cold and it started to rain; the rain was freezing so I wore my fabric face mask which I keep in my pocket to get in shops and cafés… it was helpful and I then decided I should get a buff for my next walk!
From there, I walked towards Clifton Hampden. I kept seeing the two remaining cooling towers from Didcot (I got to see the big towers being taken down a few years back): it felt like I was on the perimeter of a circle around Didcot, keeping them mostly on my left.
I saw much wildlife on the way today. A lot of red kites, a few flocks of geese, and about 5 herons but they were very elusive so difficult to photograph with my frozen hands.
I stopped at The Barley Mow for lunch. It was very nice and great to have a warm meal after that earlier cold sandwich in a bus stop shelter. I picked up a little bit of local reference to Jerome K. Jerome there with the mention of that pub in Three Men in a Boat: (To Say Nothing of the Dog).
There I switched back to the North bank of the Thames. The path got muddier, the wind got colder and the rain got more regular as I left Clifton Hampden.
I saw some cow in a field on the way and they were very curious about me. I wonder if they thought I’d feed them?
I went under a railway bridge by Appleford.
From then on the landscape was not very different from the rest of the walk, and I kept my head down a lot with the cold weather. The rain stopped on and off but it was mostly dry after Culham bridge.
I took a nice glimpse of the sunset a little after Culham lock.
Finally, the last stretch to Abingdon was pleasant (if a little muddy) and reminded me of the stretch getting into Chertsey last month.
I arrived on Abingdon bridge after 6h30’s walk. It was time for me to grab a hot chocolate and hop on a bus back to Didcot.
Now to plan for the next 5 days which are likely to be in very cold weather, just before Christmas.