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Old Father Thames at Goring

Follow the tow path beside the Thames and return to the start by train.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 90ft (25m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tow path, field and woodland paths, village roads, no stiles

Landscape Thames Valley meadows and beechwoods

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 171 Chiltern Hills West

Start/finish SU 602805

Dog friendliness Under control on Thames Path; on lead in villages

Parking Station car park or public car park off Station Road in Goring

Public toilets Station Road car park and Pangbourne main car park

1 From the station follow the road signposted 'village centre', and go down the High Street, passing the Miller of Mansfield pub and the village hall, dated 1925. Look for the Thames Path sign and join the tow path. Head downstream with the river on your right. Follow the trail, passing some seats and a little grassy clearing before reaching a boathouse. Beyond it the path skirts meadows and fields, on its way to Gatehampton. There used to be a ferry here, one of many services along the entire length of the Thames, but most of them were discontinued during the Second World War.

2 Pass a pill box, a reminder of the dark days of 1940 when Britain faced a very real threat of invasion, and follow the trail beneath Brunel's original Paddington-to-Bristol railway line. Pass through several galvanised gates and walk along to a gate for Ferry Cottage. At this point turn left, away from the riverbank. On reaching a T-junction, turn right and follow the path parallel to the Thames, cutting between the trees of Hartslock Wood. Look for another pill box down to your right, partly concealed by woodland, and keep ahead. The river is glimpsed between the trees as you climb steadily above it.

3 Emerge at length from the woodland and continue between fields. Climb a flight of steep steps and keep ahead on a drive, passing Elm Cottage and Coombe Park Farm. Turn right at the road, pass several properties - the White House and Milverton - then follow the road round and down into Whitchurch village. Pass Manor Road, the Greyhound pub and the Ferryboat Inn before reaching the toll bridge.

4 Cross the Thames to the Adventure Dolphin Centre at Pangbourne on the Berkshire bank, then turn right by the Boathouse surgery and follow the waymarked footpath to the road. Opposite is Pangbourne railway station where you catch the train back to Goring.

The end of Ferry Lane, near the beginning of the walk, represents the point where the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way once crossed the river at a ford. Both paths originally formed a prehistoric trade route between Dorset and East Anglia. The ford was important to the Romans and resulted in a raised causeway here. Settlements were established by the crossing and in Anglo-Saxon times the river became a vital frontier. Streatley, over on the Berkshire bank, was part of Wessex, while Goring was in Mercia.

The Thames is historically the most important river in Britain, used as a highway since early times. To stroll along its banks is the only way to appreciate its unique beauty and character. The 180-mile (290km) Thames Path, officially opened in July 1996 by the Countryside Commission (now the Countryside Agency), is the only long distance national trail in the country to follow a river for its entire length. Over 13 million people live within its catchment area and with numerous access points, frequent public transport services, a high standard of waymarking and many points of interest, the Countryside Agency believes its long-term popularity is assured.

The user-friendly terrain and level, easy-going surface enable walkers to tackle the route at any time of year, though stretches of the riverbank can become wet and muddy after prolonged rain. More than 95 per cent of the trail currently follows the intended route, running beside the river, which begins life as a trickling stream in a Gloucestershire field near Cirencester.

Despite problems over prohibited access in several places, the Thames Path has come a long way since the 1920s when the concept of providing public access along the length of the river was first mooted. Over the years, increasing public demand for recreation and access to the countryside led to the eventual designation of the route in 1989. Much of the Thames Path is set against an urban background but, even here, there are many distinguished buildings and famous monuments to be seen, reflecting Britain's history and tradition.

The rural stretches are plentiful, too, and will satisfy those who seek peace and solitude. The Thames Path, which frequently changes from one bank to the other and in London follows both banks simultaneously, can easily be completed in stages or as a two-week walking holiday.

Between Wallingford and Reading, the Thames is most closely associated with the 'Goring Gap' where, during the ice age, the river carved a new passage through the chalk hills, cutting between the Berkshire Downs and the Chilterns.

Where to eat and drink

The Queen's Arms by Goring railway station serves a range of traditional meals and snacks. Alternatively, try the Miller of Mansfield near the Thames in Goring, or the Cross Keys in Pangbourne.

What to look for

Whitchurch Bridge is a Victorian toll bridge distinguished by its white lattice architecture. Motorists pay to cross the bridge but pedestrians go free. The bridge is privately owned.

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