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Wallingford and William the Conqueror's Castle

Discover the ancient treasures of a famous town on the Thames before following a pretty stretch of riverbank.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Bridleways, pavements, Thames Path, 11 stiles

Landscape Flat farmland by Thames

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 70 Abingdon, Wantage

Start/finish SU 604895

Dog friendliness Mostly on lead or under strict control; on short lead at nature reserve

Parking Long-stay car park in St George's Road, Wallingford

Public toilets Off High Street in Wallingford

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1 On leaving the car park turn left and walk along St George's Road. Turn left into High Street and head towards Wallingford town centre. Pass the library and Wallingford Museum and keep ahead to the junction with St Martin's Street and Castle Street. The Town Hall is on the right and the remains of the castle on the left. Continue over the junction and pass Lamb Arcade and the George Hotel. On the right is the spire of St Peter's Church in Thames Street.

2 Pass the Town Arms and cross the bridge over the Thames. Continue along the road and, about 80yds (73m) beyond the traffic-lights, turn right at a bridleway signposted 'Ridgeway and Grim's Ditch'. Follow the enclosed track between fences, keeping the river and adjacent meadows to your right. Keep left at a waymark and stay on the bridleway. Cross a footpath and now the woodland gives way to open fields.

3 On reaching a junction with a concrete farm track, turn right and head towards the buildings of Newnham Farm. Keep left and walk along the track to St Mary's Church at Newnham Murren. With the church on your right, continue on the tree-lined bridleway. Approaching the A4130, veer right at the 'cyclists dismount' sign and follow the pavement along to a bridge over the Thames. Once over the bridge, veer right and follow the tarmac path down the bank to the riverside.

4 Turn left and head upstream towards Wallingford, passing a boathouse. Continue on the Thames Path to a tarmac drive running between houses. Just beyond a property called The Boathouse, turn right by a flood marker, dated 1894. Follow the path to the road by St Leonard's Church. Turn right and follow the road along to St Peter's Street. Turn left here, then left again into Wood Street. After 70yds (64m) turn right into Mousey Lane and make for the Town Hall. Retrace your steps along High Street to reach the car park at the start of the walk.

Wallingford is one of those towns that can hold your attention for hours. Its churches are well worth a look, its museum and Town Hall attract many visitors, and the grass-covered mounds of its ruined castle serve as a reminder of the bitter struggle for supremacy during the Civil War. Wallingford has even made guest appearances in television drama - most recently as the town of Cawston in the popular thriller series Midsomer Murders. Scenes were filmed in the Market Place.

My first proper visit to Wallingford was early on a Sunday evening in late March. Church bells were summoning parishioners to evensong, the streets were pleasantly quiet and there was a hint of spring in the air. This little riverside town remains one of my favourite places in the county.

Turning the pages of history, you'll find Wallingford was once acknowledged as an important river crossing, and in the 11th century William the Conqueror deemed a large castle was necessary to protect it. William crossed the Thames here in 1066 and today the river is spanned by a splendid 900-ft (274m) bridge of 16 arches. The castle was the last Royalist stronghold in Oxfordshire to surrender, following a brave Parliamentary siege that lasted 65 days. Cromwell ordered it to be demolished six years later.

Elsewhere, there is much to see. The Town Hall is one of Wallingford's finest buildings. Resting on pillars, it houses the tourist information centre. Inside the Town Hall are portraits by Lawrence and Gainsborough, as well as a silver mace and the 15th-century town seal. In front of the building is a striking war memorial, unveiled in 1921.

Across the road is the 19th-century Corn Exchange, now a theatre. Look for the Victorian drinking fountain at the northern end of the Market Place, given to Wallingford by Alderman Hawkins, who ran a draper's shop in the town.

No visit to Wallingford is complete without a look at its churches (the town once had 16, but there are now only six). One of the most striking of these holy buildings is St Peter's Church with its needle-like spire. The church, which was rebuilt in 1769-77, contains the tomb of Sir William Blackstone (1723-80), Oxford's first professor of English law, who presented St Peter's with a clock from Horse Guards in London.

Not far away, along Thames Street, and defining the south east corner of the old Saxon walled town, is St Leonard's Church. The churchyard, which has been managed by a wildlife conservation group since 1996, is a haven for wildlife in an urban setting. To facilitate improved conservation, the churchyard has been divided into various areas, each with its own distinct environmental features. It's worth allowing time to stroll through the churchyard, which you pass towards the end of the walk, as it reveals a variety of habitats and wildlife surprises.

Where to eat and drink

Wallingford has a choice of pubs, hotels and tea rooms from which to choose. There's the George Hotel and the Town Arms directly on the route, while further afield, at Cholsey, is the Morning Star, offering basic meals and snacks.

While you're there

Wallingford Museum is housed in part of a medieval hall-house. One of its major attractions is a time-warp walk through Saxon and medieval Wallingford with personal audio commentary. Also on display are a Victorian shop, a pub and a model of Wallingford Station.

What to look for

As you cross the River Thames at Wallingford, in the early stages of the walk, look down to your left and you'll spot a memorial stone which recalls that the field here was presented to the borough by Alderman and Mrs Lester in memory of their son, who was killed in action in 1944, aged 27.

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