Cricklade to Lechlade (11 miles)
I could conveniently travel to the start and end of this walk from Swindon, so today I set off with a lighter backpack, having left most items behind in Swindon. Also, today’s walk was only 11 miles, so it should indeed be a walk in the park - so I thought.
I took the 51A bus back to Cricklade. Unlike the day before, the sun was out to greet me, and Cricklade seemed immensely more appealing with quaint shops and cafes. But it wasn’t time to indulge, as I had a mission to complete. I followed the river to an open meadow. Soon the terrain became a little more interesting as it was no longer just flat. (Not surprisingly, inclines are far and few in between along the Thames Path.)
After a couple of miles, It suddenly occurred to me that I had been mostly walking on mown grass, as if someone had just taken a heavy-duty lawn-mower along the Thames Path for a spin. And that is exactly what happened, as I next came across a couple of people mowing the Thames Path. Of course, someone somewhere had to cut the grass, but it was just too easy to take things like this for granted. If not for the thousands of volunteers and professionals looking after our countryside, we would simply not be enjoying it. I tipped my hat to them (without physically doing so).
With this positive thought, I rambled on, but I soon realised that I was literally walking along miles of mown lawns, which was not a good idea if you had hayfever. So I suffered all the way until I reached Castle Eaton, where I felt like kissing the tarmac. I took a brief snack-break outside the Red Lion pub, and as soon as I started walking again, I realised my feet were starting to hurt in all sorts of funny places. The concern I had the day before was not unfounded after all. I suddenly became so much more aware of the rough terrain underneath my feet. After a mile of flat tarmac, the path became muddy again before it turned into a stony and uneven footpath, which did nothing to soothe my pain, as the Thames Path veered way from the river to reach Upper Ingleham.
I had previously read about the following mile which would involve walking on a narrow grass verge along the busy 60-mph A361 from Upper Ingleham to Inglesham village, but I had decided it was not going to a big deal. Now, standing on my sore feet in front of an official Thames Path notice telling me to either call a taxi or flag down a bus, I was starting to wonder whether I should just follow the advice. And why was I not surprised to find that taxis would not be available for another few hours, and the next bus would not arrive until much later? So, with much reluctance, I started to embark on the most awful and certainly most suicidal mile of the Thames Path. After 20 minutes of imagining myself being in various Bear Gryll scenarios involving deserts, rainforests and dreadful creatures, I finally made it alive to Inglesham village. There was supposed to be a Saxon church (St John the Baptist), but I was in no mood to pay it a visit.
Carrying on, I was very happy to see first the river again, and then the church spire of Lechlade. The river here suddenly became wide, and there were all sorts of boats moored to the towpath. This is officially the furthest navigable part of the Thames upstream. Lechlade has a handsome stone bridge, and compared with Cricklade, Lechlade seemed a whole lot posher. I even had a choice of two places to have a flat-white before I caught bus 74 back to Swindon.
Halfpenny bridge, Lechlade
River Thames, Lechlade
My feet were hurting too much to carry on tomorrow, and the weather forecast was looking terrible. My aim to complete the last stage of my Thames Path was not to be. I would go back to London tomorrow.
To add insult to injury, the 74 bus travelled down A361, whizzing past Upper Inglesham just after 2 minutes of setting off from Lechlade Market Square.
This has been a strangely humbling experience, and I will look to come back and conquer the last 16 miles before long!
p.s. for those of you planning on taking the no. 64 Lechlade-Swindon bus, I saw a notice saying that the service will no longer run after 20th July 2016.