The Thames Path in the morning, historic Hambledon for lunch, and back via the hills above Henley in the afternoon. Short but pretty.
||16.1km (10.0 miles), 4 hours 30 minutes. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow 7 hours 50 minutes.
||2 out of 10.
||Explorer 171 or Landranger 175. Henley-on-Thames, map reference SU 764 823, is in Oxfordshire, 10km north-east of Reading.
This is a very pretty walk, out along the Thames, and back via the hills above. Its mainly flat morning follows the Thames path to the quaint and well preserved hamlet of Hambleden with its brick and flint red roofed buildings. The return is via the wooded geological terrace above river. Historic riverside Henley, with many tea rooms and pubs, is a nice place to finish
The walk starts in Henley (famous for its rowing regatta in late June or early July) and goes along the Thames towpath, with rowing instructors on bikes shouting instructions to their crews, past Temple Island with its neo-folly, to the 250-metre footbridge over the weir at Hambleden Mill, where canoeists practise in the stormy waters. Route finding is easy! From there the route is northwards to the suggested lunchtime pub in the well-preserved hamlet of Hambleden, which has a huge church out of all proportion to the population.
After lunch, the walk for the next 2.5km takes you through the Great Wood, the endlessness of which gives an inkling of how most of Britain must once have been. From the village of Fawley with its church and mausoleum, the walk returns along the Oxfordshire Way, past the manor of Henley Park, to Henley for tea.
You could get a bus back to Henley from Mill End (there are about three buses each hour) or a taxi from the pub in Hambleden.
Reverse walk (clockwise)
In winter you might like to try doing this walk "backwards" - that is, in reverse - or clockwise. The advantage of walking the longer leg of the walk through Great Wood first, means the shorter post lunch leg of 1.5 hrs on the level beside the River Thames is relatively safe and easy to walk in failing light or even darkness.
Directions for walking the walk clockwise are given after the Main (anti-clockwise) Directions.
Henley, with its 300 listed buildings, is said to be the oldest settlement in Oxfordshire; a Roman grain store and skeletons of 97 supposedly unwanted children were excavated at Mill End in 1911.
Fawley Temple, the neoclassical folly on Temple Island, is maintained by the Henley Regatta on a 999-year lease. It was built by James Wyatt in 1771 for a local landowner, Sambrooke Freeman, and has Etruscan-style murals inside.
Hambleden Mill, mentioned in the Domesday Book, was used for grinding corn until 1955.
Hambleden means 'village in a valley'. Charles I spent one night at the manor house in Hambleden whilst fleeing from Oxford to St Albans in 1646. Its well preserved buildings are brick and flint, with red tiled roofs
St Mary the Virgin Church, Hambleden, has a memorial with alabaster figures representing Sir Cope D'Oyley (who died in 1633), his wife and their ten children - with the children shown carrying skulls if they died before their parents. To the left of the monument is the oak muniment chest used by the Earl of Cardigan in Balaclava, where he led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854. And to the left of this chest, tucked in an alcove, is a reusable stone coffin. The churchyard contains the grave of the bookseller WH Smith, who became (posthumously) Lord Hambleden.
The village of Fawley from the Old English for 'clearing') is listed in the Domesday Book as having 13 villeins, one cottager and five slaves. In 1086 it was given to a Norman, Herbrand de Sackville, as a reward for guarding his master's estates in Normandy during the invasion of England. The churchyard in Fawley contains a large circular neoclassical mausoleum built by John Freeman for his family around 1750.
Take the train nearest to 10am (clockwise walk: 9.30am) from Paddington station to Henley-on-Thames, changing at Twyford. Journey time 65 minutes.
At Twyford you have to cross over to the other platform. Be quick if the London train is late, as there is an hour's wait if you miss the connection. For this reason, consider catching an earlier train than the timetable recommends. Trains back from Henley are hourly.
Rail ticket: Now that Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) trains are running between Paddington and Reading, if you are one of our senior walkers who holds a Freedom Pass you can travel free of charge on these TFL trains (blue livery) as far as Twyford, leaving you to purchase a day return from Twyford to Henley. However , if you travel on a Great Western train (green livery) you will need an off-peak day return from the edge of your travel card (Zone 6) to Henley.
By car: Henley Station has a car park (£4.50), or there is free parking a little way outside the town.
The suggested lunch pub is the Stag & Huntsman (01491 571 227), in Hambleden, an 18th century Grade 1 listed former coaching inn, some 6 km into the walk, which is open for breakfast, and lunch with a local and seasonal emphasis. Post Covid lockdown , summer 2020, lunch times are 12 noon until 2.30 pm, Monday to Saturday, and 12 noon until 4 pm on Sundays. Booking ahead, or at least 'phoning ahead with numbers from Henley, is always advised, and is essential on Sundays.
There are a number of tea options, restaurants and pubs in Henley to suit most tastes.
The The Chocolate Cafe (thechocolatecafe.info, 01491 411412) on Thames Side, facing the river, is open until 5:30pm on weekdays and 6pm at weekends.
In summer the church of St Mary the Virgin on Hart Street (the high street) serves tea with homemade cakes on Sunday afternoons.
Pubs include The Angel on the Bridge on the river, and a Wetherspoons on Hart Street
No major changes. Minor updates - and addition of Clockwise Directions - provided October 2019. Travel and pub updates August 2020.