The Thames path in the morning. Gentle woodland after lunch in an NT Village, Historic riverside Henley for tea.
Main walk: 14.9 km (9.2 miles.
a) Using shortcut to lunch: 13.1 km (8.1 miles).
b) Henley to Marlow: 16.1km (10 miles).
c) Extension to Marsh Lock: Adds 2.6km (1.6 miles)
||OS Landranger Map No 175. OS Explorer Map 171
||3 out of 10
This pleasant outing from Henley is divided into four parts of almost equal distance. Firstly a section along the Thames - the wilder, less manicured left bank of the river, passing the picturesque Temple Island. It is on this stretch in the first week of July that the Henley Regatta takes place (a time to avoid this walk, if you don't like crowds and noise). Next is a crossing of a ridge covered in fine beech woods (with good leaf colour in early November), followed by an approach along the valley to the picturesque village of Hambleden (often used in filming. After lunch you contour along the side of the valley, with fine views, before crossing the Thames over the weir at Hambleden Mill and walking across the watermeadows to Aston, where there is a possible late lunch stop. Finally there is an an easy walk over the lower part of Remenham Hill - mainly arable fields, though with small patches of woodland - to Henley for tea.
This is a great walk on which to see red kites, a once nearly-extinct bird of prey that was reintroduced to the Chilterns, who circle overhead with their haunting cries throughout the walk.
a) Shortcut to Hambleden: this shortcut, indicated in the walk directions, saves you 1.8km (1.1 miles) off the main walk, giving a total walk of 13.1km (8.1 miles)
b) Henley to Marlow: This alternative ending follows a route over wooded hills from Hambleden to Marlow (the same route as is taken by the Marlow Circular walk, also on this website). It is 8.4km (5.2 miles) from Hambleden to Marlow, making a total walk of 16.1 km (10 miles).
c) Extension to Marsh Lock: If you want an extra stroll after tea, it is a very pleasant walk of 1.3km (0.8 miles) down the riverbank (tarmac path all the way) from Henley to Marsh Lock, where there is an impressive weir. Afterwards, unless you want to carry on along the Thames Path to Shiplake, the suggestion is that you reverse your route back to Henley. This adds 2.6km (1.6 miles) to the walk.
Henley is supposed to be the oldest settlement in Oxfordshire, dating at least from Roman times, but it really came into its own from the 12th century onward as a river crossing and a port for shipping grain and timber to London. These days the town has a much more refined air. It is supposed to have 300 listed buildings and is famous for its annual Regatta, held in the first week of July since 1839. Though the Regatta does include five days of rowing competitions, its more serious side is as a part of the summer "season", a social whirl for the well to do which also includes Ascot and Wimbledon. Non-rowing fans/socialites may prefer to avoid this walk during Regatta week, though only the first section as far as Temple Island is really affected by it.
The neo-classical folly on Temple Island, two kilometres downstream from Henley, was built in 1771 by James Wyatt as a fishing lodge for Fawley Court, the Christopher Wren designed mansion further down the river. It was the first example in England of the so-called Etruscan style. Today the island is owned by the Henley Regatta, and is rented out for corporate entertaining.
Hambleden is not to be confused with Hambledon in Hampshire where cricket was invented. WH Smith, founder of the newsagents and stationery chain, is buried in the churchyard. His widow became Vicountess Hambleden and the family still own the manor house. Smith became First Lord of the Admiralty after ten years as an MP, and as such was the assumed target of the song Ruler of the Queen's Navy in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta HMS Pinafore, in which an obedient MP rises to that post without any nautical experience. Gilbert denied this, probably to avoid libel suits, but Smith was still known as Pinafore Smith in his lifetime, even being referred to by this nickname by the prime minister who had appointed him, Benjamin Disraeli. Towards the end of his life he became Warden of the Cinque Ports and after six months in that role died in Walmer Castle, the warden's official home.The parish church has several interesting memorials, including one to the family of Sir Cope D'Oyley, who died in 1633, on which the children are shown carrying skulls if they died before their parents. To the left of this tomb is an oak chest used by the Earl of Cardigan when he led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854
There are twice hourly connections from London Paddington to Henley, changing at Twyford; though later in the evening the trains revert to hourly. Journey time is about one hour. Buy a day return to Henley-on-Thames (ie not "in-Arden"). Take the train nearest to 10am from Paddington to get to lunch in Hambleden in time.
If you are doing option b) a day return to Henley will usually be accepted from Marlow. There is, indeed, in theory a Thames Branches Day Rover, which is the same price as a day return to Henley and allows you unlimited travel on both the Marlow and Henley branches, as well as to Windsor and Reading: but only the ticket office at Paddington seems to know about this. Otherwise, if you get a recalcitrant ticket inspector, anyone with a Henley return would only need to pay for a single from Marlow to Maidenhead, where the two train routes converge.
It is also possible to end the walk after 9.9km (6.2 miles) by taking a number 800 bus back to Henley from just before Hambleden Lock - see paragraph 52 on page 5. There are three buses an hour during working hours Monday to Friday and two an hour on Saturdays, with buses every 40 minutes or so in the evenings. There is one bus an hour on Sundays until around 9pm.
The Stag and Huntsman (tel 01491 571227) in Hambleden, 7.7km (4.8 miles) into the walk, is a cosy, atmospheric old pub, with reasonably large garden. It serves food until 2.30pm and from 6pm to 9pm on weekdays and all day on Saturday and Sunday. It is open all afternoon daily for drinks.
Hambleden Village Stores, next to the church, also has a few outside tables and serves tea, coffee, cakes and delicatessen items. It is open until 5.30pm Monday to Friday, 5pm Saturday and 4pm Sunday.
3.6 miles (2.2km) further on, the Flower Pot Hotel (tel 01491 574721) in the tranquil hamlet of Aston is a homely unpretentious place, serving food to match from midday to 2.30pm Sunday to Friday and all afternoon Saturday (also 6pm to 9.30pm weekdays). For drinks it is open all afternoon at weekends, but is closed 3.30pm to 6pm on weekdays. It has a large garden.
The early riverside part of the walk is a fine picnic spot, as is the churchyard in Hambleden and the far (south) side of Hambleden Weir.
There are several places for tea in Henley but the favourite Saturday Walkers haunt is the The Chocolate Cafe in Thames Side, the waterfront just by the bridge, which has an excellent selection of chocolate cakes, and is open until 5.30pm Monday to Thursday and 6pm Friday to Sunday.
If finishing in Marlow, there are tea stops in the town's high street. The best is Burgers, a traditional patisserie and tea room which is open until 5pm Monday to Saturday: but a later option is offered by Starbucks or one of the town's many pubs - eg the George & Dragon, which serves Costa hot drinks. The Marlow Donkey pub just before the station is also very pleasant.