A pretty stretch of the Thames towpath
Reading to Henley: 16.9km (10.5 miles)
Reading to Shiplake: 13.2km (8.2 miles)
Shortcut to Shiplake: saves 1.7km (1.1 miles)
Landranger 175, Explorer 171
1 out of 10: entirely flat
This is a simple walk along a pleasant section of the River Thames. You are on the riverside within 300 metres of leaving Reading station, and the way from there to lunch in the attractive village of Sonning is at first via waterside parks and walkways, and then through a wilder wooded section. After lunch you follow an unspoilt section of riverside between pasture fields to Shiplake Lock, and carry on around a pleasant loop of the river on a newly-opened section of the Thames Path to Shiplake village and station. After a section through suburban Shiplake, the walk returns to river's edge for the last section across a meadow to the dramatic weirs of Marsh Lock, and through a riverside park into Henley.
The path presents no technical difficulties, and for most of the year the paths will be dry underfoot. The one exception is in winter, when very heavy rains may cause the river to flood. Even in this season, the paths are firm for most of the way to Sonning, the exception being some grassy parkland mid morning which can sometimes be a bit soggy. After Sonning the path can be covered with slippery mud, but is never boggy.
It is possible to end the walk at Shiplake, as the walk passes the station there. This cuts 3.7km (2.3 miles) off the walk, making a walk of 13.2km (8.2 miles), but you will miss a beautiful approach along the river to Henley, not to mention its excellent tea stops.
You can also do a shortcut to Shiplake, cutting out the last loop of the river before the village. This was the original route of this walk before a new section of Thames Path was opened. It saves 1.7km (1.1 miles), reducing the Reading to Henley walk to 15.2km (9.4 miles) and Reading to Shiplake to 11.5km (7.1 miles).
|Transport|| Trains to Reading from Paddington are fast and numerous, the fastest being the non-stop Great Western express trains which can take as little as 23 minutes. Get a train that arrives at Reading between 10.30 and 11.00. Buy a day return to Henley-on-Thames valid via Reading (rather than the slightly cheaper return which is not valid via Reading). You can use a ticket starting from a London Transport zone boundary on these non-stop trains, despite what the occasional misinformed ticket inspector on these trains says.
Holders of London Transport Freedom Passes (though not 60+ Oyster Card holders) can travel to Reading for free, so long as they travel on TFL trains (destined in due course to be Crossrail/Elizabeth Line services), but these are stopping services taking 56 minutes from Paddington. In this case you only need to buy a single ticket from Henley to Twyford on the return journey. Contactless, though not Oyster beyond West Drayton, can be used on these services.
Trains back from Henley are every half hour (hourly after 7pm on Sundays), changing at Twyford.
|Lunch|| The Bull (0118 969 3901 www.bullinnsonning.co.uk) in the pretty village of Sonning, 5.5km (3.4 miles) into the walk, gets popular at lunchtimes gets popular at lunchtimes, especially at weekends, so it is as well to get there early. However it does have a good number of outside tables too, both around its car park and in a well-hidden garden around its back. It serves food from 12pm to 3pm daily (all afternoon at weekends and daily for drinks).
An alternative, next to Sonning Bridge, is the Coppa Club (0118 921 9890 www.coppaclub.co.uk), which despite its name describes itself as "an all-day restaurant and social hub where everyone is welcome". I have not tried this establishment, but it seems to serve pub-like food in a modern pub-like environment, and has a beautiful garden on the river's edge. It is open all day and evening.
The Baskerville Arms by Shiplake station, 11.5km (7.1 miles) into the walk, is a possible early tea stop.
In Henley best option is The Chocolate Cafe on the riverside near the town bridge, open till 5pm Monday to Friday and 6pm weekends.
Another possible tea stop is the Henley Rowing Museum on the left in the riverside gardens as you approach Henley. Its cafe, open 10am to 5pm, is accessible without paying to go into the museum. Further along in the gardens on the left there is a tea kiosk.
The centre of Henley (go to the town bridge and turn left) also has other tea options, and many pubs, the most obvious of which is The Angel on the Bridge by the bridge.
This walk is part of the Thames Path [wikipedia] [National Trails] - a 184 mile national long distance path - that follows the Thames from its source in Kemble to the Thames Barrier at Charlton in SE London. There is a 10 mile extension on to Crayford Ness. It follows the river's historic towpath where possible. In a few places, nearby paths are used instead as towpath sections do not match up where former "horse ferry" crossing have been lost. Through London, there are north and south bank paths.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk