Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The route of history: the Thames River Path

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From England's thousands of marked footpaths, we choose the Thames River Path for a self-guided walking holiday. And then, we take our daughter for a long stroll -- from Oxford to Windsor.

Each of us shoulders a day pack stuffed with rainwear, snacks and water and we set off, maps and guidebook at the ready. Our luggage will be transferred to pre-booked lodgings for each of the next five days.

The Thames path is a national trail following early towpaths used to pull barges laden with Cotswold wool, timber and stone to London.

The riverside pathway skirts countless grassy pastures and flower-filled meadows. Sometimes tunnelling through hedges and beneath gnarled oaks, we emerge to tramp through open farmlands, wildlife preserves and parks. We spot partridges, magpies and crested grebes. Along Pangbourne's water marshes, the idyllic setting of Wind in the Willows, wooden benches display brass plaques quoting Kenneth Grahame's winsome observations of river life. On the shore opposite, Hardwick and Mapledurham, both Elizabethan-era manors, claim to have inspired illustrations of Toad Hall.

Our daily walks of about 17 kilometres end at a historic hotel, farmhouse, country home and 17th-century pub rooms. All provide hearty English breakfasts of bacon, sausages, eggs, baked beans and toast.

In tiny Iffley, we stumble on St. Mary's, an unexpected 12th-century Norman church. Unlike others we see, this gem remains intact, complete with original fine stonework and stained glass parables. Abingdon, England's oldest continually settled town, lies across its multi-arched 1422 bridge. There, we find esteemed abbey ruins. And sections of King Alfred's earthen ramparts remain in Wallingford, an important Saxon town from the 9th century.

Its museum recounts Wallingford's history, highlighting famed resident Agatha Christie, who often based her Miss Marple and Poirot mysteries in the area. Onward villages of Moulsford, Streatley and Whitchurch show us their ancient charms; southern England's most beautiful town, Goring, still flaunts wondrous Tudor splendour.

From Oxford's spires, through sublime countryside and historic villages to Windsor's pageantry, walking the Thames River Path proves a worthwhile undertaking.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 D4

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