For this final sprint to the finish-line I was joined by a couple of glory-hunters – I mean friends – Mark and Ian. You already know Ian from leg 14. Ian and Mark are essentially the same; We all went to school together, they are both something in the City, they both have twins, they both have a dog (or did at the time) and they both wanted to come out for a walk.
We met up at the car park in the middle of Cricklade and made our way down to the river. On this leg I found myself taking photos of almost every bridge we came to because I wanted to be sure of capturing the last one. But as you will see, I’m still not sure what should be called the last bridge.
After a couple of miles the river took a sharp left turn and had we been paying attention at that point we would have climbed up onto the disused railway to follow the Thames Path. But we were not paying attention, so we carried on under the railway and stayed alongside the river. The result of this wasn’t too disastrous; we spent a few minutes studying the map and we encountered a lot more mud than necessary, but after a few hundred yards we were able to re-join the path without having to double back.
As we walked between the lakes east of Ashton Keynes Mark’s boot decided to separate from its sole. This could have been the end of his day’s walk, but he effected a somewhat Heath Robinson repair with a length of Elastoplast. It couldn’t possibly last. But coming into the village we crossed some playing fields where a few guys were kicking footballs around. “Aha!” exclaimed Mark “footballers always have rolls of black tape in their kitbags!”. Do they? Really? Why? Ian and I had our doubts so left him to go and ask for help. But sure enough after a few minutes he rejoined us with his boot bound in black tape in an only slightly less Heath Robinson repair. But the mysterious footballers’ tape must have special qualities because it did hold Mark’s boot together for the rest of the day.
In its upper reaches the Thames flows through some lovely villages. Ashton Keynes, Somerford Keynes and Ewen for example. Pretty, tranquil places with an equally tranquil river flowing through them. But the attractiveness and tranquility comes at a price; a three-bedroom home can easily cost you half a million pounds. I will have to make do with walking through and looking in admiration from a distance.
There was some debate about whether the Thames was at this point a river, brook or stream. We quickly dismissed brook as it wasn’t babbling. We eventually decided it wasn’t a stream as it was too big to jump across. So: it was still a river.
I kept a close eye on the diminishing river through the trees and eventually decided that it was so narrow that even I could jump across it, so I did. Clearly therefore, at that point the river became a stream. But then something strange happened; it became a river again. Then a stream and for the last time a river. Eventually the riverbed became dry so we jumped in and walked back to find the last bit of water in the Thames. Here is a photo of me standing in it:-
We were still a couple of miles from Thames Head so we followed the dry riverbed north of Kemble. Just short of the A433 there is a stone wall with holes in it across the riverbed. I’m not sure what its function could be. Certainly you wouldn’t use it as a river crossing, so could you call that the last bridge? Or would that be the less impressive concrete affair further downstream? I still don’t know.
We crossed the A433 and we were no longer even following a dry river bed, we were just crossing a field. Then at last, after only 281 miles, there it was – The Thames Head Stone! So we leant on it, took photos of each other… There was a couple there who had similarly just completed their own Thames odyssey so we chatted with them and they kindly took pictures of all of us. Ultimately though there isn’t much to do there – not even a gift shop – so after a while we retired to the Thames Head Inn. It’s a nice pub and we enjoyed a good lunch.
Mileage today: 12.68
Mileage to date: 281.6
Mileage to date, as the crow flies: 118.72 miles
Mileage to go, as the crow flies: 0.00 miles!!!