Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling


Approaching Abingdon I come to Swift Ditch, where the remains of the original lock can still be seen, and then cross the river by means of Abingdon Lock. From the lock it is a short walk to the Abingdon Bridge, which although it has been mostly rebuilt over the years still retains its medieval appearance.

Once under the bridge I am able to view one of the classic scenes of the Thames. St Helens Church and almshouses command the far bank as they have done for many centuries. The church of St Helen dates from the 11th Century and the almshouses were added in the 14th century.

Abingdon is one of the oldest towns in England. A Benedictine Abbey was founded here in 695, and the present street market is said to have originated in 1086. In 1084 William the Conqueror brought his son, the future Henry I, to the Abbey to be educated.

Abingdon was once the county town of Berkshire, but its failure to adopt the railway culture during the nineteenth century left it struggling outside the mainstream of Victorian life, and the title was passed to the growing town of Reading in 1867. Jerome K Jerome simply described Abingdon as “boring”.

Although Abingdon itself retains an air of antiquity, the same can not be said for its surrounding area which is a veritable hotbed of modern high technology. There are huge local science parks at Milton, Harwell and Culham, with the latest addition being the Diamond Light Source that is the UK’s biggest scientific project for over 40 years.

Sadly, two of Abingdon’s most famed enterprises have both closed. MG cars (Morris Garages) were manufactured here until 1980, and more recently the famous Morlands Brewery has also come to an end, although its most famous product “Old Speckled Hen” is still brewed in Bury St Edmunds by the current brand owners Greene King.

Open fields call again, and leaving Abingdon behind I am striding towards the idyllic villages of Sutton Courteney, Culham and Clifton Hampden.

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