The River Thames, England's longest and most iconic river, has played an important role in history for centuries. Today, you can discover colourful life and fascinating tales of bygone days as you cycle along the mighty river.
This Collection guides you along the Thames Valley Cycle Route from London to Oxford in seven stages, covering 117 miles (189 km) in total. Ranging in length from 10.5 miles (17 km) to 22 miles (35.5 km), the stages can easily be bundled together to complete the adventure in fewer days.
The Thames Valley is a wonderful area to explore by bike. You will follow the river as it winds through the bustling heart of England’s capital and across the south, leaving the water regularly to discover the region’s varied attractions, gentle hills, peaceful countryside and historic towns and villages.
You will follow a mixture of riverside paths, bridleways, cycleways, and countryside lanes, many of which are traffic-free. Nonetheless, as the route starts in the capital, you should be comfortable riding in busy areas. However, once you leave the bustle of the city, you can relax into rural bliss.
Beginning in London, the route leads to some of the UK’s most iconic sites such as the London Eye, before exploring historical sites on the edges of the city. Watch deer roam vast fields in Richmond Park, wander the colourful gardens at Hampton Court Palace, and learn more about the city’s diverse past.
As well as fascinating history, the Thames Valley is known for its beautiful nature and varied wildlife. Watch red kites circle above the patchwork hills of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, enjoy wild flowers swaying in the breeze on the slopes of the Wittenham Clumps, and ride through fragrant mossy woodland.
Aside from a short section through the Chiltern hills, the route is almost entirely flat, making it an ideal choice for novice bike tourers and all family members.
You will also never be far from a shop or a riverside pub where you can fill up on delicious grub to keep you going. Thriving villages and towns dotted along the river such as Reading, Abingdon, and Windsor provide comfortable accommodation en route, such as hotels, camp sites, and self-catering cottages.
You will also find train stations in most of the end stages, making the separate routes in this Collection perfect for day trips or weekend escapes.
You can ride the route in either direction. Both the start line in London and finish in Oxford are easy to reach by train, just don’t forget to reserve a space for your bike, too.
From the fast-paced heart of London to its quiet suburbs, stage 1 takes you on a lovely bike ride to some fascinating historical sites. Today you will clock up 22 miles (35.5 km) as you ride from central London to Hampton. Riding in London can be a stressful experience, even for seasoned city bikers, so take care in traffic and watch out for pedestrians, especially during rush hour. Luckily, you follow traffic-free cycle paths most of the way, allowing you to fully enjoy the exhilarating atmosphere and iconic sites. To start, follow along the River Thames as it flows through Millbank, Pimlico, and Chelsea, before crossing over the river at Putney Bridge. Here you can enjoy one of the first green getaways of London as you pass through the London Wetland Centre and Barnes Common, and ride into Richmond Park. With wild parklands where deer roam, Richmond Park is a wonderful place to cycle. A network of paths will take you through the green fields and woodland to Ham House. After exploring this 17th-century mansion, you continue along the river, passing Kingston upon Thames and Hampton Court before arriving in Hampton, your final stop. With two railway stations, plenty of restaurants and a good choice of accommodation, you can spend a comfortable night here.
With the River Thames constantly by your side, you will discover peaceful islands, winding waterways and colourful marinas on stage 2 of your adventure.With just 131 feet (40 m) of climbing, today is flat almost all the way as you ride 17.4 miles (28 km) from Hampton to Egham. From Hampton, skirt around the Kempton Nature Reserve and ride into Sunbury-on-Thames, an historic London suburb with plenty of pubs dotted along its pretty riverside. After riding around Shepperton Marina, you reach the first of many river islands today, Desborough Island. You ride along quiet roads before joining the traffic-free Renfree Way which rejoins the Thames at Chertsey Bridge. Next, meander through Laleham Park and into Laleham village. With twenty-five listed buildings, the village has plenty of history to discover including a stunning 12th-century church. The route becomes more urban as you head towards Staines-upon-Thames, a former Roman settlement which was once the location of three battles during the Civil War. At Pooley Green, you can take an optional detour to visit Thorpe Park, a fun theme park with various rides and attractions. Although pricey, you could spend the night here. Alternatively, continue into Egham where you can find a range of hotels, holiday rentals and B&Bs.
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Firmly out of the bustling capital, stage 3 is a wonderful ride through fragrant gardens and historic parklands to the iconic Windsor Castle. With just 10.5 miles (17 km) of pedalling, you will have plenty of time to explore the sites en route. From Egham, a small climb up to 328 feet (100 m) brings you into Runnymede, a beautiful water meadow on the banks of the Thames. Here, rowing boats glide gently over the calm water, flanked by fields of wildflowers.Cycle around Castle Hill and follow the quiet road as it winds towards Savill Gardens and into the Great Park, a huge area of historic parkland. You could stop for refreshments in The Village in the middle of the park. Ride through the green fields for 4.6 miles (7.5 km), exploring the historical monuments along the way. The historic town of Windsor begins on the edge of the park. With a long history stretching back to the Norman era, Windsor is an interesting town with royal connections. No visit to Windsor is complete without visiting the infamous Windsor Castle, at least from the outside. Windsor is well set up to welcome visitors with an array of accommodation and places to grab some dinner.
From quiet lakes featured in the 2012 Olympic games to archaic colleges, stage 4 is a varied ride through Berkshire. After visiting one of the most famous schools in the UK, if not the world, Eton College, join a cycle path on the edge of Eton town through Dorney Common. This stretch takes you through the quiet villages of Eton Wick and Dorney, with peaceful nature and farmland in between. On the edge of the common, Dorney Olympic Rowing Lake is worth visiting. Cross over the Thames and pass through Bray and Braywick Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Maidenhead, a large town with plenty of places to stop for supplies. Continuing along quiet, wiggly streets, you soon switch to a bridleway which leads through the countryside towards Knowl Hill. The route climbs gradually until reaching the highest point of stage 4 at 459 feet (140 m). There’s a few pubs and shops at the top to replenish your energy. Enjoy a lovely downhill through scenic landscapes and into Wargrave. This curiously-named village’s name comes from ‘Weir-Grove’, known as ‘Weregreave’ during medieval times. You’ll join a cycle path on the edge of the village which runs parallel to New Bath Road and brings you into Sonning. Author Jerome K. Jerome described the village as “the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river,” in his book Three Men in a Boat. With pretty houses lining the river banks, it’s easy to see why. You’ll find everything you need here for a comfortable rest, ready for stage 5.
Ride through ancient woodland to grey-stone churches and sleepy villages and follow the mighty Thames River into the buzzing city of Reading – stage 5 is a great day of cycling. From Sonning, join quiet back roads through suburban areas before joining a cycle path as it skirts around Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake and follows the Thames into Reading. With attractions such as Basildon Park, the Silchester Roman City Walls, and the Museum of English Rural Life, it’s worth setting aside some time to explore Reading. You’ll also find a huge range of pubs, cafes, and restaurants. Cross over the Thames to leave the city and head into Caversham. The road gives way to a single track through the golf club before joining country lanes, where you’ll catch glimpses of fields of horses between the tall hedgerows. This stretch is a glorious ride through rural life, passing scenic farms and fields before arriving in Kidmore End, a pretty village with a pub. The remainder of stage 5 continues slightly-uphill along lanes as they twist through the countryside. You will count more horses than cars on this stretch. Stoke Row marks the end of your ride. This small village has two restaurants and an inn offering accommodation. Be sure to visit Maharajah’s Well in the centre of the village. Its gilded dome and Indian-inspired design were built in 1863 by Indian Mutiny to thank local Edward Reade for his service in Bengal.
Stage 6 takes you further into the heart of rural Britain, passing picturesque villages and plenty of beer gardens on the way. Today you can enjoy a relaxed 17.3 miles (27.9 km) with 525 feet (160 m) of climbing and 918 feet (280 m) of downhill. Your day begins along tree-lined lanes through open fields with expansive views of the stunning Chilterns. The route gradually drops down through the picturesque scenery and cutting through Ipsden, a small village with a handy shop. Join Cart Gap bridleway towards Wallingford, taking a short optional detour to visit Carmel College and Synagogue en route. Wallingford is a mysterious town known for its ties to Agatha Christie, the murder mystery fiction writer who lived and worked here. The town was also the setting of the fictional town of Causton in the Midsomer Murders TV show. A cycle path leads through the town centre and into the surrounding nature. After riding through Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, head through Brightwell Barrow, where you will see the striking Wittenham Clumps in the distance. The remainder of stage 5 is a flat 4.9 miles (7.9 km) through the countryside, stopping at Little Wittenham and Long Wittenham on its way to Didcot, your final destination. With a rich railway heritage and industrial legacy, Didcot has all amenities for a pleasant stay.
Your final day adventuring along the Thames Valley takes you to pretty riverside towns and along tranquil canal paths to the magnificent city of Oxford. Today you will cover 15.9 miles (25.7 km) which, with only 229.6 feet (70 m) of elevation gain, are almost entirely flat. On Didcot’s suburbs, the route joins a cycle path which winds through the urban landscape, through Sutton Courtenay, and into Abingdon. Here, you can watch peaceful canal boats gliding along the river and tuck into a delicious lunch at a riverside pub. Continuing along the Thames, you’ll pass through Radley Lakes, disused pits which were flooded, and Radley village, known for its boarding school. Just before Kennington, you join the Oxford Canal towpath which you follow all the way into Oxford. With honey-coloured streets and fascinating museums, this historic university city is a wonderful place to end your adventure. Consider extending your trip to fully explore the sites in the city. Oxford is well connected to the rest of the UK by rail to return home. You’ll also find plenty of accommodation and restaurants here.