How to swim the Thames (in fortnightly chunks)

This page gives details of OSS Swim the Thames' swims. We have been swimming more or less fortnightly since May in chunks, usually between 3km and 5km. It is not definitive but is tried and tested. But don't go it alone, come join us; we still have a while to go...

We will update this as we complete swims, and will post swims to come here.  

September and October dates for your diary:

#14            Sat24Sep11            Pinkhill to Cassington Cut             3.3km     
#15            Sun09Oct11           Cassington Cut to Kings Lock       3.4km  
#16            Sun23Oct11           Kings Lock to Danger Bridge        3.7km      

How to swim the Thames

First of all, get yourself a copy of Michael Worthington’s I ♥ the Thames from here:

We are using it as a guide but we divert from its doctrine sometimes after we have recce’d the lay of the land.

Also get yourself a long-suffering significant other who half fancies traipsing the Thames Path with a rucksack of cakes and hot drinks.

Then a copy of the National Trail Thames Path guide is handy as the whole river (more or less) is set out at OS Explorer scale.

Walk 1: Source to Cricklade

The (alleged) source of the Thames is close to Kemble in Gloucestershire. The first part of the Thames is not swimmable (although there may be paddleable parts), so this first stretch is a walk of approximately 12 miles from the source to Cricklade. On reflection it would be perfectly possible to walk in the bed of the Thames for long stretches whether wet or dry.  We parked at the Town Hall car park in Cricklade (marked by green arrow).

From there we shuttled up to the source, leaving cars in Cricklade for the finish. We parked at the lay-by on the A433 (marked by green arrow) but there is another layby closer.

Check the weather reports before the day so you don't bring too much/too little clothing and of course dig out the sensible shoes. Consider minimum swim gear in case you decide to start swimming early.

Walk to Cricklade.

Swim 1: Cricklade Bridge to Water Eaton House

This was the first "swim" in our attempt to swim the length of the Thames.

This stretch combines swims 1 and 2 from I the Thames, and covers 3km. We parked at the Town Hall carpark in Cricklade (marked by green arrow).

From there we shuttled down to the end point at the footbridge near Water Eaton House - parking is limited in a layby close to an angler’s carpark. (If no fishermen are present, it makes for a good outdoor changing room. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.) Walk up the road towards Castle Eaton and take the Bridleway to Water Eaton footbridge.

We walked back up to Cricklade along the Thames Path allowing us to survey the river for obstacles from the safety of the bank. (Recommended practice from Mike's book and particularly relevant for these early sections of the river.) To avoid any gymnastics at Cricklade bridge we got in from a slipway just outside Cricklade and walked upstream to the bridge and then turned round and walked down to Water Eaton house. There were occasional pools to swim in but mainly this is a wading section in these days of dry weather. Cricklade has pubs, Castle Eaton has the best pub, the Red Lion.

It would be foolhardy to attempt this without a decent pair of 'feet' - a pair of  surf boots with thick grip soles or cheapy beach shoes of the petrol station/ supermarket/ bucket-and-spade shop type with a pair of wetsuit socks, or even a pair of old trainers.

Swim 2: Water Eaton Footbridge to the Red Lion Castle Eaton

This combines swims 3 and 4 from MW and covers about 3.2km.

We parked at the Red Lion car park at Castle Eaton (marked by the green arrow). We rang in advance and promised to eat lunch there at the end of our swim. The landlady was super nice and accommodating.

We walked up to start here, as above:

We then waded, occasionally swam, down to the pub at Castle Eaton. A bit of a slog but doable. You can get out earlier, as per MW’s instructions. At the Red Lion there is a launch for canooeists wth rope holds. You can haul yourself out on these.

The Red Lion is the first pub right on the Thames and the grounds go down to the river so must be part of the Swim the Thames experience.

This stretch also needs ‘feet’. There are bottles, rocks, bits of old car, dead crayfish, and other assorted goodies on the riverbed. Also watch out for branches, logs etc that have fallen into the water and may be concealed as even here the river is quite dark.

Swim 3: The Red Lion, Castle Eaton to Hannington Bridge

We met at the Red Lion again, with permission from the landlady with the promise of lunch. We shuttled a car down to a layby at Hannington Bridge in order that we could get back without walking.

The Thames is deep enough here to swim along longer stretches, but there are still very shallow parts where wading is unavoidable. We combined the end of swim 5, swim 6 and swim 7 from Michael Worthington's book and covered a distance of 4.6km. It’s a long stretch but there are issues along this stretch with trespass-free exit points. The Thames Path now diverts from the river and the bank is private land. If the going gets too tough, there are scrambleable exit points at approximately 3km where the path touches the river again. Get out just after you have passed under Hannington Bridge on the right bank on to land that is public access and up out by a gate just to the side of the bridge.

Rubber feet are essentials again.

Swim 4: Hannington Bridge to Inglesham Roundhouse

We met at Riverside Park carpark, across the river from Lechlade.

Then shuttled to Hannington Bridge (see above). This swim – and it’s mostly swimming, certainly after the first third or so – is a distance of 5.7km, equivalent to swim 8 in I Love the Thames. The Thames path does not follow the river for the duration of this swim so if you want to get out before the end, this may require a bit of field hopping and navigation. It can be done, but we were lucky and our support trespassed with permission. More reliable might be to take your picnic in a waterproof sack.

Swim up to the bridge at Inglesham Roundhouse and scramble out on the right bank and walk along the river to Riverside Park.

We camped at the Trout Inn, Lechlade, which is also the third pub on the Thames (try and stop at the Riverside, Lechlade, for the full house).

Swim 5: The Roundhouse, Inglesham to Buscot Lock

We met at Riverside Park after having shuttled a car or two down to the public carpark at Buscot.

We swam down – almost all swimming so you can get away without feet. This is the stretch that Walliams started at. The distance is 3.9km, equivalent to swims 9 & 10 from I Love the Thames. We stopped for a warm up drink and snacks at St John’s Lock, Lechlade, then swam on to Buscot Lock. We then returned to the Trout for a well-earned pub lunch in a room they had kindly reserved for us.

Tell the lockkeeper ahead of the swim that you will be swimming. Usually he will call ahead to let the next lock know and magically boats in between the locks will know to look out for you. It’s just good practice and courtesy too.

Swim 6: Buscot to Grafton Lock

This is the Middle Thames, and there’s a bit of boat traffic now, out of Lechlade. Make sure you’ve got a bright hat on and that you can shout at your mates if boats are approaching.

We met at the visitors car park at Buscot which is within a few hundred yards / metres walk of Buscot Lock.

We then took a couple of cars, with clothes to change into after the swim, to Kelmscott - which is about half way between Buscot and Grafton Lock. (Access to Grafton Lock by road is problematic.)

The stretch is 5.4km, the river is, supposedly, fast flowing along this stretch but it wasn’t when we went. We arrived at Grafton Lock and walked back to Kelmscott and ate at The Plough in Kelmscott. Some people had a good experience, some people didn’t. There is a Tea Garden at Buscot in case anyone is still hungry after lunch!

Tell the lockkeepers!

Swim 7: Grafton Lock to Radcot Lock

This is a distance of 3.4km equivalent to swims 13 and 14 in Michael Worthington's 'I Love the Thames'.

We met at the car park on the island across the river from The Swan at Radcot. The landlady is sadly cut from another cloth than those so far, and may yell at you.

We walked upstream from the car park to Grafton Lock, jumped in and swim back down, past the The Swan and on to Radcot Lock. From there we walked back upstream to cars, got changed and had lunch at the Swan. This is before the swanlady went feral on us. For those who would like a shorter swim, you can get out at the Swan instead of swimming on down to Radcot Lock. Some of us stopped there for cakes and warm drinks.

There is a campsite at the Swan which was useful and pleasant but the swanlady threatened to close it while we were there due to travellers, swimmers and the like.

Swim 8: Radcot Lock to Tadpole Bridge

This stretch is 4.9km, a combination of swims 15, 16 and 17 from MW. We parked in the layby at Tadpole Bridge. We walked up to Radcot Lock for the start and swam down. We had a break at Rushey Lock, with about a third to go. When you finish, you can have a pint at the Trout at Tadpole Bridge for your collection. If you’re allowed. And if you can get out. We were able to scramble out where there are some underwater rocks by the pier of the bridge at the right bank, into the garden of the Trout. There is a slightly easier exit on the left bank before you get to the bridge.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Swim 9: Tadpole Bridge to Tenfoot Bridge or Shifford Lock

Swim to Tenfoot Bridge (2.8km) or Shifford Lock (5.6km), depending on how we feel.

We parked some cars at a carpark at Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve and shuttled to Tadpole Bridge. The carpark is a mile walk or so from Shifford Lock.

We swam down to Tenfoot Bridge where we got out – on the right bank – for a warm-up stop. The next stretch is shorter and more doable. All in all this stretch is one of the most beautiful, with woodlands and wildflowers coming right up to the bank. And then you get to the Shifford Lock Cut which is a long straight stretch – don’t be fooled by the sign for ‘Lock’ – you’ve still a while to go.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Swim 10: Shifford Lock to the Rose Revived, Newbridge

Leave cars at the Rose Revived and shuttle as few as possible to Chimney Pieces carpark, or as close as you can get.

This swim is equivalent to 20 and 21 from I Love the Thames and comes in at 4.25km. We stopped at a bit of a difficult scramble point close to Thames Side Farm. Get out at the Rose Revived for a hearty feed. The pub has a big carpark and is accommodating. There are ‘steps’ to the water from the pub garden, or a platform for punts a bit beyond.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Swim 11: The Rose Revived, Newbridge to Northmoor Lock

We camped at Northmoor Lock which meant we could park at the campsite. Heartily recommended – only one shower at the lock, but it’s a lovely shower, and Cathie Camp will bring you logs to your riverside pitch. Otherwise shuttle and walk or there is a small amount of space to park at the lock itself. It’s tricky to find – look for the small sign ‘Lock access only’ off the road to the Appleton tennis club from Appleton Village.

Start at the Rose Revived and swim down to Northmoor. We stopped at Hart’s Weir footbridge for the break.

You can walk up from Northmoor Lock or shuttle.

This swim is equivalent to 22 and 23 from I Love the Thames and will be a sweet relief for veterans of the Saturday swim - a mere 3.2km (3.45km by Neil's calculations).

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Swim 12: Northmoor Lock to the Ferryman, Bablock Hythe

The secret to this one is leaving your car on the same side of the river as the pub. That is the left bank. The distance is 2.5km, and is swim 24 from I Love the Thames. Another big pub with an ample carpark. Accomodating if a little grumpy with it.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Swim 13: The Ferryman to Pinkhill Lock

Another access issue. Either swim down to Pinkhill Lock

from the Ferryman and walk back (a 3-miler or so) or park in Farmoor village by Farmoor Reservoir to be a ten-ish minute walk from the lock. Careful not to flash the locals, they don’t like it. We stopped for a warm-up where the path rejoins the river a little over 1km from the lock, at the site of Skinner’s Weir. The swim is 3.5km, and is swim 25 from I Love the Thames.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

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