Thames Head
Source of the River Thames

13 January 2007

(Note: see also Stephen's walk to Thames Head in 2009, when it looked very different.)

Today we went out for the day. After lunch at a Little Chef (we thought we better had while there are still some around) we went for a walk to Thames Head, the "official" source of the River Thames.

road leading to Kemble
Lucy and George on a road leading to Kemble

Wysis Way
We then turned off along the Wysis Way - a path which runs for 88km from the River Wye to the River Thames, linking the Offa's Dyke Path and the Thames Path. Lucy and George have taken different sides of a stream which is unnamed on the Ordnance Survey 1:25 000 map, but which today contained a lot of fast-flowing water. Behind the trees and the footbridge can be seen our first glimpses of the Thames.

River Thames near Kemble
George by the infant Thames. Heavy rain had swollen this which is normally a baby stream: my guidebook had advised coming to Thames Head after rain, as otherwise it can be dry, as can the river bed, but not today!

River Thames flooding in fields near Kemble
Further on, Lucy and George by the Thames as it makes its flooded way across fields.

River Thames after rain
Getting closer to the source, and the going is getting wetter, not drier.

Thames Path signpost
George investigates the route to the stile.

Gate on the Thames Path
But it is wetter on the other side.

River Thames near Thames Head
The Thames on the right, some very wet fields on the left.

Cattle at Thames Head on the River Thames
We approach Thames Head and find the cattle have got there first. The official source is on the right of this picture, but water was flowing down from the left, demonstrating that Thames Head is not the true source: we suspect that, as we had been told was sometimes the case, much of the water was coming from the Thames and Severn Canal and Sapperton Tunnel, a few kilometres to the north.

Thames Head, official source of the River Thames
Some fellow travellers brave the crossing of the Thames to visit the marker stone at the spring which is the official source. Unlike us, they had Wellington boots on, but it looks as though they were only just tall enough.

The stone is inscribed as follows:


In fact, as today's visit shows, this spot has a poor claim to that name in wet weather (and in dry weather when there is no water here at all). There is also a good claim that the source is at Seven Springs near Cheltenham, where the River Churn rises, which is further from the sea, higher above sea level, and has water all year round - that claim is principally frustrated by the fact that Seven Springs is the source of the Churn, and that (perhaps illogically) the lesser tributary has always been known as the Isis/Thames. Defining the source of a river is something the tidy human mind wants to do, but doesn't always fit with the complexity of the real world.

See also Stephen's walk to Thames Head in 2009 for a view in dry weather.

Lucy and George at Thames Head
Lucy and George by the River Thames.

Stephen and George at Thames Head
And Stephen and George.

Shooting by the infant River Thames
On the other side of the River, there was a shoot going on.

Flooded fields near Thames Head
We then make our way a different route back to the car - this path was no drier.

Flooded River Thames near Thames Head Bridge
A last look back at the infant Thames near Thames Head Bridge.

Swindon to Gloucester railway
Nearly back at the car, we cross the Swindon to Gloucester railway line

Stop Look Listen railway warning board

Well, a very damp walk at the end, and in a way slightly disappointing that Thames Head wasn't the source (or even the apparent source) today, but nevertheless a grand winter's day out.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson