The slow road to Thames Head

Thames Path

Yesterday we decided to walk to the source of the River Thames, something we’ve been meaning to do ever since we moved to Orchard Cottage, but haven’t quite got around to due to the lamest of logistical reasons. Thames Head is only about 6 or so miles away from the cottage, but it’s not like there’s a taxi cab rank at the other end to drive us home (heaven forbid we simply walk back!). But finally, our good friend Rory came to visit with a rental car and the genius idea of dropping it off at the end of the walk.

And so we set off for a three-ish hour jaunt along our little slice of the Thames Path, wondering what geyser of a spring would be waiting for us at the source.


The Thames Path is nice – flat, well-marked, and with lots of pretty countryside and greenery along the way. But Tim and I agreed that the highlight of the walk wasn’t the walk itself, but a chat we had along the way with a local who was out for a walk with his dog.

The guy was about 80 and walked (very well) with a cane. As we crossed his path we said hello, but every time we tried to scuttle ahead he kept stopping us to point out something about the nearby dairy farm or the canal up the road. We finally conceded and slowed down to have a longer chat with him.

He said he was a retired farmer living near Kemble. We explained that we used to live in London but moved to the area about a year ago.

“The one thing you’ll have a really hard time with when talking to a town person like me is learning to slow down,” he said.

“Go at the country pace.”

He made his point even clearer by stopping every few yards so that we had to chat (gasp) standing still.

Later, Rory, Tim and I talked about our “keys in hand” tendency to look forward to the end of something (like a long walk) before we’ve barely begun (with our keys in hand, ready to unlock the door and be back home). Is this the city’s influence? Why do we always feel like there’s somewhere we have to be? Or are we just lazy? Deep down would we prefer to be at home?

I don’t think we’re lazy. We do stuff like walk to Thames Head because we like to. But we do have something to learn about being in the moment when we’re doing these things. When we catch up to someone on a walk, it’s an opportunity to meet someone new, not an obstacle we necessarily need to rush on by. I’m not saying I want to stop by everyone I meet on my journeys and hear their life story, but I do know that the conversation with that country dude was probably the best part of the walk – it certainly gave me the most to think about.

About a mile later, we made it to Thames Head, which wasn’t the gushing geyser we were hoping for. In fact, it looked more like a gravesite than a river source.

Thames Head

Not even a trickle of water from this meagre spring. I later learned that this spring is only seasonal, and oft debated:

The usually quoted source is at Thames Head, about a mile north of the village of Kemble and near the town of Cirencester, in the Cotswolds. Seven Springs near Cheltenham, where the river Churn rises, is also sometimes quoted as the Thames’ source, as this location is furthest from the mouth, and adds some 14 miles (22 km) to the length.

We weren’t quite up for another 14 miles, so we decided to head on home for a roast dinner. Maybe next time… when we’re feeling more country.

Monica and Rory at Thames Head

Thames Path

5 thoughts on “The slow road to Thames Head

  1. Tim

    Don't forget we also saw a plane doing pretty amazing acrobatics! Flying straight up to the point it stalled, tumbling and then diving out of the stall and flying straight up again into another tumbling stall. Neat stuff.

  2. Monica

    Silly me! You are right – acrobatic planes were highlight #2 after country dude. Kinda wants to make me go to the Best of Britain air show…

  3. Mom

    Monica, don't you just love those chance meetings with strangers that linger long after you've parted company? Remember that Muslim woman I met at Von Maur while you were trying on dresses, her smiling easy company as she spoke to me of life on the other side of the globe, of preparing meals with other women, and how our climate forced her to wear pants, but how she held true to other old ways of life. She did not like our hectic pace, did not understand it at all. I've thought about her now and then.

    I've also discovered that horses teach me a great deal. I had a recent break through… it came because you can't rush a horse, it loses trust in you which means you have work even harder to restore that trust. With horses you have to act as if you have all the time in the world, for to hurry worries them… perhaps a predator is near.

    This then was my revelation: Slow down to progress faster.

    It could also be: Slow down to reach your goals sooner.

    It's honestly as true as it gets.

  4. mangocheeks

    Thii s just the kind of thing I want to be doing. Walking at a steady pace and Breathing fresh air.

    I like the farmers words 'go at the country pace' those of us who live in or near cities just seem to rush, rush and rush and never stop to admire

  5. Sophie

    I have some friends who are walking the Thames path, doing a little bit each weekend. I wonder if you'll pass them en route?

    This is so true, so many of us have that "keys in hand" tendency now (myself included). I can picture myself jingling my keys, rushing ahead just now.


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