- Getting there
OS Explorer 180 has most of the route except for the first mile from Radcot Bridge to Radcot Lock. Start grid reference: 287996.
Radcot Bridge lies in a remote part of Oxfordshire, roughly 8 miles west of Witney and 19 miles west of Oxford. It can be found 2 miles south of the village of Clanfield, on the A4095. Clanfield is served by infrequent buses, and there are no train stations nearby.
Overnight: The Plough at Clanfield (01367 810222) is 2 miles from the path and .the nearest place to stay. The Swan Hotel at Radcot Bridge (01367 810 220) offers food, accommodation and camping facilities.
Lunch: Four miles from Radcot Bridge, The Trout at Tadpole Bridge (01367 870382) provides meals, but the best option is to take a picnic. At the end of the day, The Rose Revived at Newbridge (01865 300221) offers meals and accommodation. There are public toilets at Radcot, Rushey and Shifford Locks.
- The Route
The Thames Pilgrim Way begins at the westernmost part of the Diocese of Oxford, next to the oldest bridge over the River Thames.
The day’s route sticks closely to the riverside and goes through some beautiful, if remote, countryside, coming to an end at the second oldest bridge over the Thames, built in 1250 by monks to connect the Cotswold wool towns with their customers in the south.
Through the trees past Tadpole Bridge, Buckland House may be glimpsed, described by Pevsner as ‘the most splendid Georgian house in the country’. On the other side of the river, past Shifford Lock, you will glimpse St Mary’s Church, Shifford, all that is left of what must once have been a thriving settlement when King Alfred held the first recorded English Parliament in a field next to the church in 890.
Notice too the concrete pillboxes built along the riverbank in 1940 as fortifications against a possible German invasion, following the same boundary as that used by the Saxons against the Danes so many years previously.
DAY 1 IN THE BEGINNING
‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.’ (Genesis 1:31)
‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
There are many reasons why people decide to go on pilgrimage. Sometimes it is simply for the physical and mental challenge of walking a certain number of miles for days at a time. Other people may look for freedom from everyday anxieties and an opportunity to reflect on their own life’s journey and decisions that might have to be made.
Christians may choose to see a pilgrimage as an echo of Christ’s journey, living simply and thoughtfully, using the time to deepen their relationship with God and to understand their own lives better.
Whatever the reason, it is most important to begin mindfully, with a sense of openness to what the journey might offer. Every pilgrimage is a new beginning, giving an opportunity to look afresh at ourselves and at the world that surrounds us in a spirit of wonder and thankfulness.
Before you take the first step, you might find it helpful to pause for a moment. Give thanks to God that he has brought you safely so far on your journey, and ask for a deepened awareness of his presence with you in the days to come. You might like to pick up a few stones from the path, and hold them while you think of the preoccupations and burdens that you wish to set aside for the journey. Place the stones carefully and deliberately back on the path and begin.
This first part of the Thames Pilgrim Way offers plenty of time for reflection and meditation as it is one of the remotest stretches of the path. Walking through fields and meadows with little sign of habitation, there is much scope for appreciation of the glories of creation, whether you consider the vast open stretches of sky with its different colours and clouds, or choose to focus on the tiny miracles of insects, or to look for the wild flowers that despite all efforts of weedkillers and aggressive farming techniques, still cling to the river bank.
Now is the time to take time – to walk slowly and carefully. The path here is easy to follow; maps and guides can be put away and the moment fully inhabited.
As well as focusing on the surrounding landscape, we can take the time to consider the landscape of our hearts and souls. Do we spend too much time thinking of ourselves and our needs, and pay little regard to those with whom we share our lives? Or have we concentrated so much on serving others that our own spiritual lives have become dry and parched? Now is the time to decide what is important to us and determine how to make space for it.
God of creation and re-creation,
bless this journey.
Help me to be mindful of the wonders that surround us.
Help me to journey reflectively,
taking time to consider my spiritual landscape
As well as the countryside that surrounds me,
And help me to rejoice in both.
There is a children’s game that involves finding as many different things as possible to fit in a matchbox – it is one worth playing as an adult! Once the box is full, take the time to examine each tiny object carefully. See how perfectly it has been made, think how much care God has lavished on its creation, and how much he loves us, His own children, perfect in His sight.