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Lechlade - Three mile walk that can be extended
Named after the River Leach, Lechlade is one of those delightful little Cotswold market towns full of fascinating little shops set firmly in the 20th Century. It stands 11 miles east of Cirencester, 12 miles south of Swindon and about 20 miles west of Oxford and alongside the River Thames. It’s here that the River Coln and Leach both flow into the Thames which is also linked to the River Seven via the Thames Severn Canal. Admittedly this part of the canal is rather dilapidated at the moment but it is soon to be restored. Lechlade also lies close to the point where the three counties of Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire meet with Gloucestershire.
This charming town also boasts two very fine stone bridges that cross the Thames; St John’s dating back to 1228 said to be the first stone bridge across the Thames outside London until it was rebuilt in 1830, and Halfpenny Bridge, a one-time toll bridge that leads to the centre of town.
Having found yourself a space to park the car (not the easiest job in the world during the summer months – but possible if you seek out a side street), begin your walk at St Lawrence Church, having spent a moment admiring the stone wall plaque dedicated to the 19th Century poet Percy Bysshe Shelly who was inspired to write A Summer Evening Churchyard while visiting Lechlade with friends during 1815.
Walk from the church into the centre of town, past the library, the New Inn Hotel where Shelley is thought to have stayed, and over to Thames Street where you will pass a couple of fascinating antique shops, the Black Cat Tea Rooms and the Christmas Shop which really does sell Christmas decorations and festive trinkets throughout the year. Continue walking away from the centre of town, past the Methodist Church and on until you encounter a wooden sign on the left hand side marked to the Round House, the River Thames and the Canal. To join this path you will have to climb over a stone wall – don’t worry – it is not as cumbersome as some stone stiles to be found in the Cotswolds.
Actually, that’s really all you need to know as waymarkers guide you through a series of quirky handmade wooden stiles that link several lush meadows and then a leafy track past Willow Tree Farm. Next comes a path on the left that runs besides the Thames. It’s here that you will spot the Round House to the right and on the other side of the river, which as its name suggests is indeed one of several round houses build alongside the canal.
On reaching a wooden bridge, that is but a few yards on, cross to the other side of the river. Now you will spot the beautiful spire of St Leonard’s Church which acts as a landmark for miles around. Should you wish you can
just head for the spire, following the Thames as it meanders gently towards Lechlade. But for a never-to-be-forgotten little extra, you can make a slight detour to the little hamlet of Inglesham. Do this by turning right and following the Thames for about 300 yards until you reach a minor road and a sign next to a kissing gate directing you to turn right and visit the 13th century Church of John the Baptist, which as you will discover is one of the most remarkable little churches in the country.
This is the church that William Morris saved from decay and which is now in care of the Churches Preservation Trust. You may decide it’s the layers of wall paintings that date from the 13th to the 19th centuries that intrigue you most, though the unspoiled 17th century box pews and pulpit are rather impressive too. There is even a Saxon carving of Madonna and child, but it is the fact that this church has remained virtually unaltered since the early 16th century which will probably remain your most vivid memory and make you glad that you took this slight detour way from the river to embrace the past.
Return to the Thames Path when you are ready and walk on towards Halfpenny Bridge which offers a choice. You can either walk through the passageway under this 18th century toll bridge which leads to a series of meadows and St John’s Bridge about a mile away, or take the steps up to the road and turn left back into town, stopping first at the Riverside pub on the far
side of the bridge for a meal and a pint.
If you decide to walk on, you can extend your walk by at least two miles by turning left onto the A417, having passed St John’s Lock. Again it is just a matter of following the waymarks that will take you left again and back to Lechlade via Shelley’s Walk and a series of tree lined lanes and meadows.
Visit the Riverside pub and you will discover that this establishment is definitely geared up for visitors, many of whom have arrived by boat. Well-behaved dogs are welcome too. They are allow to join their masters outside on the riverside terrace or the first bar area inside by the side entrance. As expected the food is typical pub grub, well cooked and served with a smile. Its bustling atmosphere gives this pub a real holiday feel; and the riverside tables enable visitors to relax in the open air while admiring the many swans that congregate along this strip of the Thames.