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Thames Valley
96 mi / 2-4 days
🇬🇧 4 5
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Britain’s grandest river is an obvious candidate for a cycling break from London – and the Thames Valley route doesn’t disappoint.

You can’t cycle along the river all the way to Oxford. Instead, this is a varied route that mixes up rural lanes, riverside paths, little-known bridleways and purpose-built cycle tracks to make a relaxing route to the great university city.

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Getting there


What sort of bike?

Much of the route is within the reach of a road bike with sturdy tyres, or any hybrid or MTB. Cooper’s Hill, by Runnymede, and Knowl Hill, near Wargrave, are both a little rough: alternative road routes are possible in both cases. Peep’o’Day Lane, north of Sutton Courtenay (near Didcot), can also be rough and road bikers would be better advised to take a longish detour onto the other bank, via Culham.

Is this the Thames Path?

No. The Thames Path is solely a walking route from the source of the river in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier. Most of it is classified as ’public footpath’ – bikes aren’t allowed, it’s grass or mud, and there are (lots of) stiles. (Unlike canals, the riverbanks are privately owned, and most of the rich Thames landowners aren’t exactly bike-friendly.)

So unfortunately, you can’t cycle the Thames from source to sea. That said, you can cycle along the riverside most of the way from Putney to Staines, and in Reading and Oxford.

Is it suitable for a first-timer?

It’s pretty flat. Only the Reading–Wallingford section across the Chilterns really taxes the muscles: we think this picturesque length is well worth the exertion, but it’s perhaps not ideal for a novice cyclist on a heavy bike.

But if you’re looking for a flat waterside ride for your first cycling holiday, check out the Kennet & Avon Canal instead.


Is it signposted?

Yes: it’s National Cycle Network route 4 from London to Reading, and route 5 from there to Oxford. (Route 4 continues along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bath, then on to Bristol and South Wales.)

Where in London does it start?

NCN 4 officially starts at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, then threads its way along the South Bank to Lambeth Bridge, where it crosses to Pimlico and Chelsea – here’s the route. It’s a practical way to get through the city, but if you have the choice, we’d recommend starting at Putney. This is where the route gets leafy and (largely) leaves the busier roads behind, and it’s where our detailed guide begins.

The NCN was largely laid out before the London Cycle Superhighways were built, and if you’re coming from east London you’ll probably prefer to follow the cycleway along the Embankment instead.

Is this a good route from London to Oxford?

It is, but not a fast one. As part of the National Cycle Network, it’s cleverly pieced together from riverside paths, country lanes, residential streets and rural tracks. Inevitably that means a fair amount of turning hither and thither – it’s not the sort of route where you can just put your head down and go for it.

If you want to cycle from London to Oxford in a day, this isn’t the route for you. (We’d suggest this route instead, which at 66 miles we think is a good compromise between speed and relaxation.)

But if you’ve got a weekend or longer, the Thames Valley route is greatly enjoyable. Since you’re never far from a railway station that will take you back to Paddington, Londoners won’t need to book accommodation along the way. The 95, largely flat, miles should take most cyclists two or three days.

Getting there

How do I get there and back?

There are railway stations at regular intervals. From central London to Staines they’re suburban services, heading into Waterloo. From Maidenhead onwards, they’re on the Paddington–Oxford line, where you can just stash your bike in the vestibules of the local trains. (Bikes aren’t permitted in the weekday rush-hour.) There are GWR expresses from Reading and Oxford, too, but you need to book bike spaces on them.

Between Oxford and London, there are also regular fast coaches (the Oxford Tube and the X90) which take a limited number of bikes at no extra charge.

Ride reports & comments

Ridden this route? Write a ride report and share your experience…

Wed 25 Sep 2019, 00:33

I know some of this route, as I have cycled around Knowl Hill and Wargrave. I also cycle around Reading a lot and think there is a much better route into and out of Reading, to Whitchurch and then on to Goring. The path from Whitchurch to Goring is shown as a bridleway on the OS 1:25,000 map. 

Here goes:

Instead of taking the A4 from Wargrave to Reading, take the B478 from the "Wee Waif" roundabout to Sonning Bridge. At Sonning Bridge, turn left onto the Thameside Path, past Sonning Lock, to Reading. This is paved to the Thames Valley Business Park. After this, the riverside route is over grass but there is a sealed/paved route through the business park. The paved route then resumes at the Waterside Centre into Reading and follows the route in the guide through Reading and into Caversham. Instead of leaving Caversham on the Peppard Road, take the A4074 (St Peter's Hill) and go up the hill (you can walk through the churchyard on the left) and turn left into the Warren. Follow this road to its end and continue straight on, onto a bridleway (past a log). This eventually becomes a concrete road to Mapledurham (be careful of eroded expansion joints). At Mapledurham, turn right onto a tarmac road and then left onto another bridleway. Take this up the hill into the Hardwick Estate and follow this and the subsequent road into Whitchurch.

I have not ridden past Whitchurch (except to Pangbourne) so, looking at the trusty OS 1:25,000, you could turn right up the hill to Woodcote and rejoin the route at Stoke Row or take the Thames Path (a bridleway) to Goring and then take other tracks to Wallingford, through South stoke and North Stoke. This route appears fairly flat, apart from a steep hill after Coombe Park Farm.