Thames Path opens at length to walkers

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The Independent Online
The Thames Path National Trail will be opened today after seven years of effort, bringing to completion a plan for ramblers to be able to walk along the entire length of the river.

The 180-mile path, one of 12 in the National Path network created by the Countryside Commission and local authorities, runs all the way from the source of the river to the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, south- east London.

Opening up the Thames Path has cost a total of pounds 1.2m. The pedestrian way has been created by the Commission and the Environment Agency (formerly the National Rivers Authority).

The path runs the length of the Thames from its source in a field near Kemble in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds, and follows its winding route across southern England, into and through London, past the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, to the strikingly futuristic structure of the Thames Barrier.

For a few miles on its journey through the shires, the river forms the border between Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, before heading north to Oxford and south again to Berkshire, through Windsor and finally into London.

The idea of giving walkers better access to the Thames has been around since the 1920s, when the desire was first voiced to walk the river from end to end.

Increasing public demand for recreation and access to the countryside in recent years has created the impetus to make the path a reality.

New bridges have been built along the path at Temple and Bourne End, near Marlow in Buckinghamshire, and at Shifford in Oxfordshire.

Stiles, fences, gates and surfacing have also been introduced to help walkers, and the path is signposted throughout its length.

Jane Bowden, from the Countryside Commission, admitted that there were a few sections in London which were still not as attractive as might be desired, because they are redevelopment sites. "There are a few miles that aren't quite the best they could be yet," she said.

"But we didn't want to keep people waiting until they were all ready, because that could take a long time."

Some waterfront landlords and residents have refused to allow the route of the path past their doorsteps, but that will not stop determined walkers from embarking on a source-to-mouth tramp, and the Thames Path is expected to prove the most popular of the 12 National Trails.