The River Thames is 215 miles long from its source in the Cotswold Hills in the countryside to the west of Oxford, right down to its meeting with the North Sea near Southend.
Although the infant River Thames starts as a spring at a place called "Thames Head" only a short walk north of Kemble in Gloucestershire it flows past little villages such as Ashton Keynes and Cricklade (see our article in "Thames Towns and Villages" about Cricklade and Surroundings).It is not until the baby river reaches the town of Lechlade that it actually becomes navigable by most craft.
The spire of St Lawrence's church seen from the River Thames at Lechlade - photo by Sarah Charlesworth and reproduced by kind permission
The Thames and Severn Canal once connected this upper reach of the Thames at Inglesham, just west of Lechlade, with the Severn River at Sharpness. It has fallen into disrepair, but there are enthusiastic plans afoot to restore this waterway once again, so bigger boats will be seen further upriver than Lechlade. The Round House sits at the junction of the canal with the Thames - it is the former lock-keeper's accommodation - and boat trips are arranged in the summer.
Lechlade remains the starting point for most recreational boating journeys on the River Thames. It is a charming little town, with the quaintly named Ha'penny Bridge (so called because the toll paid to cross it used to be one half penny) which crosses the Thames just south of the town, and the magnificent church of St Lawrence, with a tall spire that dominates the countryside all around here.
As the head of navigation on the River Thames, Lechlade grew as the point at which local commodities like Cotswold cheeses, wool and Cotswold stone could be loaded onto barges for transportation downriver towards the cities of London and Oxford. From the main town a road leads down to St John's Lock with a sculpture of Old Father Thames and a pretty lock garden.
Lechlade is built of the golden/grey Cotswold stone, and has many fine buildings and associations with literary figures such as Percy Shelly and Thomas Love Peacock. Lechlade has lots of pubs and restaurants including The Riverside. The Swan, The Crown Inn and - famously - The Trout Inn at St John's Bridge which is a wonderful building, all honey coloured stone and wood panelling with low beams.
The Trout Inn at St John's Lock Lechlade
The New Inn at Lechlade - service with a smile!
Lechlade town is also unusual in that it has a delightful mix of little individual shops, such as The Old Ironmonger's Antiques Centre in Burford Street, where you can see woodworking tools and cabinet furniture, gardening bygones, and unusual iron and copperware. Also here are the Christmas Shop and The Old Bell Pottery and crafts.
Down by the river at Ha'penny Bridgeyou will find a boatyard, Riverside Lechlade, with all the usual facilities, and you can hire boats from Cotswold Cruisers from St John's Lock.
Written by Jeannette Briggs
Above: Lechlade - the view from The Riverside pub
Here are just a few of our favourite pubs, accommodation, shops and restaurants - nothing very scientific, just a selection for you to make your choice!
The Trout Inn
The Old Swan
The Crown Inn
The New Inn Hotel
Old Bell Pottery and Crafts
Jubilee Hall Antiques
The Christmas Shop
The Old Ironmongers Antiques Centre
Boats for Hire near Lechlade
For Boat Charter hire, please see full details