Walk distance: 9.15km (Sonning circular walk) or 7.8km (there and back again)
Walk duration: 3hr 10 (Sonning circular walk) or 2hr 30 (there and back again)
Suitable for: baby carriers (there and back again only), off-roading buggies (both routes)
Walk features: Thames Path national trail walk, riverside walking, pubs along route, field walk.
Bring the Wind in the Willows to life with this delightful walk amongst the willows and riverbanks of the Thames Path from Sonning to Shiplake. Walk as far as Shiplake on the Thames Path and stop for lunch at the family, dog and walker friendly Plowden Arms (they even allow well-behaved dogs in the bar!) before retracing your steps back to Sonning or add some variety by continuing on the longer circular loop taking you through the surrounding fields and woods back to your starting point for a well deserved drink or afternoon tea at the Great House in Sonning. The stretch from Sonning as far as Shiplake follows the Thames Path national trail through picnic perfect riverside meadows along the side of the Thames and is suitable for off-road pushchairs and buggies although the track can get narrow, bumpy and occasionally muddy in places.
The walk starts in the scenic village of Sonning, which is perched on the banks of the River Thames about 3 miles east of Reading. Limited parking can be found in Sonning at the walk start, next to the riverside just opposite the French Horn restaurant (and just in front of its patrons’ car park). Alternatively you can pick up the 129 bus service from Reading Station for the 15 minute journey to Sonning.
The walk begins on the Thames Path half way across the road bridge between The Mill / French Horn and The Great House at Sonning with a clearly marked Thames Path footpath passing over a concrete footbridge over the river. Before you have even walked 100 meters you will find yourself reaching for your camera to capture the picturesque riverside scene with the many willows on the banks here reflected in the mill-pond calm of the water below.
Cross the bridge and join the Thames Path on the other side and begin the delightful meander along the riverside. There is plenty of
wildfowl along the way to enchant baby or any young children, whilst those with a penchant for motors or water transport will not be disappointed watching for passing boats. Follow the Thames Path along the river as it bends gradually around to the left and weaves its way past riverside meadows on your left side whilst the river laps lazily at the banks of the river on the other.
At a turn in the river the Thames Path approaches a small copse. Go through the gate and continue the Thames Path walk in the shade of the trees. A short
stretch on from here leads back out through a gate to open meadowland on the approach to Shiplake and the privileged position of the playing fields for Shiplake College which back down on to the Thames. This is the kind of perfect picnic spot that inspires you to rush out and buy an old fashioned wicker picnic basket and red checked blanket and little ones can dangle their feet over the edge in the shallows here to their hearts content or slip their crusts to the graceful swans sailing by.
Continue on to where the path narrows and passes Shiplake College boathouse. Here you need to stop and turn a sharp left into what looks like the boathouse grounds themselves, leaving the Thames Path. It is a bit tricky to spot the route up to Shiplake as the boathouse signs seem to imply this is private property but the footpath does actually pass right by it. If you have carried on by the river or gone up the track which stretches up the hill ahead of you as you stand looking at the Thames path then you have gone the wrong way!
Walk past the boathouse and you will find a sign for the footpath, which now bends up the hill to the right into Shiplake. This is a short sharp stretch and those with buggies and pushchairs may prefer to pack a picnic and end their walk in the
meadows described above before retracing their steps rather than tackling the hill for the final stretch to the Plowden Arms pub at Shiplake. If you are up for the challenge however, are carrying baby in a baby carrier or are walking the longer route then carry straight on up. After a short steep climb you will emerge onto Church Lane. Here you will pass pretty St. Peter and St.Paul’s Shiplake Church with its commanding views back over the Thames valley below. Parts of historic Shiplake church date back as far as c.1140 and it was the happy venue of Lord Tennyson’s marriage to the love of his life, Emily Sellwood, in June 1850, of which he later wrote ‘The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I wedded her’. The beauty of the surrounding Shiplake countryside he loved is clearly reflected in several of Tennyson’s poems. You can find more information on Shiplake Church’s history here.
Continue up Church Lane until you meet the main road. The family and walker friendly Plowden Arms at Shiplake is located just opposite where you can stop for a well earned drink and rest or some food in the beer garden before either retracing your steps along the river to Sonning or continuing through the Shiplake fields on the longer circular walk.
For those continuing on the circular walk to Sonning, continue on down Plough Lane passing the Plowden Arms and its car park on your left.
Shortly after the bus shelter you will see the footpath marked on the left. Follow the track straight across the open fields and then continue on the path as it bends away slightly uphill towards the right. This will take you up to the hedgerow line with good views over the surrounding countryside. Here, ignore the track following the line of the hedgerow in both directions and continue straight over and down the hill towards the woods just beyond.
The path enters Shiplake Copse at the bottom of the hill and turns uphill to the right through the woods. In the late spring take time to enjoy the sea of nodding bluebells and birdsong drifting through the trees here – it is only a small woods but they fill most of it and are spectacular.
At the top of the woods, exit over the stile and continue on the path over the fields until you reach the road. Turn left along the road and continue for a short stretch before turning left just after Binfield Heath Chapel. Walk down the lane and onto the footpath which follows a sometimes muddy track between fields and tall hedgerows. The path leads straight on and then goes downhill towards the main road and Sonning. To avoid walking along the roadside into Sonning turn right into the field at the bottom of the hill and follow the hedgerow round its lower edge taking you to an exit at the top of some steps.
Go down the steps and cross the busy main road, with another opportunity to stop for a drink at the Flowing Spring pub. Carry on down Spring Lane past the pub before joining the footpath on the left hand side of the road into Sonning. Walk through the fields and past the allotments here bending around to the right before rejoining the road. Cross straight over and carry on down the lane. Take the second road turn to the left at the end of the lane and rejoin the main road through Sonning where you can carry straight on over the bridge for a well deserved celebratory drink or afternoon tea on the banks of the river again at the Great House, Sonning.
Map of routes:
View Sonning to Shiplake Thame Path Walk in a larger map
Rate this walk!