Historic Walk – Thame & District U3A – The Basics
This rural walk along the River Thame passes through a number of villages of historical interest and visits the 15th century architectural gems of Rycote Chapel and Waterstock Mill.
Starting at the church at Shabbington in Buckinghamshire the route soon crosses the River Thame into Oxfordshire and follows the river, before crossing the old railway line to reach Rycote Chapel. From Rycote the route follows an undulating track to Albury and then on to Tiddington. Heading south in Tiddington the route circles west to cross the railway line again before arriving at Waterstock via the golf course. Here there is an opportunity to visit the old mill before returning via the 17th century bridge at Ickford and back into Buckinghamshire. The small hamlet of Little Ickford is the last port of call before returning across the fields to Shabbington.
In winter the conditions underfoot can be muddy and in times of flood parts of the route are impassable.
The main walk (Walk A) is just over 8.5 miles (13.8 km) long (inclusive of two detours to Rycote Chapel and Waterstock Mill) and is reasonably flat. At a medium walking pace this should take 3.5 to 4 hours but time needs to be added on to appreciate the points of interest along the way. Walk B is 5.8 miles (9.4 km) a shorter version of Walk A, missing out some of Tiddington and Waterstock. Walk C is another shorter variation of 4.7 miles (7.5 km), taking in Ickford Bridge, Albury and Waterstock but missing out Rycote Chapel and Shabbington. Scrutiny of the suggested Ordnance Survey maps will show that many other variations can be explored.
Suggested Ordnance Survey Maps
OS Landranger 1:50,000 series Maps 164 (Aylesbury) or 165 (Oxford)
OS Explorer 1:25,000 series Map 180 (Oxford)
Getting there and parking
By car: there are three alternative parking places to start the walks.
- Shabbington (GR SP667068 – for Walks A and B) There are one or two side roads close to the church where it is safe to park. Parking on the main road through the village is not recommended. The Old Fisherman pub by the river has ample parking, but it is for patrons only so permission would be required to park here.
- Lay-by on A418 (GR SP640049 – for Walks A and C) The lay-by is on the A418 between Tiddington and the motorway on the route of Walks A and C. It is the first lay-by on the left after leaving Tiddington in the Oxford direction and is on the right after the A40 and Waterstock turns if coming from the M40 Junction 8A.
- Ickford Bridge (GR SP649065 – for Walks A, B and C) There is a small parking area just north of Ickford Bridge suitable for two or three cars. This can be reached by turning off the A418 at Tiddington towards Ickford: after about a mile the parking area is on the right just after the two bridges.
By Public Transport
The nearest rail stations are Haddenham & Thame Parkway and Oxford. Both are served by the 280 bus that runs between Oxford and Aylesbury. To join the walks, alight at Tiddington. For Walks A and C, walk along the main road (A418) towards Thame for a few yards (crossing the main road if coming from the Oxford direction) before turning right at the Village Hall into Albury View and up to Manor Farm to join the route. For Walk B, walk towards Thame and after a few yards turn left into Ickford Road to join the route.
For a printable, savable version of the following detailed instructions click here: Historic Walk Thame
- (GR SP667068) (Section length 1.2 miles (1.9 km)) Starting from the main road (Mill Road) in Shabbington go into the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene.
|Parts of this parish church date back to the 11th century but it has had many additions and modifications in the centuries that followed. The church is normally locked but information on access can be found in the porch.|
Exit the churchyard by going round the right-hand side of the church and through the hedge ahead. Bear half left heading across the field down towards the Old Fisherman pub (not half right as the footpath sign indicates).
|[A on map] In the field there are many humps and hollows along the way. These are thought to be the remains of part of the old village of Shabbington and possibly also the site of the original Manor. Other contenders for the site of the Manor are the pub ahead and the present Manor Farm over the fields to the right. The field also contains a number of old fish ponds which can be seen to the left and right and was part of a more extensive fish/eel pond complex both here and in the surrounding fields. The Manor and eel farms are mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Manor Court was almost certainly held on the pub site.|
Old Fisherman’s Inn 1910
Leave the field just to the left of the pub and follow the road straight ahead walking along the raised walkway. Cross the first part of the river (the mill race) then the two humpback bridges over the main river Thame and a flood ditch/stream.
|The route now crosses from Buckinghamshire into Oxfordshire, the river being the boundary. The raised walkways are very necessary in times of flood and the road is an old causeway. A watermill stood on the site of the Old Fisherman pub but was demolished many years ago. The pub has been much extended over the years and has a peaceful location by the river.|
Immediately after the second humpback bridge, turn right over a wooden bridge and stile (marked Thame Valley Walk). Follow the river, keeping it on the right for about 0.6 miles (1 km) until the way is blocked by a ditch. Turn left, as way-marked, leaving the river and following the ditch up to the main road (A418).
|A minor Roman road from Dorchester to Fleet Marston is thought to have forded the river further along this stretch but little evidence of its existence remains, with the possible exception of a sand bar located on the river bed.|
- (GR SP668053) (Section length 0.6 miles ( 1.0 km)) Cross the road with care to the gateway on the opposite side. Go straight on over a stile, along the right side of a wood and after a 100 yards go up the old railway embankment via a flight of crude steps within a hedge. At the top, turn right to follow the track.
|This track was part of the old Thame to Oxford railway and was originally operated by the Wycombe Railway Co, but in later years by the GWR.. The line was axed by Beeching in the 1960s but continued to operate to the Thame petroleum store until the 1980s when all operations finally ceased. The line between Princes Risborough and Thame is now a cycle path but much of the line from Thame to Oxford is in private hands and cannot be accessed.|
Follow the old railroad passing a gate, a gravel driveway and a wood on the left.
Where the track meets a concrete road, turn left and walk up the hill to the farm buildings.
- (GR SP663048) (Section length 0.6 miles (1.0 km)) to Rycote and back) Here there is an option to make a detour and visit Rycote Chapel. Follow the path round the left side of the farmhouse ahead (Home Farm) keeping the farm building to the right and go through a gate on the left-hand side. Bear slightly left along the hedge line crossing over a small field and going through a wood: the buildings of Rycote House with its chapel come into view. The path goes right round the fence ahead and then turns left along a drive facing Rycote Park. The path then turns right to reach the chapel.
[B on map] Rycote Park (private, not open to the public, so keep to the path) has few remnants remaining of the original early Tudor house which was partly destroyed by fire in 1745 and then demolished in 1807 in an attempt by the owners, the Earls of Abingdon, to raise funds by selling the contents and building materials. For detailed information on the house and its history see http://rycote.bodelian.ox.ac.uk. Its most famous owner, Lord Williams, served four monarchs during the religious upheavals of the mid-16th century and left money for almshouses and a grammar school in nearby Thame. A later owner Cecil Michaelis founded Rycotewood College in Thame in 1937. The house and gardens of Rycote Park have been extensively refurbished by the current owners but are not open to the public.
Rycote Chapel is maintained by Rycote Park’s owners. The largely unaltered 15th-century building has an attractive exterior and stands in a pleasant location. The walls are built of local limestone with ashlar dressings from Tayton. The tower contains a priest’s room with a belfry and single bell above.
The yew tree in the churchyard is said to have been planted in 1135 for the coronation of King Stephen.
|The inside of the chapel is of greater interest. Above the altar are the Ten Commandments and dominating the nave are two roofed pews. One is said to have been constructed for a visit by Charles I and the other is a grandiose double-decker affair with a musicians’ gallery used in the past by the Park owners. Both are painted and have fine carvings. There are many other features of interest within the chapel.Rycote Chapel is open (admission charge) from 2 pm to 6 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays from April to September.|
After spending time at Rycote Chapel retrace the route round the fence, through the wood and back past the farm building to the top of the concrete drive.
- (GR SP663048) (Section length 0.6 miles (1.0 km)) Facing downhill, turn left and follow the long undulating track until reaching farm buildings on the right. Turn left through a pedestrian gate leading to St Helens, the parish church of Albury.
|The track is part of the route that connected Albury to Rycote and then continued to Thame.It is now part of the Oxfordshire Way. On a clear day there are fine views to the right of Brill, Long Crendon, back towards Thame and across the valley to Shabbington. A church has been on this site since the 13th century but the present structure was built in 1830 and retains very little of the original structure.|
Follow round the left and front of the church taking in the view of Albury Grange before continuing round the church and exiting the churchyard in the far right corner. Pass a postbox and continue straight ahead down the road for about 100 yards to a marked path on the left, just past the gate of the last house in the hamlet.
At this point, those following the shorter walk (Walk B) leave the route of Walk A and continue down the minor road to the main road (A418).
- (GR SP654051) (Section length 0.5 miles (0.8 km)) Take the path on the left which goes downhill following the property boundary on the left. Cross three fields before entering Tiddington by a track between the houses coming out on the village road. Here the route passes the old primary school, opened in 1874.
Turn left following the road to the top of the hill past the handsome Manor Farm and converted outbuildings on the right, coming to Tiddington House also on the right.
|Tiddington House is a fine Queen Anne house with an impressive façade and some interesting lines in its brickwork.|
- (GR SP650046) (Section length 1.0 mile (1.6 km)) Turning right round Tiddington House follow the track and path to the next road, Sandy Lane. Ignore the track opposite and turn right down the lane for about 300 yards taking the first footpath to the left across a field to another track. Turn left for a few yards before turning right down a track to go past an attractive thatched cottage on the right. The path leads across a field to a hedge line, after which bear half right to the corner of another field.
At this field corner bear further right heading diagonally across the field, ignoring the path straight ahead and the permissive path to the sharp right. This sharp right-hand permissive path can be taken if wished as it follows round the field boundary and reconnects to the route where it crosses the old rail track again.
|[C on map] This again is the old railway line from Princes Risborough to Oxford. At Tiddington away to the right there used to be a small station with a wooden platform maintained by a station master and three staff. At the busiest time only six trains a day operated on this line. It had the best kept gardens on the line and it was rumoured that in summer the station master gave gardening advice whilst sitting in his deckchair on the platform. The station was mostly for the benefit of local farmers to move milk to Oxford and for an agricultural machinery manufacturer at Haseley. In addition to these two main customers there were special poultry trains that operated through Tiddington.|
(Insert Tiddington Station)
Cross the rail track and a small field coming out in a lay-by along the main A418 road (possible alternative parking and a start of Walk C).
- (GR SP640049) (Section length 0.8 miles (1.2 km)) Turn left to the end of the lay-by before crossing the main road with care to a marked path in the opposite hedge.
|This leads onto the Waterstock golf course and care is required to avoid flying golf balls.|
The way ahead is not very clear but there are a few footpath signs. Go straight ahead crossing a track, then on across two fairways before bearing half right at a footpath sign (NB the sign indicates straight on or a little left, but this is not the direction for this walk). Follow a gravel track alongside a tee. Leave the track and head straight ahead going to the right of a green and then going straight across a fairway to the opposite fence. Turn left near a stile, following parallel to the fence. Pass another tee on the left before exiting the course in the far right-hand corner. Follow the path and signs (ignoring the path to the right) to come out on a minor road in the village of Waterstock close to the church.
- (GR SP636055) (Section length 0.7 miles (1.1 km)) to Waterstcock Mill and back) The eventual route is along the road to the right, but a detour is well worth while to the old Waterstock Mill and Bow Bridge passing the Church and the Old Rectory before returning through the village.
|[D on map] The little village of Waterstock has medieval origins with the name, not surprisingly, meaning ‘water place’ or ‘the place by the river’ in old English. Up until the mid-1900s most of the village was owned by the local squire and passing through the village there are many charming and interesting old buildings. St Leonard’s Church dates back to the 11th century and is worth a visit. Note the Old Rectory opposite – repairs to this are recorded to have been undertaken in 1787.|
Turn left passing the Church on the right and the Old Rectory on the left. Take the footpath through the trees on the right opposite and just after the tennis court. Cross a field in front of Waterstock House (screened by a substantial hedge) to reach a gravel track. Turn right to the old mill (privately owned).
|[E on map] Dating back to the 15th century the old mill was rebuilt in the Elizabethan period before being converted into the present building in the mid 1950s. Continuing past the mill for less than 100 yards there is an old bridge known as Bow Bridge on the track to Waterperry. Built in 1790 this was paid for by Diana Ashurst (of the local Ashurst family who lived in Waterstock House). Up until quite recently the bridge had a sign prohibiting overweight engines crossing it, perhaps indicating the former use and importance of this track between Waterstock and Waterperry.|
To return to the main walk there is an alternative route avoiding stiles. Walk back down the driveway for a few extra yards and turn left along the road to the church.
- (GR SP636055) (Section length 1.0 miles (1.6 km)) Retrace the route to the Church and continue along the road through the village.
|In the village, on the left, is the entrance to Waterstock House with a pump house and a range of farm buildings. The farm buildings probably date back to late 1700 and was the home of a renowned equestrian centre. The present Waterstock House was converted from the servants’ quarters of a former more substantial Manor House pulled down due to the cost of its upkeep. There are records of the local squire living on this site back to the 13th century.|
The road bears right and then turns sharp right by the memorial. Go straight ahead along a track for about 200 yards. Where the track turns left go straight ahead through a gate alongside a wood on the right. Direction signs are lacking in this area. At the end of the wood the route continues straight ahead across the field, heading a little right of the grey farm buildings in the distance and towards the smaller tree to the left of the trees ahead. Cross the marked stile in the hedge line and bear a little right, heading to the left of a line of old hedge bushes and towards the bridge in the distance. The bridge is now more visible. Head for the gate to the right of the bridge and cross the stile onto the road. Turn left to reach the first of two bridges, Ickford Bridge.
|[F on map] In the centre of the bridge, on both sides, are small refuges with the right-hand one housing a boundary stone dated 1685 inscribed ‘Here ends the county of Oxon; here beginneth the county of Bucks’. There has been a bridge on this site for many centuries with a record of repairs being undertaken in 1237. In the field to the left there are old earthworks thought to have been constructed in the Civil War to defend the river crossing. Downstream from the bridge is the venue for the annual tug of war contest between Tiddington and Ickford; the contest started in 1953 and the losers end up in the river. The next bridge along is Whirlpool Bridge constructed in 1824.|
- (GR SP648064) (Section length 1.6 miles (2.6km)) Walk along the road towards Ickford, ignoring the footpath to the right between the bridges (a possible alternative route back to Shabbington).Pass a small lay-by to the right (a possible starting place for the walks but with limited parking), Whirlpool Farm, Hunters House and Hunters Lodge. After the lodge take the path to the right along a hedge line and across a field, bearing a little left to exit between two buildings onto a short gravel track. Continue straight ahead along the road through Little Ickford (ignoring the paths right and left).
|There are number of 16th 17th and 18th century buildings to admire in this hamlet, not least the Manor House (note the date of 1675) on the left.|
After joining the more major road beyond the duck pond, take the footpath to the right crossing the field to a stile at the corner of the second hedge line.
|On the left before crossing the stile there is a good example of ridge and furrow, a result of the old system of field division and ploughing.|
Crossing the stile keep the hedge on the left before crossing a stream and continuing straight ahead. Cross two fence lines and pass through a hedge to an open field. Take the left-hand diagonal path across the field to the top left corner where there is a farm entrance and the village road. Turn right into Shabbington, ignoring roads to the left and right, and continue on the main road (Mill Road) to the Church, the starting point of this walk.
Walk B is a shorter version of Walk A (5.8 miles (9.4 km)) missing out some of Tiddington and Waterstock.
Starting in Shabbington follow sections 1 to 4 are as for Walk A. Thereafter follow the road from Albury down to the main road. Cross the main road and turn left. Walk on the pavement and after 100 yards turn right into Ickford Road. Continue on this road until Ickford Bridge. Pick up Section 10 to return to Shabbington.
Walk C is another shorter variation ( 5.4 miles (7.5 km)), taking in Ickford Bridge, Albury and Waterstock but missing out Rycote Chapel and Shabbington.
Starting at the lay-by on the A418 and follow Sections 7 to 9 of Walk A. At Ickford Bridge turn right following the Ickford Road to Tiddington. At the main road turn left walking on the pavement for about 100 yards until the turning on the right to Aldbury. Cross the main road and walk up the road ahead. This meets Walk A at Section 5. Follow Sections 5 & 6 back to the lay-by on the A418.