See both picture-postcard countryside and city sights while camping on England’s most iconic river.
Britain’s second-longest river acts like a billboard for archetypal English landscapes: it starts in the Cotswolds, then proceeds through university city Oxford and winds around the wooded chalk-and-grass escarpment of the Chiltern Hills. The Thames enters London via Windsor Castle, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, and Richmond with its ancient deer park. Within the UK capital, the waterway passes some of the world’s most iconic sights before emptying into the North Sea, passing bird-rich marshes. Walk the whole river on the 185-mile Thames Path, or choose a well-situated campsite on its edge.
The Thames rises within the UK’s biggest AONB: the Cotswolds. These low hills—interspersed with honey-hued historic stone villages, quiet churches, and country pubs—typifies the quintessential English rural landscape. The river begins near Kemble, then flows through the huge lake system of the Cotswolds Water Park, known for its water sports, where there are several waterside campsites. The area’s walking is excellent, and the 625-mile Monarch’s Way numbers among the lesser-known long-distance paths.
Oxford is a must-visit city and a great base for discovering the Thames’ middle section. Visit world-class museums, wander around magnificent colleges, or take a traditional punt ride along the river—then hightail it out of town into the surrounding countryside. There is a riverside campsite in nearby Donnington, while the lavish country estate Blenheim Palace and ancient Wytham Woods are both also worth a visit. From Oxford, pick up the long-distance Shakespeare’s Way to see sights connected with the bard.
The Thames brushes the edge of the Chiltern Hills, the last sizable green space before the river flows into London suburbia. Deviate from the river around Goring to roam into these grassy, chalky, wood-dotted hills. Aside from walking one of many trails such as the Ridgeway, one of Britain’s most ancient roads, you could bird-watch for red kites or visit historic properties like Nuffield Place. Park the motorhome or pitch your tent close to the river outside Wallingford, a spot well-placed for Chilterns explorations.
There is much beauty in the transition between countryside and city, never better evidenced than at smart, leafy Richmond-upon-Thames, where a medieval deer park and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew provide a selection of fauna and flora many far-more rural locations would be envious of. Pitching around London is scarce, but there is camping at Walton-on-Thames, six miles southwest of Richmond Park, near Hampton Court Palace.
The mouth of the river is perhaps its most mysterious part. The ethereal spreads of bird-rich marshland on the Thames’ south side along the Kent coast were only connected via riverside path to central London in 2022, turning the Thames’ banks into a true source-to-sea walking route out to the Hoo Peninsula’s Isle of Grain. As the new official start/finish of any complete Thames exploration, the Hoo is now a compelling walking destination. Camp at Allhallows to begin the adventure.