The beautiful Cotswolds villages where the River Thames starts 80 miles from London


As Londoners, we’re all familiar with the River Thames. It’s literally the number one reason why London was built in the first place by the Romans in the year 43 C.E.

Almost 2,000 years later, the Thames continues to serve the capital with its 70-odd active terminals used for the transport of cargo.

But how well do we really know our river? First of all, even calling it “our river” can be hotly disputed. A lot of Londoners might be making the common mistake of thinking the Thames originates in Reading or thereabouts.

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What most Londoners fail to realise is that the Thames is actually 215 miles long, meaning that London only has a claim to under a quarter of the entire length of the river.

So where does it all begin, and what would we even find when we get there? Well, just like our beloved capital, the Thames also comes from humble beginnings.

The officially recognised starting point of the Thames can be found in a deserted stretch of marshland all the way in the Cotswolds, between the villages of Coates and Kemble, known as the Thames Head.

This site is recognised by Ordnance Survey and by the Environment Agency as the source of the Thames, confirming the theory of legendary poet and antiquarian John Leland who first pinpointed the location in 1546.

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Unfortunately it’s not as exciting as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but you will find a small engraved stone reading “The Conservators of the River Thames 1857 – 1974 This stone was placed here to mark the Source of the River Thames”.

To the left of the stone you’ll see a signpost pointing to the Thames Flood Barrier, 184 miles away, and just in front of them, you’ll locate the exact spring from which the river supposedly originates.

A quick head up – you might not recognise the spring straight away, especially if heading there in dry weather. Spoiler alert – it’s just a small hole full of tiny rocks. Locals and hikers with experience of the area will however tell you that the best time to visit is just after it rains, but best put on your wellies because the marshes can get quite wet.

If you had visited the site between 1958 and 1974, you might have seen a statue of Old Father Thames, a mythical river god that was originally displayed in Crystal Palace in 1851.

The statue has since been moved to St John’s Lock near Lechlade.

But any pagan adventurists visiting the area will be delighted to know that nearby Kemble was once the site of a 7th-century pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery.

Other history buffs might also want to visit the 13th-century church that stands in the village today and caress their fingers on its old Norman door.

Besides the old stone and dried-up spring, explorers will also notice the derelict Coates Round House, which was built in 1791. It is one of five round houses constructed along the abandoned Thames-Severn Canal, which opened in 1789 stretched 2.17 miles towards the River Severn.

The canal hasn’t been used since 1911, but its entrance, known as the Sapperton Tunnel, can still be found nearby.

The adjacent Trewsbury House and farm, which was constructed in 1876 and is today worth around £890,562, is probably your best chance of seeing another human being within walking distance of the Thames Head, or at very least a few farm animals.

But if you find yourself stranded and looking for a place to crash, avoid The Tunnel House Inn, as you’ll only waste your energy walking there just to find out it was recently shut down.

You might however have more luck finding a bed, and maybe even some decent grub, at the Thames Head Inn, which boasts of a 4.5/5 rating on Tripadvisor.

During your stay there, you might even strike up a conversation with a few locals who will tell you the counter-theory of the true origin of the Thames being at Seven Springs some 11 miles away, but before you put your wellies back on to head west, you might want to consider until the river reaches Dorchester in Oxfordshire, it is alternatively referred to as the River Isis.

You might have better luck looking for your pot of gold there.x





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