Benson, a village in South Oxfordshire is the perfect location for a day trip in Southeast England and the starting point for a great walk (blue route) and/or canoe trip (orange route) on this pretty stretch of the River Thames:
full screen mode
compass to orient the map – north at the top
locate your current position on the map (browser will ask for permission, works best on phones due to use of GPS). We don’t track your location.
– Tap on symbols for more information about the walks and starting points
– Pan map: Tap on map and drag into any direction
– Zoom In/out: Pinch with two fingers
– Tilt map: Tap with two fingers and drag up or down
– Rotate map: Tap with two fingers and rotate
Laptop with mouse:
– Click on symbols for more information about the walks and starting points
– Pan map: Left click on map with mouse and drag into any direction
– Zoom In/out: Mousewheel or ‘+’ ‘-‘ keys on keyboard
– Tilt map: Right click and drag mouse pointer up or down
– Rotate map: Right click and drag mouse pointer left or right
full screen mode
Drifting down a river in a canoe is a simple pleasure. We went on a Sunday morning in May and had this stretch of the river from Benson to the upstream lock at Little Wittenham mostly to ourselves. There were just a few narrow boats passing occasionally. Only short stretches around Benson as well as Shillingford with a hotel and caravan park are built-up; the remainder feels natural and pristine, though there are footpaths on the banks of the river–see photos below.
AV Boats has superbly maintained and clean canoes (they are actually quite new). They have four and five seaters which are great for families (£70 for 4 hours on weekends) and two and three seaters (£55 as of May 2021). Life jackets are provided, they have a selection in various sizes, including kids sizes. It is also possible to rent kayaks, SUPs, row boats and a couple of different motor boats. Staff are super friendly and you can park in the Marina. There’s a bathroom which is handy if you’ve spent some time to get here.
Canoeing is relatively easy and straightforward, even for beginners, though it helps to know the J-stroke to help you steer. Stay on the righthand side of the river and and less other boats, particularly motorboats, pass in a safe distance.
Our suggested route is upstream to Days Lock and back. It is possible to do the roundtrip in 2 hours (saves around £20 on the canoe rental), though that doesn’t give you the ability to stop, relax and just float along for a little while.
If you go in the other direction on the River Thames, past Benson Lock, it is 10.5 miles to the next lock at Cleve which will make for another interesting trip. The Environment Agency publishes river conditions.
The village of Benson has an interesting history and was mentioned in the Domesday book “the richest royal manor in Oxfordshire”. Something to ponder about over a drink.
Non-digital maps * covering this stretch of the River Thames
Waterproof fabric map–perfect for canoing and walking
Benson’s Waterfront Cafe is right on the Thames and has a large outside area and is facing the moorings–if you like to look at boats whilst eating/drinking this is for you. When I visited on a Sunday around lunchtime, there was a queue to get in. There’s also a small riverside park to the East.
Another food/drink option with good views of the river is the Shillingford Bridge Hotel, a short drive west of Wallingford.
There’s limited parking at the Waterfront Cafe, though you can’t use it whilst you are out for a walk, say after lunch or a drink. If you want to go walking as well, use alternative parking in surrounding areas.
If canoeing is not for you, Little Wittenham Bridge, the end point of our canoe journey can also be reached by foot from Benson Waterfront. This circular walk also goes loop through Wallingford and incorporates the Wittenham Clumps, a hill fort with a good view of the locks.
Length: 16.2 km / 10 miles
Time: 4 hours at a swift pace + breaks
Difficulty: Easy – 180 m total ascent
If you don’t feel like walking 10 miles, particularly if you also want to try the canoe , use one of the maps on this page to find a shorter route, for example from Benson to Shillingford or drive to the Wittenham Clumps and walk from there.
The nearest train station is Cholsey, served on the Reading to Didcot Parkway Line. Some of the Reading trains are direct from Paddington. There is a Cholsey-Wallingford branch line, which is operated as a heritage railway.
Benson is pretty much halfway between Reading and Oxford as the crow flies and the A34 (it’s about an hour’s drive from Winchester), M4 and M40 are in easy reach.
Canoeing on the Thames (Benson canoe rental)
Along the Thames from Benson
Did you manage to do the walk, take a canoe or had a drink at the Waterfront Cafe? Let us know in the comments section.