I’ve lived in this area most of my life but only discovered two of these churches for the first time last week. If, like me, you enjoy exploring ruins then this walk is perfect for you!
Start your walk on Wallingford Bridge, facing towards Didcot. This medieval bridge has survived Civil War, floods and heavy traffic. It also offers a fine view of St Peter’s Church, the first on the walk.
St Peter’s Church, Wallingford
Walk into Wallingford, towards Didcot, and take the first left into Thames Street. You’ll immediately see St Peter’s Church, the first redundant church of the walk. An earlier church on the same site didn’t survive the Civil War. This replacement was built in the 18th century but held its last service in 1969, two hundred years after it first opened.
Continue along Thames Street until you reach another (not redundant but very old) church, St Leonards. Follow a footpath sign off to the left for the Thames Path. This brings you down to the riverside. Follow the path. At times it’s close to the river, at other points you appear to be walking through someone’s back garden (I’m sure you’re not!). You’ll pass the Oxford University Fleming Boat House site, which first opened in 2009.
Shortly before the path passes under the Wallingford bypass bridge take the right hand trail up onto the main road. Turn left onto the bridge and cross the Thames. Although there is a concrete footpath traffic travels fast along this road so take care with children and dogs. On the far side of the bridge take the path down and turn right under the bridge. Follow the track of paving slabs into Mongewell.
Church of St John the Baptist, Mongewell
As you reach Mongewell keep an eye out for the ‘Historic Church’ sign. The path (on your right) takes you into the grounds of Carmel College, which was Europe’s only Jewish boarding school until it closed in 1997. You’ll see pointers to St John’s Church as you walk through the site. Follow these past dilapidated buildings until you reach the church and its grounds. Although only small it’s a fantastic church to explore. It was mainly built in the twelfth century, although was subject to a partial rebuild in 1791. Sadly the church became derelict in the early twentieth century and the nave roof collapsed in the 1940s.
The remaining buildings of Carmel College (including the mansion, synagogue and boathouse) are not accessible but are worth checking out on Google. Wow!
Once you’ve finished at Mongewell, retrace your steps back to the bridge underpass. Do not go back up onto the bridge, but remain on this side of the Thames, heading back towards Wallingford. You’ll pass a new housing development on your right hand side.
St Mary’s Church, Newnham Murren
You’ll soon reach the final church of this walk, St Mary’s, near Newnham Farmhouse. It is another redundant church, slightly hidden by greenery so be careful you don’t walk past. As with St Peter’s Church it was closed due to the coronavirus epidemic when we visited but a walk around the grounds is worthwhile. If it’s open on your visit look for a hole in the brass dedicated to Letitia Barnarde; it was evidently caused by a musket ball fired during the Siege of Wallingford!
From St Mary’s you can pick up the footpath between farm buildings which takes you through fields and ends near the Bridge Villa Camping and Caravan Park. Follow the path to the left of the campsite, which brings you back to Wallingford Bridge, your starting point.
I might add we took a slightly different return route (yes, I took a wrong turn!). After leaving the church we followed the main farm track as it bent round to the right, before taking the path that split off to the left. It was a slightly longer route, but still delivered us to the campsite.
Click on the image to take you to a larger version. The route is straightforward to follow on the ground but if you are not familiar with the area do consider taking an OS map.
Start and end point: Wallingford Bridge.
Distance: Approximately 4.4 km, 2.8 miles
Terrain: Flat riverside footpaths, short stretch of concrete footpath along edge of Wallingford bypass, quiet road in Wallingford. Do not attempt this walk if Thames is in flood!
Refreshments: pubs and cafes in Wallingford.