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The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail

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The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail
Author: Claire, Published: 06 Nov 2014 Walk rating : Rating:star1 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trailstar1 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trailstar1 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trailstar1 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trailstar1 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail
Oxfordshire, Abingdon
Walk Type: History trail
The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail
Length: 2 miles,  Difficulty: boot The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail
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A 2 mile circular pub walk from the Crown and Thistle in Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The Crown and Thistle is a stunning modern interpretation of a traditional coaching inn, offering refreshments in beautiful, comfortable surroundings. The walking route explores the rich heritage of Abingdon taking in churches, the old county hall, the abbey gardens and meadows and a bustling stretch of the River Thames.

The route is almost entirely flat and follows a mixture of pavements, stone paths and a grass stretch of the Thames Path, the latter of which can be a little muddy in winter/after rain. There are no stiles on route, just a few single gates and some steps. You will need to cross the weir and a lock over the river so take particular care with children and dogs here. Approximate time 1 hour.

Abingdon is located about 6 miles south of Oxford, adjacent to the main A34 trunk road. The walk starts and finishes from the Crown and Thistle pub on Bridge Street. The most convenient car park is the Abbey Close pay and display car park which costs £1.50 for 3 hours (correct Oct 2014). Approximate post code OX14 3JE.

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Walk Sections

Start to St Helen's Church
Start to St Helen's Church

Start point: 51.6703 lat, -1.278 long
End point: 51.6678 lat, -1.2829 long

Leave the Abbey Close car park via the vehicle entrance and follow the pavement with the walls for Abbey Gardens on the right. (We will be visiting these gardens later). Ignore the first road on the left, Checker Walk, instead keep ahead for a few more yards. Take the next left, a tarmac access drive.

Keep ahead to the end of this drive and it leads you into the car park for the Crown and Thistle. Turn right through the car park and follow the cobbled walkway between the hotel buildings and under the arch to reach the front pavement. The Crown and Thistle is our host for this town trail and you can enjoy refreshments here before or after your walk – the choice is yours.

Turn left along the pavement and, before you reach the river bridge ahead, cross over the road using the pedestrian crossing. Turn right along the pavement passing the Crown and Thistle (now over to the right) and the old County Police Station on the left. Ignore the first turning on the left, the quirkily named Turnagain Lane. As you reach the road junction by the market place, turn sharp left passing the impressive County Hall on the right (more about this later).

Keep straight ahead along East Saint Helen Street, said to be the best preserved street within Abingdon. The street is one of the earliest in Abingdon and Roman remains have been found below ground at a number of houses. Look out for properties 26 and 26A, some way along on the left. This was once a high status merchant’s house and dates from 1431. The most complete medieval house in Abingdon, it once had a large central hall which, at some point, was replaced with a cobbled passageway for carriages.

At the end of the road you will come to St Helen’s Church ahead. Cross over the road with care and walk ahead through the stone arch to enter the churchyard.

St Helen's Church to Saint Helen's Wharf
St Helen's Church to Saint Helen's Wharf

Start point: 51.6678 lat, -1.2829 long
End point: 51.6662 lat, -1.284 long

On the left you will find an information board which gives a comprehensive history of the church. A church has stood on this site since at least the year 995. Saint Helen, to whom the church is dedicated, was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. In her old age, Helen visited the holy land and is reputed to have discovered fragments of the cross of Jesus.

Keep ahead for just a few paces to reach a fork in the path. Take a moment here to look at the row of single storey cottages on the right. These are some of the many almshouses that were built within the churchyard. This building, Twitty’s, was built using a benefaction from Charles Twitty and was originally designed to house three men and three women.

Fork left, passing the beautiful stained glass windows of the church on the left. On the right here is another row of almshouses, Long Alley, topped with an octagonal dome and weather vane. The long low building was built in 1446 and has a distinctive wooden cloister covered walkway in front.

At the end of the path you will emerge through an arch to reach a riverside road. Turn right along the pavement and you will come to a small bridge over the River Ock. This marks the point where the River Thames (to the left) and the River Ock (to the right) meet. Cross the bridge and turn immediately left into Margaret Brown Garden. This stretch of the river front was once the site of Saint Helen’s Wharf.

Saint Helen's Wharf to County Hall
Saint Helen's Wharf to County Hall

Start point: 51.6662 lat, -1.284 long
End point: 51.6701 lat, -1.2816 long

Take a moment here to enjoy the views along the Thames and to read the information board which explains the history of the wharf. By 1780 malt, cheese, ironmongery and hemp were among the products passing through the wharf. In the early 1800s timber yards and boat building yards occupied this space. The beautiful brick building visible through the trees behind the park, was built as the foundry for Saint Helen’s Iron Works, part of the Davis Launch and Engineering Company. The company’s steamers, tugs and launches were exported throughout the world. The building later became the base for the Hygienic Laundry, whose painted name can still be made out in the brick work. In 2003, the brick warehouse was converted to housing.

When you’ve finished admiring the views, retrace your steps back out of the garden and turn right back across the bridge over the River Ock. Turn left immediately after the bridge, with the tall chimneys of the almshouses visible to the right. Follow the road with the River Ock on the left. The river’s name is thought to be derived from the Celtic word for salmon.

At the end of the lane you will see Saint Helen’s Mill ahead. A water-powered mill has been situated here at least since Norman times. The buildings visible today date from 1856 and have been converted into apartments.

Follow the tarmac lane as it swings right and keep ahead between bollards to re-enter the churchyard. Keep ahead past Twitty’s almshouses on the left and continue out of the churchyard via the stone arch. Turn left along the pavement and follow this into West Saint Helen Street. One of Abingdon’s oldest streets, it was once home to Hydes, an ancient draper, grocer and ready-made clothes shop. The company became one of the largest producers of ready-made clothing in the country, employing 2000 workers. The factory closed in the 1930s and was used to store MG car parts during World War II.

Walk the full length of the street to reach the T-junction at the far end. Turn right and follow the pavement back to reach the imposing stone arched County Hall.

County Hall to Abbey Gardens
County Hall to Abbey Gardens

Start point: 51.6701 lat, -1.2816 long
End point: 51.6703 lat, -1.2797 long

Abingdon became the county town of Berkshire sometime after receiving its Royal Charter in 1556. The County Hall building was erected from 1678 to house the Berkshire Assizes (travelling criminal courts held to hear the most serious cases in the region). The builder was Christopher Kempster, possibly using a design by Christopher Wren. Today the building houses the town’s museum which is well worth exploring. A long-standing tradition of the town has local dignitaries throwing buns from the roof of the County Hall for crowds assembled in the market square on days of celebration (such as royal marriages, coronations and jubilees). The museum has a collection of the buns, dried and varnished, dating back to bun throwings of the nineteenth century.

Abingdon's failure to engage fully with the railway revolution led to the town being sidelined in favour of Reading which became the county town in 1869. After local government reorganisation in 1974, Abingdon became part of Oxfordshire.

Cross over the High Street (on the left) to reach the cobbled market square. With the County Hall behind you, cross the square diagonally and exit via the arch in the far right-hand corner. Go ahead over the pedestrian crossing and turn right along the pavement. You will come to St Nicholas Church on the left, dating from 1170.

Immediately after the entrance for the church on the left, turn left onto the pedestrian walkway signed for the Medieval Abbey Gardens. Before you reach the arch ahead, you will see an open circular grate set within the paved walkway. Look down this and you should see (and hear) running water. This is the hidden River Stert flowing beneath your feet. This small watercourse now runs entirely enclosed below the street. Until the Stert was culverted at the end of the eighteenth century, the open river ran alongside the houses on the east side of Stert Street. Bridges across it allowed access to the street.

Keep ahead to pass under the arches ahead. Local superstition recommends that when walking under the arches one should hold one's breath to stop the gargoyles that decorate the gateway from stealing it! This gateway dates from the late fifteenth century and was the main entrance to Abingdon Abbey. The large central arch was for mounted travellers and wheeled traffic, with the side arches for pedestrians. At some point after the Dissolution, the rooms above the gateway became the town prison, a use that continued until 1812.

You will emerge to a T-junction with Abbey Close with the Old Abbey House opposite. The house was built by a wealthy business man in about 1780 and until April 2014 the building was used as council offices. Turn right along the road for a few paces and then turn left through the gateway into Abbey Gardens (with Old Abbey House on the left).

Abbey Gardens to Weir
Abbey Gardens to Weir

Start point: 51.6703 lat, -1.2797 long
End point: 51.6712 lat, -1.2703 long

Follow the main stone path as it swings left passing through an old arched gateway and you will see the rear of Old Abbey House on the left. Turn right to reach the circular formal gardens. Take a moment here to reflect on the history of this site.

At one time, looking across these gardens, the view would have been of the magnificent Abingdon Abbey, similar in design to Wells Cathedral. Abingdon Abbey was probably founded in the late seventh century, but its great days started when it was re-founded by Abbot Aethelwold and the Wessex kings around 950. It became one of the foremost abbeys in the country, housing a wide range of industries...more of that later. In 1538 the abbot surrendered the abbey to Henry VIII and the valuables and stone were removed. Nothing remains above the ground today.

Walk straight ahead across the circular formal gardens and go through the gap in the hedge to reach an open lawn area. You will see lines of bricks laid within the lawn which mark the outline of the old abbey buildings. To the left you will see the statue of Queen Victoria, relocated here from the market square because she was in the way of the market traders. I can only imagine what she would have made of that...’We are not amused’!

Keep right at the fork, on the stone path heading at about 1’oclock through the gardens. The path will lead you through a gate out of the gardens and you will see Abbey Close car park on the right. Walk ahead, passing a conical steel-topped sculpture on the left. Keep straight ahead to cross the bridge over Mill Stream.

Turn immediately left to follow the tarmac path with Mill Stream directly on the left. The Mill Stream, nearly a mile in length, was a major civil engineering project instigated by Abbot Aethelwold when he was appointed to rebuild the abbey around 950. It flows out of the River Thames near the present weir (our next stop) and returns to the river at Abingdon Bridge. Its purpose was to remove waste water from the abbey complex as well as to power its mills. It was the powerhouse for the abbey’s various industries including the fulling mill, corn mill, granary, bakehouse and brewhouse.

On the right you will pass a beautiful tall line of poplar trees, striking out across the abbey meadows. Simply follow the path, Mill Stream Walk, for some distance with the stream on the left. Eventually you will reach the weir within the River Thames.

Weir to End
Weir to End

Start point: 51.6712 lat, -1.2703 long
End point: 51.6695 lat, -1.2805 long

Cross over the weir via the concrete bridge. NOTE: the water is very turbulent and fast flowing here so keep dogs on a lead and take particular care with children. Follow the path ahead and then cross Abingdon Lock via the bridge over the lock gates. (You may need to wait for the gates to be closed if the lock is in use).

Turn right (signed for the Thames Path) and, almost immediately, fork right through the single wooden gate to join the stone riverside path (part of the Thames Path National Trail). Follow this path, with the river on the right, back towards Abingdon.

As you reach the stone bridge overhead, Abingdon Bridge, turn left up the steps immediately before it. Turn right to follow the pavement over the two branches of the river. Keep ahead for just a short distance further to reach the Crown and Thistle on the right for some well-earned hospitality.

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Text and images for this walk are Copyright © 2014 by the author clairesharpuk and may not be reproduced without permission.

1 comments for "The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail"

Abingdon is a lovely town full of history and of course the lovely River Thames. This walk has a good blend of town and countryside for everyone to enjoy.

By RichardJ on 09 Nov 2014

The information in this guide has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a guide, not a statement of fact. You are advised to check the accuracy of the information provided and should not use this guide for navigational directions nor should you rely on the accuracy of the weather forecast. You are advised to take appropriate clothing, footwear, equipment and navigational materials with you according to the current and possible weather and nature of the terrain. Always follow the country code and follow any additional warnings or instructions that may be available. Some walks may be very strenuous and you are advised to seek medical advice if you have any doubts as to your capability to complete the walk.

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4 gallery images for "The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail"

3762_0Richard1415355452 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail Image by: RichardJ
Uploaded: 07 Nov 2014
The of Queen Victoria on the site of the old Abbey
3762_1Richard1415355452 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail Image by: RichardJ
Uploaded: 07 Nov 2014
Roof tops at the back of the Crown and Thistle. We saw some great buildings on our walk.
3762_2Richard1415355452 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail Image by: RichardJ
Uploaded: 07 Nov 2014
These are the house built by Twitty. I think now that some of them have been knocked through to make bigger homes as som of the doors are blocked up.
3762_0Richard1415355543 The Crown and Thistle Abingdon Heritage Trail Image by: RichardJ
Uploaded: 07 Nov 2014
The weir as you approach it from Abbey Meadows - October 2014


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