14 amazing facts about the Thames you probably never knew

14 amazing facts about the Thames you probably never knew

One of the absolute joys of life in Berkshire is the Thames.

Most of the county is within a short drive of the mighty river and many people enjoy riverside walks and, in different times, boat trips and fishing.

The magnificent watercourse runs beside villages in the county, including Sonning, Hurley, Wargrave and Bray.

A life by the riverside is a major driver in the popularity of quality of life, as proven with two completely different areas of Berkshire being named as the best places in the country to live.

The river is an integral part of Berkshire life, and, with the help of Henley’s River and Rowing Museum, we’ve found 14 amazing facts about the river.

The Thames is the longest river in England

Reading Thames
The Thames (Image: Reading UK CIC)

At 214 miles it’s the longest river in England.

However, the accolade for the longest river in the United Kingdom of course goes to the Severn that stretches 220 miles.

The Ice Age led to the Goring Gap being created

Goring weir
The River Thames at Goring weir

A very long time ago, we’re talking millions of years, the Thames flowed northwest at Goring.

At the end of the last Ice Age, large quantities of meltwater entered the river.

This led to it cutting through the chalky hills to create what is known as the Goring Gap, which means the river now flows southeast.

The source is actually in a Gloucestershire village

The source of the Thames is actually in a group of springs just north of the village of Kemble in Gloucestershire.

There is a stone marking the official sources at Trewsbury Mead. The catch is the spring is mostly dry.

However, the Thames Head group of springs is a few hundred metres away and this is where the water flows from.

Thames Valley is mostly flat

The Thames at Sonning Bridge
The Thames at Sonning Bridge

Obviously, there are few hills scattered around Berkshire, but compared to other areas the Thames Valley is pretty flat.

The chalk hill in Windsor is quite an unusual feature, which is why it was deemed an important defence site before the Normans built a castle there.

A man-made channel has been introduced to stop flooding

The weir at the Jubilee River in Slough
The weir at the Jubilee River in Slough. (Image: Get Reading)

This is at the Jubilee River in Maidenhead. It was built in the early 2000s and splits the river into two streams around Maidenhead to try to reduce the risk of floods.

It reduces this risk to more than 3,200 homes and contains a number of weirs which can be opened and closed to control water flow.

It was part of mainland Europe

The Thames
The Thames

Believe it or not, the Thames was first formed with Britain was still joined to mainland Europe.

It flowed eastwards from the Welsh mountains into the continental river network.

It’s taken 50 million years to shape the Thames as we know it today

The Thames in Maidenhead
The Thames in Maidenhead (Image: BerkshireLive)

It has taken 50 million years of erosion and climate change to shape the Thames into what you see today.

It flows all the way from Gloucestershire to the English Channel.

Nomads were the first settlers in the Thames Valley

The Thames at Beale Park
The Thames at Beale Park

Nomadic family groups, whose beliefs were shaped around their dependence on nature and the changing seasons, were the first to settle in the Thames Valley.

Following that, people began to grow crops and keep domesticated animals and settled into larger groups.

These settled communities were more structured and their beliefs and ceremonies were based more on ancestry and the control of land.

People are buried near the Thames

Cock Marsh in Cookham
Cock Marsh in Cookham (Image: David Hillas)

There are burial mounds and barrows near the Thames which may have had ritual meaning.

These include Cock Marsh at Cookham, which has four circular Bronze Age burial mounds.

You can still spot them if you were to visit.

Fierce battles have been fought beside the river

The Thames at Waterside Park, Reading
The Thames at Waterside Park, Reading

The tranquil, peaceful river you see today hasn’t always been like that.

In fact, in the past it has been the backdrop to some gruesome battles.

As recently as the Second World War, soldiers patrolled the banks.

It has seen battles including the Siege of Reading, where Caversham Bridge was captured, as well as ferocious tear ups during the Iron Age.

Earth banks were used as part of settlement defences

The Thames at Dorchester
The Thames at Dorchester (Image: Copyright:Steve Daniels)

People living the river would build large earth banks around their land and settlements.

In towns like Abingdon and Dorchester, stretches of river formed part of their defences.

The Thames was a border between two tribes

The Thames at Pangbourne
The Thames at Pangbourne

Coins found north and south of the Thames were made by different tribes — the Catuvellauni and Atrebates. This suggests the Thames was a border between their lands.

Iron Age weapons have been found in the Thames

Iron Age weapons like swords and shields have been found in the Thames, which are often twisted or broken.

They may have been dropped in the water as a sign of peace or to threaten the neighbouring tribe across the river.

A whale swam up it

Rescuers manoeuvre a northern bottle-nosed whale from the Thames in 2006
Rescuers manoeuvre a northern bottle-nosed whale from the Thames in 2006

Not in Berkshire, but in 2006 a northern bottle-nosed whale swam up and got stuck in the Thames in London.

Other sea-bound mammals to take a shine to the river include a beluga and a humpback whale.

News from Berkshire Live

Written by Editor

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