About the River Thame

The Thame Catchment

The source of the River Thame is in brooks just north of Aylesbury, from where it curls around the western edge of the town before flowing roughly south-west, into Oxfordshire and on to its confluence with the River Thames just below Dorchester-on-Thames.

The River Thame catchment straddles Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire (and also touches Hertfordshire near Tring), and encompasses two significant towns (Aylesbury and Thame) but does not pass through any sizable settlements. The M40/A40 road junction and services straddle the river east of Wheatley but, apart from that, the river is crossed by only 3 major roads. The proposed route of the HS2 high speed railway will cross the Thame on the south-west side of Aylesbury.

Land use is predominantly agricultural with few protected areas within its valley. However there are a number of SSSIs along the Chilterns escarpment to the east and the Bernwood/Shabbington forest complex in the west.

Numerous tributaries feed into the River Thame: including the Stoke and Bear brooks near Aylesbury; Scotsgrove, Chinnor, Upper Cuttle, Cuttle and Kingsey Cuttle brooks near Thame; Chalgrove and Lewknor brooks near Watlington; and four brooks (Denton, Baldon and Gainsbridge brooks and the Milton Ditch) in the Lower Thame that formed the core of the catchment restoration work.

Map of the Thame Catchment

Map of the Thame Catchment

There are multiple conservation organisations that work within the catchment, but very few focus on the river itself.

Access and Recreation:

The entire length of the lovely Thame Valley can be accessed on footpaths (see also https://riverthame.org/walking-route/ ) and there are a number of bridleways. Below Wheatley and at Chippinghurst Manor, concessionary footpaths enable the public to walk along its banks. The river can also be accessed by road, particularly from the many attractive villages that lie along its course.

Angling is popular along the entire watercourse (see https://riverthame.org/anglers_advice/ ) although almost all the land is private, so permission is needed.

Recreational canoeing and boating are not feasible as the river is not navigable owing to obstacles such as weirs, low bridges and fallen trees.


Over the years, our modest river has had its share of admirers – below are some quotations celebrating the River Thame over the years.

And for a more recent account of the river – read Simon Baynes’ delightful diary of boating down the Thame: A Little Stream, a Little Boat – one man’s encounter with the River Thame’.

But Thame was stronger, and of better stay;
Yet seem’d full aged by his outward sight,
With head all hoary, and his beard all gray,
Deawed with silver drops,  that trickled down alway.
Edmund Spenser (1552-1598)

The guests here to the Bride-house hie.
The goodly Vale of Al’sbury
Sets her sonne (Tame) forth, brave as May,
Upon the joyful Wedding day;
Who, dekt up tow’rds his Bride is gone.
So lovely Isis coming on,
At Oxford all the Muses greet her.
Michael Drayton (1563-1613)

Goe, see her state prepar’d, and everything be fit,
The bride-chamber adorn’d with all beseeming fit.
And for the princely groome, who ever yet could name
a Flood that is so fit for Isis as the Tame?
Michael Drayton

Here gentle Isis, with a bridegroom’s haste
Glides to o’ertake the Thame, as fair, as chaste;
Then mixed embracing, they together fly;
They live together, and together die.
Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

Attend Dame Isis downe to Dorchester,
Neare which the lovely Tame doth meet with her.
There Tame his Isis doth embrace and kisse,
Both joyn’d in one, cal’d Tame or Tamesis.
John Taylor (1580-1653)

I care not, I, to fish in seas
Fresh rivers best my mind do please,
Whose sweet calm course I contemplate,
And seek in life to imitate.
William Basse of Moreton (1583-1653)
Employee of Lord Wenman of Thame Park

For the rivers of this nation… the chief is Thamesis, compounded of two rivers, Thame and Isis; whereof the former rising somewhere beyond Thame in Buckingham-shire, and the latter in Cyrencester in Glocestershire meet together about Dorcester in Oxfordshire, the issue of which happy conjunction is the Thamisis or Thames.
Izaac Walton (1593-1683)

Nay, Tame and Isis, when conjoyn’d, submit,
And lay their trophies at thy silver feet.
Charles Cotton (1630-1687)

We went on from Aylesbury to Thame or Tame, a large market town on the River Thame. This brings me to mention again the Vale of Aylesbury, which as I noted before, is eminent for the richest land, and perhaps the richest graziers in England: But it is more particularly famous for the head of the River Thame or Thames, which rises in this vale near a market town called Tring, and waters the whole vale either by itself or the several streams which run into it, and when it comes to the town of Tame, is a good large river.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

Where beauteous Isis and her Husband Tame
With mingl’d waves, for ever, flow the Same.
Matthew Prior (1664-1721)

There, where old Cherwell gently leads
His humid Train, along the meads;
And courts fair Isis, but in vain,
Who laughs at all his am’rous Pain;
Away the scornful Naid turns,
For younger Tamus, Isis burns.
Dr Abel Evans (1679-1737)
Rector of St Giles, Oxford

First the famed authors of his ancient name,
The winding Isis, and the fruitful Thame.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

And Chiltern’s son, the boyish Thame,
To wed the Lady Isis came,
With his white marly waters glistening.
FW Faber (1814-1863)

Down in the foss the river fed of old
That through long lapse of time  has grown to be
The little grassy valley that you see.
William Morris (1834-1896)

No Stickle Tarn, no Bassenthwaite,
No Cumberland or Appleby –
The Thames, the Ouse, the Chess, the Thame
Are waters good enough for me.
H Evelyn Howard (20th c.)