Running the Thame Outer Circuit

Running a route around the market town of Thame

The Thame Outer Circuit is 20-mile route that surrounds the market town of Thame. It was created to encourage walking in the countryside as one of the objectives of the Thame Green Living Plan.

The route visits several villages, like Haddenham, Shabbington and Towersey, and also passes through Rycote Estate and the Oxfordshire Golf Club. It’s also on my doorstep, so I thought I would see what it was like to run.

Route info & downloads

There are several ways to join the Thame Outer Circuit if you’re starting from Thame. If you don’t live in the area, then I suggest going from Haddenham train station. It’s easy to get to and it’s close to the route.

I also recommend following the route on your watch if you can and use the GPX I made (below). It’s more accurate than the official one and will see you through some of the tricky bits.

Running the Thame Outer Circuit

For the most part, the Thame Outer Circuit runnable and fairly easy to follow. The terrain is mostly flat, with about 220m of elevation.

One thing to consider, however, is that because the area is fairly low-lying, the fields adjacent to the River Thame are prone to flooding after periods of heavy rain. I probably wouldn’t run the route in winter. Fortunately, I began my journey on a lovely spring morning, following several days of dry weather, so the conditions were spot-on.

0-5 km
Long Crendon to Shabbington

Starting in Long Crendon, I headed north along the main road before taking a left towards Westfield. It’s worth highlighting that a kilometre along here is a footpath that’s fairly hidden. You’ll likely miss it if you’re not fully alert, so keep an eye out for it on the left.

Keep an eye out for this footpath in Westfield - Thame Outer Circuit
It’s easy to miss this footpath (in the corner!)

After shuffling along this hidden footpath, I came to the first set of fields. They were well maintained when I went across them, with clear pathways that were great for running on. Unlike other fields, which I’ll touch upon later.

One of the many fields that form part of the Thame Outer Circuit
Fields leading to Shabbington

After an enjoyable bimble through the countryside, there’s a short road section through Shabbington before turning right onto the Thame Valley Way, then across more fields.

6-13 km
Shabbington to Tetsworth

The route then reaches the A418 towards Oxford, then you cross the road and clamber over a wobbly set of stiles. It’s here that you’re welcomed into Rycote Estate with a sign warning you of snakes. Having a fear of our slithering friends, I ran this next bit at what’s best described as ‘get the hell out of here pace’.

Up a small incline and through a farm, I eventually stumbled upon the picture-friendly Rycote Chapel.

Rycote Chapel
The chapel in Rycote Estate

After taking an obligatory photo (or four), I continued through a charming little copse and then arrived at the entrance to the Oxfordshire Golf Club. Is this place prestigious? I’ve no idea, but I do know that the right of way through it is silly.

Any sane person would just follow the road that leads to the carpark at the top. But no, the official route must be adhered to, meaning wading through lumpy grass that hasn’t seen a lawnmower in months.

The right of way through the Oxfordshire Golf Club
Why use a perfectly good road when lumpy grass will do?

After this, there’s a few bridle paths and fields to contend with, but so long as you keep your brain engaged, you shouldn’t get lost.

Rant: accessibility, or lack thereof

Call me a cynic, but I think some landowners leave rights of way to deteriorate to discourage people from accessing their property. As a consequence of little use, paths fail to emerge and make navigation tricky, especially when there are no obvious waymarks.

Some sections between Tetsworth and Sydenham that are in poor condition and I can only assume they have been purposely neglected. The following example adds weight to my theory.

On the edge of Tetsworth is an equestrian centre, which the Thame Outer Circuit goes through. To access it, you need to wade through waist high nettles. If that wasn’t inviting enough, it’s then a puzzle to know where to go once you’re inside. I spent 10 minutes zigzagging through uneven meadows, looking for a way out.

I initially dismissed the route on my watch as it pointed directly at a fence. Surely not? There was no gate, no opening and no stile. I know the countryside isn’t always easy to explore, but needing to climb over a five foot high fence seemed ridiculous.

The countryside should be accessible to all
Unnecessarily difficult. Hopefully this will be fixed soon

If it wasn’t for the faded arrow next to it, I would’ve assumed my watch was on the fritz. Still struggling to believe this was right, I made a futile attempt to locate a latch to open it. Then arrived a man in a van.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said, with a huge dollop of sarcasm. Before I had a chance to reply, he concluded our one-sided conversation by goading me to “just climb over it,” then drove away.

This episode annoyed me. I want to believe if we’ve learnt anything over the last couple of years, it’s the value of safe and accessible pathways, but things like this make me think otherwise. There continues to be an opportunity to encourage people to enjoy the countryside, but unnecessary hazards – such as this one – are a major disincentive, as is the lack of clear signage.

I reported this to Oxfordshire Council. They said they are “currently in the process of working with the landowner regarding the obstructions on the definitive line.” Good luck with that…

15-17 km
Tetsworth to Sydenham

Unfortunately, the next bit to Sydenham was also frustrating. It’s a series of rugged fields and it was hard to know what was underfoot.

As a walker, this isn’t that important. You tend to be more careful when moving at a leisurely pace. But when you’re moving at speed, there’s an increased risk of rolling an ankle, and my enthusiasm waned as I tiptoed through these annoying, middle miles.

St Mary's Church in Sydenham, Oxfordshire
St Mary’s Church in Sydenham

The signage through this section is also lacking and I went wrong several times, forcing me to backtrack. To say I was happy when I finally reached Sydenham is an understatement.

17-31 km
Sydenham to Long Crendon

The second half of the Thame Outer Circuit is undoubtedly the best. It’s near impossible to go wrong, it’s all runnable and there’s no real hazards.

From Sydenham it’s on to Emmington – be cautious crossing the busy Thame Road – then take a left, weave through some fields and then reach the Phoenix Trail in Towersey.

After this, I really enjoyed the long covered bridle way that leads to Kingsey. The temperature had risen sharply and I was desperate for some shade. I was also dehydrated and there’s only one shop on the entire route, which happened to be about 25 km ago.

One of the pigs in Kingsey - Thame Outer Circuit
Piggy! Oink! Oink!

Once I’d finished oinking at Kingsey’s celebrity piggies, it was onto Haddenham and across a large open field. Normally, this is where the route finishes, but remember I said I started in Long Crendon, so…

Well, there’s not much more to add. It’s just a case of running through a few more fields and crossing a couple of busy roads.

Fields leading to Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire
The last few miles are mega

These last few kilometres are flat and undemanding. There’s a small incline near the end – leading to an alleyway that joins the High Street in Long Crendon – then the loop is complete.

Summary of the route

The Thame Outer Circuit has the potential to be a great route for runners. It’s varied, not very hilly or demanding, and it’s quite easy to follow. The Krypton Factor-esque section between Tetsworth and Sydenham, however, lets it down.

My advice, if you’re thinking of running the route, is to wait until spring 2023. Hopefully by then the route will be well-trodden, waymarkers will be in place and that fence in Tetsworth will be fixed.

If you want to have a go at it now and make it interesting, then the route’s just been approved on Fastest Known Times. Good luck if you have a crack at it.

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