Great things to see and do from River Rapids busesOxfordshire

Ride the River Rapids buses from Oxford to Reading for fabulous car-free days out. Visit flowering gardens or ruined abbeys, award-winning museums and riverside pubs. Take a boat trip on the river, a ramble on the ancient Ridgeway or a stroll along the beautiful Thames Path. You could also set off from Reading, of course, which is only 25 minutes from London Paddington by train. Either way, there's lots to see and do along the way. Look out for spring bluebells in the roadside woods, ox-eye daisies in the summer fields, golden beeches in autumn and red kites circling overhead.

  • County: Oxfordshire
  • Great for: architecture | birds | boat trips | churches | culture | family | good cafés and pubs | museums | steam railway | walking |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous waterside pubs and cafes
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 4. Harcourt Arboretum

    All River Rapids buses stop in the interesting little village of Nuneham Courtenay, with its pretty brick cottages, outdoor café-deli and resident peacocks. From the stop at the far end of the village, walk a few steps further (ignore footpath sign) and turn right through the gate into the grassy car park of Harcourt Arboretum. Best to book ahead for tickets, especially at weekends.

    • With huge wildflower meadows, peaceful parkland, shady bluebell woods and a winding walkway through 90 different species of rhododendron, the University of Oxford’s arboretum is a green oasis just five miles south of the city centre.
    • Wander past towering redwoods (some of the oldest in the UK) and banks of summer foxgloves or fiery autumn acers. Even in winter, there’s a path lined with holly trees and plenty of wildlife and there are new views from a bench at the top of Lime Wood towards Wittenham Clumps (see 5 below).
  1. 5. Dorchester

    The River Rapids don’t run through the heart of Dorchester, but stop instead on the main road close by. This ancient Roman town, once capital of England, is now a peaceful riverside village with a magnificent church. Don’t let the short walk put you off: there’s a pedestrian bridge to cross the main road if you’re coming from Oxford and a blue sign points the way from the bus stop to Dorchester village centre along a tarmac path and quiet country lane.

    • A half-mile stroll from the bus stop brings you to Dorchester Abbey. St Birinus founded a cathedral here in the 7th century and the huge medieval church that remains has faded wall paintings, a lead Norman font and the stone effigy of a knight carved as if about to draw his sword.
    • Look out on the abbey floor near the font for the moving memorial of Sarah Fletcher, who died in 1799 of “excessive sensibility”. The Great East Window has some delicate stone tracery and stained glass, much of which dates from the early 14th century.
    • Two distinctive chalk hills close to Dorchester, topped with groups of trees and one with an iron age hillfort, are known as Wittenham Clumps. The painter Paul Nash, who painted these hills several times, described the landscape nearby as “a beautiful legendary country haunted by old gods long forgotten”. A beautiful 4½-mile walk from Dorchester and back takes in both hills and a walk along the Thames Path. From the top of both hills, there are incredible views across the countryside around.
  1. 6. Wallingford

    Ride back in time to this old market town with its 1950s-style railway, grassy castle mounds, and connections with fictional detectives in literature and on TV. The buses stop regularly outside Wallingford’s 17th-century Town Hall, with its stone Doric columns.

    • Crime writer Agatha Christie lived and wrote her novels for more than 40 years in Wallingford and died at her home here, Winterbrook House, in 1976. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s in nearby Cholsey at the far end of the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway.
    • This Victorian branch line now has steam and diesel-hauled trains, which run at weekends and during the holidays. The railway is just ten minutes’ walk from Wallingford’s Old Police Station bus stop.
    • Wallingford Museum, which traces the town’s colourful history, has an exhibition dedicated to Agatha Christie called “At home with the Queen of Crime”, including rarely-displayed photos of her at Winterbrook. There’s also a display about Wallingford’s connections with ITV’s Midsomer Murders, filmed in Wallingford and nearby.
  1. 7. Reading

    Look out as the bus crosses Caversham Bridge into Reading for another spectacular view of the River Thames, with its boats, ducks, geese and drifting swans.

    • The bus stops on Blagrave Street, a minute’s stroll from Reading Museum, with its own version of the Bayeux Tapestry, and a couple of minutes from Forbury Gardens.
    • Presiding over this flowery green space in the heart of the town, the Maiwand Lion is a well-muscled sculpture of a snarling lion, commemorating soldiers who died in 1879 and 1880.
    • Walk past the lion and bandstand to find the magnificent ruins of Reading’s medieval abbey, once part of one of the biggest royal monasteries in Europe, founded in 1121.
    • Signboards dotted around the garden and ruins tell you more about the history of the area and even play you the sound of monks chanting, extracts from Chaucer or medieval rounds like the Cuckoo Song (the earliest manuscript was found here in the abbey).
    • A few minutes along Kings Meadows Road, just the other side of the railway, walk past the Thames Lido to find the river again. A bridge across Caversham Lock, a few steps right along the Thames Path, leads to a weir. View Island, on the far side of this weir, is an extraordinary urban nature reserve, home to kingfishers, grebes, herons and woodpeckers. A carved wooden head is sunk in the reeds and ferns on the far side and families of ducks and geese paddle the placid backwaters in spring and summertime.