Adam Smith: This was the stretch of water that started it all for me.
The Thames at Dorchester has it something for every swimmer. It is near enough to civilization to be very accessible, yet far enough out to still give that 'wild' feel.
The river here is wide and relatively straight offering a nice mile of great swimming. With fields on the north bank and Little Wittenham Woods on the south this place often has a magical feel early in the morning and late in the evening when the boat traffic has long gone and the walkers are tucked up at home in front of the Telly.
here are numerous access points all along this stretch so that you can have that hard slog down the mile and a bit from just after Day's Lock, or you can simply get in 'at the bridge' (where the Thame River joins it's bigger cousin) and potter down for three quarters of a mile to the small beach at the end where you can simply walk out - if you swim under the telegraph wires, you've gone too far. With the Thames Path running all along this stretch and plenty of space on the bank, it's a great place for the first timer or the cautious swimmer. I have bought many newcomers to 'outdoor swimming' to this stretch, all have left with a smile on their faces and a misty look in their eye.
I cannot recommend this stretch enough and have organized a few OSS Social Swims here of upto forty people. Park in the layby just north of the river on the Henley Road and then head into the fields, walk along the river heading 'right' (up stream). The last field before you get to the lock, there is a fairly obvious gap in the trees to get in. Otherwise getting in at the bridge is easy and very obvious. The swim on to Shillingford down river is an intersting swim (and a sinuous mile and a half of wide water) with many grand houses along this very secluded part of the river, however all the land either side is private and the only easy out point is just under Shillingford Bridge itself on the north side.
The water is deep most of the way (about twelve feet in places), and the bank can be steep in places. While there are no rowing boats on this stretch - they are all further downriver - this is a popular spot for the bigger river cruisers coming up from Pangbourne or down from Lechlade, however there is plenty of room to avoid them. Weekends towards the end of the year can see numerous coarse fishing contests, so weekend early mornings in August/September can get crowded.
Sophie Pierce: Had a wondeful swim here May 2013. River green, wide, slow and peaceful, surrounded by lush meadows full of buttercups and dandelion clocks. Lay on the bank in the sun afterwards. Glorious