Located about 14 miles east of Oxford city centre, Thame (pronounced "Tame") is a thriving market town which is well worth a visit. Founded during the Anglo-Saxon era, the town was strategically important to both the Parliamentarians and the Royalists during the English Civil war while King Charles I held court in 1642 in Oxford. Notable residents include Robin Gibb (Bee Gees), bare-knuckle boxing champion James Figg, born in the Greyhound Inn (now The James Figg) in 1684, Jack Bevan (drummer from Foals) and Gavin Free, famous for being one half of the YouTube sensation The Slow Mo Guys. You may well recognise the town from Midsomer Murders, but thankfully the death toll is significantly lower than onscreen, and there's plenty to keep you busy including red kites, haunted pubs and duck races!
We think it’s fair to say that Thame is, well, quite tame when compared with the hustle and bustle of Oxford but it does have its charms. To get to grips with its history, it is well worth heading to Thame Museum to see collections including civil war soldiers’ uniforms, medieval coins and oral histories from residents - plus rare Elizabethan wall paintings. Built in the 13th century, St Mary’s Church is a lovely church which is worth a visit for its ancient font and beautiful stained glass windows. Since the town is frequently used as a location in Midsomer Murders, it’s a must for fans of the show – there’s even a specialist tour dedicated to the show! Our in-house Thame resident recommends doing a pub crawl:
There are 13 drinking venues (14 if you include the Three Horseshoes in Towersey) which can be visited as part of a ‘pub’ crawl. It is possible to visit all of them in one evening but I would suggest including a trip to the award-winning Atalay’s Kebab Van to sustain you on your beer quest. (We also want to remind readers that it is perfectly acceptable to visit these pubs without taking part in a pub crawl/to sip soft drinks on a pub crawl, and to drink responsibly).
Other less alcoholic attractions include the local market (every Tuesday) and the more specialist markets (French, Italian, etc) which pop up frequently. The independent bookshop The Book House is a great place to browse for your latest read while indie shop FROM exhibits and sells the best pieces from from local artists, designers and makers. A stroll around Cuttlebrook Nature Reserve is bound to reward nature lovers’ efforts with glimpses of birds, insects, flowers, frogs, bats, and butterflies, and more than likely a red kite or two!
Well-loved by locals, The James Figg pub was a finalist in the National Burger Awards in 2016 and has an olde-worldy vibe. For extremely nice Thai food, try Pad Thai at the Rising Sun. The historic Birdcage pub is rumoured to be haunted - the ghost of the restless soul has been seen in the top storey of the pub – rumour has it that the soul belongs to a leper who was stoned to death by the people of Thame; on lower floors 16th century soldiers have been spotted in the gents. Local mythology suggests that if you stand underneath 'The Witch Ball’ (hanging above the pavement close to the pub) and it spins, you’re a witch! Also there’s supposed to be a secret underground tunnel from St Mary’s to the Birdcage. Despite all the legend, the sense of mystery doesn’t carry over to the menu as they only serve Pieminister pies…
The Thatch is situated in a pretty 16th century building and is known as the place to go for a special birthday celebration, thanks to its credentials as a luxury gastro pub. Somewhat less posh but equally, if not more, pleasant, The Six Bells has a decent selection of beers and serves tasty bar snacks and high quality main meals. It’s a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours relaxing. Recent arrivals Jack & Alice offer a beautifully decorated wine bar-cum-pantry with a great selection of wines and comfort food including bountiful cheese and meat boards, fantastic brunches, and spicy jalapeño mac’n’cheese. The Black Horse used to be notorious amongst the locals but fortunately for Thame, the White Brasserie Family (Raymond Blanc’s company) has transformed it into a rustic restaurant serving pub classics with a Gallic twist.
For a smaller bite to eat, try one of Newitts’ award-winning sausage rolls. Inspired by the film Chocolat, Nigel Rumsey set up his second shop Rumsey’s Chocolaterie in Thame in 2007. They hold chocolate figurine making sessions and private parties. Get locally produced tea from the Bucks-based Jolly Brew Company. With over 50 blends to choose from in their gorgeous little shop, you won’t come away empty-handed. Hidden down Greyhound walk, Italian deli Umberto's has a delicious selection of olives, pasta, fine charcuterie and wines to sample. The Cross Keys is real ale pub which brews its own beers, including a mild called Mr Splodges, named after the family cat – it’s a cosy and characterful pub, decorated from wall to ceiling with beer mats.
In late April/early May there’s Music in the Park (Elms Park) which is a family-fun event with live music and dance acts to please all ages. Bring a picnic and enjoy the local performers - home-grown talent such as Hells Gazelles, Sin Fiction and One State Drive have performed here in the past so you never know, you could be seeing some stars in the making.
In June, there's The Duck Race which involves dumping around 2,000 rubber ducks into the River Thame and watching them float down the river… The owners of the first three ducks over the line win vouchers and the rest of the money raised goes to Roundtable's chosen charity.
Every September the Food Festival comes to town (or to the Showground, depending on numbers). In recent years you’ve had to pay to get in but it’s worth it for the quantity and quality of food samples on offer. Expect to see ex-Bake-Off contestants and Raymond Blanc wandering around and seek out Kirsty’s Kitchens’ Scotch Eggs, Los Churos Amigos and lots of local ale producers for an extra tasty treat!
The Thame Horse and Country Show is held on the Showground every third Thursday in September with riding displays, classic cars, pig agility contests, dog shows, music, dances, sheep shows, and an alpaca display. The show is now free for the general public to attend so head along and see animals perform in ways you never thought possible.
Stuck for things to do over August Bank Holiday weekend? Established in 1965, Towersey Festival was created to raise money for the Towersey Memorial Hall. The festival has grown in popularity and size over the years, relocating to the outskirts of Thame in 2015. With acoustic sets, a range of genres including reggae, folk, blues, ceilihs, country, DJs, yoga, lantern making and specific activities to keep the teens and 16-25 year olds busy while you chill out, Towersey is a fantastic festival for the whole family.
By car – Thame is very easy to get to from Oxford. Just follow the Headington Road, join the A40 then head onto the A418 onto Oxford Road, through Tiddington before arriving at Thame. There’s ample parking, including at the Cattle Market, on the High Street, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s car parks and off Southern Road.
By bus – from Oxford the easiest way to get to the town is by getting Arriva’s 280/X8 which goes from the city centre, through Headington, Wheatley and then to Thame, then continues to Haddenham (including the station) and Aylesbury. The bus is fairly frequent, stops at the town hall - plus there’s a useful and fairly accurate app so you can track the buses.
By train – From Oxford station, you can get the train to Haddenham and Thame Parkway which is about 2.5 miles from Thame. It is possible to walk from the town to the station but there aren’t proper footpaths so you’re either faced with walking on the road or through fields filled with cows. If you don’t want to take the bus, taxi company CabCo are very reliable but make sure to book one in advance if it’s late at night or see if you can share a lift!
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