Rising in the Cotswolds, the Thames flows through the heart of England on its way to the North Sea. This beautiful river, whose wandering course links together so many villages, towns and cities, is at the centre of English history. Since pre-Roman days it has been a major transport artery, and its 330 kilometre (205 mile) route has determined social, economic, political and regional boundaries over many centuries. Throughout history writers, artists and musicians have been drawn to its banks, adorned as they are with Royal palaces, country houses and abbeys. Passing from its source to the sea, via Lechlade, Oxford, Henley, Reading, Windsor and London, the Thames grows from a tiny stream into a mighty tideway, over a mile wide, its route a vital thread cutting through the varied hills, woods and farmland that characterise the traditional English countryside.