Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path day 4, Newbridge to Oxford

Walked 5 May, 2002.

Up early and had an unremarkable breakfast -- the only food I managed to eat at the Rose Revived, and then headed out into the quiet morning.

Conveniently the path starts from the garden at the Rose Revived. I took a last look at the inn:

And took a last look at the New Bridge from the garden:

And then I continued downriver, just meandering along. I passed Northmoor Lock. A photocopied pamphlet I picked up at some point during the walk tells me that flash locks were "difficult and dangerous to operate"; while Wikipedia tells me that:
a set of boards, called paddles, supported against the current by upright timbers called rymers which normally kept the level of water above it to navigable levels. Boats moving downstream would wait above the lock until the paddles were removed, which would allow a "flash" of water to pass through, carrying the boats with it. Upstream boats would be winched or towed through the lock with the paddles removed. Considerable skill was involved both in removing the paddles in a timely manner and navigating the boat through the lock. Flash locks of this type have been documented since at least 1295 C.E.
Weir paddles, Northmoor Lock:

Looking upstream to Northmoor Lock, you'll note that they also have a traditional lock, so boats no longer have to be winched upstream or flashed downstream!

Sadly, the path was about to take a diversion. Sharp mentions that there's a foot ferry operated by the publican at Bablock Hythe, and that it was "the best known of all the Thames crossings".

But as the pub wasn't yet open and there was no ferryman to be found, I followed the path. I do wonder whether I could have crossed the river and followed the towpath, which is clearly present on the map, or whether it would have been blocked. But I turned away from the river and followed the roadways around.

As always, it was a relief to get back to the river. Somehow the channel here near Swinford Farm looked very deep.

Soon I arrived at Swinford Bridge, one of two privately owned toll bridges on the Thames.

It was built by the Earl of Abingdon around 1770, and tolls collected on the bridge are exempt from income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, or VAT as per an act passed in 1767 by George III. The toll was more than doubled in the 1990s, apparently. How much is the toll?

Apparently, before then it was 2p. The toll is taken manually. Yep, manually.

As a pedestrian I could saunter along the bridge for free. Here's a view looking upstream from Swinford Bridge:

Apparently the toll taking huge backups on the road, and a lot of anger in the local community. In 2009 the bridge was sold to a private investor for over a million pounds. Locals have been trying to get the toll scrapped, to no avail.

I managed to catch the toll taker in a quiet moment. We chatted briefly between cars. "Some days I could use six arms, we're so busy!" It reminded me of a guy in a tollbooth in the states who once told me, gruffly, "in a fairy tale I'd be called a troll". The gentleman of Swinford Bridge was much more charming.

I decided it was time for lunch, so I stopped in at the Talbot, a handsome old inn.

Sitting outside in the sun I had a remarkable sausage and chips ... and a pint of cider, of course.

After lunch I re-crossed the bridge (yep, it was indeed busy):

and headed back to the path. 

Very soon I reached Swinford Lock

and then, sadly, my camera battery died! Yep, that's what happens when you don't pack a charger for a three-day trip, I'm afraid.

However, I kept on downstream, going through beautiful Wytham Great Wood and entering the stretch of the Thames known as Isis.

Past King's Weir, along some lovely winding river, and underneath the noisy Oxford Bypass bridge.

I passed the Oxford Boundary Marker,

and then arrived at Godstow. What's great about Godstow? The Trout -- the third Trout on the River Thames.

And it is, indeed, very very lovely.

So lovely that I was able to get my lovely friend Suz, visiting at the time, to go to Oxford one afternoon so I could go back along part of the river where I hadn't been able to take photos! Here she is on the terrace of the Trout.

Let's be honest, it's not hard to convince either of us to go on an adventure that involves a pint in a pretty pub! Fortified, we crossed the bridge that leads from the Trout terrace and headed downstream.

First we passed the weir near the Trout. DANGER.

And then the ruins of Godstow Abbey, founded in 1139. It was the burial site of Rosamund de Clifford, a former pupil of the Abbey and mistress of Henry II. Rosamund -- "the Fair Rosamund" or "The Rose of the World" was famous for her beauty. After she died, Henry II paid to enlarge the Abbey. 

The Abbey was suppressed under the Second Act of Dissolution in 1539, and fell into ruin. Amusingly, according to Sharp the best preserved part of the Abbey is the Trout Inn, originally built as its hospice!

A little farther downstream is lovely Port Meadow, across the river from the path. 

Sharp says it is "unchanged since William the Conqueror presented it to the burgesses of Oxford as a free common".  Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), used to take the Liddell daughters on picnics here; one day he rowed them up the river while telling them the story of Alice. 

Meanwhile, on the west bank where we were walking, we passed a field that still clearly showed its medieval field pattern and I got a tiny, nerdy thrill. 

Not long after we spotted some cows across the backwater, on Fiddler's Island. 

And then, suddenly, terrace houses and we were in Oxford proper.

Then the bus back to London!

Next up: Oxford to Clifton Hampden

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Acanthus Stitch-a-Long, part 5

First and foremost, I hope you are all well and safe. It's been a very strange three weeks; other than slipping out at 6:15 every morning for a walk, I've been out of the house three times, once to pick up a prescription and twice for groceries. We've been very very lucky so far; I hope you have been too.

Of course, staying inside and not commuting does mean more time for stitching, if there's such a thing as a silver lining here. And I've made a good bit of progress. Here's where I was last time from the front:

and, because it's so hard to see, here's where I was from the back:

A couple of weeks of stitching later and -- hooray! It was time to roll the frame. Here it is from the front:

and here's the back:

So then I rolled the frame up, which was a little like having a new start. The top of the pattern is just past the curve of the frame!

Here's the back, just waiting for progress (note that the pattern ends just there!):

And then I still had a week to stitch ... so here's where I am now! I stitched the two bluey-green leaves, and started in on the big browny leaves.

And here's the back:

It's interesting to see how the pattern isn't an exact match from side to side -- though whether that's by design or accident I don't really know. But I still like to do the leaves in pairs, if only to remind myself what the different colors are. By our next check in I'd like to have the brown leaves, the grey-green leaves, and the limey green leaves visible ... and perhaps even roll the frame in preparation for the last set!

The other stitchers in this stitch-a-long all make amazing, and inspiring projects, so check out everyone's blogs to see what they're all up to.

Avis, Claire, Gun, Carole, Sue, Constanze, Christina, Kathy, Margaret, CindyHeidi, Jackie, Hayley, Megan, Deborah, Mary MargaretRenee, Carmela, Jocelyn, SharonDaisy, AnneConnieAJ, JennyLaura, Cathie, and Linda

See you on April 19th for our next check-in!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

March OMG complete : embroidered dish towels, part 2

Hi everyone -- hope you and yours are safe and healthy.

I'm happy to report that I completed my March OMG to embroider the second dish towel. Here's where I was at the start of the month:

And here is the result -- along with the towel I stitched in February.

It's humbling and yet satisfying to see that I became a better embroiderer as the projects went on! It's obvious which one -- and even which part of which one -- was stitched first. Anyway, I think the recipient will be pleased with them, and I hope she actually uses them.

The One Monthly Goal link-up is organized by Elm Street Quilts with the idea that we can just focus on one task and make progress. You can see how everyone did in their March projects on the Finish Party page! Or choose an OMG project of your own and join us in April. I still haven't decided what to pick up next, though it may be a sashiko project that I've been thinking about for a long time. We'll see!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

North of 60 : Kicksledding and other adventures in Yellowknife, day 3

We had seen our post-Blachford days in Yellowknife as something of an "insurance policy" -- extra chances to see the Aurora, plus a visit to the Snowking Castle were the only things on our list. So how to fill the days?

Enter Sundog Adventures.

I'd seen a brochure in the hotel lobby offering kicksled tours across Back Bay on the Great Slave Lake. I looked on their website and saw that the tour included a visit to the Ice Cave and I was sold!

We stopped in at the Dancing Moose Cafe for breakfast -- we both had the Arctic Char Eggs Benedict in the cosy spot. We were lucky and got a table right away; soon all the tables were full. But service was great and the food was excellent. No wonder it's popular!

Afterward we went up to the Bush Pilots Monument for stunning views of Yellowknife on such a gorgeous day. Amusingly, I watched a woman take two dogs on a kicksled across another part of the bay and thought, "That looks like what we'll be doing." Spoiler alert: I had seen some of our dogs and our guide!

We walked across the bridge to Latham Island and went to the Sundog Adventures cabin, where our guide greeted us and told us about kicksleds. They're Scandinavian in origin, where they've been popular for 150 years. The "modern" kicksled design, of two ski-like runners with footbeds connected to handlebars that you twist to steer, appeared in 1909. They're most often propelled, as the name implies, by kicking -- like you do on a skateboard, sorta. But you can also attach dogs to them!

Our kicksleds had been adapted for being pulled by dogs with the addition of a "brake pad" that you could step on, suspended between the runners, which added enough friction to make the dogs stop. After trying out the sleds in the cabin, we walked across the street and onto the frozen lake to meet the dogs.

The dogs were resting happily in some straw-filled shelter boxes. We had been a little worried, before, about the dogs and how they were treated, etc., but they were clearly happy and healthy, and very nice. We met all the dogs, including puppy Tuk Tuk, who was just along for the run.

We got on our sleds, the dogs were attached, and we were off! We had been told three commands:

  • "Hike up!" to get the dogs moving or moving faster; a "let's go" sort of thing.
  • "Whoa whoa whoa" to get the dogs to stop; and
  • "On by!" to move the dogs past a distraction.

Thus armed, we set off. The dogs knew the trail and where we were going, so I didn't need to steer. I did attempt, once, to assist the dogs by kicking, but it made me feel super unsteady and I felt like I almost lost the sled for a few seconds. So I just stood evenly on the runners and let the dogs do the work.

When we got to the other side of the bay, we unhitched the dogs, put them in more straw-lined boxes for a little break, and we walked through Back Bay Cemetery. Apparently the soil wasn't deep enough to bury folk on Latham Island -- it's that Canadian Shield bedrock -- so the buried their early settlers across the bay. There are more than 40 people buried there, but they were all hidden by the snow.

A few minutes walk and we arrived at the "Ice Caves" -- not really an ice cave, but also not really a frozen waterfall ... there's just a steady seep/drip of water that grows and grows over the course of the winter. Still, it's pretty cool.

Eventually we headed back to the sleds and hitched up the dogs again. We kept the same teams (I really liked Wacko and wasn't about to give him up; he reminded me of the canine version of our Bubble.) This time Wil sped off, doing a lot of kicking to help the dogs along. Me? Well, I managed to kick a few times, especially as we got closer to the home base... probably because I was less worried about losing the sled!!!

Once back we said goodbye to the dogs and our guide, we wandered back to downtown, stopping in at The Woodyard, the brewpub operated by NWT Brewing Co. Having had a huge breakfast, we weren't even slightly peckish, but we managed to snag a pair of seats at the bar and enjoyed the beer amidst the bustle.

Then home, and a lot of hassle with our flight reservations. Some sort of miscommunication between the "Chase Travel Concierge" and WestJet and Delta -- all of them agreed that we had reservations and flights, but no one could agree on the ticket number or allow us to check in) which meant an hour plus on the phone and in the end just the advice to go to the airport early and let them sort it out. Spoiler alert: they did, thank goodness.

Later in the evening we had excellent Ethiopian food (yep, you read that right) at Zehabesha, which is the #1 rated restaurant in Yellowknife on TripAdvisor (yep, you read that right, too...).

Late at night, having packed and gotten everything ready, we bundled up one last time and stood in a nearby park for our last Aurora glimpses -- even with the city lights, it was still pretty magical.

Our trip home was tiring and a increasingly odd. Calgary Airport was huge yet seemingly pretty empty, and we had to walk nearly the entire way across it. (Okay, we could have taken the little bus/trolley, but we wanted to hustle...) And then landing at Sea-Tac, where we saw hardly anyone and there was only one person in the Uber/Lyft area. It would be the start of several strange weeks, and we're already wondering when we will get to travel again. I hope you are staying safe, social distancing, and washing your hands.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Travel Tuesday : The Thames Path day 3, Lechlade to Newbridge

written 4 May 2002

Woke up starving and made my way to the breakfast room. At these country inns, the staff have a clear idea of where they want you to sit. And if you make the mistake of sitting at the wrong table, say, one that has been set up for lunch, which is difficult for the untrained eye to see -- it seems to revolve around the way the napkin is folded, or the presence or absence of a bread plate -- they will move you. I have taken to simply sitting down at the nearest table, knowing full well that I'll be moved shortly.

After a huge, heavy, and hearty breakfast I set back out on the Path. I crossed pretty Ha'penny Bridge again under a cloudy sky, but with no signs of rain and only a light wind.

Looking back at Ha'penny Bridge and it's cute little toll house:

I quickly arrived back at St. Johns Lock. A quick hello to Old Father Thames and I continued along the river. I admired handsome Bloomers Hole footbridge, a new crossing on the river.

Once on the other side, I kept moving downstream. David Sharp described the path downstream from the footbridge as being "fenced in, with no shortcuts", and he's not kidding. As the crow flies it's probably less than a mile from the bridge at Blomer's Hole to Buscot Lock, but via the river and the path it's twice as long. There were two couples walking in the same area as me; I kept "passing" them 10 or 20 yards away around the river bends -- like going through the lines at Disneyland.

Eventually the river straightens out a bit and heads towards Eaton Weir, with its sweet little cottage and high-arched footbridge:

Just past the weir I had my first -- and, to be honest, only -- bad experience on the river: 7-8 young men in a motorboat chugging along.

First I heard a somewhat cheery voice saying "Hello!" Thinking to myself "what friendly types these river folk be" I turned, smiled, and said "Hiya" back. Then more "Hello!" "Hello!" and even a "Hey! Hello!". The growing realization that I was being wound up, combined with the fact that I was on a particularly open and empty part of the river, far from the roads, and that there were 7 or 8 of them and only one of me began to make me nervous. I kept walking, wishing that they would speed up or that the path would turn away from the river. The taunts continued -- "Why are you walking alone then?" and "Lost your master?", which I ignored in steely silence. But when one of them said, "I know a good plastic surgeon!" I couldn't stop myself from fixing him with a cold stare and shouting back, "If I were you, I'd get my money back."

I turned back to the path, my heart pounding. Fleeting fears regarding eggs or beer cans or even a group landing crossed my mind. But then some of the kids laughed and teased their friend -- and luckily they decided to chug on down the river and I didn't have to deal with them anymore. In the end I think I got the last laugh; their boat was called "Riverdance" and they were listening to Bon Jovi. Sheesh. And then there were only swans and it was quiet again.

Shortly thereafter I took the turnoff to Kelmscot village, home of William Morris's Kelmscott Manor., to feed my vaguely embarrassing William Morris jones.

The manor wasn't open yet, but I walked through the handsome village to  the lovely Church of St. George, Kelmscot, where Morris, his wife Jane, and his daughters Jenny and May are buried.

I was thrilled to see that the church was open -- unlike the little church in Inglesham the day before -- and went in.

Some medieval paintings survive in the interior:

Along with some handsome medieval carvings:

One imagines Morris furiously defending the church from getting an "upgrade" in the Victorian era...

And Morris's simple gravestone, designed by his friend Philip Webb in the SW corner of the churchyard, reading "William Morris: 1834 - 1896". How fitting, I thought, that the man who designed his first home also designed his last.

As I headed back to the river, I passed the Plough, a wonderful old pub. Not that there was anything wrong with the New Inn, but I wished I had known that the Plough offered accommodation, too -- it would have made these two days of walking a little more even. 

Once back on the path, I settled into an easy rhythm. The sun shone intermittently, and the path stuck to the river. 

I reached Radcot at 12:15, having left Lechlade at 9:40. I wasn't making very good time, so I wasn't going to stop yet... but the call of my bladder was simply too strong. For the 29,000 time I wished I was a boy. So I stopped in at the Swan, which in the intervening 20 years has become "Ye Olde Swan"... but in 2002 was just "The Swan". It was a very handsome pub -- and featured a huge taxidermied pike in a fiberglass case, "caught by J. W. Cooper at Radcot on 14.8.1953".

The path doesn't cross ancient Radcot Bridge, but as the oldest bridge on the Thames it was well worth a diversion. Some parts of the bridge date from the 12th century, though a lot of it was broken apart during the Battle of Radcot Bridge between troops led by Robert de Vere (loyal to Richard II) and an army let by Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. Reconstructed in 1393, the bridge was again damaged during the Wars of the Roses, and then reconstructed with the flattened center arch. There's also a niche that once held a statue of the Virgin Mary. 

The reason this bridge still exists is because the main navigation channel on the Thames had been diverted into a new cut for the Thames and Severn Canal in 1787. And for one I'm happy about that. 

After leaving Radcot, I passed Old Man's Bridge, a handsome footbridge from the 19th century that replaced an older footbridge, that had itself replaced a footbridge over a weir. And now I've said footridge three times in one sentence.

Continuing downstream toward Rushey Lock the river wound back and forth, including a couple of hairpin turns. 

Near Rushey Lock I came across my first cows ... a small herd of youngish Holsteins milled around.

They were perhaps more interested in me than I wanted them to be. This one planted herself across the path in front of me and turned to face me as I approached. As the meadow was road, I simply stepped around the cow, giving her a wide berth before returning to the path behind her.

As I walked I heard a funny shuffling sound. I turned around to see the cow directly behind me -- no more than 18" away. Giving her a stern look, I turned and moved ahead again. Still she followed me, like a puppy. A 1,000 pound puppy. Feeling suspiciously like I'd entered a Disney cartoon -- and a bit worried about managing to get through the gate at the end of the field without my bovine shadow, I turned and say, "No! Bad cow!" while waggling my finger. To my surprise and relief she stopped, then turned and lurched back to the herd.

Near Rushey Lock I had a much nicer boat encounter, spotting "Three Men and a Boat", all cheerfully making their way along the river.

Soon after I arrived at Tadpole Bridge.

Apparently this bridge was built to serve the turnpike road between Bampton and Buckland in the late 18th century.

It's also the location of The Trout #2, where I had decided to stop for lunch.

Though handsome from the outside, it was a disappointment. Gone was the sign, "The Trout, Managed by A. Herring". I arrived at 2:02 by the pub clock and was told that I was too late for hot food as they stopped serving at 2. I essentially begged for anything available and was sold at great expense a very mediocre lamb sandwich -- too much sauce, trying to cover up the overcooked lamb, and served with 8 greasy crisps, it wasn't really what I'd hoped for.

All of it would have been forgivable -- I had arrived after 2, after all -- if the pub had been nicer inside. A few nice old beams, nicely mismatched tables and chairs. But the fireplace had been replaced by a woodstove, the walls were a dusty rose, and there's a distinct lack of taxidermy. I think that, if you're going to be the Trout, you should at least have a trout inside. Oh, and they were playing disco music. In a half empty pub on a Saturday afternoon.

I should note that in the intervening 20 years they have acquired at least one handsome old taxidermied trout (at least according to their website) in addition to turning into a gastropub, so I'm sure it's much nicer now!

Fed (yet disappointed), I headed back to the path for the last part of the day's walk, leaving Tadpole Bridge behind me.

I walked along a narrow path, near some lovely slender willows.

I climbed over a 2-step stile -- which to me is the essence of rambling, somehow -- and into Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve.

Chimney Meadow is "unimproved", and maintained as a habitat for wildlife. I'm really happy to read that they've been able to expand the reserve since 2002, letting former agricultural land go wild, and building spaces to encourage wildlife. 

After leaving the reserve the path follows the Shifford Lock Cut, a half-mile channel made in 1898 to allow boats to bypass a shallow, meandering stretch of the Thames. I crossed a wooden footbridge across the cut, built high enough to allow clearance for boats beneath. It seems that the area enclosed by the Thames and the cut has since been acquired by the reserve, too -- lovely!

I cannot tell you how much I wish I had known that Duxford Ford is exactly that -- a place for pedestrians to cross the river. Sure, you'd get your feet wet, but still. I would have loved to see it. Apparently the Thames Path used to divert from the river near Tenfoot Bridge and rejoin it at the ford.

I passed the Shifford Lock and just kept heading along. I didn't even take notice of Shifford itself, which Sharpe believed had been a major town in the 11th century, saying that King Alfred held a meeting of the English Parliament at Shifford with "many bishops, learned men, proud earls and awful knights." However, later scholarship believes the "Sifford" mentioned in the Proverbs of Alfred doesn't refer to this place.

A few more bends in the river through the woods, and then the river straightened out and I got my first glimpse of New Bridge.

The New Bridge dates from the 13th century, and was built by monks on the orders of King John in order to improve communications between the wool towns in the south of England and the Cotswold farms. This was the new bridge because it was the newest of three bridges in the area (Radcot Bridge which we passed, and a bridge at Lechlade, which was replaced in the 19th century), albeit only by about 50 years.

The bridge is built from stones quarried at Taynton, rafted down the nearby Windrush. Apparently a busy wharf once operated here as Taynton stone also helped build many Oxford colleges and even St. Paul's Cathedral.

Now a pub stands on either side. As I would be spending the night at the Rose Revived, I decided to stop at the Maybush first. Here's the lovely garden at the Maybush, complete with a view of the bridge (and the Rose Revived, across the river!)

It was a little surprising to see the amount of traffic -- heavy traffic -- that crossed the bridge here.

I enjoyed a pint at the pretty Maybush -- though I've just read that the pub has closed and reopened several times. It's a great location, though I could imagine it being a struggle outside the summer months.

I then went to the Rose Revived, my inn for the evening. It looks like they have also had a major revamp, but it still looks very nice. I didn't take many notes, somehow, other than that it was very busy, had major queues for food, and I believe I was told I couldn't get dinner (even though I was staying at the inn). So I had one of the rather smushed sandwiches I had brought from London along with a pint of cider and called it a night.

Next up: Newbridge to Oxford