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

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