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

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