The Thames Path – Bablock Hythe to Oxford

2015-04-26 11.41.18

lambing underway!

Last October I wrote here about our continued wandering along the Thames Path as we wend our way generally from Sea to Source. We, the Textiliste and our two Kiwi friends, tend to have the winter off so we have only just reconvened for the last few sections.

The river is ambling now, through fields and meadows, rarely fast or vigorous. The scenery feels unchanging and, indeed, were we to be dropped onto any one of the last few sections it would be difficult to identify where we were. Even the low rolling hills and woods meld the one into the other of our memories and the locks are often uniform and a standard 1920s cute.

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somnambulant river

We cross the river few times, there are no complicated detours or hedge jumping so we concentrated on our conversations.

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locks empty today

The day was cold too, after last night’s rain – a welcome relief after many dry weeks – and we saw barely a dozen other walkers over our ten miles and fewer boats. The pub – The Trout at Wolvercote – was rammed mind.

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The old toll bridge at Eynsham

The sharp- eyed among you will notice the direction of travel has changed as we returned towards Oxford, a source to sea orientation. Logistics, dear boy, logistics as Harold Macmillan might have said but didn’t. We are now stretching our avowed aim to be green and climate-considerate by utilising public transport wherever possible. Hereabouts the stations and buses close to the route have thinned out so for now it is train to one station, a cab to our end point and then back to said station to return to London and its multifaceted transport menagerie. For ease of hailing a cab, and to limit journey times we caught the 9.35 from Paddington to Oxford – an hour and a sneeze – and cabbed to Bablock Hythe.

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Odd sight; massive willows being chopped to sumps? Disease or maintenance? It wasn’t at all clear.

The Feryman’s Inn suggest we can cross the river but that option is not to be trusted so we started out on the north bank and immediately left it to cut through a chalet development. These prefabricated boxes have a distinct post war feel to them – a lot of gnomes and plastic conifers but, snobbery to one side, they provide homes for many, especially agricultural workers. My dad had a little ditty about it, which has a certain odd feel today, a bit like reading Noddy books:

Down in the Jungle

Living in a tent

Cheaper than a prefab

No rent.

When I searched wiki it told me Paul McCartney had nabbed this English ‘catch phrase’ that comes from a wartime comic, Charlie Chester and incorporated it into a Wings song, Mrs Vanderbilt. It also says the Chester version was ‘bungalow’ rather than ‘prefab’ Oh well, bang goes the romance of my memory.

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there were others about

Once off the road we struck north a the river meander hither and yon, passing a number of dead or diseased looking willows with some huge funeral pyres mounted up. Early bonfire night?

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Funeral Pyres?

The fields suggested flooding to be an issue here with the sheep and new borns grazing on rough soil. There did seem to be an large number of triplets – I always assumed twins to be the ideal but maybe economies of scale are relevant here too.

After the first lock, we crossed the river and headed for the old arched bridge near Eynsham – the Swinbridge. This is one of two remaining toll bridges over the river, still entitled to the same toll as when the grant was given in the Eighteenth Century. A young man worked feverishly to collect every 2 pence from cars going in each direction. He had to be very flexible!

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some life at last

We had decided to give the Talbot Inn a miss. One of our party had been recently and not been impressed. But the clouds had parted, we found a bench out of the wind and enjoyed a picnic.

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The river sometimes splits, mostly for the smaller weirs hereabouts

It was while sitting here that John, one of our companions, explained his busy week a short while ago. Being a proud Kiwi he had taken part in the Anzac commemorations of the Gallipoli fiasco in 1915/16. It turned out he had been interviewed by the BBC. His father had been at Gallipoli – his father was 50 when John came along. He signed up as soon as  he could and had been on the beaches for some time when yet another attempt to take the ridges from the Turks was proposed. Volunteers were called for and John’s father put his hand up. So did his best friend but said friend was not picked. John’s father and friend were so close they appealed to the CO who agreed to let the friend join in. The platoon took the ridge and held it for 18 hors before being driven back. Only three men survived, one being John’s father; his best friend did not return.

John’s father found the guilt difficult to accept, but being a man of a generation when the stiff upper lip defined manhood and PTSD was 75 years away, no one helped. As John explained his father maintained a happy countenance seemingly unaffected by his experiences; but the horrors returned at night – once he was found having smashed his knuckles on a  bed post, convinced a Turk was trying to kill him.

He suffered awful wounds to his thigh that had him convalescing in London and around until 1916 when he returned with his regiment to the Western front, a quartermaster feeding the regiment under appalling conditions. Eventually he volunteered to be trained as a pilot and was in Cambridgeshire when the war ended. My own grandfather was in the Royal Flying Corps, convalescing from crashing his plane on return to England and was in East Anglia. The romantic in me would have loved them to have met.

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The long path ahead

Time passes as you walk and reminisce and speculate and dream. We reached one of the many Trout Inn’s along this stretch of the Thames and stopped for tea. Soon enough the meadows before the railway appeared, pretty much unchanged since William the Conqueror gifted them to the Burgesses of Oxford. Sadly my phone died hereabouts so you will need to use your imagination.

We’d covered ten miles, it didn’t feel anything like and we were some on our way back to London and some well earned dinner.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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25 Responses to The Thames Path – Bablock Hythe to Oxford

  1. lindahuber says:

    Thanks as always – following your blog is like having a wee holiday every couple of days, with the odd excursion back to childhood days and dreams thrown in for good measure – keep up the good work! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. willowdot21 says:

    I think this is a beautiful post you have caught it just as it is ! The Willows I think you will find have been Pollarded there four in the gardens outside our house and they butchered er sorry pollarded regularly and they always grow back beautifully! read more here https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=156 . Now I was amazed to read , in your post that : “Soon enough the meadows before the railway appeared, pretty much unchanged since William the Conqueror gifted them to the Burgesses of Oxford.” I did not they had in Will the Conger’s day! 😉 Great post .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. noelleg44 says:

    Many of your pictures have a dreamlike quality to them, a feeling of bygone days. When you talked about the chalet development, prefabricated boxes, I immediately thought of the Malvina Reynolds song, Little Boxes: “And they were all made out of ticky tacky. And they all looked just the same.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jools says:

    I’m loving the way you take your readers on these whimsical rambles, urban and rural, sharing your snapshots. I had the pleasure of joining friends on a narrowboat in Oxfordshire for a day last summer. We chugged through locks, passing meadows and touching the fringes of Oxford before ending our meandering day at The Trout at Wolvercote. Perfect! Thank you for reminding me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ula says:

    First of all, I really enjoy reading your posts for all the Britishisms.
    Have you ever read W.G. Sebald? In one of his books (I can’t remember which and can’t be bothered to go upstairs to check), either Rings of Saturn or The Emigrants (I think), it starts with a man walking and it kind of goes on dreamlike for a while. This post reminded me of that passage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      No I don’t know Sebald but now you’ve mentioned him I will check him out. And I’m glad you lie my quirky way – my Britishisms. That is truly a compliment I will treasure. You’re English is fantastic btw – where did you learn it and polish it? (there I am, making assumptions it is not your first language so apologies if I am being a victim of stereotyping!)

      Like

      • Ula says:

        I grew up in Chicago, so English is my native language. I have that ghastly Midwestern American accent. 😉 Brits spot me miles away. Polish is technically also my native, but it doesn’t feel like it. There are many intricacies and grammar rules I struggle with, but most people are fooled and say I speak it well. My thoughts and inner life is all in English, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        See me and my assumptions. I should have spotted the accent!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Charli Mills says:

    Fun to meander with you along the Thames. Yes, I’d like to think that you and your friend had convalescing grandfathers who might have known one another.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Autism Mom says:

    I love how you weave together natural beauty, history, culture, human experience in a 10-mile walk. So well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      The ramblings of a rambler.. Thanks Elizabeth. Have you sorted your London itinerary yet btw? I am now in town from 13th to 20th. Scotland has been pushed back a week.

      Like

  8. restlessjo says:

    Enjoyed the ramble, Geoff 🙂 Didn’t really need my boots.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. rogershipp says:

    Thanks for the story. Loved the pictures. I have always wanted to live a while on a houseboat? Maybe on my bucket list?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Peaceful Staithes | restlessjo

  11. Pingback: The Thames Path – Bablock Hythe to Tadpole Bridge | TanGental

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