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