Ending it all: the Thames Path and reaching the Source.

2015-06-06 09.08.41

The Source – not far now!

I’ve been walking the River Thames for three and a half years. In day long sections, starting, oddly in Staines (bear with me), walking to the barrier east of Woolwich and then about facing and heading east towards the Source.

thames walk weekend cricklade 007

May 2012 and the river is near bursting its banks; very different three years on

We almost made it to the Source in 2012, but having arrived in Cricklade we were told the path was at least knee deep in water and it would be 12.5 miles of wading So we postponed that section until now.

It has been a bit of an epic and the fractured nature of some of it has detracted from the enjoyment that comes with continuity. But over these last few weeks we, the Famous Four, have filled in the missing pieces, eventually arriving at last Saturday morning with us standing by the road side near Cirencester ready to head north west to find the Source and then walking back to Cricklade to join up with where we finished those three years ago.

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On the way to the source; where’s this river?

The route was clear, the walking easy, the weather a little nippy but with the chance of sun later. We set off with a spring in our step, out to find the Spring where it would all begin. We found this.

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A barely readable plinth that said ‘this is the source’

And this.

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Stones and … what’s that?

A wet cow pat.

But bugger all water. Indeed the topography suggests you’d need a heck of a lot for the water to turn into a stream from here. When the Thames Conservators chose this spring as the Source it must have been a darn sight wetter than recently.

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there must have been a river here once?

Oh well, nil desperandum, we strode along a line of trees and crossed the main road. There was a bit of a channel but no water. The book warned us about the lack of water sometimes; maybe Lyd Well, up ahead would be damp. There were encouraging signs; rubble like a river bed, dried weed on stones. Even the well itself spoke of a former dampness but, frankly, the Ancient Mariner would have to rewrite his epic were he hereabouts.

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The Lyd Well

Onwards, past a forlorn and redundant bridge and into  a wood. There were more plants that like rivers here; also willow. And finally a grotty puddle that would insult a three year old’s bladder. The start. Wow?That it?  Like losing your virginity – sticky and disappointing.

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Said redundant bridge

Three miles in and we started seeing flow. The occasional flash of colour – Saturday had to be hatching day for the damsel flies because the foliage regularly exploded in matchsticks of blue.

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At last a bit of a river.

Once the river started – a brook really – it gathered pace. Through Ewen we trod, too early for the Baker’s Arms and on towards Sommerton Keynes (which, once again we reached too early for a coffee – rats!). The fields were peopled with buttercups, the countryside charming with some evidence of where past floods had taken their toll and defences erected to channel any  water surge away.

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At last all the pieces joined together

We had always planned on lunch at Ashton Keynes, the book telling us of two pubs. The first was closed. Oh no. I could tell my companions were far from happy. But happily the White Hart opened its doors to us, fed us baked potatoes with a variety of fillings and provided us with a Kiwi couple who’d just stated the walk and were heading off for the barrier backpacks in place. We felt humbled by our dithering.

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One of thousands of azure matchsticks

Just before lunch we started the second phase of the walk, which takes the path and the river through the former gravel pit workings that are now a large body of inland lakes that mostly provide  a nature reserve home to abundant wildlife as well as venues for fishing and water sports.

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Ashton Keynes – typical chocolate box village

We saw a lot of bird life and the lush vegetation and at one point sunbathing terrapins! It was a splendid contrast to the morning though at several points the industrial scale of the gravel extraction had obliterated the river’s course.

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How did they get here?

Eventually the open water wearied and it was good to turn up a  slight hill, Hailstone Hill, away from the river to cross, first, the disused Cirencester to Swindon railway, a Beeching closure in 1964 and then the Cricklade canal, an earlier victim of transport changes and cuts.

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The lambs have grown…

Down the far side of the canal embankment we entered North Meadow, now owned by English Heritage. This is Lammas Land, which is named after an ancient common law right that allows cattle owners to graze their cattle on the water meadow once the hay has been cut at Lammas, the ancient festival day. First cattle then horses and finally sheep are allowed on before the livestock is moved off at Candlemas (February 2nd) to allow the pasture to recover and the hay regrown. The local Cricklade worthy decided on the exact dates for the cutting and the release of livestock depending on the length of the spring and the winter. Nowadays this is considered to be one of the largest wild flower meadows in the country though, as with some much just now it is predominantly buttercup.

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a common sight

And here’s a little film  took.

From here, with the church of St Sampson is sight, we knew we were nearly done. The bridge at Cricklade even told us what we had embarked upon, helpfully, in case we forgot.

2015-06-06 15.06.38

Really?

The day did nearly end in disappointment. My trusty if out of date guidebook had said the Cricklade cafe was open until 4 pm. It being 3.15 we strolled the high street in search of a celebratory cup of tea. Once again, horrors. A hand written sign told us it was shut from 3 pm. Why, cruel world? Why?

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St Sampson’s Church, Cricklade

The village fete, that’s why. Happily we found said fete, demolished the tea and some rather nice cake and set our compass east for home. We’ve conquered the Thames so what next?

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Our final view of he Thames; gentle river this, not the raging torrent that hurtles through its embanked walls in central London, at once both exhilarating and cruel

This is a Monday Walk for Restless Jo

 

 

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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22 Responses to Ending it all: the Thames Path and reaching the Source.

  1. Well done for the achievement, the writing, and the photographs. We could feel we walked with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    Fabulous! Love the Lyd Well… Looks do ancient. Yes, so what IS next???

    Liked by 1 person

  3. gordon759 says:

    Nice pic of Enallagma cyathigerum

    Liked by 1 person

  4. willowdot21 says:

    Great post Geoff! lovely photos, what next… The Kennet and Avon Canal I can highly recommend it !!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. restlessjo says:

    Got to admire perseverance, Geoff 🙂 Many thanks for the link.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jools says:

    What a lovely account – and great pictures too. Thanks for sharing your walks with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. julitownsend says:

    What an interesting journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rachel M says:

    Turtles in the Thames; I never knew!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Annecdotist says:

    Congratulations on completing your journey and glad you got your cake

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Charli Mills says:

    A pleasure to walk through the dry spots and damp, to get to see this wonder I’ve only read about. Damsel flies were hatching on Elmira Pond when I left.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : more Yarmouth! | restlessjo

  12. Heyjude says:

    Now this is what I call a walk. Well done Famous Four. What a triumph! I hate it when you arrive at a café salivating for the coffee and cake only to find it closed 15 minutes earlier 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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