Thursday, July 17, 2008

the upper Thames and the most expensive baguette ever

Having to try and get some time off during July in order to use up my holiday allowance before September [don't ask - it's a new rule] I thought I espied a window of good weather in this somewhat disappointing summer so I decided to bring forward my long planned but never done trip down the Thames from Cricclade to Oxford. I thought four days should do it as a crew of fellow SoTPers had recently done something similar. So following in their wake I would head out and do the same....

My timing was off... I did'nt know that the air show at Fairford was on, and even though it got cancelled because of the rain the previous week, there were still throngs of people making the drop off a slow affair. Since time was slipping by we decided to ditch Cricclade as a start point and try and launch at Castle Eaton. The nice lady at the Red Lion was more than happy to let me launch so we had a pint to say 'Thanks'. The river was running higher than usual because of the rain, so high in fact that I simply stepped into the canoe off the front lawn and off I shot, into a maze of downed trees and a green slalom course.

Helen and Ted who were minding the car and picking me up later on lost sight of me within seconds and wonderd if I'd make it to St Johns, let alone Oxford.

into the green

After a couple of hourse of avoiding branches and pushing through and in several places, getting the saw out I made it through into clearer water near Inglesham. The current was still running fast and it was some relief to get to St Johns without any problems. I had a chat with the lock keeper, who told me that the Trout was no longer accepting camping unless by prior arrangement - which left me scuppered as it was a fair old paddle down to Rushey lock where there was a camp. Anyhow he phoned the pub and sorted it for me.....

all safe and sound at St Johns

The next morning, after a not so special sleep, the campsite is close to Lechlade bridge and the traffic noise kept me awake, I made a brew on the the woodgas stove and toasted a [proper] muffin on the embers for breakfast and off I went on the long haul down to Shifford all of 15 miles downriver.

Stopping off at Buscot I had a chat with the lock-keeper as we waited for a narrow boat to enter the lock, apparently the groundswell against selling off the houses is gaining and the 'management' might be having second thoughts.

tied up at Buscot

Heading down to Grafton Lock I was was ready for the grumpy advice from the Lock-keeper who wanted to know where my licence was - stuck on the bow like everone else, except of course he was on the other side of the lock. I was warned about Radcot bridge... which I heeded- basically by going down the right hand stream where it said no entry and floated serenely through the old bridge arches.

the killer bridge at Radcot

Unfortuately this knackered any plan I might have had for heading back upstream to the Swan pub for an early lunch, since the flow was just to much to paddle against, so I had to settle for a trip downstream to the Trout at Tadpole Bridge and The Most Expensive Baguette Ever.

I should have guessed when I got there really... there were 'reserved' notices all along the bank and gin palaces and jags all around the place.. but I was hungry and just wanted a pint and a toasty, or a ploughmans or just a sarnie. Why the cost did'nt register I don't know but there was'nt much change from a tenner, but I sat outside with my pint and waited. When it arrived I did'nt dive in immediately, I probably thought there would be more.. like some chips or a decent salad... but no this was it.

that baguette

A retired colonel type and his wife were sitting nearby and exclaimed that they would never eat here 'too damned expensive for very little' was his opinion. They only came for the pleasant setting and a decent pint.

The worst thing was that I was somewhat- unwell - later on so I was hit twice as it were....;(

After the shock at Tadpole Bridge it was some relief to reach the tranquility of Shifford Lock and I set up camp in the orchard and had a pleasant time of it, the only sounds being the weir and the wildlife, and the growling of my upset stomach.

The next day was going to take me to Eysham, but I was making such good time I realised I could make it to Godstow in one hit, but I needed to call Helen to get her to pick me up a day early. Despite the modern advances in telecom technology, mobile phones are pretty damn useless unless you turn them on, which Helen had'nt. Since I could'nt be sure whether the message would be read I decided to stick with plan A and camp at Eynsham after all. With a stong current and brisk wind from behind I made Bablock Hythe in very quick time, only to find that the pub was shut and that the rest of the place consisted of a massive caravan site... so I pressed on.

The day was glorious, the only problem being the plethora of large and larger planes spoiling the tranquility..

plane. big. noisy.

I was at Eynsham Lock by 2pm and was glad I had decided to stop over. The tent was up in no time and lunch was ready. I spent the rest of the day wandering around and reading, then had a reasonably priced meal up at the Talbot.

Eynsham camp- tranquility base

Since I only had a few miles to go the next day I lingered the next morning and then literally floated down stream, letting the current do the work, and picking up the obligatory SotP water shot-

All too soon Godstow Lock was up ahead and once through that It was a hard and fast pull up against the still fast weir current into the backwaters under one of the arches of the old Godstow/Wolvercote bridge for an exit into the watermeadow park

journey's end

So was it worth it.. yes, since it was my first multiday trip on a river of any consequence, and I wanted to solo it, so that when I take S down in a few weeks it won't be a complete trip into the unknown.

Next time I'll take a lot less gear, camp at the quietest of the lock sites, and make sure I bypass The Trout at Tadpole Bridge!