EPIPHANY’S TRAV­ELS

The Slees cel­e­brate their wed­ding an­niver­sary on one of their favourite rivers, the Thames, be­fore re­turn­ing to the Ox­ford Canal

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT AND PIC­TURES BY FIONA & JOHN SLEE

The Slees cel­e­brate their wed­ding an­niver­sary on one of their favourite rivers

What an idyl­lic life”. How many times have we heard that as we peer up to gon­goo­zlers from the bot­tom of a lock or try to con­verse while strug­gling with stiff and heavy lock gear? We have to agree – mostly, as the life of con­tin­u­ous cruis­ers of­fers free­dom, choice, bu­colic sum­mer coun­try­side and vil­lages, towns and cities, with lots to ex­plore. We seem to have no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, no sched­ule and a re­lax­ing life­style.

How­ever, this can be an il­lu­sion: a lit­tle like the swan sail­ing serenely by and pad­dling like mad un­derneath. What ob­servers do not see is the sud­den change of plans be­cause of ap­point­ments, fam­ily com­mit­ments, ill­ness, boat main­te­nance and stop­pages. Then there are the un­ex­pected lit­tle nig­gles such as run­ning out of gas, find­ing a bro­ken El­san point or a wa­ter tap that doesn’t work.

All this pre­am­ble is be­cause we had to change our plans to stay on the River Thames for a few months and re­turn to the canals for some boat main­te­nance, hos­pi­tal ap­point­ments, fam­ily com­mit­ments and to avoid win­ter stop­pages. But, de­ter­mined, we re­turned to our favourite river for a month or so.

Our time on the Thames was glo­ri­ous, the weather won­der­ful and the river be­nign. Leav­ing the Ox­ford Canal, the lock in Dukes Cut at Wolver­cote Junc­tion only has a small rise and fall but it is rather shabby, im­me­di­ately be­low the rail­way line. Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing the lock and over­grown veg­e­ta­tion, we turned on to Wolver­cote Mill Stream. The Mill is no more, hav­ing pro­duced pa­per for many years, with raw goods de­liv­ered by barge. The lower part of the stream is no longer nav­i­ga­ble and we turned right to­wards the River Thames above Kings Lock.

The wide vis­tas on the reach be­low Eyn­sham Lock greeted us – one of my favourite parts of the river as it flows through mead­ow­land. There are some lovely spots to moor, some of which had been cleared of veg­e­ta­tion, making it easy to put ropes and pins ashore. The locks on the Up­per Thames above Ox­ford are all man­ual; most are manned

by very friendly lock-keep­ers but are ‘self-ser­vice’ dur­ing their ab­sence at meal times or when they are do­ing other work as­so­ci­ated with the locks and weirs.

One of our favourite moor­ings is above Eyn­sham Lock, be­yond Swin­ford Toll Bridge and we put the pins in there for a few days. The vil­lage of Eyn­sham is just about walk­a­ble, Ox­ford is reach­able by bus and the views are lovely. De­cid­ing to go down­stream, we turned around and be­gan our de­scent to Ox­ford.

We had heard that the Thames was shal­low and chan­nel mark­ers were ev­i­dence of this. Th­ese made some of the bends rather tight.

Fa­mous pubs are a fea­ture of the Up­per Thames, be­cause of the Morse and Lewis de­tec­tive se­ries on TV. We enjoy spot­ting them when we watch and have vis­ited most. The Trout at God­stow is one, reached over the an­cient pack­horse bridge and sit­ting be­side the weir stream. It was orig­i­nally built as a hospice for the nearby 12th cen­tury God­stow Nun­nery, the re­mains of which are be­side God­stow Lock.

Port Meadow is a won­der­ful an­cient, picturesque large flood meadow be­low God­stow. Com­mon land, grazed by cat­tle and horses, it is lovely in all weath­ers. Never ploughed, there are many ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains; its history

in­cludes bat­tles, horse rac­ing and use as an air­field. Al­legedly, a row­ing trip from Ox­ford to God­stow by Lewes Car­roll and the Lid­dle girls was the ger­mi­na­tion of

Alice’sAd­ven­turesinWon­der­land.

The Isis, as the Thames is known as it flows down­stream, is pop­u­lar for row­ing and the Univer­sity of Ox­ford makes full use of the long reaches, its boathouses lin­ing the banks be­low Christ Church Meadow. One of my favourite oc­cu­pa­tions is spot­ting the few re­main­ing or­nate Col­lege Barges that were used as bases for row­ers and spec­ta­tors be­fore the boathouses were built. Moored along Christ Church Meadow at race times, they must have been quite a sight. The Cor­pus Christi Barge, moored near Don­ning­ton Bridge and now res­i­den­tial, is my favourite as my brother was a rower and I pos­si­bly went on it when I was very young.

Leav­ing Ox­ford be­hind, the pretty If­fley Lock and deep Sand­ford Lock, like Os­ney, con­tinue the elec­tri­fied Thames Locks. An­other favourite moor­ing is above Sand­ford – but with the fill­ing of the deep­est lock on the non-tidal Thames, the lev­els can go up and down, caus­ing a list. How­ever, the Kings Arms be­side the lock is al­ways tempt­ing and so we stopped for a few days. We then made for Abing­don. This town wel­comes boaters, with ex­ten­sive, pleas­ant, free five-day moor­ings on both sides of the river.

At Clifton Lock we met Steve, the sin­gle-handed boater who helped us with our bro­ken throt­tle ca­ble on the River Nene. In the lock-keeper’s ab­sence, he worked the lock, re­leas­ing us to­wards the abbey town of Dorch­ester, near Days Lock. Al­though a bit of a walk from the meadow moor­ings, it is worth a visit.

Con­tin­u­ing down­stream through Shilling­ford and Ben­son Lock, we avoided the busy pay-for moor­ings at Walling­ford. The lovely, long, open reach to Cleeve Lock is fol­lowed by Gor­ing Lock and Gor­ing Gap, where the Thames slips be­tween the hills to the pop­u­lar moor­ings at Beale Park. Af­ter a few days it was time to de­scend Whitchurch Lock to moor at Pang­bourne Meadow. With sad­ness, we de­cided to turn around – we needed to re­turn to the Ox­ford Canal for a new flue and chim­ney.

It took a week or so to re­turn, paus­ing at the Bee­tle & Wedge for a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tory meal as we reached 40 years of mar­riage!

Epiphany takes ad­van­tage of the free five-day moor­ings at Abing­don

At Walling­ford moor­ings and above, Fiona and John cel­e­brate at the Bee­tle & Wedge

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