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