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The Odyssey 2009: Day 10

Posted by indigodream on 22 April, 2009

Saturday 18th April: Bablock Hythe to Lechlade

Drilling for oil????

Drilling for oil????

We had a very quiet night on the mooring – no noise from the pub or any other source for that matter. It was interesting to see that the river had risen by several inches overnight – just yesterday’s rainfall making its way downriver. It was just enough water to make the step up to the bank much easier, but not enough to cause any anxiety. It was a salutory reminder that it’s worth mooring with springs so that you have enough movement in your ropes to allow for changes in river levels.

Blue and Lou had a good rummage round the meadow, where, interestingly, they’ve marked the 2007 flood level (on the dog-poo bin!). It must have been a good metre over the level of the bank, which itself was a good metre above current river levels – that’s a LOT of water.  Despite the fact that the weather girl had cheerfully predicted ‘scorchio’ for the weekend, the morning was cool and heavily overcast. We set off just after 9am in the hope of sunshine to come.

Meandering round the meadows

Meandering round the meadows

How the river twists and turns here. Yesterday’s meanderings were just a taster of what we encountered today. The guides say that the maximum length of a craft allowable on the river above Oxford is 109 feet. Aye, you’d get in the locks but I don’t think you’d get round the bends! As Richard wryly commented – “this must be a Brindley waterway!”. And so it could have been, as the river follows an eccentric course through the landscape, but there aren’t any visible contours here in the land of the floodplain. If Telford had decided to canalise the river then a straight course from Lechlade to Oxford would have cut the journey by around 8 miles!

There is stunning countryside around here and it is so quiet – there are now few places in Britain where you can get away from traffic and train noise – this is one of them. Such villages as exist here are small and clustered around beautiful old bridges which seem to carry you back to the 13th and 14th centuries when they would have been used for carrying cattle and other goods from farm to market. Newbridge consists entirely

The graceful pointed arches of Newbridge - one of the oldest on the river (13th Century)

The graceful pointed arches of Newbridge - one of the oldest on the river (13th Century)

of a bridge and two pubs!  Mind you, they did look like good pubs – the ‘Rose Revived’ looked especially appealing. There are countryside moorings on the left upstream of the bridge – £3 a night – bargain!

There were a few boats on the move today – just enough for interest but not so many as to feel crowded. We were particularly taken with nb. Bison – a Somersetshire Coal Canal working boat with a sharp prow which cut sleekly through the water. I think she was actually shorter than us but her shape made her look long and lean – like the greyhounds! We also enjoyed sharing a few locks with nb Sweet Life whose owner had worked his way down from Runcorn single-handed.

Shifford lock has a useful water point and I have to say that the Environment Agency services have been very good. The services are more frequent than I expected, easy to access and there’s good water pressure; the fact that they provide wide-bore hoses at most waterpoints is a big plus – saves us messing about with our own hose reel. I took the dogs for a walk upstream of Shifford while Richard was filling with water. There’s a lovely walk towards Chimney Meadows – initially

Good water pressure at Shifford lock! The tank filled in 5 rather than the usual 35 minutes.

Good water pressure at Shifford lock! The tank filled in 5 rather than the usual 35 minutes.

the path’s wooded and green with the frantic growth of little plants who will soon be shaded out by the broad leaves of the trees above. Then it all opens out to the rich meadows of the flood plain. We could have walked for miles but Richard picked us up where the bank was a little more even and we cruised on.

The twists and turns make it almost impossible to tell which direction boats are going in the distance. Sometimes boats upstream seemed to be at impossible angles to our position, making us think that they were actually on a tributary. But the river then wound its way round the torturous bends to reach each serenely moored boat.

We were amused by cruiser ‘Legless’, whose crew looked admirably sober despite the fact that the sun was well over the yard-arm!

There are two riverside attractions at the ‘villages’ of Tadpole and Radcot which, unlike Newbridge, consist of a bridge

Lovely riverscape

Lovely riverscape

and just one pub! What Radcot lacks in houses it makes up in moored boats – it’s literally a village on the water. There are plenty of visitor moorings downstream of the bridge but they’re surrounded by picnic areas and long-term moorings along an offshoot of the river. It’s obviously a popular spot and I can see why – even I was tempted to join the crowd. We had a sweet pang of nostalgia here as an Anglo-Welsh hire boat tried to moor by coming in close to the bank, hurling crew onto the shore with ropes then manfully tugging the boat into the bank – no mean feat in a river current. Aah, that’s what we used to do…….

Note: Radcot bridge is narrow and boats coming downstream have right of way. Keep a lookout and mind your line – the current which funnels through the narrow arch is pushes the boat around and you need a firm hand on the helm to keep her on course. The scrapes on the bridge at narrowboat height testifies to how tricky it can be to get through here, though there is plenty of width available!.

Local character at Radcot lock - reputedly modelled on a more attractive member of the local boating club!

Local character at Radcot lock - reputedly modelled on a more attractive member of the local boating club!

After Radcot I thought it might now be busy right through to Lechlade, but we were soon back in empty countryside. There’s a fine new lock at Grafton – it looks as if every part of it has been replaced and it looks great. The lock-keeper wasn’t around but the 3-ton gates moved effortlessly. There’s a charming and useful shop at this lock – it’s a general store basically laid out in the front room of the lock cottage and accessed through the lounge window! They had exactly what we needed – tinned dog food. We’d inadvertently run out the night before (horrors!) and the dogs were starving from disdain of dog biscuits (of which there were plenty) 🙂

There are some truly wicked turns on the run up to Buscot Lock. Fortunately the buoy marking the large sandbank on the last turn but one is now back in place (apparently it’s been awol). Just as well, the shoal on the inside of the bend must stretch over half the river’s width at this point.

Apologia: To the narrowboat that I dodged just below Buscot Lock: my sincere apologies – I thought I’d overshot the lock-cut, panicked and turned too soon, straight into your path, before I’d spotted your chimney on the near horizon (blind bend) – my mistake.

Wicked turn and associated sandbank below Buscot Lock

Wicked turn and associated sandbank below Buscot Lock

No harm done, as it happens there was no contact, but the sight of two 60 foot narrowboats swirling around each other with just a few inches clearance must have seemed like a strange ballet. Except we were all too busy going “aaaaargh” to appreciate it at the time. I did apologise to the other boater as we swung past, he smiled and then concentrated on not hitting the sand bank on the bend!

Whee – that was enough excitement for me and I approached the last lock with some relief. After the silence of the river the last lock looms not just with its visual presence but with the gradual return of the noise of human civilisation. The tall spire of Lechlade Church suddenly springs from the flat landscape and announces the town better than any road sign. Lechlade Lock itself is very attractive and has some interesting statuary. The lock-keeper warned us to moor quickly as a group of cruisers were having a rally and the moorings were likely to fill up quickly. Looking upstream, the field next to the lock offers moorings at £4 a night; the next field along, just below the bridge, appears to be free. There are reputedly moorings upstream of the bridge but it looked pretty full so we moored below the bridge next to a well-fenced meadow where Blue and Lou had several greyhound moments – dashing about as if they were back on the track.

Lechlade aglow in the evening sun

Lechlade aglow in the evening sun

We’d made excellent time and arrived earlier than we expected so that gave us time for a wander around town. Lechlade is delightful – it had beautiful and unusual buildings built from soft Cotswold stone that glowed in the golden evening sunshine. The people seemed very welcoming and it’s a very ‘doggie’ town. We’d only been out for 5 minutes when we ran into a couple who have two greyhounds of their own and volunteer at their local Retired Greyhound Trust shelter. We chatted greyhounds for ages. We also picked up a local character – an obviously streetwise scruffy little terrier who took a fancy to the greyhounds and followed us through the town. He didn’t have a collar but looked in good condition – apparently he’s a common sight though no-one knows where he comes from. We also met a delightful couple who had a dainty little lurcher called Phoebe – pale brindle, smaller than a greyhound but bigger than a whippet. Again we chatted for ages – our simple trip to the useful Londis store in town took twice as long as planned!

It'll soon be December......

It'll soon be December......

We dumped the shopping in the boat and headed back to town – it’s not far. The couple with the lurcher had given us a useful guide to pubs – most are dog-friendly but they suggested the Swan in the town centre (just up the road from the supermarket). It’s a  cosy pub full of of friendly locals – the dogs were made especially welcome and we got chatting to the genial locals. We were alarmed by the terrible tale of a local stray, a german shepherd cross, who apparently fatally attacked a greyhound last year. But most of the chat was around the joy of ownings dogs, how bonkers dogs can be and how we love them anyway. The food was plentiful and very good. We ordered a sausage each for the dogs and the chef came out to ask us if we’d like her to slice the sausages so that they’d cool while she was preparing our dinner – what service!

After a companionable meal, there was still enough light for us to have another wander around town. It’s full of unusual shops – the type that seem wildly uncommercial but which cling to life in little towns everywhere. The strangest of all was the Christmas Shop which looked like it was thriving. This was no fly-by-night store that moves in for the season and then vanishes in the New Year. This was a year-round

Grazing swans at sunset

Grazing swans at sunset

Christmas shop and even now there was no concession to the passing seasons – the windows were relentlessly full of very classy Christmas decorations – all a bit surreal to be honest.

We had a bit of a shock when we got back to the mooring field – the large flock of local swans had abandoned the water and were dotted around the pasture obviously enjoying the soft rich grass. We kept a tight hold on the dogs! An hour later, the swans had all disappeared again – I wonder if coming out to graze is a daily routine for them. We breathed a sigh of relief – it’s so much easier with the dogs if there’s nothing nearby to tempt them into trouble. But I’m not sure I needed to worry – they had to be coaxed and coerced off the boat for their pre-bed wees and, having done the necessary, immediately ran back to their beds. I stayed out a bit longer, enjoying the darkness and the bright stars – several million more than are visible in the glow of London.

Photoblog:

Old Man's Bridge, downstream of Radcot Lock

Tadpole Bridge

The 'Rose Revivied' - appealing watering hole in Newbridge

The 'Rose Revived' - appealing watering hole in Newbridge

Rural scene

Rural scene

Another local character at Radcot lock

Another local character at Radcot lock

Meanders...

Meanders...

Charming and unusual garden at St John's lock, Lechlade

Charming and unusual garden at St John's lock, Lechlade

Another view of Lechlade

Another view of Lechlade

Twilight on the water at Lechlade

Twilight on the water at Lechlade

2 Responses to “The Odyssey 2009: Day 10”

  1. Greygal said

    Another idyllic day from the sound of it, Sue! Must put Lechlade on the list…

  2. indigodream said

    We can definitely recommend Lechlade – I think it would suit you. From your descriptions, I wondered whether the upper Thames has something in common with the Weaver. Hopefully we’ll find out for ourselves in the summer.

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