Friday, July 20, 2012

Two days down the Thames

With the river levels falling and red boards being replaced by yellow once again, we moved off from Bablock Hythe yesterday morning.

Leaving Bablock HytheSAM_1579 Leaving Bablock Hythe

Historically there’s always been a ferry across the river here, hence the name of the pub on the river bank….

SAM_1581 The Ferry Inn

The earliest mention of a ferry is in 946, and more recently it was able to carry vehicles. It lost the vehicle carrying licence in 1964 after the fourth time it sank! It did however continue to offer a pedestrian service until the floods five years ago, when the ferry boat was left high and dry on the bank.

Not much good there, is it!SAM_1580 Bablock Hythe Ferry

Basically sound, the boat does need a bit of TLC and a new motor, and plans are afoot to re-introduce a limited service.

Past the large caravan site along the riverside, the river enters a series of meanders either side of Pinkhill Lock.

Rock’n’Roll leaving Pinkhill LockSAM_1585 Pinkhill Lock

More meanders lead to Swinford Bridge, the first road crossing since New Bridge, nearly seven miles upstream.

Swinford BridgeSAM_1586 Swinford Br

Just beyond the bridge lies Eynsham Lock, where we filled with water then moored for a shopping trip into the village. Although it’s a 15 minute walk it’s worth it, with a butcher, greengrocer, DIY store and Co-op.

Moored below the lock for shopping, with the weir in the background.SAM_1589 Eynsham Lock
There’s still quite a bit of water coming down, but with the broader reaches the flow is less.

The river is forced into a long loop to the north, east and south by Wytham Hill, crowned by Wytham Great Wood.

Wytham Great Wood as we head east near the horseshoe bends at Hagley Pool.Wytham Great Wood Pano

Around Hagley Pool bendsSAM_1602 Hagley Pool Bends

We came onto the river via the Wolvercote Mill stream and Duke’s Cut, but this time we went past to King’s Lock.

Entrance to the weir stream and Duke’s CutSAM_1603 Dukes Cut and Kings Lock
R’n’R is just heading onto the lock landing out of sight on the right.

Most Thames locks have well kept gardens, some with clever topiary. Kings Lock has a plastic dragon lurking in the hedge bottom….

Kings Lock guardianSAM_1607 Kings Lock
We moored both boats below the lock, opposite the weir stream, but I could see that Mags wasn’t happy with the flow of water rushing past, so we left George and Carol there and cruised another mile past Pixey Mead to Godstow Lock, mooring just above on the lock cut.

Some varied craft in residence below King’sSAM_1610 Below Kings

Moored above Godstow Lock, with the ruins of Godstow Abbey alongsidepano

We couldn’t have dropped down the lock even if we’d wanted to; the reach from here to Osney Lock was the only one at this end of the river still on red boards. Below Medley Footbridge the river is confined in an artificial channel to Osney, and runs faster as a result.

The abbey alongside the river has had a chequered history. Founded in 1133, it was actually a nunnery, and it was here that Henry II met and had an affair with Rosamund Clifford in 1173, despite a 20 year marriage to Eleanor of Aquitane. Rosamund bore the King at least one illegitimate son, but died in 1176. It was rumoured that Eleanor had something to do with her death….
She was interred at Godstow in the abbey’s church, but her remains were removed to the nun’s Chapter House in 1191. Later, the nuns were well known for their “hospitalty” towards the young monks  of Oxford....
The abbey was partially destroyed in 1541 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, and the remaining buildings converted for domestic use and known as Godstow House, occupied by George Owen. The family kept the house until 1645 when it was badly damaged during the defence of Godstow Bridge in the Civil War. Since then a lot of the structure has been dismantled for building stone, leaving just an outer wall and the Abbess’s Chapel standing. Cattle now graze where once a powerful king wooed his mistress…

Godstow AbbeySAM_1634 Godstow Abbey
SAM_1639 Godstow Abbey

I took Meg for a walk a way downstream and came across a mother and a very recent newborn.

Oi, where do you think you’re going?SAM_1623 New born
That’s right, this way…SAM_1624 New born
Go on, under there….SAM_1625 New born
Get stuck in, kid.SAM_1626 New born
I didn’t get too close, I didn’t want Meg to spook Mum.

Another youngster, this time waterborn…

Young Grebe hitching a ride.SAM_1642 Grebes

At around 11:00 this morning the red boards on the lock gates were swapped for yellow “Stream Decreasing” ones, so Rock’n’Roll came down and we dropped down the lock and onto the broad reach by Port Meadow.

Out of Godstow LockSAM_1646 Godstow Lock

Ponies and cattle on Port MeadowSAM_1648 Port Meadow
It is believed that these three large meadows, Pixey Mead, Yarnton Mead and Port Meadow, have never been used for agriculture, just grazing, for the last 4000 years.

A rare sight, another boat!SAM_1652
Although it was to get quite a bit busier later…

Below Medley Footbridge the navigation is artificial and a lot narrower, channelling all that water down to Osney. It gets quite a bit quicker along here.

In the channel past Fiddler’s IslandSAM_1654 Towards Osney
The southern entrance to the Oxford Canal appears on the left under a footbridge, leading to the Sheepwash Channel and Isis Lock.

Sheepwash Channel entrance.SAM_1655 Sheepwash Channel
The narrowboat to the right is NB Tyseley, summer cruising home to the Mikron Theatre Company. There’re heading up the Oxford for shows at Kidlington.

Osney Bridge is the lowest on the river, at just 7’6”. This limits the size of river cruisers able to access the upper Thames. From here on we can expect to meet larger craft.

Osney BridgeSAM_1657 Osney Bridge
We got under OK, rattling the tip of the internet aerial on the underside. Carol had her lavender plants combed….

It was a bit hairy getting onto the upper landing at Osney Lock. With the strong current we were going quite fast and the weir opposite exerts a powerful pull across the channel, but we got secured and were down the lock 15 minutes later.

Leaving Osney LockSAM_1658 Osney Lock

The river is slower below the lock now it’s back into it’s natural course. There’s a railway bridge to go under, and it was here, in 1889, a local 21 year old lost his own life saving two young boys from drowning. There’s a memorial to his selfless act alongside the footbridge where he drowned.

Edgar Wilson MemorialSAM_1659 Monument to Edgar Wilson

Folly Bridge is the next obstacle downstream, where the channel divides into two to pass either side of an island under a road bridge. I was advised at Osney Lock to take the left-hand channel, it being wider and having a slower current running through. I’d just lined up nicely when a row-boat appeared in front of us and I had to reverse to slow down and swing wide to correct the approach. I think the four occupants of the small boat were a little tense, but then got in George’s way as well!

Looking back at Folly BridgeSAM_1661 Folly Bridge

You can see rain in the picture, the start of a very heavy shower that lashed us for the next 15 minutes. But at least we were on the wide reach past the Christ Church Meadow and the college boathouses.

Christ Church MeadowSAM_1663 Christ Church Meadow

Remember the larger boats I said we will encounter down here? Well here’s the first, the Salter’s boat MV Goring.

MV Goring heading under Donnington Road BridgeSAM_1668 MV Goring
As you can see, it’s chucking it down!

The rain had stopped by the time we pulled over above Iffley Lock, near to the Isis Tavern. Today should see the last of the showers, we’ve high pressure moving in bringing dry, warm, settled weather for the next several days. About time!

Locks 5, miles 11 (2 days)

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