Sunday, August 1, 2010

Inglesham to Cricklade - and back via Bablockhythe to Pinkhill

No, not all at once by any means, but on returns I have been disinclined to raise a finger to type. Spending days on end and the occasional night in the open air makes you feel both bursting with energy and deeply content; it also brings on sleep almost as soon as I subside onto sofa or bed. I've been keeping a handwritten log and taking photos which I will write up more fully and add pictures once I've moored [hopefully this morning] back in my homeport at Oxford Cruisers, Pinkhill.

I reached Inglesham at 8.30 on Friday 23th July, where a girl was getting out of a dormobile van - she turned out to be  restoring the paintings in its ancient church. Checked out the punt in its poplar tree cave, then drove off to meet my brother John and his golden retrievers Lulu and Mimi [younger relatives and hauntingly evocative of dear Angus] at Hannington Bridge so we could inspect it - we'd been warned that lumps of crumbling concrete  might make it impassable. We could see the shallows and chunks of stone, but there was a deeper central channel - very fast flowing, but sills on the side of the central arch offered places to stand on to pull her through, so we decided that it was doable. So to Inglesham, where we went into the ancient church, full of scaffolding but still arresting: box pews grey with age, delicate screen, a low relief of Madonna and child, Radio 4 sounding from the restorer's eyrie in the rafters, then got aboard Dulcibella and started upstream at 9.30. We decided to take half hour shifts - calloo callay he is an excellent punter as well wonderful company - most relaxing to share the poling; I read extracts from Fred Thacker out as we progressed. We stopped for thermos coffee at 11 tied to tall rushes. John, a long term Gloucestershire gent,  knew who the neighbouring landowners were, and indeed had phoned up several of them and gained much helpful information. High banks and open meadows: the river was clearly a lot lower than it could have been. A glass of cider in a little bay by a fallen tree - cue leopard style photo to parallel my one from Iran.

Soon after this the lilies and rushes and overhead willows closed in steadily. After endless bends we reached the white water challenge of Hannington Bridge. John got out and hauled her from ahead, Father Thames style, I steadied her from the side, stumbling and twice nearly losing sandal, dogs sat nobly calm inside. Amazingly, John Eade's My Thames site actually shows a NARROW BOAT going under Hannington Bridge. Must have been a wet year - though not enough to make water too high for bridge arch. Fascinating!
Hannington Bridge

And so on and on and on - harder work now. Met canoeists coming down stream - discovered later that David Orrie of Lechlade Angling and Outdoor pursuits hires them out, taking them up to the Red Lion at Castle Eaton so that folk can come downstream, then transporting people back to their cars. The way would have been impassable by now, but freshly sawn off fallen branches and a channel through the now cross-stream thickets of reeds signalled what we also learnt later: ten days or so ago the Environment Agency had come up and cleared the route to Cricklade - in a punt, apparently. Probably shorter than ours and maybe powered??  Still arduous punting however, sometimes needing help in narrow passages where downstream flow severe. Climbed a bank for lunch at 2 pm where we had a distant view of Kempsford church - Thacker has a splendid passage on the fugue of churches that begins with Lechlade, then Kempsford, then Fairford, then Cricklade, rising to a climax with Cirencester. Excellent bacon sarnies, cheese, dark chocolate, bananas, all washed down with cider.

Off again, and unexpectedly soon we were passing Kempsford itself; lovely ancient wall with 'master gunner's window - early Lancastrian fortification apparently; now some beautiful old houses. After a short straight flanked by rolling lawns, it was back into battle again, but at last Castle Eaton church appeared: we tied up at what looked like a common, but turned out to be garden of the Crown Prince of Croatia's country pad, and climbed a haha to visit the church. Unusual sanctus bell tower, dazzling array of tapestried kneelers. And so just minutes later,   the welcome sight of the Red Lion, where we we tied up [c 7.15!] and were made very welcome by Melody, its landlady. Plan was to leave the punt there for the night, so covered her in, collected my car and hurtling by ancient byroads to Miserden, where John and Emma live: I joined them and nephew Archie [who offered his muscle on teh next Saturday] and niece Aelf [with her friend Johnnie] for supper at Tatyans, the excellent Chinese restaurant in Cirencester which mother was so fond of. Stayed night with John and Emma

Kempsford Church
Gunner's Window

Moored at Red Lion, Castle Eaton [its bridge, the next day's challenge, behind]
24 July [happy birthday Susie]: We set off at 8.30, courage high and hearts aglow - it was after all only three miles now to Cricklade - even planned to meet Emma for lunch in Ciren.

Ha ha. We left a car in Thames Lane, Cricklade, noting that the river still looked passable there, although much too low under the bridge under the High Street. Got back to Castle Eaton and set off at 9.30. First challenge was Castle Eaton bridge - wider but shallower, and much wading, even by dogs, required. Some fine stretches, but much overhanging willow and the current ever stronger against us as the river shallowed and narrowed. The Thames Path returns to the water's edge from Castle Eaton to Cricklade, and it was embarrassing to note that a party of elderly walkers - one using a zimmer frame - were outpacing us. We decided to deload by one of us walking with dogs - John took first solo punt - only to come up against impassably low willow branch - he took the hoops out, but one fell overboard - stripped nobly off to the buff and deck shoes, and probed mud with feet [me: 'Is it hoopless?', ho ho, watched with interest by friendly Antipodean walkers.
Note the speed of the flow against us

Luckily located it, and tied them on safely. Shift followed shift; river shielded from view by wide banks of nettles, reeds and inaccessible thanks to high banks [due to very low water] and barbed wire stock fences. Dulcie looking rather sleek, but getting laded with snapped twigs and leaves. Insects thickening [memo:jungle formula]. We were averaging 0.5 mph. Decided to call it a day when successive shoals of gravel led to constant groundings; thick mats of weed impeded each punt stroke. But we were past both footbridges and in easy hearing of the bells of Cricklade church, and in sight of the A417. Tucked her up  again, and walked on. Some parts of the river looked fine, but it was now 3.30 pm! A canoe could do it with perseverance, but we needed another three inches of water. Maybe I should have deloaded her entirely, but John needed to get back to his weekend guests. he took me back to my car at Castle Eaton, and waved farewell- I rested there - too late for lunch - over a glass of cider and perusal of Amy Woolcott's interesting Crossing Places of the Upper Thames [Melody said she had stayed there while researching and given her the book]. Nice format [Tempus] Tempting to do something similar, a modern Stripling Thames, perhaps.

26th July. Drizzly Monday  am, but fearing the river was getting ever lower, I thought I must get her downstream a bit. I got to Cricklade at 6.45, gave her a through clean and bale out, ate breakfast under half the cover like a baby in her pram, covered everything with covers, and intrepidly [foolhardily?]set off downstream alone.  It was much easier going downstream, but the shallows definitely shallower. Glad of sailing shoes. I pushed from the back, then leapt aboard as the water deepened. Think moguls almost covered with water.  River could have been a full five feet higher, judging from detritus caught in the tree branches. Lots of reed warblers/buntings, cygnets - there will be a bumper flock of swans on the Thames if all survive] . Discovered that was best to paddle from the stern under overhanging branches now I was going downstream. I am becoming a connoisseur of rushes - great variety of colour, form and flowers.
After spending some time extricating myself from an under water post that jammed against the hull and having rather a struggle in the fast flowing water under the bridge - entailing deloading her onto two slabs of rock and then reloading when she floated again - I reached the Red Lion at 10.30 for a well earned coffee, gingerbread and cigarillo [I know, I know, but I hardly ever have them, and only on the water - somehow the scent of the smoke makes for timeless relaxation]. On again to Kempsford, where I  trespassed [with gardener's permission] to gain access to the handsome church; nave roof like school at Ewelme, amazing C15 heraldic vaulting in the  transept. Paused  for lunch on a wonky riverside platform [another of John's friend's eyrie] - pork pie and d.white then dozed off over Guardian. Off again at 2 pm. 

On and on - wind gusty, thrown from scylla of hawthorn to charybdis of rushes and willows; more under water branches than before, so definitely shallower: I was right to get down fast. Got to Inglesham, greeted by a swimmer from Lechlade, at 4.30; tied up opposite my previous mooring, and cleaned out the punt properly. She gleamed with pride. The swimmer came downstream as I was putting up the cover against a sudden shower, and admired her: 'Quite a little cruiser'. But the sun came out again, and decided to have a swim myself - as did two local residents. The river water feels warm and almost silken against your skin. So on to Lechlade,  where the white duck was still in charge of her brood, where I tied up at the end of the New Inn's long lawn, next to a friendly narrow boat with a New Zealand couple on it.  Enjoyed a glass of red from the wine locker, then had excellent steak and ale pie at the New Inn. Noted bus times to Swindon [plan was to collect car from Cricklade in the morning] slept like a log - looked out c 2 to see full moon and oily clack water reflecting a gliding swan and the bridge - so warm that I kept the cover looped up.
Night berth at the New Inn, Lechlade

Tuesday 27 July. I woke with a rather numb arm and brewed up tea in the Kelly Kettle,  and set off to catch the bus, admiring lovely gargoyles ont eh church and Shelley's Walk while waiting. Went very well - 30 mins to Swindon, then time for tea and excellent toast in the bus station's Octagon cafĂ©, then another bus to Cricklade. Church sadly closed, even at 9.15, so into car and back home  to charge phone, check on Ellie, who has just had her hand operated on, and REST.

Drove over later on Tuesday to explore Buscot and Lechlade by car and make sure New Inn didn't mind punt for another night. 

Wednesday 28 July: Ian dropped me at 6 am in a very misty Lechlade on his way west.  Now making splendid speed in the dawn; through St John's lock - saw mouth of the Cole - progress rather slowed by experiments with new camera on exquisite doll's house of Buscot Rectory. Through the very deep Buscot lock, I tied up to make coffee then realised I was out of water - returned to lock, but no tap - but saviours in shape of a narrow boat who provided plenty of water. Brewed the Kelly, made strong coffee and gobbled marmite sandwich, banana and dark chocolate: the ideal punting breakfast. Was feeling rather solitary; I am at the edge of everybody's life at the moment, but just then nephew Archie phoned, keen to join me on Saturday. Much cheered - and Peter G to accompany tomorrow. On; noting courtesy of approaching boats: one called out 'We've heard about you'. Clearly one of the many good Samaritans who've helped has ordered general slowdown on the sight of the GP Dulcibella. Eaton Hastings moorings: nb sign which ways 300 yards to Kelmscott: Next Mooring should insert the word 'from' where I put a colon. Eventually arrived, greeted by Northern Pride, the narrow boat moored next to me at Lechlade; quite a community feel to the river.
Moored at Kelmscott
Tied up in perfect spot; even a crumbling stone stair to get on the bank with, covered Dulcie up and stepped out the genuine 300 yards to Kelmscott. It was exactly 11 am and manor had just opened for its weekly Wednesday: long queue of enthusiasts from all over the world; lady let me wander in just to see garden and browse tempting shop: limited myself to a few cards but got lots of good ideas.

Morris's potting shed
Kelmscott courtyard

Too shy to beg a lift, so walked along to the Plough, where I phoned a taxi - there is NO public transport: settled for £15 to Carterton, where I could get an S1 bus complete with free wi-fi to my door rather than £40 all the way home. Experimented with my ipod touch and did in fact download emails. Off at Tilbury Lane; very good to be home. Helped Ellie out in the afternoon; work has gone utterly by the board at the minute; too full of summer delights.

Thursday 29 July Peter arrived wonderfully punctually at 9 am and we did the two car trick - one at Tadole Bridge and other at Kelmscott. He was great company; enjoying map reading and navigating, and appreciating the little ship aspect of the voyage. Brewed up the Kelly kettle c. 11 am after Grafton lock, and arrived in Radcot by 12. Saw Tom Freeman again, and he offered aluminum poles and said D welcome any time. Cider and a glass of white for Peter, then on again, lunch after Radcot lock at 1.15.

After lunch Peter punted - very impressively too since the first time since Oxford. Lovely to be chauffeured; I fell fast asleep in the sunshine. Through Rushey lock by 3.30 and tied up just before Tadpole Bridge at 4.00 - perfect day.

Saturday 30 July. Archie arrived 8.30, bless him, and we left a car at Bablockhythe then went on to Tadpole. Off by 9.15, at hectic pace, thanks to Archie's strong arms [he reinvented the P Davison horizontal technique] and a favourable wind: I have sewn a seam in Isfahan [plastic] picnic rug so that it can be pulled over the hoop - on Peter's advice, the front one - as a sail. At times so fast that no poling possible: all strength into the steering!

We also saw the Environment Agency's Reliant, a narrow boat evidently engaged on tidying up the willows and banks - way down much clearer than it had been. They are also doing works on several of the lock weirs. Good for them.

Shifford Lock by 11.15, my kingfisher foot bridge c 12, lunch 12.30 Maybush at Newbridge, which we reached faster than the rather neat two man inflatable 'Colorado' canoe which we had seen getting ready to go on the river as we left Tadpole. Archie took some excellent photos of Dulcibella going under Newbridge - nice comparison with Gipsy's voyage of two years before.

On again, arriving at Bablockhythe at 3 pm: perfect timing to collect my car and wave Archie off, lion suit and all, to his fancy dress ball in Wiltshire.
Sunday 1 August: Jamie followed my car to Oxford Cruisers, then drove me to Bablockhythe. Took me about two hours going very leisurely, rather tired in truth.
At last the welcome outline of the boatyard with Wytham Woods behind: Graeme was on his barge and welcomed me back with a cup of tea. Cleaned Dulcie up and brought everything home to wash. Great sense of triumph.