It seems appropriate to start recording my leisurely progress upstream in Dulcibella on the day of the magnificent Jubilee river pageant, when a vanguard of over 250 little boats paddled and rowed five miles against wind and weather - not that I have any intention of inflicting such punishment upon myself. If you read of the punt's previous voyage to Cricklade [under Adventures], you will realise that that journey was fraught with the challenge of Getting There. This year I have no ambitions at all. I am merely travelling hopefully. I will go There and Back Again, but where There is does not matter at all. Short stints on the pole, much walking (with the noble hound Leo) from and to the car; much relaxing in the punt and exploring of the highways and byways to nearby villages and hamlets; following the example of the erudite author of The Stripling Thames Fred Thacker, I am going to explore and enjoy the setting of the river, not just use it as a highway.
|Dulcie's new summer home|
|Intertuffing the hull|
PreparationsI careened Dulcie's bottom and painted her sides during that wonderfully summery March, but April and most of May was a write-off; a series of anxious visits to check her moorings as the river rose inexorably. The Environment Agency had decided to repair the towpath beside her old mooring, but the new one a hundred yards further downstream, embowered in a fallen willow, and with a little greensward beside her, is even better: still visible from Oxford Cruisers, her kindly guardian, and catching both dawn and evening sunshine.
Beginning23 May: After five days away with Daisy and James and Fox to welcome my seventh grandchild (Woody Griffith Hodge, b.18 May) into the world, I was only planning to pole up to the boatyard to put the cushions on board, but it was such a beautiful afternoon that I couldn't resist heading upstream. It was, after all, Leo's birthday. Pinkhill Lock beckoned; I poled in, and the keeper nodded. 'The wife was wondering when you'd be along'. Nice to feel the river folk notice us, and would arrest any pirate who presumed to capture Dulcie. Leo posed in the bow, and behaved beautifully, very different from last year when, as a puppy, he frequently attempted to walk on water. Now he swims confidently, having learnt from his aged aunts while staying with brother John. I let him run along the bank for a while, and he kept pace beautifully. I moored close to the Farmoor reservoir pumping station, chained up to a fence, then walked back to the car over a little hill near the reservoir. We were off.
24 May: Late afternoon: I parked at Bablockhythe, and walked back along the Farmoor side of the river to the punt. Scorching hot day, and several bathers were enjoying themselves. A family of four in a red canoe passed me heading downstream. I knew that I needed to leave the punt on the Stanton Harcourt side of the river, where the towpath and road were, but sadly there is no longer a ferry at Bablockhythe. So when I reached it, cheered on by the denizens of its long waterside city of statics and cabins and the topers in (Not) The Ferry Inn, I tied up by the car to enjoy a glass of red and cashew nuts, then put Leo, phone, keys etc in the car and got back into the punt with a lifejacket to aid me in my swim across. I chained Dulcie to a post, and covered her up, then headed for the crossing, watched with interest by the Ferry's customers. Lo and Behold: there was the red canoe, not yet put on the roof the large estate waiting to take it up. I hailed the family - the brawny father kindly put the canoe back in the water and got in - only. to my horror, to turn turtle. Rising Neptune like, he asked if I was sure I wanted a lift. Topers fascinated. We made it in safety, and many thanks to my kindly Charon.
25 May: Another scorcher. This time my brother-in-law Hugh came too; we parked at the Ferry, and took Dulcie as far as Northmoor lock - struggling against the wind, and picnicking on the way. Just before the lock itself we got into perilous straits when two narrowboats waved us towards the tying up pontoon, then one revved its engine to control its vast bulk, filling the end of the punt with water, at which point Leo tried to jump onto the pontoon and fell into the water, horribly near the narrow boat. He did the very sensible thing of ducking under the iron pontoon, and we got an exceptionally wet dog aboard. Once the narrowboats had gone on their way, we got through the lock safely, tied up near the footpath from Appleton, and walked across the amazing Northmoor Weir - the only paddle and rymer weir remaining in England, I believe, to the towpath, and so, with astonishing speed considering how long it had taken us to punt upstream, got back to the Ferry Inn for a very welcome iced Guiness/pint of bitter.
|Sundowner at Newbridge|
|The kelly kettle does its stuff|
Left Dulcie about half an hour's walk upstream.
|Dulcie dressed over all|