Monday, July 12, 2010

Up the Stripling Thames: Pinkhill to Tadpole Bridge

On last Monday evening, I punted Dulcibella out of the Oxford Cruisers boatyard basin and back on to her willow-hung mooring, accompanied by the at that moment substantial Nutwood household (nephew Adam Talib, fanatic rower Felicity Hawksley, god-daughter Holly Scutt). Graeme has done a wonderful job: she gleams like a chestnut. The 1.25 inch aluminium tube, sent with great dispatch by metals4UK, and with its ends plugged with short sections of banister posts is a great success: the hand can grip on the curve of the wood tips very satisfactorily, and the extra length (5 metres rather than the usual 14 ft) means you get extra impetus at the end of each stroke. The double-ended racing pole from Collars feels heavy in comparison, although it is infinitely lighter than the usual pole.
 dry; he was just poling over in a tender with a bike and a rucksack.   I made better time than I had expected to, led for almost the entire length of the way to Bablockhythe by a swan. Coffee and a swim, then on again. Friendly Barnaby passed me, but I caught her up at Northmoor Lock; shortly afterwards I caught her up again as she had stopped for lunch - and called out an invitation. Realised I was ravenous after four hours of poling (note to self: always bring more food than you think you will need) and accepted enthusiastically. All very trim below decks with a stove and fire-irons: Karen and Keith Sutcliffe have been living on her for five years now, having expected only to do so for two. I can see the attraction: they seem to have been on every inch of navigable water. Wolfed two large sandwiches, cider and a cup of tea, then off again. Ingeniously, they tracked me down on the web and sent what I rarely get: a photo of Dulcie and her mistress and owner.
After an hour or so, I was feeling rather sleepy, and the wind was rising, so when a passing narrow boat offered me a tow, I accepted gratefully. In no time at all, Newbridge came into sight, and I thanked them and was set free to pole in under my own steam. Barnaby passed me as I did so - I expect they guessed that I had cheated.
Noted the enticing entrance to the Windrush, then moored by the Maybush, much less frantic than the Rose Revived. Ellie had very kindly offered to pick me up, and brought Sam and Olivia with her. Every one is very friendly on the river: caravanners interested, and an ex-Cherwell boathouse man admired her. So back home for Bridge at Abingdon and then an extremely well-earned sleep. Up at 5.30 and had cast off from Newbridge at 6.20, with lots of stores on board. Wind was forecast, and soon the glassy calm of dawn began to ruffle. I saw a kingfisher: heavenly flash of blue. Also brushing close to a huge reed bank found myself nose to beak with a  tiny and very surprised reed warbler. A heron lifted off on lazy wings, two sets of swans and cygnets. July is a lovely time for flowers: yellow water lilies, many different flowering rushes, and banks brazen with purple (loosestrife?), yellow and pink. Am keeping going upstream, noticing places to explore further on the way down. Fred Thacker's The Stripling Thames is a sterling guide. Passed the entrance to the old river course to Duxford, the Roman ford, through Shifford Lock, again self-service, and so on around the huge loop around Chimneys Nature Reserve, punctuated by Martello towers. Wind rising, but the trees were so tall and the banks so hedged that not much was getting through - I remember this being very slow going sailing Gipsy down two years ago. A punt is indeed perfect up here. Noticed a lovely shallow beach for swimming/overnighting just before pylon wires crossed the river. Got to The Trout at Tadpole Bridge at 11 o'clock, and had to wait half an hour for a much needed coffee - even considered begging biscuits from a party of picknickers, but luckily found I'd packed a jar of cashew nuts. Tucked Dulcie up in her cover, and booked in for lunch the next day [mooring is an eye-watering £25 a night unless you eat there]. Back home in time to buy lunch for Daisy James and Fox, which we had in the garden. Fox delightful, wreathed in smiles. Olivia's birthday party in the afternoon and a lovely family evening. After a morning of gardening, off again to the river. After lunch, I punted Daisy James & Fox halfway to Rushey Lock, where we found a fine mooring under a willow, and all swam. Weather said (wrongly) to be about to change, so tucked her up again and so home.

After much discussion and struck by fact that 23 million Brits have signed up to it, I have joined facebook, though unsure of what will be gained from it. I am interested in the secret of its fascination. Company? Distraction? The ultimate global village?

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