Saturday, 11 July 2015

Almost back in the muddy ditch

Nearing Isis Bridge among rowers, punts and trip boats
Yes, tonight we are within a few hundred yards of being back on the narrow canals. We are in Oxford, moored just after our final Thames lock, Osney. Along the quiet side street behind us stands a row of pretty terraced houses.
And they should be pretty – a two bedroomed one just sold for £695,000! For a step straight onto the pavement mid-terrace. That makes London look cheap. No wonder the young people of Oxford are camped in ramshackle boats up the canal.
It's been a pretty routine couple of days run up river to here. Having left our mooring at the wasp factory we headed for Abingdon, a particularly boater friendly town that offers a couple of miles of proper moorings that are also free.
The pretty riverside village of Clifton Hampden
The river followed a long, long anti-clockwise curve past the straggling village of Burcot, where the long lawns of ever larger houses swept gently down to the river. On the opposite bank a tractor was hay baling and had attracted a flock of at least twenty red kites who were circling waiting for unfortunate little mammals below to make a dash for safety. We've seen these wonderful looking birds everywhere on our trip but the sheer numbers here makes one wonder just what impact they are having on our native shrews, field mice and the like.
A flock of red kites stalked little critters in the field below

At Clifton Hampden we went through a rather handsome brick arched bridge, with the village church and cluster of thatched cottages nestled beside it. Beyond here the river enters the first of several artificial 'cuts' built to straighten out rather meandering stretches. First came Clifton and then Culham cuts with a lock at each, all making for a somewhat bland couple of miles.
At the end of the Culham cut we swung a 90 degree right and connected again with a wide main river that took us pretty much in a straight line to Abingdon, passing the old entrance to the Wilts & Berks Canal on the way.
Passing the old entrance to the Wilts & Berks Canal
We got there by lunchtime but already there was only one, Harry sized space left and we had to squeeze delicately in between two giant (and expensive) plastics while their owners looked on anxiously.
Abingdon is a pretty enough town – and the place where my first car, an MG, was built – but we've been here twice before so this time it was little more than a shopping and overnight stop.
This morning we got out of town before the sunny Saturday rush on the river got seriously under way. All the same, the day boats with their complements of boozing lads were already out and about – which must have scared some of the rowers from Radley College who were also busy on the water.
Nuneham House – now a meditation centre
Along this long, wide and pleasant but unmemorable stretch the stand out feature is Nuneham House, a Palladian mansion built in the 1700s and stayed in by Queen Victoria on her honeymoon. Amusingly it was unexpectedly inherited by Sir William Harcourt some years after he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had introduced death duties. By then it was dilapidated and the estate was short of cash for repairs. "I appear to have inherited a bankrupt estate" he told the agent who replied "well whose fault do you think that is?" It is now a spiritual meditation centre run by the Brahma Kumaris movement.
Sharing a lock with a crowded Salters trip boat
As we neared Oxford the river got even busier with canoes, inflatables, rowing boats, swimmers, small boats and then even punts and gondolas as we came into the city. At the other end of the scale we shared one lock with a huge Salters trip boat taking a couple of hundred passengers on a trip to Oxford.
Yes, everyone and their dog – including Seadog Brian – was out enjoying the sun. The Thames might be a river flowing through some of the most affluent real estate in the land but the river is utterly democratic. Everyone and anyone can mess about on it.

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