2020

Day 5 – Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship – My senses have been stripped – My hands can’t feel to grip – My toes too numb to step – Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering

Wallingford to Abingdon near Oxford

After a few nice days, today saw the return of normal English weather. The staff of the George Inn were waiting for me at 7am and I enjoyed scrambled eggs on toast with more toast and marmalade. And a pot of tea.

Although no rain was forecast, I opened the door to a brief and wayward monsoon. AccuWeather now apologetically forecast rain for at least 60 minutes so I put my wet gear on and naturally the rain stopped…for a little while.

I said goodbye to Wallingford and set off along a less interesting part of the Thames. There were flat fields of cows and their excrement, wet grass and few signs of human life. The Thames Path diverted away from the river through Shillingford, a preposterously expensive village of grand houses and landscaped gardens and then I was alone with my thoughts.

I walked for at least three hours without seeing a bench until I reached Clifton Lock where I sat down and dug out my chocolate almonds.

There are so many locks on the Thames that you barely notice them. They were all built in ancient times and are simple and clever. So clever, in fact, that you ask Google who invented them (Leonardo da Vinci did the gates). The gate opens, you sail in, the gate closes, you go up or down, the other gate then opens and off you go. It all works like clockwork for the regulars.

Now introduce the holiday makers on their first trip up the Thames. The regulars look down with horror from their ocean going launches at the little rental boat. It doesn’t seem to want to steer in the right direction nor does it want to stop where required. And when it does, no one is able to throw the rope around the snubbing post to secure the boat. The captain is always cursed with an inept first officer who wishes they had gone to Spain as usual despite the Government advice.

The Lock Keeper is also the master of ceremonies. “Come in on the right”, he shouts. “No, the right!” “Move forward … STOP … watch the gates”. “You. No you! Don’t lean on the wall, you’ll fall in”. He flushes them on their way and tells me he wouldn’t trust them with a Tesco trolley.

I stayed for ages, drawn by the stress and anxiety of the experience.

Just after Clifton Lock I saw my first traditional Thames camping skiff. You can row one of these things along the river and they have a removable canvas cover and everything you might need for your journey. The man came from the Pennines and he gave me that patronising look which northerners reserve for us softies. “Few make it beyond the first day”, he warned me. “Then it gets worse. Winds, driving rain, thick fog”. He thought for a moment and asked if I had a waterproof cover for my map. “Map?”, I replied.

The problem is this. I know he’s right. The Pennine Way is the most grueling trail in Britain. Wainwright drew it up in the 1950s but hated it so much that he left some money behind the bar of the pub at the end to pay for a pint for anyone who makes it. Nowadays it’s only a half.

Meanwhile a second skiff moored and the young man on board played his guitar. He looked fresh from the 1970s, in fact he was the image of my school friend Chris. I remembered him because we once took a boat up the Thames in those far off days. Chris went to medical school in Scotland but was a regular at my College Balls. We sadly lost touch after he qualified. How I miss him. The memories of Chris and my first adolescence friends came rushing back as I walked the final kilometers into Abingdon.

Good morning Wallingford!

Shillingford “Wisteria Cottage”

Clifton Lock…

A word of advice…

12 comments on “Day 5 – Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship – My senses have been stripped – My hands can’t feel to grip – My toes too numb to step – Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering

  1. I think the writing has got even better than the the Japanese temple trip or the vf
    I feel myself in your shadow feeling the disappointment in your breakfast offerings, the railing against pettiness in empty establishments and then the laughable enjoyment of holidaymakers negotiating locks under the patronising gaze of the gin palace mariners
    Good luck with your walk to The northern paradise
    In my youth I canoed from Devizes to Westminster and through sweat stinging eyes saw much of the riverbank you are walking. I found the Thames enchanting and fully understand why it captivates you
    Looking forward to the rest of the narrative
    Buone Camino

    • Thanks Clive, I was very happy to read your comments. They have given me a good boost for the day ahead. You’re right about the Thames being enchanting and timeless. No one captures it better than Jerome K Jerome, Three Men in a Boat.

  2. Tassie Kaz

    Only one word comes to mind…
    ‘wow’;
    your writing, the experience conveyed &… traffic grid lock on the river!
    It’s all amazing. πŸ‘

  3. Hey Mr Tambourine Man Real Cool good cheer πŸ‘πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸŒˆ

  4. David and Celia

    Hey Mr Tambourine man that’s real cool ! πŸ‘πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸŒˆ

    • Hi Celia & David, Great to hear from you both. You know your Dylan! Tim

  5. Nice to hear Bob singing you on your way Tim. Am loving the blog.

  6. β€˜I wouldn’t trust them with a Tesco trolley!’ πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ hilarious, I can’t stop laughing at that phrase. I love your writing Tim, I feel and imagine all you are portraying in your words. Well done on another day. The guy with the guitar looks laid back. I like the idea of sleeping in one of the little rowing boats under the canvas….I wonder how stable they are for a fidgety sleeper πŸ€”

    • Thank you, Jenny. They look nice but you will feel like a babe in a rocking cradle every time a big boat passes.

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