Saturday, 7 July 2018

To the Navigable Limit and beyond!

We've now set off back down the River Thames but this blog is the account of how we reached Lechlade and even boated beyond it.

Last Monday we joined the Thames at Isis Lock at the end of the Oxford Canal and began our cruise on the Upper Thames up to its navigable limit at Lechlade.  Because of the very low bridge at Osney near Oxford the Upper Thames has a completely different character than the lower river.  No huge cruisers and great steamers can get this far, so it is a realm of little cruisers and narrowboats.  The locks are also much smaller than the lower river.
This rusty little boat called Tungsten has a history with us.  It is a powerful tugboat with a lorry engine and in 2012 it towed both Leo and our son's boat Pas Meche up the Thames from Wallingford to Oxford in flood conditions.  Tungsten and its captain, Steve, come from Oxford Cruisers near Farmoor Reservoir.

This is Pinkhill Lock and like so many on the Thames it has a well tended garden with lovely flowers.

The bridges on the Upper Thames are mostly narrow and pretty.  This is Newbridge which we passed under on Tuesday.

Even on the navigable section the Upper Thames is narrow with overhanging trees and very tight bends.  Quite a challenge to navigate a long boat and wearing on the arms!

There are several footbridges, mainly constructed like this one.  This is called Ten Foot Bridge even though our Nicholson's Guide says it is 12 feet above the river.

On Tuesday evening, when the heat went out of the day, we went for a walk to explore the old course of the river around Shifford Lock.  We crossed the Ten Foot Bridge as the shadows show.
Wednesday is one of the two days in the week when Kelmscott Manor is open to visitors (it is also open on Saturdays).  So we cruised to Kelmscott and moored at the end of a field nearby.
This rather attractive bridge is called Tadpole Bridge, though we're not sure why.  Like many of the bridges there is a pub beside it.


And this is Radcot Bridge which is narrow and comes just before a sharp bend.  The river splits into two streams at Radcot and the other is crossed by a much older and smaller bridge.

We passed this unusual rowing boat above Grafton Lock.  It was either German or Dutch.

This is Kelmscott Manor which was the summer residence and retreat of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement and famous for fabrics, furniture and poetry.  He leased this Elizabethan Manor House together with Dante Gabriel Rosetti, though his wife Jane (and lover of Rosetti - funny lot these arty types!) later bought the property.  It is a lovely house in a quiet and delightful village close to the river.
From Kelmscott it is just a short day's cruise to Lechlade where we moored on the farmer's meadow (£5 a night) before the bridge for a couple of nights.  The recognised head of navigation on the Thames is about half a mile above Lechlade at Inglesham where the Thames and Severn Canal used to leave the river to cross the Cotswolds to Stroud and Gloucester.  The turning point is becoming very shallow so we decided not to take Leo up there and instead we hired a double kayak for the day.
This is another of the shapely footbridges at Eaton.  A boat club with moorings adds to the peaceful scene.

There haven't been many boats travelling so it was a bit of a shock when this narrowboat appeared round one of the tight bends.  He finished up in the reeds but we came to the conclusion that he was probably going too fast.

St John's Lock is the last lock on the river.  In front of the large lock house is the stone carving of  a reclining Old Father Thames  which used to lie at the source of the river in the Cotswolds.

The spire of St Lawrence Church at Lechlade dominates the last couple of miles.

Lechlade is in Gloucestershire so we are a long way west.  It is a fine stone built Cotswold town, though there is rather a lot of traffic going through.  As well as plenty of pubs (we ate in the Riverside Inn and .the New Inn), there is an excellent butchers and greengrocers shop where they sell the most tempting pork pies. We were tempted enough to go back for another before we left this morning.

Here are some more of the picturesque buildings on the High Street.

And so to our canoeing trip.  There is a boat hire firm next to the bridge in Lechlade.  We took a double kayak and headed upstream.  This is the Roundhouse beside the first lock on the now disused Thames and Severn Canal.  It is here that most boats turn round.

This barrier ahead of us presently stops you trying to go up the canal.  There is scaffolding beyond the canal bridge where the restoration of the first lock is in progress.  Whether we shall live to see the canal complete is a good question.

A short way past the Roundhouse on the next bend is another place where you might manage to turn a narrowboat.  it might even be better than at the Roundhouse.  But don't quote us on this as we haven't actually tried.  For the first mile or so above the Roundhouse the river is probably easily navigable, though turning would be difficult.  There was even a side stream with two cruisers moored in it.  Above there the river gets overgrown with trees and has an increasing growth of weed.  At time we had to force our way through fallen trees.

Here we managed to get out for a rest and to look at where we were.  The river was amazingly clear with lots of little fish.  Myriads of damsel flies flew up in front of the canoe as we pressed on.

This road bridge at Hannington Wick was where we turned round.  Under the bridge the river was only inches deep, so no chance for narrowboats even if the trees and weed were cleared.  At this point we were nearly 5 miles from Lechlade, though technically the navigation goes a lot further up to Cricklade.

This photo gives a good idea of canoeing through the rushes.  You could at least see a passage of shorter rushes where boats had been before.  Finding a way round some of the fallen trees was trickier.  Following the line of fastest flow of the river was usually a good guide.  The river was certainly flowing faster than at Lechlade.  Given the lack of rain it was barely moving there.

Here is a canoe's eye view of Leo.  Either from a canoe or from the water when swimming (we went in a couple of times at Lechlade), the boat looks quite high above the water.

Having had a long morning canoeing we went for a short walk in the afternoon to Inglesham Church, near the Roundhouse.  This is no longer used but was preserved and restored with support from William Morris and we liked box pews shown here.  It is a lovely church.  Usually you can rely on a church to be nice and cold inside (a boon at the moment) but Inglesham has large west facing windows and it was nearly as warm inside as the oven outside.
Only one way to go now and that is back down the river.  Our aim is to return to the Oxford Canal and then head east but we think we'll phone Canal and River Trust before we do in case it is likely to run short of water.  Unless of course it rains!!

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