Cricklade – Lechlade
Today did not begin well, with rain pouring down from dawn onwards. We managed to strike camp in a lull, but still had to begin walking with everything wet. Despite the poor weather, the countryside in this section was beautiful, and largely deserted except for occasional farms.
Cricklade itself, the first real town on the Thames, has a pleasant high street with shops, cafes, hotel and the inevitable White Hart pub. The town has a long history, being founded in the 9th century as one of thirty burhs or fortified towns built by King Alfred in the period 878–879 to defend Wessex against marauding Vikings.
Today it is a small town with prosperous-looking houses, though I cannot say the inhabitants seemed too friendly. Perhaps the appearance of a couple of scruffy looking individuals in their midst invited distrust from the locals, but I didn’t feel too much of a welcome from the ladies who were already lunching.
The exception came from the only original-looking local shop, which though not obviously equipped for tourists during Covid-19 managed to supply us with tea and cake on a couple of old chairs on the pavement, while allowing us to charge our phones and refill our water bottles. Thank you Mrs for making us feel welcome – I thought your modest business was one of the few genuine shops in the town.
Some hours steady tramping along the river bank brought us to the 13th century church of St John the Baptist at Inglesham. Although deconsecrated the church is a treasure, with original pews, wall paintings and even a functioning pedal organ. We took full advantage, and I’m not ashamed to admit listening to my companion play a selection of classic Christian hymns on the organ brought a tear to my eye.
Aristotle memorably said ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man’. Such wisdom was apt – though no longer practicing, my religious upbringing re-emerged, especially when I listened to ‘How Great Thou Art’, the hymn performed recently at my father’s funeral. I was struck by the fact that although I’d been brought up Catholic while my partner-in-crime had been a CoE chorister, a shared christian upbringing underpinned many of our attitudes and values.
Reaching Lechlade that evening, we enjoyed a pint with fish n chips in a waterside pub, before moving off to find a wild-camping pitch downriver near Buscot lock. A good night followed, except that I had camped too near to either a fox or badger sett, and the smell that seeped into the tent in the early hours was truly appalling.
© Philip Hunt 2020