Newbridge – Oxford
Slow start again this morning. I’m aching and slow after a sleepless night. And I’m a year older today. I feel all of them, but manage to get it together – we load up the kayak and move off.
The Thames winds south and north in great loops as we approach Oxford. Passing through Northmoor lock, we reach Bablock Hythe, notable for the caravan park that extends for a mile or so along the north bank.
The site seems to be permanent rather than a collection of holiday homes – it all looks very relaxed – mini-lawns, neat flower beds, a few moored cabin cruisers, and men fishing from collapsible chairs with their thermos alongside. I have the strong impression as we slip by that they don’t really care whether they catch anything or not.
Shortly afterwards comes Pinkhill lock, with Farmoor reservoir visible as a long raised-up bank of earth to the east. Farmoor is the largest single area of open water in Oxfordshire, and probably its most-visited birdwatching site. Two large concrete basins (divided by a causeway) act as a magnet to overflying migrants, and the site has an impressive list of rare sightings.
Swinford Toll Bridge, just before Eynsham lock, is one of just two toll bridges that remain across the Thames upstream of London. Still privately owned, it was built by the Earl of Abingdon in 1769 and is governed by its own Act of Parliament, which allows the bridge owner to collect tolls and prevent the building of other bridges across the river for three miles up or down stream.
Been a long day, and after about 14 miles paddling I’m relieved to finally reach Godstow lock on the outskirts of Oxford. Godstow is home to The Trout Inn, one of only two pubs in England mentioned by name on the Ordnance Survey maps (rather than simply PH or public house), due to the popularity in Victorian times of Jerome’s book ‘Three Men in a Boat’. Lovers of more recent fiction may also recognise the location from Philip Pullman’s award-winning ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy.
The river is busy, and despite being within the city it takes another hour or so to paddle past a Port Meadow thronged with picknickers and pass Osney lock into the Isis, the part of the Thames within Oxford that is home to multiple college boathouses and rowing clubs.
We arrive at our pullout point for the day near Donnington Bridge, tired and ready for a break. I feel physically wrecked, and though recover enough later for a socially-distanced birthday celebration with friends, I determine to ring the hirer next morning and insist they replace our kayak with two singles. I don’t know whether the problem is the kayak or incompatible paddling techniques, but two kayaks should solve it one way or the other.
© Philip Hunt 2020