Slipping down the Thames – Day 6, Friday 31/07/2020

Oxford – Appleford

Another late start today (1 pm) due to misunderstandings over the start time. But as I set out on my way to the first lock of the day, Iffley Lock, I meet a lady swimming in the river and end up having a conversation, as you do.

Turns out she is an American nun belonging to an order that was created by the Society of St John the Evangelist, the oldest male order in the Anglican church. The Cowley Fathers, as they were more popularly known, were founded in 1866 in Cowley, Oxford, and were the first Anglican male religious community to be established since the English Reformation. They were known to my father, as in the 1920s and 1930s they ran both his primary and secondary schools in the city (before the days of universal schooling).

After about five minutes of conversation – she swimming all the while – she very kindly blesses me on my way as I paddle off. To Iffley Lock, there to admire the waterside bronze ox and its race starting ring, as presented to Oxford University Boat Club in 1924 by Lord Desborough.

Hidden gem at Iffley lock - the ox and OUBC starting ring
Hidden gem at Iffley lock – the ox and OUBC starting ring

Next it is Sandford Lock, which at 2.69 metres has the greatest fall of any lock on the non-tidal Thames. It’s pretty slimy in there towards the bottom – you notice these things when you’re sitting 6 inches above the water.

A 4.5 mile paddle ensues down to Abingdon. I stop a few times along the way to wait for my partner-in-crime, but no sign of him. I do see several herons though, as well as growing numbers of Canada geese, which are fast becoming the most common bird on the river. They are even a bit of a pest, since their numbers mean grassy banks are almost always fouled with goose poo, not so great when you’re trying to get out of the river from a low boat.

After waiting in Abingdon for an hour or so, I find he’s arrived in another cafe. Not wishing to climb into the boat then climb out again, I continue downstream.

At Appleford I pause again to talk to some local farmers cooling off in the river at the end of the day. My ancestors came from this village a couple of centuries ago – in fact one had been the village baker. I feel some roots extending through the water ….

Still no partner in sight, so I pick a likely field and pull out. He turns up while I’m looking for the best spot to pitch camp. As it’s a fine, warm evening we decide not to bother with the tents, but sleep in the open air. Fantastic sunset, but the path in the neighbouring barley field seems to have turned into something of a motorway – why so many people like creeping around in the dark escapes me.

Not a great night again, more toxic fumes drifting across our camping place remove some of our precious sleep. Why is humanity so poisonous? One compensation – few insect bites – they are probably driven away by the fumes.

Go to Day 7: Appleford – Whitchurch lock

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© Philip Hunt 2020

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