Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Upper Thames

When I moved to Twickenham three years ago, and found myself living on the Thames for the first time since my childhood, I made a promise to walk from source to sea. My first attempt the summer before last was marred by floods and it's taken from then to now to find the time to begin the journey, but on Monday, accompanied by Matt and Aida, I finally set off , catching the Paddington train out to Swindon, changing for the branch line off to Kemble and then, after a further half hour walk through the fields arriving under the sacred ash tree which marks, on rainier days than this, the first bubbles of spring 188 miles away from the barrier and the sea.

To begin with the only sign that this is a river is straight line of trees that lead ahead in the distance, hugging the banks of the subterranean trickle, a line of darker grass appears and then puddles which begin to join up eventually graduating to a flow and then a stream covered in forget me nots, pansies, daisies, oxslips and water-crow flowers. Tiny fish begin to dart in and out of the matted weeds and before we hit Ewen, the next village, the first ducks.

We walked on and had a late lunch picnic in a field below Somerford Keynes before finding a sheltering pint in the Horse and Jockey in beautiful Ashton Keynes. The river is so clear here that you can see the threateningly striped Perch develop their muscles by holding their ground swimming against the resistance of the current. As the sun was setting we decided to march on to Cricklade and seek accommodation there, unfortunately with our goal almost in sight, we made our only wrong turn of the day, confirmed by a local farmer in his landrover, and ended up two miles further north in Cherny Wick.

We ate Wiltshire trout in The Crown there whilst Colin, the friendly landlord, kindly found us rooms in The Eliot Arms, two miles further north in South Cherny. Meal done and a quick cab to the land of comfortable beds, sachet coffee and complimentary shower gel.

This morning we caught the bus down to Cricklade and began again - a casual walk across the fields, past the occasional swan's nest, to Castle Eaton where we had lunch and then set off away from the river on the path to Lechlade. It's a tricky part of the journey, less river, more bridleway and finally a disturbing final mile or so dropping towards Inglesham church on the lethal A361.

The church itself is amazingly beautiful. There is a Saxon preaching cross in the graveyard and Byzantine feel to the 11th century nave. For centuries the cleansing power of the river must have been used in ritual and worship here. Quiet, secluded and hiding upstream from Lechlade, it is peace itself.

So our first leg ended in late afternoon sunshine lounging by the river in Lechlade itself.

'Are you travelling far' asked Danny a local who'd been teaching his nephew how to feed the swans without getting nipped.

'We've walked from the source to here' said Aida, 'but we're heading back to London tonight. We'll do the rest on another day.'

'Oh Well,' said Danny gesturing back upstream from where we'd started. 'There's not much that way except for vegetation and weeds. It'll be more interesting from here on in. This is where the real river starts...'

No comments: