On this leg I was joined by Christine, one of my lovely sisters. She knows Oxford very well which is fortunate because she knew where we could park for free and take a civilised comfort stop very close to the start of today’s route. It was also fortunate because she knew what to do when we tried to join the river at Botley Bridge but we confronted by those damned yellow signs saying “towpath closed”. In addition we were helped by a lady with a pushchair who was very uncomplimentary about some new houses that we would pass on our detour. Nimby or councillor? You decide. So we picked our way through the roadworks that seem to be everywhere in Oxford at the moment, and soon made it to a towpath, albeit by the Oxford Canal. But it wasn’t long before we crossed Port Meadow back to the Thames.
Here the Thames Path coincides with Shakespeare’s Way, a “possible” route that he “might” have taken when travelling between Stratford-Upon-Avon and The Globe. Christine rather scoffed at this and thought that the Bard was much more likely to have taken the M40, and then she exclaimed “Get thee to a nunnery!”, a Shakespearean quote which went completely over my head. But almost as she uttered the words we arrived at the the ruined nunnery at Godstow. An interesting and historic place, we were sure. So we walked around outside and then walked around inside looking for the usual information boards but found none. The only information we found was a sign nailed to the ancient walls stating “No barbecues, no ball games, no running, petting, smoking…”. But Google is a wonderful thing and later I discovered that this was the last resting place of Rosamund Clifford, a famed beauty and mistress of Henry II. Her epitaph – which rhymes in Latin – translates into English as “Here in the tomb lies the rose of the world, not a pure rose; she who used to smell sweet, still smells–but not sweet”. Tell it like it is!
No sooner had we left the nunnery than we were witness to a most unholy confrontation on the bridge to Wolvercote. A gentleman of the, um, larger persuasion was cycling over the bridge away from Wolvercote when a driver in a Fiesta had the temerity to attempt to cross in the opposite direction. Now, the Fiesta is not a big car and – although the bridge is not huge – in normal circumstances the two could have passed comfortably and quickly and everyone could have got on with their lives. But no, said “gentleman” decided to park his bike and his corpulent frame in the middle of the bridge and to loudly berate the driver in a strong German accent (just an observation). “The signs clearly show I have right of way” he shouted again and again. “Back! Back!” he shouted again and again. Christine observed that he really wasn’t helping his case by shouting “f**k” all the time… I had to explain that no, that’s just his accent, the word is “back”. The car’s passenger door opened and briefly I thought that man and bike might be about to take a swim but eventually the car reversed and the angry man got his way. He probably burned more calories throwing his toys out of the pram than he did on the rest of his ride. Apoplexy must be exhausting.
We needed to calm down a bit after all that excitement so we stopped for a bit of a drink and some home-made flapjack (yum). While we sat a while Christine took out her phone and cancelled our lunch reservation. Oh! Something I said? No, I was quickly reassured that it was just that due to our athleticism (ahem!) and rapid progress we would be finished far too early for that booking, so we’d go somewhere else.
Just after King’s Lock we spotted a man in a field with a metal detector in his hand and a small child on his back. “Have you found any treasure?” Christine asked excitedly. “No” he replied “I’m measuring the grass”. Erm… “measuring the grass?”. “Yes, measuring the grass so that I can work out how many sheep I can put in this field”. Oh. Not a metal detector then, but a grass-meter. Of course we had no idea that such a thing even existed. Again thanks to Google I now know that there are many such devices and they even record how many plonks per paddock, apparently. Every day’s a school day…
Objects in the wrong place: A dental instrument on the towpath at Eynsham lock. What could possibly be the story behind that?
Our target for today was the toll bridge at Swinford, one of only two toll bridges still in operation on the Thames. The other being Whitchurch Bridge which I crossed on leg 10. The toll for cars is only 5p but with an average of 10,000 vehicles crossing a day someone has a nice little earner, especially as the bridge is governed by its own act of Parliament and the private owners do not have to pay tax on the revenue! It does however cause massive delays and pollution.
An information board (Ah! they do exist in Oxfordshire!) near the bridge told us that the name Swinford is derived from “Swine Ford”, i.e. a point on the river where you can reasonably safely drive your herd of pigs across and probably only lose one or two on the way. That makes sense, and I guess “Ox Ford” is similarly logical. On the other hand, Duxford makes no sense at all and don’t even get me started on Camelford.
This was a lovely day out with my sister. We laughed a lot, put the world to rights and gossiped like old women. The “somewhere else” chosen for lunch was The Punter on Osney Island in Oxford. A proper pub with proper grub and actually some reasonable prices.
Mileage today: 7.49
Mileage to date: 229.79
Mileage to date, as the crow flies: 91.06 miles
Mileage to go, as the crow flies: 29.05 miles