I was joined on this leg by my mate Ian. He has two dogs and two teenage sons and is therefore much fitter than me. I have a cat and a grown-up daughter.
We met at Tadpole Bridge, our destination for today, and then drove to the toll bridge at Swinford which was to be our start-point. But instead of the usual bored teenager collecting 5p from each driver we found wacky charity collectors in fancy dress waving buckets. And much as I like to make my own decisions about charitable donations, well, you can’t just give 5p can you? So between the total of three crossings of the bridge we made today the charity (I can’t even remember which one) made twenty times the usual amount. You do the maths…
From the bridge we headed south alongside the meandering river, until the path headed south-west across open land to meet a minor road which then headed west.
Now, when you’re walking with someone you haven’t seen for a while, there is likely to be a lot to discuss. And so it was with us. We had to talk about holidays, and offspring, and mutual acquaintances. And in such circumstances one is differently focused. And so it was that we happily strolled past the sign that clearly indicated “you should turn left here”. We were following and slowly catching up with a family group and somewhat fortuitously caught up with them where the track meets a road and it became clear that we were not where we ought to have been. The matriarch who was figuratively and literally wearing the trousers pointed out that “the river is that way” and “you should have turned left back there” and took great offence when I suggested that I might get my map out for a bit of a look: “Well, i DO know actually! I DO live round here you know!” and strode off. Oh dear. It’s never good to upset the locals. Fortunately the patriarch and – surprisingly – an emo teenager, were far more affable and we spent a few minutes looking at the map and discussing the several possible routes back to the river. In the end we decided to simply retrace our steps and take the obvious path that we missed first time around. You can see the result of our relaxed navigation on the map.
I would like to mention that the matriarch did mention before her hasty departure that they were “trying to find” the Devil’s Quoits, a henge that would surely be well known to someone who “does live round here you know…”!
But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good and our detour meant that we got to see a fancy country house. Well, I’ve seen plenty of those on this trip, but this one had a glass-fronted garage. Not so much a secure lock-up as a glass exhibition cabinet for a Ferrari and a couple of other cars. Not many people will stumble across this display as we did, but if you’ve got it…
We also got to see Stanton Harcourt, a very pretty village with chocolate-box thatched cottages and the “Pope’s Tower”, a 15th century building named not after the religious leader but Alexander Pope who stayed there when translating Homer’s Iliad. The tower is one of the few remaining parts of Harcourt Manor, seat of the Harcourt family until they moved to Nuneham House and demolished the local village, as noted in leg 12.
It’s as well that we did have that interesting little excursion because the route back to the river was, frankly, rather dull and featureless until we reached Bablock Hythe which is a mobile home park by the river. With lots of signs saying things like “You can’t park here!” and “This is not part of the Thames Path!”. And with a pub that looked worth avoiding. So we avoided it.
I have found that much of the time walking the Thames involves treading a path with a river on one side and a meadow on the other. Unremarkable except for the company you keep and the people you meet. And so it was as we headed south from Bablock. We didn’t meet many people but we still had much to discuss. We chose a pleasant spot for a picnic and – unusually for me – we refuelled. On this section the path curves slowly to the right and at last heads almost entirely due west towards the source of the Thames.
Approaching Newbridge (where the “new” bridge was built 700 years ago) the path passes through a pub garden. A much more inviting establishment this time but again we resisted, crossed the bridge and continued on our way. Through a meadow by the river. We came across a lot of swans resting in the meadow. I have tried to find out the collective noun for swans and have found many alternatives including “herd”, “bevy”, “game” and even a “lamentation” of swans. I think someone is just using random words as collective nouns. Did you know that the made-up term “a flange of baboons” has been widely used by the scientific community since it appeared in a Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch despite the correct term being “troop” or “congress”? Something else that may or may not be made up is that an angry swan can easily break your arm. We were taking no chances and were careful not to disturb them. Unlike a woman coming the other way with an over-excited dog off the lead, who thought that saying “come back Fido” would bring said dog under control when it had already spotted the swans and was charging towards them. It didn’t stop the dog, but fortunately the swans were alert and took to the skies, and I don’t believe there were any injuries during this incident; not human, canine nor avian.
At Shifford Lock the river divides and the path continues along a cut that bypasses a loop in the river and heads almost directly west to rejoin the original course of the river near the village of Chimney. Just past the end of the cut we passed – but did not cross – Tenfoot Bridge. A bridge which is neither ten feet long, nor ten feet high. The name derives from a 19th century weir that was previously at that location and which incorporated a ten foot wide flash lock. It was the removal of the weir and consequent adverse effect on the flow of the river that led to construction of the cut.
From there the river meanders through woodland to the end of our walk at the wonderfully named Tadpole Bridge. This wasn’t the longest leg of this project but I was, frankly, knackered. Ian was much more chipper, which may indicate the health benefits of dog ownership versus cats. Or it may indicate the benefits of self-restraint and a healthy lifestyle. I’m going to assume it’s the dogs.
Mileage today: 15.93
Mileage to date: 245.72
Mileage to date, as the crow flies: 96.99 miles
Mileage to go, as the crow flies: 21.90 miles