Walking the Thames Path National Trail

Monday, August 01, 2005

Day 3: Radcot to Bablock Hythe (13.5 miles)

This was probably my favourite day of the whole walk, which is a shame in hindsight as we still had another 12 days to go! We were packed and away by 9am, leaving behind a couple in a tepee who were having a blazing argument about the husband's behaviour in the pub the night before. Alice nipped over to the Swan and got us a cup of coffee each, which in addition to a banana gave us some sort of super-energy kick and had me commenting on how great I felt and how beautiful everything was throughout much of the morning.

We also invented a new game to play: Tow Path Tennis. The idea is that the person who is in to serve scores a point if the next boat to pass you on the river is named after a person, but the other person scores if it isn't. This way both people are actively involved in the game at all times, and as a game is won and service switches, so you have to hope that no longer are the boats named things like "Sweet Marie" or "Lillian" but abstract stuff such as "Aquacadabra" or "Shove it Gently".

Our morning stretch saw us passing through some beautiful countryside, with only a few boats tootling past - making Tow Path Tennis quite easy to remember. We were walking in the shadow of a heron that was out searching for his breakfast, and the lock keepers were friendly as we passed them in their well-tended gardens. The tree-lined stretch up to Chimney Meadows was a particular highlight as the sun was shining, but wasn't yet high enough to be fully throwing its heat onto us.

Shifford Lock Cut, as well as being the site for lunch that day, was also the curious location of my first shopping list find of the holiday. There, lying abandoned on the bridge over the cut, was a folded piece of paper: a shopping list! What a curious place to find another list for the Compendium!

As we continued our walk after lunch, we passed through a field where a large group of people were clearing up from some kind of event over the weekend. There were large patches of grass that seemed to have housed marquees, and a few refreshment stalls were still doing business. We amused ourselves for a while that maybe this had been the site of the Lost Vagueness Summer Spectacular, but on getting home we found that it was too early (and completely the wrong county). We still don't know what had been going on there...

About a mile away from Newbridge we met possibly the worst patch of the path: stinging nettle alley. This was at least 1/4 mile of head-high stinging nettles and thistles on both sides of the path, each side leaning in to try and attack you. No description can really do this stretch justice: you simply have to picture us walking through a field of stinging nettles to have any idea of what it was like.

We emerged to the sight of The Maybush pub (0 runs: bowled out) at Newbridge, where we stopped for a drink and to refill our water bottles. Continuing on we spent a few minutes at Northmoor Lock to take some photos of the pretty narrowboats heading downstream, and soon found ourselves (at only 4pm) outside our accommodation for the night: The Ferryman Inn at Bablock Hythe (2 runs).

According to the guidebook we had, Bablock Hythe is probably the most famous ferry crossing of the whole river - despite the fact that neither of us had heard of it. It also said that the landlord of the pub also offers a ferry service to the other bank of the river, but judging by the reception we were given on walking into this scary pub I wouldn't want to trust him on that.

It was as if we had walked into a saloon and all the locals stared at the new kids in town. To be fair, we may have been best to ditch our packs before going inside to ask about camping, but the icy gaze and general rudeness thrown by the bucketload in our direction from the woman behind the bar suggests that we'd still have been unwelcome even if we'd been wearing top hat and tails.

The woman grunted and moaned as I told her how I'd phoned a couple of weeks previously to book a camping spot, but had been told simply to turn up on the day as there'd be plenty of space. As she grudgingly went to find the landlord to "check wiv 'im", the other drinkers in the bar had their go with us.

"Camping then?"
"I hope you're tent's not white! We don't like white tents here."
The other drinkers gaffawed into their pints of mild.
"Erm...no. It's not white."
"We don't like blacks either."

I can't exactly remember, as things got a bit foggy there, but I'm sure we must both have simply looked at the man with our mouths wide open. How could someone in the 21st century be such a racist twat? The answer soon came: Mr Facism and his family were staying in the "holiday park" next door, evidently a breeding ground for the right wing. Fortunately the miserable barmaid soon returned and said we could pitch our tents. We gladly left the company of the merry crowd in the pub and spent a few hours talking in hushed tones about how unbelievably backwards this whole experience was.

Unfortunately the only place for food that night was there in The Ferryman Inn. On the other hand the National Front had left, along with the barmaid from hell, and had been replaced by some much more appealing people. As we made idle chit-chat with the new barmaid about what we were doing, where we had come from, and where we were going (Oxford) she told us how she was living in the holiday park next door for the season - she'd moved down in April. It was scary, though, that she hadn't heard of Oxford - the largest town in the area and only 10 miles down the river. A backwater pub indeed.

posted by Scotty at 10:00 PM

For two weeks from the end of July, Alice and I cast off the constraints of modern living. We packed a tent and some sleeping bags into our packs, filled our water bottles, and buckled our boots ready for a 184-mile walk along the Thames Path National Trail.

Starting at the source of the river near Kemble in Gloucestershire, we followed the river's twists and turns until we reached the Thames Barrier at the river's estuary.

This blog is a record of our walk.

Previous Days
  • Day 2: Castle Eaton to Radcot (13 miles)
  • Day 1: The Source to Castle Eaton (16.5 miles)
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