Oxford part 3, expanding ourselves, museums and markets

As usual when faced with an overflowing abundance of choice, I never know where to start. Oxford is an affluent city centre that attracts the curious, both academic and tourist, and a curious mix of both. Oxford is where Charles Dodgson, aka CS Lewis studied and taught so a lot of the curious tales of Alice in Wonderland were set in and around Oxford and particularly Christ Church college.

Christ Church

So we resorted to simply exploring on foot, searching out independent retailers, and avoiding anything that herded us like sheep. Whilst we were wandering around we discovered the Covered market which first opened in 1774, now it is home to some fabulous little independant retailers and celebrates Alice’s adventures with a collection of paper lantern sculptures hung from the rafters

We also had a very tasty, and affordable Thai meal from Sasi’s and the best icecream from the Wicked Chocolate store.

The wicked chocolate shop and gelateria

Not everything in the market was edible, or should I say desirable because the notice claims it is edible, Fellers butcher’s proudly displays the worlds oldest Ham

The world’s oldest ham

Following on from our market musings, it was time to take in some museums, and again so many to choose from that we had to prioritise. We chose the History of Science museum which celebrated over 1000 years of beautiful and intricate instruments, some collected by the eminent scholars of Oxford and some celebrating the work of more recent times, in particular the Oxford Astazenica covid vacine

And having done the science, I chose the botanical gardens, the rose garden planted in honour of the researchers who discovered the clinical importance of penicillin

And the alliums because we cant all go to Chelsea

We barely scratched the surface of all the things we could do and see in Oxford, but we have to save some for next time

Oxford part 2 time to play

I’m sure all those new graduates that we saw on Saturday worked hard for their degrees but I suspect they had also played hard during their time in Oxford. Port Meadow appeared to be a favourite place to let off steam.

Its not just fish swimming in the river

There were swimmers and frolickers in the water most days regardless of the weather. The temptation to join them proved too much although there was no way I was brave play Tarzan and swing off the tree.

The clear river water was too tempting to ignor

Of course some preferred getting up a bit of speed on the river and most mornings we saw the rowers being put through their paces

This team looks like champions

But in the evenings it seemed to be the paddle boarders came out to play

Thought we were under attack with this lot headed straight for us

We were very impressed by how clean the water was, very little litter, save for the occassional champagne cork bobbing along.

No plastic here

We didn’t run to champagne, but just across Medley Bridge was a lovely riverside bar that did woodfired pizza with wild garlic which hit the spot on more than one evening, even when it rained.

Oxford, part 1 – all work and no play

Of course I’d like to say I studied here, well no not really, it wouldn’t have been the best or right place for either of us, but oh boy what a lovely place to immerse yourself in academia if you’re so inclined.

One very proud young man

And the day we explored was graduation day so plenty of smiling happy family’s milling around the closed gates Sheldonian.

And without any logical plan of our own we just walked around town enjoying the atmosphere

And soaking up some of the history of the place

The faculty of history building

There was too much reading up to do

The Bodleian library

and taking good photos was proving difficult

The Radcliffe camera

But Christchurch has to be the most magnificent

Christchurch from the meadows

Or perhaps not wanting to be left behind Magdalen College

Magdalen College

Which sits on the banks of the Cherwell and where we could watch the haphazard tourists trying to outdo the students punting. The queue was long so we didn’t have a go

Punting on the cherwell

And we ended our day back at Christchurch for choral evensong

Inside the quad a christchurch
Awaiting evensong

Moving on to Oxford

We waved goodbye to the lovely Buttercup meadows of Eynsham


Past Dukes Cut junction where we joined the Thames a few weeks ago, and into Kings lock. Which although it didn’t have any fancy topiary that we’d seen upstream but was appropriately guarded for a king. Kings lock was the last pound lock built by the Thames Conservancy in 1928 when George V was on the throne so I assume it was named for him.

The King’s Lock Dragon

The next lock, at Godstow was the first stone built lock built in 1790. Godstow had been home to an Abbey and nunnery but Henry VIII put paid to that during the resolution of the monasteries, I wonder if that’s where some of the lock stones came from.

Godstow abbey ruins

Now Godstow is the first of the electro-hydraulic locks we shall meet on our journey downstream. We shared it with a lovely young couple who showed us which buttons to press.

I still cant convince Eric to let me have a roof garden

We cruised through Port Meadow and caught our first glimpses of Oxford’s dreaming spires, although the skyline was over dominated by cranes taller that the beautiful buildings we strained to see.

Dreaming spires in the distance

Under the Red Bridge or Medley foot bridge to give it s proper name,

Medley bridge

And onto a mooring snuggled into the trees

Where the next day we had a spur of the moment meeting when Amanda stopped off for lunch as she just happened to be driving past.

Always nice to have visitors

Port Meadow is a pleasant 20 minute walk into the centre of Oxford, so as we couldnt see any mooring restrictions, we settled down to enjoy a bit of a holiday.

Meandering amonst the meadows

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Thames. On the Trent, mooring was more or less restricted to the floating pontoons around the locks, and we had to call ahead on our VHS radio to alert lock keepers we were approaching, but not on the Thames.

Approaching Eynsham lock

The Trent’s frequent electric charging posts were a real bonus, just paying for what we needed on our precharged card. But it felt a bit like a motorway, plenty of boats getting from A to B as quickly as possible. The Upper Thames has a very different feel. Its a lot quieter, and people are simply enjoying the river. And the riverside pubs.

The Old Swan at Radcott

We’ve taken to the challenge of wild mooring. Who needs armco or pins when you can tie to a tree.

And poor Eric got stung by the nettles as well

Ok we do, but its been a novelty that we’ve enjoyed. Perhaps its the time of year, mid May, that everything is fresh and green.

So many trees, hard to see where the river flows

Or even yellow

We found ourselves a bit of steep bank that we could get close enough into to be able to get on and off

And a field full of buttercups

We a footpath into the village of Eynsham

Just outside of Eynsham, so whilst I sat in the field with my little electric spinning wheel

Eric sat on the roof of the boat wiring in the last of our solar panals. Needless to say retro fitting panels that require wiring being threaded up, under and behind every conceivable obstruction is not to be recommended and all I can say is no wonder it took him so long to psyche himself up to tackle the job.

No rest for the wicked

Whilst Eric was engrossed in his project, I thought I’d take myself for a walk up that hill, only to discover that its part of the Wytham Woods estate, owned by one of the Oxford Colleges. It is a research site containing ancient woodland that has remained under strict preservation since the 1940s and the general public are not allowed in without special permission. Perhaps next time we are here, I’ll be better prepared and will get that permission in advance.

Beacon Hill and Wytham woods

In the mean time I’ll just happily watch another sunset

Locking down and looking up

One of the many nice things about cruising on rivers is that the locks are often manned

Always happy to help

with someone keeping an eye open for those brave enough to pass through

and invariably a doddle compared to canal locks even if the lockie isnt on duty

The Upper Thames lockies use a long pole and hook to open and close the far side. Its very impressive.

Is it a pole or a jousting lance

But what’s also impressive is that the lock keepers job comes with a cottage,

Grafton lock cottage

Which is ok until you remember these guys are also only paid for a working week but are on call 24/7 – Unless its lunch time from 1 till 2 every day. However the river seems quiet with not much traffic which is probably why they have enough time to keep their gardens looking good. We think there must be a degree of rivalry over who can have the best topiary Although it looks like the frog wants to eat the tulips.

The Rushey lock frog

Not sure if this is a fancy haircut, or work in progress, either way it made us chuckle

Burscot locks entry

But the winner surely has to be the grafton cat ready to pounce on the swan

I wonder what the swan really thinks

Whilst we were cruising back downstream we became very aware of the air traffic. The escorted jet was bringing Boris back from India, or might have been, because moments before we saw an identical entourage, so one of them must have been a decoy. We think the two flying in parallel might have been in training for mid air refuelling because they really stuck close by each other for the best part of a morning. And the jet on its own, was one of many that we saw, including the Awax reconnaissance planes, checking we had paid for a Thames license. Once we looked at the map and realised how close we were to several RAF bases, the quantity of planes made sense.

They’re definitely on a mission

The swan by the way is sitting on 8 eggs, and the cat is actually hoping for some tuna to swim past.

Kelmscott Manor

We didn’t linger in Lechlade, it was cold and despite it being a pretty little place we decided to save our explorations for another time. We meandered back along the twists and turns of the river enjoying the countryside until we found a bank to moor against where I could get of the boat with my dignity intact and Eric could climb onto the roof to do some more solar panel wiring.

Everyone is happy

Although I thought we were in the middle of nowhere, it turns out to have been a favourite place of the Victorian textile designer William Morris. He rented the 16th century manor house at Kelmscott to help him escape the paparazzi of his day.

Kelmscott Manor

I wonder what he would have made of the likes of me wandering around his garden, marvelling in the beauty of the place

I would have loved to go inside the manor, as it has been conserved and is open to the public but only on certain days.

However as the gates were open and it isn’t anyone’s home I had a sneaky walk around outside.

One of Morris’ ideals and concerns was the damage done by architectural restoration. No wonder he loved this village, I felt like I had stepped back in time a few centuries.

I think it would be quite an enjoyable challenge to walk the entire Thames Path

Lechlade at Last

By mid morning our batteries were fully charged, (we don’t charge overnight) After a chat with Matt the lockie, to pay our dues, we were escorted by a swan towards Lechlade. It wouldn’t be a long trip, we could see the spire of St Lawrence church under a mile away.

Leaving St John’s for the final leg into Lechlade

Although we were a bit worried as we approached Lechlade, the swans were getting dangerously large.

Beware, of the wildlife in Lechlade

Lechlade is known to boaters for its offside mooring, which is shared by a herd of cattle. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a steak dinner, but I don’t particularly fancy becoming the steak’s dinner. And there’s many tales of the cows chewing ropes and licking paintwork and occasionally even stepping onto the deck. This herd isn’t aggressive, just inquisitive, but the canny boaters come armed with an electric fence to give a bit of space. However we saw a space at the bottom of The New Inn’s pub garden, and preferring a pint of beer to a pint of milk, we opted to moor as patrons, and enjoy the antics of the cows from a safe distance.

Perhaps its not just the cows we need to watch out for

We were well rewarded with antics when one of the cows got too close to the edge and had fallen in. The combination of the current and the steep bank meant that the cow was struggling to climb out. Some well meaning walkers called the firebrigade who dutifully turned up to assess the situation only to discover that she had climbed out unaided further downstream. They didn’t seem to mind, there wasn’t a lot else going on on a chilly grey bank holiday.

Thats a lot of cows

We left them to it and went to explore the village, stopping at the Fish and Chip shop

The fish and chips were worth stopping for

It had been a goal to reach Lechlade for some years now, as it holds fond childhood memories. I think I was about 7 when I helped my dad build a Canadian canoe. We then drove from our home in Liverpool to Trewsbury Mead, near Cirencester to see the spring which is hailed to be the source of this great River, in those days Old Father Thame’s statue still marked the spot until he was moved to St Johns lock in 1974. Its actually one of several springs in the area, but its unusual to see water flowing from it.

Photo taken from Thames Head Wiki page

We continued our homage in our VW combi, following the growing river for about 15 miles through pretty Cotswold villages until we reached Lechlade, the first navigable section, where we set off as a family of four, mum, dad me and my younger brother paddling our way down to Windsor, pitching our tent to camp along the way. (We’d actually launched, ie tested it was water tight, the canoe in the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Lydiate.) Such a pity I don’t have any photos of this transformative holiday. However I do have some lovely memories. Eric and I walked up to the Round House which marks the joining point of the Thames and Severn canal with the river, which is probably the spot where we launched our canoe.

The roundhouse (former lock keepers cottage) at Lechlade

Sadly the weather, and being on patrons only mooring didn’t motivate us to stay more than one night in Lechlade, and depending upon how our Thames adventure pans out we might well come back to explore this pretty place.

Looking down from the bridge to us moored at the New Inn

What happened to the sunshine

Yesterday, when we arrived, there were happy families playing in the river here at Radcot, but this morning it was kagouls not kayaks or cossies. But we needed to push on as we had booked a mooring at St John’s Lock for that night.

Wild mooring has its appeal…. when the sun’s shining

And luckily the showers became more intermittent and the locks were manned

Grafton Lock

Despite it being a bank holiday weekend the river was quiet, probably a good job looking at all the twists and turns we had to navigate

Even Lewis Hamilton would take this hairpin slowly

After two hours we were quite glad to moor up under the watchful eye of Old Father Thames

Old Father Thames, with the addition of a shovel

One of the benefits of river cruising is the availability of electric charging points along the way. And the Environment Agency gives mooring priority to electric boats. The downside is that they ask that you book 48 hours in advance, which we had done, but then had to cruise in the drizzle this morning to arrive on time. But equally so, we were able to plan to arrive with a low battery reading and leave the next day fully charged with enough power for a week or more.

Electic charging point at St John’s lock

We woke to a beautiful misty morning full of promise

So off we set, bright and early, well earlyish as it was before 10am. The paddlers and rowers were out on the river but we hadn’t seen any other narrowboats until we saw one coming downstream, it was Ian and Irene on NB Freespirit.

Here comes Freespirit

We both got our cameras out to snap each other

Smile we’re on camera

But Irene is much more up to date with their blog and posted first. It’s not often we get photos of the two of us cruising.

Thankyou Irene

We hadn’t set ourselves a destination to aim for today but the sun was now beaming down on us and it was a real pleasure to be out on the water. Lots of different sorts of bridges from what we are used to on the canals, some wooden,

Shifford footbridge

some stone,

The very old NewBridge

Beautiful blue skies, albeit it criss crossed with contrails

And some cosy woodland

Although some of the trees did make us chuckle

and plenty of cows probably chuckling at us.

and plenty of cows probably chuckling at us.

We moored up just before Radcot, we’d been cruising for nearly 7 hours which is a lot for us and if truth be told 2 hours longer than we ought to have been out in the sun. But as we were approaching a bank holiday we weren’t expecting it to last, and sure enought it was raining before bedtime.