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One step closer I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Trip Five: The Dreary Spires of Didcott

UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 18 July 2009 | Views [785]

The Dreary Spires of Didcott.

The beginning of this journey coughed spluttered and lurched into being.  The course of a true journey never runs smooth as is exhibited in an awkward piece of planning that resulted in – how shall I put this – a ‘tardy’ start to the day.  Mobile phones, GPS, e-mail and carrier pigeon are just some of the cutting edge tools that modern day adventurers such as our two roving buccaneers have at their disposal had to tackle the wilds of Oxfordshire.  Despite this welter of available technology they are only as good as the people who communicate with them.  In this case a sunny mixture of drink, 3 mobile phones and general happenstance all combined fatefully to engineer this late start.  It’s a good job that there is nothing relying on these twos organization beyond transporting their two bodies over a stretch of water in the hedonistic pursuit of ‘fun’.  Could you imagine these pair organising the relief of Ladsburg?  It is more a charge of the light brigade; unashamedly brash and headlong.  Unlikely to upset their precedent of dubiously organisation they ploughed on undeterred by these happenings. 

It was glorious in the finest sense of the word.  The wind coming from the south east causing the rivers surface to dimple into a kaleidoscope of light as the warm summer sun set the days jolly temperament.  The pub beer garden overlooking the river looked slightly forlorn, waiting for its revellers to arrive later in the day to soak up the desirable fluvial ambience of the Thames.   The dreary towers of Didcot hailed from the distance off to the right.  The tall towers of the power station stand dominating the local landscape, to feed mans insatiable consumption of power.  They stand almost serene framed in their might against the all encompassing sky.

The banks of the river in this spot were well maintained with piles driven vertically down into the river bank holding back the elemental fight of time and water that occurs between the bank and the river in producing the rivers course.  For those who have not benefitted from Geography degree rivers move in many ways.  The river moves as the water from the headlands, sauntering down, draining the Thames watershed.  The rivers channel itself also moves, albeit over a larger time frame.  Rivers actually migrate.  They do not migrate to Australia for better weather or to the US for the bright lights of Hollywood.  They do not chase that perfect retirement villa in Spain or go to find themselves in Asia but nevertheless they will migrate as sure as water and gravity exists.  They migrate downstream as the falling gradient of the now large and lumbering river eases it into a tortuous route.  The river now like an indolent teenager who has no purpose to propel them along, bumps downstream; propelled by Time but not purpose in the parameter that life has ordained. 

The process that propels this is due to the outside of the river channel flowing faster than that in the middle and thus having power to erode.  The outside flow or a river eats into the bank and the inside flow deposits silt.  Thus what the river takes it gives back as the meanders move down the flood plain only hemmed in by the surrounding topography.  No, the river is more of an asylum seeker punched and restricted to man whims and desires.  Trying to escape from mans arbitrary boundaries but always rained and subjugated in the end.

The spot at which the canoes where launched was a natural habitat for many types of detritus, with the scourge that is broken glass seeming to dominate.  This is far from ideal in the world of water sports, where sturdy boots are not paramount apparel.  There were no sign of the canal missionaries moored to their own spots so the religiously non religious were safe from their kind advances.

            The waterfront of Abingdon was soon reached.  Abingdon’s raison d’être is usually sighted as being a suburb or overspill for its grander neighbour of Oxford.  This is a slightly unfair approximation as Abingdon has its own waterfront charm with old stone built buildings looming up against the river embankment.  The Wiltshire and Berkshire canal also joins the Isis at this point built originally to transport coal but ending up supporting its own demise as it provided the entire infrastructure to supply the construction of the GWR line that never mirrors its route.


            Not far after Abingdon is the Culham cutting.  Now this short cut is the main navigable route of the Thames but entirely man made to cut of a large meander of the river.  The old maxim concerning short cuts first aired in the film road trip is “ well if it was easy it would just be the way” does not hold as this act shortened the distance considerable.  Is it cheating though?

            Ever felt like staring at something for an interminably length of time for very little reward.  Well there is a ‘sport’ in town for you now!  It’s called fishing.  The original notion was that it was a means to catch fish.   You cast your maggot out into the water and wait for the fish to bite. Judging by the fisherman that lined the bank of this part of the Thames the catching of fish element seems to have become obsolete as they sat there staring disconsolately in their own melancholy.  Where is the entertainment or fun in that?  I fear it is secret locked deep in the heart of these brooding fishermen who eye up waterborne passers by with a deep seated suspicion that all their ills are caused by these intruders into their world.

            The speed of travel was surprisingly quick on this day.  It was almost disconcertingly so for the two.  The river had shifted to a more easterly source with Didcott power stations chimneys now to their back.  The wind coming out of the South-West also helped propel, and provide that extra helping hand that Nature can give and take away with an equally arbitrary turn in either direction.

            A sense of ease was detectable as the characteristic Redbridge of Clifton Hamden appeared up ahead to signal the end of the day.  Its multiple arches marching across the river with the afternoon traffic accelerating hard as the facilitating traffic lights changed to green on the road that lay a-top.  Taking a short cut through a holiday park allowed access back to parked car. The best approach to take when you are not supposed in any particular place is to act that you are indeed supposed to be there.  Taking this idea into account are two canoeists managed to cross the park with out reproach from any irate park warden.   Like any good finish the village provided a well stocked pub that did a mean scampi and chips and did not object to having to serve two slightly damp people smelling vaguely of river water and sporting healthy sunburn.  This after all is the Cotswolds no more.  The wide Thames Valley lies in front.  No quaint Cotswold villages clad in stone of golden hue but onto to the metropolis’s of South-East England’s contagious sprawl.

Don't forget to check out the photos on the right hand page of the home page.

Trip Five – Saturday 20th

Abingdon – Clifton Hampden

Tags: canoeing, thames


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