WHERE THAMES SMOOTH WATERS GLIDE -
Map: Kings Lock to Eynsham Bridge
Both banks of the Thames are Oxfordshire soil between Iffley lock and this black stone by the County Stream. So that it is not till now, if you have sculled up from Oxford, that you can land upon the earth of Berkshire. Berkshire intime, the splendid birthplace of splendid men from Alfred downwards, is lovingly written of by Miss Eleanor Hayden in her several delightful books, wherein are many tales and colloquies fragrant of the fine folk of Berkshire. Two women, for instance, one "church" and one "chapel," were bragging of the beauty of their respective services. One at last crowned her description by asserting that the night before she had been in heaven, listening to the discourse under which she sat. The other's face fell for a moment, but soon brightened again. "So you wur in heaven, wur you? " she repeated in great triumph. "All I can say, then, is that they didn't keep you ther' long; they soon turned 'ee out, simly! "
The lover of English will find in Miss Hayden's books, Turnpike Travellers, Travels Round our Village, and the rest, much picturesque native idiom which, though never employed with the success of the "kailyard" to cloke much second-rate writing, is far softer and homelier to Saxon ears than the northern dialect. An old woman exclaims about her grandchildren "There's George, that's one, yennit? An' pooer little Marier, that's two, yennit? Jane, that's three, yennit? an' a girt smartish bwoy, that's four, yennit? " There are bird-starvin', for "scaring" or "killing"; and being scrumped for air indoors. If a baby fail to squatch at baptism it is regarded as already marked for death and how many a poor old couple, in and out of Berkshire, can echo the remark of her decayed characters: "We dwunt live, we just lingers"!
A satisfactory account of the name of the county is not to be had. The tantalising Asser derives it from the British bearroc, box-trees, with which it abounded. Or it may be from beroke, stripped oak bark. Camden hazily suggests various ideas: it is Berrochescire in Domesday.
King's weir lies in the northeastern bend of the top of the River's loop that sweeps so grandly between Northmoor and Abingdon. One speaks and reads of his windings, but when the land distance of five miles between these two places is compared with their twenty miles' separation by water, one is unshakeably convinced. The charming reach from King's weir lies east and west, after which the valley trends upstream southwest and south for nearly ten miles, to Northmoor and beyond.
Dr. Plot, who published his folio in 1677, wrote of the fishing in this stretch of River "In 1674 it gave so ample testimony of its great plenty that in the two days appointed for the fishing of Mr Mayor and the Bayliffe of the City it afforded betwixt Swithin's-Wear [probably Swinford] and Woolvercot Bridge (which I guess may be about three miles distant) fifteen hundred Jacks beside other fish. "
The stream a little higher, particularly near Eynsham, was within living memory choked with the notorious" American weed," which grows without roots upon the surface of the water, being extremely swift and prolific in its self-propagation; and which, within ten years of its first appearance in England, spread over all the waterways in the kingdom, so that small ponds and streams had their entire beds filled with it and their waters displaced. The weed was still in existence here in 1889.
A mile and a half above King's weir the river Evenlode curves into the Thames on the left bank, the first above Oxford of all those romantic little twenty or thirty mile tributaries which one day it may be my fortune, as it would assuredly be my delight, thoroughly to explore. It runs a very tortuous course of about thirty miles from a Worcestershire village of its own name; and has, says Plot, nitrous waters like the Windrush. Half a mile along Thames beyond its mouth, on the same bank, a now disused canal called Cassington Cut enters at "Cassington lock. " The spot is marked in my memory by heaps of sun bleached reeds. This canal joins the Evenlode about three miles up the course of the latter.
Yarnton tower and Cassington spire alternately hide and reappear amongst the trees all along this reach, which right up to Eynsham is very sweet to the memory, bordering as it does the northern slopes of Wytham Hill. As you float along it is borne upon the mind that of this scene, or of some other very similar, Robert Bridges wrote his delightful verses beginning:
There is a hill beside the silver Thames,
Shady with birch and beech and odorous pine
And brilliant underfoot with thousand gems
Steeply the thickets to his floods decline.
Straight trees in every place
Their thick tops interlace,
And pendant branches trail their foliage fine
Upon his watery face.
For the hill gradually closes in upon the River, composing a lovely scene of flowing water, of wooded hill and grassland. The stream demands its full share of attention here, flowing swift and clear along its gravel bed, where not so deep down you may see the darting fish and the undulating weed. Suddenly the course bends and widens out, and here is the cause of the swift sweet water; here is the glad open weir of Eynsham, once called also Bolde's and Swithin's, the very sight of which "doeth good like a medicine. " Here all day is the music of caressing winds and tumbling waters; here swimmers plunge into the eddying pool-off the centre pier if you've the heart! Bracing the spot is, at more than two hundred feet above the sea; and all round the hill-born breath from off the Cotswolds refreshes hearts long "scrumped for air" within four walls.
When you have pulled over the rollers you come, round a sharp bend southwestwards, full upon the splendid bridge named of Eynsham, or officially of Swinford; one of the noblest and most impressive bridges on the whole River, seven and a half miles from Folly Bridge. The Earl of Abingdon of the time erected it in 1777; and his successor still maintains the tollhouse at its northern end. Ireland drily comments that the builder's "liberality and public spirit have, I am credibly informed, been amply repaid by the revenue derived from this undertaking. " He also mentions a building at one end of the bridge, intended, but never actually used, as an inn. Boydell says it was a "spacious and handsome mansion," against the Berkshire end of the bridge; and there you will still find it. It found a use as a posting house in the coaching days; and is now divided up into cottages, but still a handsome old building; constituting, with its clustering cots and barns, that "tithing of Cumner" called Swinford from which the bridge derives its official title. Whenever you come downstream, notice how delightfully the spire of Cassington frames itself in one of the arches.
WHERE THAMES SMOOTH WATERS GLIDE -
Map: Kings Lock to Eynsham Bridge