This is not exactly leaving out all the funny bits because Jerome's comments on the river often have that sparkle of humour
Note that the old traditional convention is followed throughout this page that the left and right banks are referred to as if facing downstream.
(This is the opposite of the modern convention imposed by the Environment Agency)
The quaint back streets of Kingston, where they came down to the water's edge, looked quite picturesque in the flashing sunlight,
the glinting river with its drifting barges, the wooded towpath, the trim-kept villas on the other side, Harris, in a red and orange blazer,
grunting away at the sculls, the distant glimpses of the grey old palace of the Tudors, all made a sunny picture, so bright but calm,
so full of life, and yet so peaceful, that, early in the day though it was, I felt myself being dreamily lulled off into a musing fit.
I mused on Kingston, or "Kyningestun," as it was once called in the days when Saxon "kinges" were crowned there. Great Caesar crossed the river there, and the Roman legions camped upon its sloping uplands. Caesar, like, in later years, Elizabeth, seems to have stopped everywhere: only he was more respectable than good Queen Bess; he didn't put up at the public-houses. . . .
Many of the old houses, round about, speak very plainly of those days when Kingston was a royal borough, and nobles and courtiers lived there, near their King, and the long road to the palace gates was gay all day with clanking steel and prancing palfreys, and rustling silks and velvets, and fair faces. The large and spacious houses, with their oriel, latticed windows, their huge fireplaces, and their gabled roofs, breathe of the days of hose and doublet, of pearl-embroidered stomachers, and complicated oaths. They were upraised in the days "when men knew how to build. " The hard red bricks have only grown more firmly set with time, and their oak stairs do not creak and grunt when you try to go down them quietly. . . .
I got out and took the tow-line ...
... and ran the boat on past Hampton Court.
What a dear old wall that is that runs along by the river there! I never pass it without feeling better for the sight of it. Such a mellow, bright, sweet old wall; what a charming picture it would make, with the lichen creeping here, and the moss growing there, a shy young vine peeping over the top at this spot, to see what is going on upon the busy river, and the sober old ivy clustering a little farther down! There are fifty shades and tints and hues in every ten yards of that old wall. If I could only draw, and knew how to paint, I could make a lovely sketch of that old wall, I'm sure.
I've often thought I should like to live at Hampton Court. It looks so peaceful and so quiet, and it is such a dear old place to ramble round in the early morning before many people are about.
It took us some time to pass through [Moulesey Lock], as we were the only boat, and it is a big lock.
I don't think I ever remember to have seen Moulsey Lock, before, with only one boat in it.
It is, I suppose, Boulter's not even excepted, the busiest lock on the river. I have stood and watched it,
sometimes, when you could not see any water at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers, and gay caps, and saucy hats,
and many-coloured parasols, and silken rugs, and cloaks, and streaming ribbons, and dainty whites;
when looking down into the lock from the quay, you might fancy it was a huge box into which flowers of every hue and shade
had been thrown pell-mell, and lay piled up in a rainbow heap, that covered every corner.
On a fine Sunday it presents this appearance nearly all day long, while, up the stream, and down the stream, lie,
waiting their turn, outside the gates, long lines of still more boats; and boats are drawing near and passing away,
so that the sunny river, from the Palace up to Hampton Church, is dotted and decked with yellow, and blue, and orange, and white, and red, and pink.
All the inhabitants of Hampton and Moulsey dress themselves up in boating costume, and come and mouch round the lock with their dogs,
and flirt, and smoke, and watch the boats; and, altogether, what with the caps and jackets of the men,
the pretty coloured dresses of the women, the excited dogs, the moving boats, the white sails, the pleasant landscape,
and the sparkling water, it is one of the gayest sights I know of near this dull old London town.
I reminded him [Harris] of George, and how we had to get the boat up to Shepperton by five o'clock to meet him . . .
WE stopped under the willows by Kempton Park, and lunched.
It is a pretty little spot there: a pleasant grass plateau, running along by the water's edge, and overhung by willows. . . .
The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the river Thames altogether. They actually do this along the minor tributary streams and in the backwaters. They drive posts into the bed of the stream, and draw chains across from bank to bank, and nail huge notice-boards on every tree. The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone
We reached Sunbury Lock at half-past three. The river is sweetly pretty just there before you come to the gates, and the backwater is charming;
but don't attempt to row up it. I tried to do so once. I was sculling, and asked the fellows who were steering if they thought it could be done, and they said, oh, yes, they thought so, if I pulled hard. We were just under the little foot-bridge that crosses it between the two weirs, when they said this, and I bent down over the sculls, and set myself up, and pulled. I pulled splendidly. I got well into a steady rhythmical swing. I put my arms, and my legs, and my back into it. I set myself a good, quick, dashing stroke, and worked in really grand style. My two friends said it was a pleasure to watch me. At the end of five minutes, I thought we ought to be pretty near the weir, and I looked up. We were under the bridge, in exactly the same spot that we were when I began, and there were those two idiots, injuring themselves by violent laughing. I had been grinding away like mad to keep that boat stuck still under that bridge. I let other people pull up backwaters against strong streams now.
We sculled up to Walton, a rather large place for a riverside town. As with all riverside places, only the tiniest corner of it
comes down to the water, so that from the boat you might fancy it was a village of some half-dozen houses, all told.
Windsor and Abingdon are the only towns between London and Oxford that you can really see anything of from the stream. All the others hide round corners, and merely peep at the river down one street: my thanks to them for being so considerate, and leaving the river-banks to woods and fields and water-works. Even Reading, though it does its best to spoil and sully and make hideous as much of the river as it can reach, is good-natured enough to keep its ugly face a good deal out of sight.
Caesar, of course, had a little place at Walton - a camp, or an entrenchment, or something of that sort. Caesar was a regular up-river man. Also Queen Elizabeth, she was there, too. You can never get away from that woman, go where you will. Cromwell and Bradshaw (not the guide man, but the King Charles's head man) likewise sojourned here. They must have been quite a pleasant little party, altogether.
There is an iron "scold's bridle" in Walton Church. They used these things in ancient days for curbing women's tongues. They have given up the attempt now. I suppose iron was getting scarce, and nothing else would be strong enough. . . .
You pass Oatlands Park on the right bank here. It is a famous old place. Henry VIII. stole it from some one or the other, I forget whom now, and lived in it. There is a grotto in the park which you can see for a fee, and which is supposed to be very wonderful; but I cannot see much in it myself. The late Duchess of York, who lived at Oatlands, was very fond of dogs, and kept an immense number. She had a special graveyard made, in which to bury them when they died, and there they lie, about fifty of them, with a tombstone over each, and an epitaph inscribed thereon. Well, I dare say they deserve it quite as much as the average Christian does.
At "Corway Stakes" - the first bend above Walton Bridge - was fought a battle between Caesar and Cassivelaunus. Cassivelaunus had prepared the river for Caesar, by planting it full of stakes (and had, no doubt, put up a notice-board). But Caesar crossed in spite of this. You couldn't choke Caesar off that river. He is the sort of man we want round the backwaters now.
Halliford and Shepperton are both pretty little spots where they touch the river; but there is nothing remarkable about either of them.
There is a tomb in Shepperton churchyard, however, with a poem on it, and I was nervous lest Harris should want to get out and fool round it.
I saw him fix a longing eye on the landing-stage as we drew near it, so I managed, by an adroit movement, to jerk his cap into the water,
and in the excitement of recovering that, and his indignation at my clumsiness, he forgot all about his beloved graves.
At Weybridge, the Wey (a pretty little stream, navigable for small boats up to Guildford, and one which I have always been making up my mind to explore, and never have), the Bourne, and the Basingstoke Canal all enter the Thames together.
The lock [Shepperton] is just opposite the town, and the first thing that we saw, when we came in view of it, was George's blazer on one of the lock gates, closer inspection showing that George was inside it.
George got the [towing] line right after a while, and towed us steadily on to Penton Hook.
There we discussed the important question of camping. We had decided to sleep on board that night, and we had either to lay up just about there, or go on past Staines. It seemed early to think about shutting up then, however, with the sun still in the heavens, and we settled to push straight on for Runnymead, three and a half miles further, a quiet wooded part of the river, and where there is good shelter. We all wished, however, afterward that we had stopped at Penton Hook. Three or four miles up stream is a trifle, early in the morning, but it is a weary pull at the end of a long day. You take no interest in the scenery during these last few miles. You do not chat and laugh. Every half-mile you cover seems like two. You can hardly believe you are only where you are, and you are convinced that the map must be wrong; and, when you have trudged along for what seems to you at least ten miles, and still the lock is not in sight, you begin to seriously fear that somebody must have sneaked it, and run off with it.
[ STORY OF THE REMOVED WALLINGFORD LOCK IS SHOWN BELOW IN ITS CORRECT POSITION ]
HARRIS and I began to think that Bell Weir lock must have been done away with after the same manner [as Wallingford Lock see above].
George had towed us up to Staines, and we had taken the boat from there, and it seemed that we were dragging fifty tons after us, and were walking forty miles. It was half-past seven when we were through, and we all got in, and sculled up close to the left bank, looking out for a spot to haul up in.
We had originally intended to go on to Magna Charta Island, a sweetly pretty part of the river, where it winds through a soft, green valley,
and to camp in one of the many picturesque inlets to be found round that tiny shore.
But, somehow, we did not feel that we yearned for the picturesque nearly so much now as we had earlier in the day. A bit of water between a coal-barge and a gas-works would have quite satisfied us for that night. We did not want scenery. We wanted to have our supper and go to bed.
> However, we did pull up to the point - "Picnic Point," it is called - and dropped into a very pleasant nook under a great elm-tree, to the spreading roots of which we fastened the boat.
We went over to Magna Charta Island, and had a look at the stone which stands in the cottage there and on which the great Charter
is said to have been signed; though, as to whether it really was signed there, or, as some say, on the other bank at "Runningmede,"
I decline to commit myself. As far as my own personal opinion goes, however, I am inclined to give weight to the popular island theory.
Certainly, had I been one of the Barons, at the time, I should have strongly urged upon my comrades the advisability of our getting
such a slippery customer as King John on to the island, where there was less chance of surprises and tricks.
There are the ruins of an old priory in the grounds of Ankerwyke House, which is close to Picnic Point, and it was round about the grounds of this old priory that Henry VIII is said to have waited for and met Anne Boleyn. He also used to meet her at Hever Castle in Kent, and also somewhere near St. Albans. It must have been difficult for the people of England in those days to have found a spot where these thoughtless young folk were NOT spooning. . . .
A shady road, dotted here and there with dainty little cottages, runs by the bank up to the "Bells of Ouseley," a picturesque inn, as most up-river inns are, and a place where a very good glass of ale may be drunk - so Harris says; and on a matter of this kind you can take Harris's word.
From Picnic Point to Old Windsor Lock is a delightful bit of the river.
Old Windsor is a famous spot in its way. Edward the Confessor had a palace here, and here the great Earl Godwin was proved guilty by the justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King's brother. Earl Godwin broke a piece of bread and held it in his hand. "If I am guilty," said the Earl, "may this bread choke me when I eat it!"Then he put the bread into his mouth and swallowed it, and it choked him, and he died.
After you pass Old Windsor, the river is somewhat uninteresting, and does not become itself again until you are nearing Boveney.
George and I towed up past the Home Park, which stretches along the right bank from Albert to Victoria Bridge;
. . . nothing exciting happened
and we tugged steadily on to a little below Monkey Island, where we drew up and lunched. . . .
Maidenhead itself is too snobby to be pleasant. It is the haunt of the river swell and his overdressed female companion.
It is the town of showy hotels, patronised chiefly by dudes and ballet girls.
It is the witch's kitchen from which go forth those demons of the river - steam-launches.
The LONDON JOURNAL duke always has his "little place" at Maidenhead;
and the heroine of the three-volume novel always dines there when she goes out on the spree with somebody else's husband.
We went through Maidenhead quickly,
and then eased up, and took leisurely that grand reach beyond Boulter's and Cookham locks.
Cliveden Woods still wore their dainty dress of spring, and rose up, from the water's edge, in one long harmony of blended shades of fairy green. In its unbroken loveliness this is, perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the river, and lingeringly we slowly drew our little boat away from its deep peace.
We pulled up in the backwater, just below Cookham, and had tea;
and, when we were through the lock, it was evening. A stiffish breeze had sprung up - in our favour, for a wonder; for, as a rule on the river, the wind is always dead against you whatever way you go. . . .
There is lovely country round about [ Marlow]. If, after boating, you are fond of a walk, while the river itself is at its best here.
Down to Cookham, past the Quarry Woods and the meadows, is a lovely reach.
Dear old Quarry Woods! with your narrow, climbing paths, and little winding glades, how scented to this hour you seem with memories of sunny summer days! How haunted are your shadowy vistas with the ghosts of laughing faces! how from your whispering leaves there softly fall the voices of long ago!
And at Marlow we left the boat by the bridge, and went and put up for the night at the Crown.
MARLOW is one of the pleasantest river centres I know of. It is a bustling, lively little town; not very picturesque on the whole, it is true,
but there are many quaint nooks and corners to be found in it, nevertheless - standing arches in the shattered bridge of Time,
over which our fancy travels back to the days when Marlow Manor owned Saxon Algar for its lord, ere conquering William seized it
to give to Queen Matilda, ere it passed to the Earls of Warwick or to worldly-wise Lord Paget, the councillor of four successive sovereigns.
We got up tolerably early on the Monday morning at Marlow, and went for a bathe before breakfast; . . .
We did our marketing after breakfast, and revictualled the boat for three days. . . .
We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was just before the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers; some by themselves, some towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches: I suppose every rowing man does. I never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it.
From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet.
Grand old Bisham Abbey, whose stone walls have rung to the shouts of the Knights Templars, and which, at one time, was the home of Anne of Cleves and at another of Queen Elizabeth, is passed on the right bank just half a mile above Marlow Bridge. Bisham Abbey is rich in melodramatic properties. It contains a tapestry bed-chamber, and a secret room hid high up in the thick walls. The ghost of the Lady Hoby, who beat her little boy to death, still walks there at night, trying to wash its ghostly hands clean in a ghostly basin. Warwick, the king-maker, rests there, careless now about such trivial things as earthly kings and earthly kingdoms; and Salisbury, who did good service at Poitiers.
Just before you come to the abbey, and right on the river's bank, is Bisham Church, and, perhaps, if any tombs are worth inspecting, they are the tombs and monuments in Bisham Church. It was while floating in his boat under the Bisham beeches that Shelley, who was then living at Marlow (you can see his house now, in West street), composed THE REVOLT OF ISLAM.
By Hurley Weir, a little higher up, I have often thought that I could stay a month without having sufficient time to drink in
all the beauty of the scene. The village of Hurley, five minutes' walk from the lock, is as old a little spot as there is on the river,
dating, as it does, to quote the quaint phraseology of those dim days, "from the times of King Sebert and King Offa".
Just past the weir (going up) is Danes' Field, where the invading Danes once encamped, during their march to Gloucestershire;
and a little further still, nestling by a sweet corner of the stream, is what is left of Medmenham Abbey.
The famous Medmenham monks, or "Hell Fire Club," as they were commonly called, and of whom the notorious Wilkes was a member,
were a fraternity whose motto was "Do as you please," and that invitation still stands over the ruined doorway of the abbey.
Many years before this bogus abbey, with its congregation of irreverent jesters, was founded, there stood upon this same spot
a monastery of a sterner kind, whose monks were of a somewhat different type to the revellers that were to follow them,
five hundred years afterwards. The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century, wore no clothes
but rough tunics and cowls, and ate no flesh, nor fish, nor eggs. They lay upon straw, and they rose at midnight to mass.
They spent the day in labour, reading, and prayer; and over all their lives there fell a silence as of death, for no one spoke.
A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot, that God had made so bright!
Strange that Nature's voices all around them - the soft singing of the waters, the whisperings of the river grass,
the music of the rushing wind - should not have taught them a truer meaning of life than this.
They listened there, through the long days, in silence, waiting for a voice from heaven; and all day long and through the solemn night
it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.
From Medmenham to sweet Hambledon Lock the river is full of peaceful beauty,
We found ourselves short of water at Hambledon Lock; so we took our jar and went up to the lock-keeper's house to beg for some.
George was our spokesman. He put on a winning smile, and said:
"Oh, please could you spare us a little water?"
"Certainly," replied the old gentleman; "take as much as you want, and leave the rest."
"Thank you so much," murmured George, looking about him. "Where - where do you keep it?"
"It's always in the same place my boy," was the stolid reply: "just behind you."
"I don't see it," said George, turning round.
"Why, bless us, where's your eyes?" was the man's comment, as he twisted George round and pointed up and down the stream.
"There's enough of it to see, ain't there?"
"Oh!" exclaimed George, grasping the idea; "but we can't drink the river, you know!"
"No; but you can drink SOME of it," replied the old fellow.
"It's what I've drunk for the last fifteen years. "
George told him that his appearance, after the course, did not seem a sufficiently good advertisement for the brand; and that he would prefer it out of a pump. We got some from a cottage a little higher up. I daresay THAT was only river water, if we had known. But we did not know, so it was all right. What the eye does not see, the stomach does not get upset over
but, after [the river] passes Greenlands, the rather uninteresting looking river residence of my newsagent - a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who may often be met with about these regions, during the summer months, sculling himself along in easy vigorous style, or chatting genially to some old lock-keeper, as he passes through - until well the other side of Henley, it is somewhat bare and dull.
That evening they camp at one of the Shiplake islands and two of them walk back to Henley for "a mouch around"
Henley was getting ready for the regatta, and was full of bustle. We met a goodish number of men we knew about the town, and in their pleasant company the time slipped by somewhat quickly; so that it was nearly eleven o'clock before we set off on our four-mile walk home - as we had learned to call our little craft by this time.
We went up the backwater to Wargrave. It is a short cut, leading out of the right-hand bank about half a mile above Marsh Lock, and is well worth taking, being a pretty, shady little piece of stream, besides saving nearly half a mile of distance. Of course, its entrance is studded with posts and chains, and surrounded with notice boards, menacing all kinds of torture, imprisonment, and death to everyone who dares set scull upon its waters - I wonder some of these riparian boors don't claim the air of the river and threaten everyone with forty shillings fine who breathes it - but the posts and chains a little skill will easily avoid; and as for the boards, you might, if you have five minutes to spare, and there is nobody about, take one or two of them down and throw them into the river.
Half-way up the backwater, we got out and lunched; and it was during this lunch that George and I received rather a trying shock.
Harris received a shock, too; but I do not think Harris's shock could have been anything like so bad as the shock that George and I
had over the business. You see, it was in this way: we were sitting in a meadow, about ten yards from the water's edge,
and we had just settled down comfortably to feed. Harris had the beefsteak pie between his knees, and was carving it,
and George and I were waiting with our plates ready.
"Have you got a spoon there?" says Harris; "I want a spoon to help the gravy with".
The hamper was close behind us, and George and I both turned round to reach one out. We were not five seconds getting it. When we looked round again, Harris and the pie were gone! It was a wide, open field. There was not a tree or a bit of hedge for hundreds of yards. He could not have tumbled into the river, because we were on the water side of him, and he would have had to climb over us to do it. George and I gazed all about. Then we gazed at each other.
"Has he been snatched up to heaven?" I queried.
"They'd hardly have taken the pie too," said George. There seemed weight in this objection, and we discarded the heavenly theory.
"I suppose the truth of the matter is," suggested George, descending to the commonplace and practicable,
"that there has been an earthquake." And then he added, with a touch of sadness in his voice:
"I wish he hadn't been carving that pie. " With a sigh, we turned our eyes once more towards the spot where Harris and the pie had last been seen on earth; and there, as our blood froze in our veins and our hair stood up on end, we saw Harris's head - and nothing but his head - sticking bolt upright among the tall grass, the face very red, and bearing upon it an expression of great indignation! George was the first to recover.
"Speak!" he cried, "and tell us whether you are alive or dead - and where is the rest of you?"
"Oh, don't be a stupid ass!" said Harris's head. "I believe you did it on purpose. "
"Did what?" exclaimed George and I.
" Why, put me to sit here - darn silly trick! Here, catch hold of the pie." And out of the middle of the earth, as it seemed to us, rose the pie - very much mixed up and damaged; and, after it, scrambled Harris - tumbled, grubby, and wet. He had been sitting, without knowing it, on the very verge of a small gully, the long grass hiding it from view; and in leaning a little back he had shot over, pie and all. He said he had never felt so surprised in all his life, as when he first felt himself going, without being able to conjecture in the slightest what had happened. He thought at first that the end of the world had come. Harris believes to this day that George and I planned it all beforehand. Thus does unjust suspicion follow even the most blameless for, as the poet says,
"Who shall escape calumny?" Who, indeed!
WE caught a breeze, after lunch, which took us gently up past Wargrave and Shiplake.
Mellowed in the drowsy sunlight of a summer's afternoon, Wargrave, nestling where the river bends, makes a sweet old picture as pass it, and one that lingers long upon the retina of memory.
The "George and Dragon" at Wargrave boasts a sign, painted on the one side by Leslie, R. A. , and on the other by Hodgson of that ilk. Leslie has depicted the fight; Hodgson has imagined the scene, "After the Fight" - George, the work done, enjoying his pint of beer.
Day, the author of SANDFORD AND MERTON, lived and - more credit to the place still - was killed at Wargrave.
In the church is a memorial to Mrs. Sarah Hill, who bequeathed 1 pound annually, to be divided at Easter, between two boys and two girls who "have never been undutiful to their parents; who have never been known to swear or to tell untruths, to steal, or to break windows. " Fancy giving up all that for five shillings a year! It is not worth it. . . .
Shiplake is a pretty village, but it cannot be seen from the river, being upon the hill. Tennyson was married in Shiplake Church.
The river up to Sonning winds in and out through many islands, and is very placid, hushed, and lonely.
Few folk, except at twilight, a pair or two of rustic lovers, walk along its banks.
`Arry and Lord Fitznoodle have been left behind at Henley, and dismal, dirty Reading is not yet reached.
It is a part of the river in which to dream of bygone days, and vanished forms and faces, and things that might have been, but are not, confound them.
They go on to Sonning and then return to one of the islands.
George and I left [ Harris ] in the boat, and settled to go for a mouch round Henley
See Henley above
We got out at Sonning, and went for a walk round the village. It is the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river.
It is more like a stage village than one built of bricks and mortar. Every house is smothered in roses, and now, in early June,
they were bursting forth in clouds of dainty splendour. If you stop at Sonning, put up at the Bull behind the church.
It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green, square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees,
the old men group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics; with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows,
and awkward stairs and winding passages.
We roamed about sweet Sonning for an hour or so, and then, it being too late to push on past Reading, we decided to go back to one of the Shiplake islands, and put up there for the night.
1.76 miles back to Shiplake Islands making 16.30 miles that day
WE woke late the next morning, [ on one of the Shiplake Islands ] and, at about ten, set out on what we had determined should be a good day's journey.
At Reading lock we came up with a steam launch, belonging to some friends of mine, and they towed us up to within about a mile of Streatley
WE came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading.
The town itself is a famous old place, dating from the dim days of King Ethelred, when the Danes anchored their warships in the Kennet,
and started from Reading to ravage all the land of Wessex; and here Ethelred and his brother Alfred fought and defeated them,
Ethelred doing the praying and Alfred the fighting.
In later years, Reading seems to have been regarded as a handy place to run down to, when matters were becoming unpleasant in London. Parliament generally rushed off to Reading whenever there was a plague on at Westminster; and, in 1625, the Law followed suit, and all the courts were held at Reading. It must have been worth while having a mere ordinary plague now and then in London to get rid of both the lawyers and the Parliament.
During the Parliamentary struggle, Reading was besieged by the Earl of Essex, and, a quarter of a century later, the Prince of Orange routed King James's troops there. Henry I. lies buried at Reading, in the Benedictine abbey founded by him there, the ruins of which may still be seen; and, in this same abbey, great John of Gaunt was married to the Lady Blanche.
The river becomes very lovely from a little above Reading.
The railway rather spoils it near Tilehurst
but from Mapledurham up to Streatley it is glorious.
A little above Mapledurham lock you pass Hardwick House, where Charles I. played bowls.
The neighbourhood of Pangbourne, where the quaint little Swan Inn stands, must be as familiar to the HABITUES of the Art Exhibitions as it is to its own inhabitants.
Goring on the left bank and Streatley on the right are both or either charming places to stay at for a few days.
The reaches down to Pangbourne woo one for a sunny sail or for a moonlight row, and the country round about is full of beauty.
We had intended to push on to Wallingford that day, but the sweet smiling face of the river here lured us to linger for a while;
and so we left our boat at the bridge, and went up into Streatley, and lunched at the "Bull," much to Montmorency's satisfaction.
They say that the hills on each ride of the stream here once joined and formed a barrier across what is now the Thames, and that then the river ended there above Goring in one vast lake. I am not in a position either to contradict or affirm this statement. I simply offer it.
It is an ancient place, Streatley, dating back, like most river-side towns and villages, to British and Saxon times. Goring is not nearly so pretty a little spot to stop at as Streatley, if you have your choice; but it is passing fair enough in its way, and is nearer the railway in case you want to slip off without paying your hotel bill.
WE stayed two days at Streatley, and got our clothes washed. . . .
Where did they spend the following night? I suspect it was not Culham but Clifton. The following day starts "We had finished breakfast, and were through Clifton Lock by half-past eight."
WE left Streatley early the next morning, [ and pulled up to Culham, and slept under the canvas, in the backwater there.]
The river is not extraordinarily interesting between Streatley and Wallingford.
From Cleve you get a stretch of six and a half miles without a lock.
I believe this is the longest uninterrupted stretch anywhere above Teddington, and the Oxford Club make use of it for their trial eights.
But however satisfactory this absence of locks may be to rowing-men, it is to be regretted by the mere pleasure-seeker. For myself, I am fond of locks. They pleasantly break the monotony of the pull. I like sitting in the boat and slowly rising out of the cool depths up into new reaches and fresh views; or sinking down, as it were, out of the world, and then waiting, while the gloomy gates creak, and the narrow strip of day-light between them widens till the fair smiling river lies full before you, and you push your little boat out from its brief prison on to the welcoming waters once again. They are picturesque little spots, these locks. The stout old lock-keeper, or his cheerful-looking wife, or bright-eyed daughter, are pleasant folk to have a passing chat with. * You meet other boats there, and river gossip is exchanged. The Thames would not be the fairyland it is without its flower-decked locks.
* Or rather WERE. The Conservancy of late seems to have constituted itself into a society for the employment of idiots. A good many of the new lock-keepers, especially in the more crowded portions of the river, are excitable, nervous old men, quite unfitted for their post.
I remember being terribly upset once up the river (in a figurative sense, I mean).
I was out with a young lady - cousin on my mother's side - and we were pulling down to Goring.
It was rather late, and we were anxious to get in - at least SHE was anxious to get in.
It was half-past six when we reached Benson's lock, and dusk was drawing on, and she began to get excited then.
She said she must be in to supper. I said it was a thing I felt I wanted to be in at, too;
and I drew out a map I had with me to see exactly how far it was.
I saw it was just a mile and a half to the next lock - Wallingford - and five on from there to Cleeve.
"Oh, it's all right!" I said. "We'll be through the next lock before seven, and then there is only one more;" and I settled down and pulled steadily away. We passed the [ Wallingford ] bridge, and soon after that I asked if she saw the lock. She said no, she did not see any lock; and I said,
"Oh!" and pulled on. Another five minutes went by, and then I asked her to look again.
"No," she said; "I can't see any signs of a lock. "
"You - you are sure you know a lock, when you do see one?" I asked hesitatingly, not wishing to offend her. The question did offend her, however, and she suggested that I had better look for myself; so I laid down the sculls, and took a view. The river stretched out straight before us in the twilight for about a mile; not a ghost of a lock was to be seen.
"You don't think we have lost our way, do you?" asked my companion. I did not see how that was possible; though, as I suggested, we might have somehow got into the weir stream, and be making for the falls. This idea did not comfort her in the least, and she began to cry. She said we should both be drowned, and that it was a judgment on her for coming out with me. It seemed an excessive punishment, I thought; but my cousin thought not, and hoped it would all soon be over. I tried to reassure her, and to make light of the whole affair. I said that the fact evidently was that I was not rowing as fast as I fancied I was, but that we should soon reach the lock now; and I pulled on for another mile. Then I began to get nervous myself. I looked again at the map. There was Wallingford lock, clearly marked, a mile and a half below Benson's. It was a good, reliable map; and, besides, I recollected the lock myself. I had been through it twice. Where were we? What had happened to us? I began to think it must be all a dream, and that I was really asleep in bed, and should wake up in a minute, and be told it was past ten. I asked my cousin if she thought it could be a dream, and she replied that she was just about to ask me the same question; and then we both wondered if we were both asleep, and if so, who was the real one that was dreaming, and who was the one that was only a dream; it got quite interesting. I still went on pulling, however, and still no lock came in sight, and the river grew more and more gloomy and mysterious under the gathering shadows of night, and things seemed to be getting weird and uncanny. I thought of hobgoblins and banshees, and will-o'-the-wisps, and those wicked girls who sit up all night on rocks, and lure people into whirl-pools and things; and I wished I had been a better man, and knew more hymns;
and in the middle of these reflections I heard the blessed strains of "He's got `em on," played, badly, on a concertina, and knew that we were saved. The sweet sounds drew nearer, and soon the boat from which they were worked lay alongside us. It contained a party of provincial `Arrys and `Arriets, out for a moonlight sail. (There was not any moon, but that was not their fault. ) I never saw more attractive, lovable people in all my life. I hailed them, and asked if they could tell me the way to Wallingford lock; and I explained that I had been looking for it for the last two hours.
"Wallingford lock!" they answered. "Lor' love you, sir, that's been done away with for over a year. There ain't no Wallingford lock now, sir. You're close to Cleeve now. Blow me tight if `ere ain't a gentleman been looking for Wallingford lock, Bill!"
I had never thought of that. I wanted to fall upon all their necks and bless them; but the stream was running too strong just there to allow of this, so I had to content myself with mere cold-sounding words of gratitude. We thanked them over and over again, and we said it was a lovely night, and we wished them a pleasant trip, and, I think, I invited them all to come and spend a week with me, and my cousin said her mother would be so pleased to see them. And we sang the soldiers' chorus out of FAUST, and got home in time for supper, after all.
Wallingford, six miles above Streatley, is a very ancient town, and has been an active centre for the making of English history.
It was a rude, mud-built town in the time of the Britons, who squatted there, until the Roman legions evicted them;
and replaced their clay-baked walls by mighty fortifications, the trace of which Time has not yet succeeded in sweeping away,
so well those old-world masons knew how to build. But Time, though he halted at Roman walls, soon crumbled Romans to dust; and on the ground,
in later years, fought savage Saxons and huge Danes, until the Normans came.
It was a walled and fortified town up to the time of the Parliamentary War, when it suffered a long and bitter siege from Fairfax. It fell at last, and then the walls were razed.
From Wallingford up to Dorchester the neighbourhood of the river grows more hilly, varied, and picturesque.
Dorchester stands half a mile from the river. It can be reached by paddling up the Thame,
if you have a small boat;
but the best way is to leave the river at Day's Lock, and take a walk across the fields.
Dorchester is a delightfully peaceful old place, nestling in stillness and silence and drowsiness. Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British times; it was then called Caer Doren, "the city on the water. " In more recent times the Romans formed a great camp here, the fortifications surrounding which now seem like low, even hills. In Saxon days it was the capital of Wessex. It is very old, and it was very strong and great once.
Now it sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.
Round Clifton Hampden, itself a wonderfully pretty village, old-fashioned, peaceful, and dainty with flowers, the river scenery is rich and beautiful. If you stay the night on land at Clifton, you cannot do better than put up at the "Barley Mow." It is, without exception, I should say, the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river. It stands on the right of the bridge, quite away from the village. Its low-pitched gables and thatched roof and latticed windows give it quite a story-book appearance, while inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timeyfied. . . .
[The start of this day reads: "and pulled up to Culham, and slept under the canvas, in the backwater there."
However the following day starts with: "We had finished breakfast, and were through Clifton Lock by half-past eight." So I had to choose and decided the Barley Mow was the more likely stopping place. ]
We were up early the next morning, as we wanted to be in Oxford by the afternoon. It is surprising how early one can get up, when camping out. One does not yearn for "just another five minutes" nearly so much, lying wrapped up in a rug on the boards of a boat, with a Gladstone bag for a pillow, as one does in a featherbed.
We had finished breakfast, and were through Clifton Lock by half-past eight.
From Clifton to Culham the river banks are flat, monotonous, and uninteresting,
but, after you get through Culham Lock - the coldest and deepest lock on the river - the landscape improves.
[ Sandford Lock is deeper but doesn't feel like it ... ]
At Abingdon, the river passes by the streets. Abingdon is a typical country town of the smaller order - quiet, eminently respectable,
clean, and desperately dull. It prides itself on being old, but whether it can compare in this respect with Wallingford and Dorchester
seems doubtful. A famous abbey stood here once, and within what is left of its sanctified walls they brew bitter ale nowadays.
From Abingdon to Nuneham Courteney is a lovely stretch.
Nuneham Park is well worth a visit. It can be viewed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The house contains a fine collection of pictures and curiosities, and the grounds are very beautiful.
The pool under Sandford lasher, just behind the lock, is a very good place to drown yourself in. The undercurrent is terribly strong, and if you once get down into it you are all right. An obelisk marks the spot where two men have already been drowned, while bathing there; and the steps of the obelisk are generally used as a diving-board by young men now who wish to see if the place really IS dangerous.
Iffley Mill burnt down in 1908
Iffley Lock and Mill, a mile before you reach Oxford, is a favourite subject with the river-loving brethren of the brush.
The real article, however, is rather disappointing, after the pictures. Few things, I have noticed, come quite up to the pictures of them,
in this world.
We passed through Iffley Lock at about half-past twelve, and then, having tidied up the boat and made all ready for landing, we set to work on our last mile.
Between Iffley and Oxford is the most difficult bit of the river I know. You want to be born on that bit of water, to understand it. I have been over it a fairish number of times, but I have never been able to get the hang of it. The man who could row a straight course from Oxford to Iffley ought to be able to live comfortably, under one roof, with his wife, his mother-in-law, his elder sister, and the old servant who was in the family when he was a baby. First the current drives you on to the right bank, and then on to the left, then it takes you out into the middle, turns you round three times, and carries you up stream again, and always ends by trying to smash you up against a college barge.
Of course, as a consequence of this, we got in the way of a good many other boats, during the mile, and they in ours, and, of course, as a consequence of that, a good deal of bad language occurred.
Donnington Road Bridge was not yet built! Opened 1962
What we now consider the main mouth of the Cherwell is an artificial cut which was not completed when Jerome was there. It was in course of construction in 1884.
WE spent two very pleasant days at Oxford. . . .
To those who do contemplate making Oxford their starting-place, I would say, take your own boat - unless, of course, you can take someone else's without any possible danger of being found out. The boats that, as a rule, are let for hire on the Thames above Marlow, are very good boats. They are fairly water-tight; and so long as they are handled with care, they rarely come to pieces, or sink. There are places in them to sit down on, and they are complete with all the necessary arrangements - or nearly all - to enable you to row them and steer them. But they are not ornamental. The boat you hire up the river above Marlow is not the sort of boat in which you can flash about and give yourself airs. The hired up-river boat very soon puts a stop to any nonsense of that sort on the part of its occupants. That is its chief - one may say, its only recommendation.
The weather changed on the third day [ in Oxford ], - Oh! I am talking about our present trip now, -
and we started from Oxford upon our homeward journey in the midst of a steady drizzle.
The river - with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech- trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o'er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs' white waters, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far sail, making soft the air with glory - is a golden fairy stream.
But the river - chill and weary, with the ceaseless rain-drops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, with a sound as of a woman, weeping low in some dark chamber; while the woods, all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand like ghosts upon the margin; silent ghosts with eyes reproachful, like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends neglected - is a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain regrets.
Sunlight is the life-blood of Nature. Mother Earth looks at us with such dull, soulless eyes, when the sunlight has died away from out of her. It makes us sad to be with her then; she does not seem to know us or to care for us. She is as a widow who has lost the husband she loved, and her children touch her hand, and look up into her eyes, but gain no smile from her.
We rowed on all that day through the rain, and very melancholy work it was. We pretended, at first, that we enjoyed it. We said it was a change, and that we liked to see the river under all its different aspects. We said we could not expect to have it all sunshine, nor should we wish it. We told each other that Nature was beautiful, even in her tears
We hoisted the cover before we had lunch, and kept it up all the afternoon, just leaving a little space in the bow, from which one of us could paddle and keep a look-out. In this way we made nine miles,
and pulled up for the night a little below Day's Lock
The second day [ coming down from Oxford ] was exactly like the first. The rain continued to pour down, and we sat, wrapped up in our mackintoshes, underneath the canvas, and drifted slowly down
At about four o'clock we began to discuss our arrangements for the evening.
We were a little past Goring then, and we decided to paddle on to Pangbourne, and put up there for the night.
We should be in at Pangbourne by five.
We should finish dinner at, say, half-past six.
Twenty minutes later, three figures, followed by a shamed-looking dog, might have been seen creeping stealthily from the boat-house at the "Swan" towards the railway station.
"Well," said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass,
"we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames - but I think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here's to Three Men well out of a Boat!"