If Jerome had made one river trip and kept a log and then turned it into a book then this would be the log.
I say log - but it is a very descriptive log (with an eye on a future book).
Typically of course it is very hard to keep the humour out - it will keep breaking through!
DAY 1: SATURDAY - KINGSTON TO MAGNA CARTA ISLAND; 17.3 miles
KINGSTON BRIDGE; start WTSWG|
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
HAMPTON COURT BRIDGE; miles
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.
MOLESEY LOCK; miles
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.
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.
SUNBURY LOCK; miles
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.
WALTON BRIDGE; miles
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
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.
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.
SHEPPERTON LOCK & WEYBRIDGE; miles
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 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.
|CHERTSEY LOCK; miles
|PENTON HOOK LOCK; miles
George got the 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 ABSENT
WALLINGFORD LOCK MOVED TO BELOW WALLINGFORD
BELL WEIR LOCK; miles
HARRIS and I began to
think that Bell Weir lock must have been done away with after the same manner
[as the old 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.
PICNIC POINT (below MAGNA CARTA ISLAND); miles
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.
DAY 2: SUNDAY - MAGNA CARTA ISLAND TO MARLOW 18;
MAGNA CARTA ISLAND; miles
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. . . .
|BELLS OF OUZELY; miles
|OLD WINDSOR LOCK; miles
From Picnic Point to Old
Windsor Lock is a delightful bit of the river.
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. 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.
|ALBERT BRIDGE; miles
|HOME PARK; miles
|VICTORIA BRIDGE; miles
George and I towed up
past the Home Park, which stretches along the right bank from Albert to
Victoria Bridge; ...
nothing exciting happened,
|BLACK POTTS RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
|ROMNEY LOCK; miles
|WINDSOR BRIDGE; miles
|WINDSOR RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
|BOVENEY LOCK; miles
|MONKEY ISLAND; miles
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
BOULTERS LOCK; miles
and then eased up, and
took leisurely that grand reach beyond Boulter's and Cookham locks.
|CLIVEDEN DEEP; miles
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
|COOKHAM LOCK; miles
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. . . .
[ Quarry Woods section moved from above Marlow ]
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
|COOKHAM BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||BOURNE END RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
||MARLOW LOCK; miles
||MARLOW BRIDGE; miles
And at Marlow we left
the boat by the bridge, and went and put up for the night at the Crown.
DAY 3: MONDAY - MARLOW TO SONNING
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
There is lovely country
round about it, too, if, after boating, you are fond of a walk, while the river
itself is at its best here.
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. . . .
|BISHAM ABBEY; miles
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
|MEDMENHAM ABBEY; miles
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,
|ASTON FERRY SLIPWAYS; miles
WTSWG||HAMBLEDEN LOCK; miles
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 it 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.
|TEMPLE ISLAND; miles
WTSWG||HENLEY SLIPWAY; miles
||HENLEY BRIDGE; miles
||MARSH LOCK; miles
||HENNERTON BACKWATER; miles
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!
|WARGRAVE, THE GEORGE & DRAGON; miles
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
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
Day, the author of SANDFORD AND MERTON, lived and - more credit to the place still - was killed at
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 RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||SHIPLAKE LOCK; miles
Shiplake is a pretty
village, but it cannot be seen from the river, being upon the hill. Tennyson was married in Shiplake Church.
|THE LYNCH (ISLAND); miles
WTSWG||SONNING LOCK; miles
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.
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
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
DAY 4: TUESDAY - SONNING to STREATLEY miles
|SONNING LOCK; miles
WE woke late the next morning, ...
and, at about ten, set out on what we had determined should be a good day's journey.
|CAVERSHAM LOCK; miles
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.
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.
. . . 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.
|READING BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||CAVERSHAM BRIDGE; miles
||MAPLEDURHAM LOCK; miles
A little above Mapledurham
lock you pass Hardwick House, where Charles I.
|WHITCHURCH LOCK; miles
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.
|GATEHAMPTON RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||GORING LOCK; miles
||SWAN INN, STREATLEY; miles
Goring on the [RIGHT] bank
and Streatley on the [LEFT] are both or either charming places to stay at for a
[Sides renamed to conform with Environment Agency convention - AS SEEN FROM THE SEA]
The reaches down to
Pangbourne [ie Goring/Streatley down to Whitchurch/Pangbourne] woo one for a sunny sail or for a moonlight row, and the country
round about is full of beauty.
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.
DAY 5: WEDNESDAY - at STREATLEY miles
We stayed two days at Streatley, and got our clothes washed.
[ This is slightly ambiguous - I have chosen to count this as two nights at Streatley. They arrived
lunch time Tuesday and left early Thursday morning ]
DAY 6: THURSDAY - STREATLEY to CLIFTON HAMPDEN? miles
We left Streatley early
the next morning, and pulled up to Culham, and slept under the canvas, in the
[ But see below - Clifton Hampden ]
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. *
(* 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.)
You meet other boats there, and river gossip
is exchanged. The Thames would not be
the fairyland it is without its flower-decked locks.
|LEATHERNE BOTTEL miles
WTSWG||BEETLE & WEDGE miles
||MOULSFORD RAILWAY BRIDGE miles
||[ WALLINGFORD LOCK (removed)
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
"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 bridge
[ Wallingford Bridge - in this story he is going downstream ],
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
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
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 [Lock].
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 BRIDGE; miles
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.
|BENSON LOCK; miles
WTSWG||DORCHESTER (River Thame on right bank); miles
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.
|CLIFTON HAMPDEN BRIDGE; miles
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 day 7 reads:
"and pulled up to Culham, and slept under the canvas, in the backwater there."
but the start of day 8 reads:
"We had finished breakfast, and were through Clifton Lock by half-past eight."
I have chosen to assume that the reference to Culham at the start of day 6 should have read "Clifton Hampden"
There is a similar backwater at both locks, in either of which they might have camped. ]
DAY 7: FRIDAY - CLIFTON HAMPDEN to OXFORD miles
|CLIFTON HAMPDEN; miles
From Clifton to Culham the river banks are flat, monotonous, and uninteresting,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
|CLIFTON LOCK; miles
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,
|APPLEFORD RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||CULHAM LOCK; miles
but, after you get
through Culham Lock - the coldest and deepest lock on the river - the landscape
[ Sandford Lock is 8’10” against Culham’s 6’2” ]
|ABINGDON BRIDGE; miles
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 RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||RADLEY COLLEGE BOATHOUSES (NUNEHAM PARK); miles
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
|SANDFORD LOCK; miles
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
|ROSE ISLAND; miles
WTSWG||KENNINGTON RAILWAY BRIDGE; miles
||[ ISIS BRIDGE (A423)]; miles
||IFFLEY LOCK; miles
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
|[ DONNINGTON ROAD BRIDGE ]; miles
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.
|FOLLY BRIDGE; miles
DAY 8: SATURDAY: - at OXFORD miles
WE spent two very pleasant days at Oxford. . .
DAY 9 SUNDAY: - at OXFORD miles
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
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. . . .
DAY 10: MONDAY - OXFORD to DAYS LOCK miles|
|FOLLY BRIDGE; miles
The weather changed on
the third day, - Oh! I am talking about our present trip now,
[ only reference to more than one trip ]
- 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
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.
. . .
|DONNINGTON ROAD BRIDGE; miles
WTSWG||IFFLEY LOCK; miles
||SANDFORD LOCK; miles
||RADLEY COLLEGE BOATHOUSES (NUNEHAM PARK); miles
||ABINGDON LOCK; miles
||ABINGDON BRIDGE; miles
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. . .
DAY 11: TUESDAY - DAYS LOCK to PANGBOURNE: miles
The second day 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.
|WHITCHURCH LOCK; miles
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!"
|DAY 1:||KINGSTON TO MAGNA CARTA ISLAND||18.6 miles|
|DAY 2:||MAGNA CARTA ISLAND TO MARLOW||19.99 miles|
|DAY 3:||MARLOW TO SONNING||14.69 miles|
|DAY 4:||SONNING TO STREATLEY||13.37 miles|
|DAY 5:||AT STREATLEY||0 miles|
|DAY 6:||STREATLEY TO CLIFTON HAMPDEN?||14.39 miles|
|DAY 7:||CLIFTON HAMPDEN? TO OXFORD||13.66 miles|
|DAY 8:||AT OXFORD||0 miles|
|DAY 9:||AT OXFORD||0 miles|
|DAY 10:||OXFORD TO DAYS LOCK||16.27 miles|
|DAY 11:||DAYS LOCK TO PANGBOURNE||15.8 miles|
A total of
miles averaging miles each day (counting the 8 days of navigation)