THE RED LION INN at Castle Eaton
By a swingbridge over the canal and a walk of a mile or so along Thames' side you cross the River into Castle Eaton; Ayton,
they call it
About half way the River becomes a county boundary for the first time in its course, except for about half a mile, higher up, in the neighbourhood of Hailstone Hill above Cricklade; an office it never again loses.
During a freezing shower from the east, "which glazed the very plumage of the birds with ice", nineteen rooks were taken up alive in Castle Eaton meadow on the nineteenth of January, 1809.
Here Leland noted "Eiton Castelle, wher great Ruines of a Building in Wyleshire, as in ulteriori ripa remayne yet ... Eiton the Lord Zouche's Castelle."
Nothing now exists of these ruins, but they were of Lord Zouche's castle, a fortress which gave the village the first word of its present name.
De la Zouche is a Norman title which looms huge and vague out of the mists of centuries; but I find nothing salient about the family, and this little village is not mentioned in such records of their possessions as I have searched.
You know, however, the Leicestershire town which incorporates their name in its own.
I hear of another old title for the village: Eaton Maizey.
The Maizeys are said to have held in the twelfth century; their name survives at Meysey Hampton.
Probably the lowering battlements and heavy sullen name of de La Zouche crushed their memory out of existence.
One Eva is said to have been the last of them, and to have been buried at Meysey Hampton.
The Red Lion inn stands, they say, upon part of the site of the Zouche castle.
They used to throw a wooden bridge across from the rectory meadow to the Bowstead on the village feast day, so that folk might disport themselves and return in comfort.
The custom was discontinued about 1894, and the ancient feast itself is dying out.
1910: Thames Valley Villages by Charles G Harper
Castle Eaton is about a mile and a half below Lushill.
It is a small but ancient place, very compact, and it lies high and dry of the river.
In winter, when the country around is buried deep beneath the floods, the inhabitants of the village are themselves secure, though they were often isolated from the rest of the world.
In early times the site of the village was an island, as is indicated by the name of the place.
Formerly this was Eiton, or Ettone, made up of the Saxon words "ey" an island, and "ton", a dwelling or village.
A later form of the name was Eiton Meysey.
Afterwards the St.Maurs and the Zouches held the Manor of Eiton, the last named of whom built a sumptuous castle upon the south bank of the river, and the village was called first Eiton Castle, and, subsequently, Castle Eiton.
The old castle has long since been demolished and its site eradicated.
No trace of the ruins exists in the meadows: there the fritillaries and purple orchis thrive and bloom, and the cattle graze quietly amid the rich pastures.
The village, viewed from the Thames' side, shows grey and hoary.
The cottages, built of local stone, stand in little streets and squares, and the gardens slope down to the river's brink.
The wells beside the doors are shallow, and are commonly surrounded with a low, dry stone wall, the appearance of which is suggestive of the Biblical East.
The church is a unique structure, Norman in design.
It dates from the twelfth century and has round headed doors, a font that is either early English or Norman, and strong square tower.
Above the nave is a fine Sanctus bell turret, roofed with stone, of considerable age.
A mixed choir of men and women — toilers on the land — sang in the church and accompanied the rude orchestra.
The duties of clerk devolved upon the hoary carter, who stood in the small gallery and announced the hymns and psalms in choice vernacular:
"Lat us zeng to the praaze an' glary o' Gaad the 'underd an' vartieth Zaam", or whatever it might have been.
A buxom young farm woman, who carted manure and picked stones the workaday part of the week, was the leading treble.
In a big hollow withy tree, below the church, an otter has had her litter of four; they were several times seen by the cowman as he went after his herd in the early morning hours.
Growing along the riverbanks are loose-strife, hemp-nettle, and yellow cress; water-pepper and persicaria expand their foliage and float on the water, or push up their heads amid the lush grasses on the margin.
About the mead bloom bed-straw and milk-vetch; the purple heads of the great burnet show conspicuous alongside the cream and rose of the dropwort.
Above the bridge the prospect is more open.
The hawthorn clumps along the river's course are not so frequent, but the gnarled old pollard willows, bent and twisted, and with grotesque shapes resembling men and beasts, supply the deficiency and mark out the winding channel.
Although comparatively near to the river's head there is no diminution in the breadth of the stream: it is almost as wide here as at Buscot, fourteen miles lower down, though the bed is shallower, and the current more swift.
At every few dozen paces is a flam of sand and gravel that was washed up by the turbulent waters duringthe winter.
These are cleared out and the tangled masses of weeds and vegetation — water-hemlock, cresses, and brooklime — cut and removed in July, so as to have the course clear and unobstructed against the advent of the floods.
What is that silvery patch upon the ground close beside the steep flank yonder?
Drawing near I perceive it to be composed of the scales of a large roach that was taken from the water by a heron and devoured a few yards from a great withy-tree that hangs over a deepish pool.
Quarter of a mile farther upstream I discover a quantity of blue-grey feathers scattered about, which are unmistakably those of the heron.
Gorged with its prey, it was seized unawares by a hungry fox that promptly devoured its victim and so saved the life of many another finny inhabitant of the sparkling waters.
But a speedy fate overtook the nimble fox and brought it low before it had time to digest the meal.
In less than half a mile I find reynard dead, and minus the brush, lying in the midst of the thick hedge where it had been unceremoniously thrown.
On the ground, a short distance off, are a couple of empty cartridges that indicate the manner of its death and complete the chain of circumstantial evidence begun with the finding of the fish scales.
Whether it deserved the charge or not is another matter: it was really a beautiful animal, with lovely golden fur and glistening teeth.
In a corner of the field, in which a large pile of loose thorn-bushes has been stacked, I chance upon a polecat with a small bird in its mouth.
Now a large hare leaps from beneath a scrubby bush and races across the field, and a timid stoat darts out of the hedge and shoots back again.
Red Lion, Castle Eaton.
The Red Lion, Left bank just below Castle eaton Bridge, does bar food and has a steep garden
down to the river. Very pleasant.
Flow is high and mooring may be hazardous. Avoid after wet weather.
A fairly ambitious destination from Lechlade for unpowered boats. In 2018 I failed to make it past Inglesham in a skiff. There are three considerations:
the current (may be too high);
(and if its not) the water may be too shallow;
(and even then) the width may not allow for rowing - or even forcing the hull through the reeds.