BARDWELL RD PUNTING STATION TO VICTORIA ARMS
The puntable Cherwell is shown here on seven web pages:
Cherwell Mouth (from the Isis to below Magdalen Bridge)
Mesopotamia (from above Magdalen Bridge to the boat rollers)
Upper Cherwell (above the boat rollers to below Bardwell Road Punting station)
Bardwell Road to the Victoria Arms
Islip (Cherwell above the Victoria Arms)
Other pages of interest to punters are:
Bullstake Stream (Other side of the Isis (aka Thames) - for punters to explore)
To Old Navigation (Punt up above Osney Lock and then round to Oxford Castle)
There are also two round trips including going up the Oxford Canal and coming back down via Kings Lock and Godstow
Cherwell Boathouse, Bardwell Road
LEFT bank punt hire station at Bardwell Road. It sells ice creams and teas and there is a restaurant. Anyone who is uncertain about punting is recommended to start here as the river is much quieter and more straightforward than at Folly Bridge or Magdalen Bridge.
Cherwell Boathouse, Bardwell Road.
In 1904 Thomas Tims, the University Waterman, built the Cherwell Boathouse
and a substantial residential house just behind it where he planned to live with his family .
He already had his boat building yard at Long Bridges on the Isis and wanted to set up a punt hire business on the Cherwell in leafy North Oxford. He died in 1908 before the family moved into the house, but the Boathouse was known for many years as Tim's Boathouse.
Finally in 1963, his grandsons, Tom Timms Walker and Harry Walker aged 79 & 73 respectively, decided the time had come to retire and sell both businesses.
The Cherwell Boathouse on a 21 year lease from St John's college was sold to Commander Perowne who continued to run it as a going concern and in November 1968 he sold it to Anthony Verdin.
Tony Verdin ran the restaurant himself for the first year and a half but with the expansion of his scientific business a manager was needed. Bob Boswell and Ricci Eliott took over the day to day running of the restaurant which at this stage was only open in the Summer.
In 1973 Dudley and Mirjana Winterbottom took over, keeping it open all year, the Dudley years are still fondly remembered.
The Cherwell Boathouse has changed and grown in Tony's 41 years. The restaurant is larger having gone a refurbishment in 2003, but the intentions remain the same: to offer Oxford's best punting in hand built traditional wooden punts and some of Oxford's best dining with excellent wine at affordable prices.
Jenny Lunnon reflects on 100 years of punting from Oxford's Cherwell Boathouse: Quoted by permission -
In high summer Oxford's Cherwell Boathouse teems with life. People come and go bearing poles and cushions or picnic on the lawn as they await their turn. Parents insert children's unwieldy limbs into life-jackets, students celebrate Finals, and newcomers try to master this strange craft.
But by November the riverbank is quiet again. The boathouse staff have closed the punt hire service and retreated inside to repair the boats, just as their predecessors have done every autumn for the past 100 years.
The boathouse, located in Bardwell Road, was built in 1904 by Oxford University Waterman Thomas Tims and run for over half a century by his grandsons Tom Tims Walker and Harry Walker.
In 1963 Tom Tims Walker recalled:
When I started here we had six punts, two skiffs and three canoes; now we have over 120 punts and more than 30 canoes.
Tony Verdin bought the business in 1968, and today it is run by his son Johnny. Roger Forster, boathouse manager for the past 13 years, first became fascinated by punting when he was eight:
As a kid I just fell in love with the place.
He helped to bail out the boats in exchange for 50ps and ice-cream, and some early lessons in boat-building. Punting, he explained, has a long, if obscure, history:
There have been punts since man first stood on a log and pushed it with a stick ... but how did that become the Oxford punt?
For centuries, punts were used for moving heavy cargoes, or crossing rivers: Marston Ferry was one such punt. Because they were heavy, punts were propelled by the punter walking along the length of the boat, not 'pricking' the pole into the riverbed from a stationary position, the method used with today's lighter craft.
Punts became pleasure boats in the late 19th century. Victorian and Edwardian women were encouraged to punt as it was considered appropriately 'ladylike' exercise. ...
Today, people hire punts for just a few hours, but in the mid-20th century there was a vogue for camping punts, taken on longer journeys upstream through the water-meadows to Islip and beyond. The boathouse still has hundreds of hoops and an old canvas tent.
While some river fashions come and go, many aspects of boathouse life remain unchanged. There is an unbroken tradition of building punts on site. The basic design, and names for parts of the boat, are well-established. The seating area is the 'saloon'; the flat, planked wooden part the 'box'; and the tip of each end the 'huff'; the protective metal end of the pole is the 'shoe'.
The punts are still built mainly from hardwoods. The bottoms are now made from sheets of plywood. Previously, they were made from planks fitted closely together, as in barrel construction. When the boats were stored out of the water, gaps would open up, so the start of every season saw an activity called 'taking up'. Each punt was submerged until the planks swelled up and closed the gaps.
Today there are 75 punts, three rowing boats, and four canoes at the boathouse. Around 20 Oxford colleges have contracts which allow their students to take out punts here. Other clients include tourists, language students, families, and couples: punting trips are favoured occasions for marriage proposals.
Over the past 36 years, Tony Verdin has developed the adjoining Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant from a student eating den into Oxford's best restaurant, according to the 2004 Good Food Guide. It is open all year round, has outside seating on the terrace, and also caters for wedding receptions and corporate events.
Is punting difficult? To look at people zigzagging from bank to bank, or the unfortunate punter left clinging to a pole as their boat heads downstream, one might think so. However, Mr Forster said:
If you've asked, or tried to look and learn, it doesn't take long to pick up.
Which end one should punt from is a bone of contention between Oxford and 'the other place'. In Cambridge people punt from the flat end, the box (and call it the 'deck'). Because a punter standing here has a higher centre of balance, they are more likely to fall in, so the Oxford position is easier for beginners. Mr Forster can tell if a punter has been to Eton because the school teaches such a distinctive punting style.
As the leaves begin to turn, and the kingfishers reappear to swoop in long curves, like boat planes, in front of the boathouse, the punts are taken out of the water to be sanded down, varnished, and repaired. A well-maintained punt can last 40 years.
One of the beauties of this job is the variety, said Mr Forster:
I look forward to closing the doors and being in the workshop: it's homely.
But by mid-March we are just about stir crazy, and ready to open up again.
1915: Here it was that T S Eliot is said to have met his wife -
As spring arrived, the presence of the Americans attracted eager young women, short of partners in the first year of the Great War. One such visitor to Oxford was Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a vivacious artist's daughter from Hampstead who, one sunny afternoon, hired a punt on the River Cherwell. She was a slight girl with huge grey eyes, a governess with pretensions to culture. As the boat glided under the willows, Vivienne bent over her phonograph and placed the needle upon the record. The sound of ragtime drifted over the water.
The familiar tune attracted the attention of Eliot, the tall, nervous young
American from Merton who had also taken a punt on the river. It reminded him of
home in St. Louis, Missouri, where as a child he used to listen to the music
from the honky-tonks, and promised an antidote to the gloom of wartime Oxford
where he had been "plugging away at Husserl" and finding it terribly
To his old Harvard friend, Conrad Aiken, Eliot had written on New Year's Eve 1914,
"I hate university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant wives, sprawling children, many books and hideous pictures on the walls . . . Oxford is very pretty, but I don't like to be dead."
Now, catching sight of Vivienne, one of the "river girls," as the press of that time described such light-hearted young women, Tom Eliot saw a way out of his gloom. For in the punt with her was another American he thought he recognised: Lucy Thayer, a cousin of Scofield Thayer, Tom's fellow alumnus from Milton Academy in Massachusetts, a young man who came from the same distinguished New England milieu as Eliot, and who was also studying at Oxford, at Magdalen College, conveniently close to Merton. And Scofield was about to give a luncheon party to which Eliot was invited. Watching Vivienne and Lucy, laughing in their white dresses, his spirits began to lift. It only needed a word in Scofield's ear . . .
This tale was related by Eliot's friend Sacheverell Sitwell, and may well be apocryphal, although Vivienne was introduced to Tom Eliot at a lunch party in Scofield's rooms at Magdalen. And she did love the river. One of her only surviving sketches is of a punt moored under the willows. For Vivienne, it seems, one glance was enough. She fell in love. It was a violent love - fierce, uncompromising and loyal.
[In 1909 the Cherwell was as crowded as now it is peaceful, usually] -
1909: The Story of the Thames, J E Vincent -
A little higher, for the average man or woman, the inclination to take pleasure in the sight of others enjoying themselves begins to be lost in a feeling that the Cherwell and its banks have become a great deal too populous. A new hotel obtrudes itself on the water's side; the name of the boats and punts is Legion, and as the word is written down, it comes to mind that the reference is more apposite than usual, for the navigation of the many crafts is often devilish. North Oxford and Summertown have completely robbed all this part of the Cherwell of its peace, and its peace was its chiefest charm. Nevertheless we push on, partly in order to escape from the crowd and the noise ..
[ It is good to identify those aspects of the river which have improved - and clearly here is one. Except at those party moments, the Cherwell is now full of peace and tranquillity, and at those party moments I would say "If you can't beat them, join them!" ]
Footbridge and Punt Hire Station (from upstream)
On the LEFT bank is Wolfson College with a shallow punt harbour, and then we are out into the fields winding away -
1895: Oxford magazine -
ON THE CHER
THE morning light is like a song
Between the trees whose shadows throng
The water where we drift along.
Sweet song that scorns the toil of fools,
And only knows the golden rules
Of nature's saner, kindlier schools !
Sweet song that called us from the store
Of barren wisdom, dusty lore,
And drew us through the open door !
Adown the lilac-bordered way
We came to where the river lay
Girt with its bridal robe of May.
Along the stream the breeze is low,
Our steady paddles, moving slow,
Make gentle music as we go.
An open space and we behold
Blue hills engirdling, fold on fold,
The deep green meadows set with gold.
They pass, and now alone are seen
Green boughs overhanging, and between
Green banks the waters still and green.
With light and music everywhere
The spring has made creation fair ;
The song of birds is in the air.
So on we drift and drifting down,
Crowned with sunlight's golden crown,
Catch glimpses of the toiling town.
Anon we moor our barque, and keep
Noon's vigil where the shades are deep,
And pass the charmed gates of sleep.
Or turn to read no more the page
Of some defunct, tutorial sage,
But words that know not time nor age.
Lords of the lyre love taught to sing,
Swift birds of song with rapturous wing,
Dead poets who have loved the spring.
And so, 'mid music-haunted bowers,
We pass the slow declining hours,
And pile the idle boat with flowers.
Again we drift ; and now the pride
Of daylight fails, while far and wide
Long shadows crowd the country-side.
Behind the bridge the sun is set ;
His last red glory lingers yet,
And deepens into violet.
Regretful, with reluctant feet,
We turn beneath the elms to greet
The tumult of the gaslit street.
- eventually to a road bridge with noisy speeding traffic
- and a hundred yards further our immediate destination, the site of Marston Ferry, the Victoria Arms