Today’s final leg of this first stage of the Thames Path was 14 miles from The Rose Revived at Newbridge to Oxford Railway Station. It starts with the isolation and wide open spaces of the Oxfordshire countryside and finishes with the hustle and bustle of Oxford itself.
The weather was – yet again – glorious. It was signalled by a mist rolling down the Thames as I got up.
The path today hugged the river – apart from a 2 mile diversion around Babcock Hythe seemingly to avoid a caravan park. This made the stretch after the diversion in particular quite convoluted, as the river wound back and forth. It was possible to take some short cuts avoiding the bends, but this defeated the object for me.
The stretch was characterised by open meadows, bridges and locks. Indeed just after setting off you encounter a huge field managed by Natural England in order to encourage ground nesting birds. It is in this field that one of the Thames strange “right of way” bridges appears; there are several between Lechlade and Oxford.
The first today was Hart’s Weir footbridge. Like all the others this was built in order to preserve ancient river crossings when many of the flood weirs were removed in this area.
This stretch also has five locks managed by the Environment Agency, and yet again are all beautifully looked after. Northmoor, Pinkhill, Eynesham, Kings and Godstow Locks. Each have their own automatic weir to control the water flow along the Thames.
About three miles from Newbridge you come to Babcock Hythe and its pub The Ferryman.
You might be forgiven for asking where the ferry is. There is no ferry, and so no ferryman. Whilst the Romans’ built a ford, and there was a ferry for 1000 year, it is no more.
Just before Eynsham Lock is Swinford Bridge, one of two local private toll bridges, with its own Act of Parliament. This was built by the Earl of Abingdon in 1770, and while pedestrian can cross for free, the traffic backs up as drivers search frantically for that 5p piece to pay the toll.
The next three miles and things begin to change as Eynsford Lock give way to Wytham Great Wood. This is a 600 acre woodland given to Oxford University in the 1940s. The wood comes right down to the waters edge and is a delight especially after so many miles of meadow.
After leaving the wood you are placed again in pastoral beauty as you pass the River Evenlode, one of the tributaries of the Thames. and work your way to the penultimate lock on this section – King’s Lock.
Half a mile further on and we reach 50 miles from the source and a further bridge – this time the A34 Oxford Bypass,
At this point it is tempting to think you are nearly there, but you are still three miles from Osney Bridge. Just beyond the flyover is the final lock on this stage – Godstow lock, and just beyond, the ruins of Godstow Abbey. (See here). This was apparently built around 1100 but was dissolved by Henry VIII.
From Britain Expess: “The abbey itself was given to Henry VIII’s physician, George Owen. Owen tore down the abbey church and built a mansion called Godstow House from the abbey ruins. In 1645 Godstow House was badly damaged in the Civil War, and stone from the site was robbed for local buildings. The site passed to the Earl of Abingdon in 1702, and stayed in part of the Abingdon estates until 1902. In 1924 it was given to Oxford University in trust for the nation.”
Passing Godstow Abbey the far bank becomes a wide open meadow – Port Meadow. This common grazing land was given to the people of Oxford by William the Conqueror for their help in defending against marauding Danes. It has remained untouched since.
As Port Meadow comes to an end, the path enters Bossoms Boatyard and crosses the Rainbow Bridge also called Medley Bridge.
This takes us onto Fiddlers Island, a delightful strip of land with the Thames on the right and an area of wetland on the left, at the end of which is a small bridge over the Oxford Canal. This final part leads along a row of cottages, and eventually onto the Osney Bridge.
As you step off Osney Bridge, you enter now a different world. Having spent four days in peace and virtual isolation, you became surrounded by … people and traffic.