Thames Path day three: Lechlade to the Rose Revived at Newbridge

This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.

This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.

The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.

There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.

Below is a recap and photos from the third section, with posts to follow for the next stages. Section one from the source at Kemble to Cricklade is here. Section two from Cricklade to Lechlade-on-Thames is here.


Day three of following the course of the Thames, Lechlade to the Rose Revived at Newbridge. A long, but glorious day of quiet and isolated sunlit riverside views, some good bridges, and plenty of birdlife.

We knew today would be our longest – and loneliest – day. Setting off from Lechlade, the town has a lovely profile with the golden stone of the ha’penny bridge and the buildings themselves stacked up a small rise above the river. We set off at a decent pace as we had some concern about beating the sunset that evening. We had enjoyed a decadent but slightly late breakfast at the wonderful Vera’s Kitchen. We would gladly have spent the whole morning there but time is daylight when walking in October and later.

The phrase of the day was boshing it, and bosh it we did, trying to keep our average speed up as close to 5km/h as possible. Not easy with large backpacks and sticky, slippery mud underfoot for most of the way, but a decent target which gave us time to stop and refuel along the way. With our destination not being a town or village but merely two pubs either side of an old bridge, we knew we would not be heading for the bright lights of the city on our final approach.

We doffed our proverbials to the reclining statue of Father Thames at St John’s Lock, and we passed many pillboxes along the way. The number of locks and pillboxes was quite fascinating really – or perhaps they simply serve as decent landmarks to gauge progress along this rather remote section of the river. The pillboxes certainly cast a slightly bleak appearance on the river banks given their perceived need, and the locks were somewhat surprising: I think I had thought locks could only ‘work’ on canals, but the Thames has locks every few kilometres here. They also tend to be both technically fascinating as well as aesthetically pleasing with well-manicured gardens and pretty cottages.

We had passed through a couple of cow fields on the walk already – the first being literally at the source, so we knew what we were in for, this walk passing through mostly farmland. But we had been anxious that the time would come that we found a field whose entrance or exit was blocked by cows, and at a field just past Ye Olde Swan pub at Radcot bridge, our number was up. As we approached the field gate, scores of adolescent cows – as fluffy and cute as they were curious and bolshy – descended. We got closer to the gate to assess whether they were likely to disperse, but the closer we got, the closer they approached, until several were poking their heads through, all trying to eyeball us. We paused for a moment until we noticed one particularly spunky young cow wrapping its huge tongue around the gate handle – with one swift lick, that gate would be open and a flood of curious cows would be with us.

At this realisation, we slowly doubled back, frantically checking the OS map for an alternative route. There was a decent option a short way back – a pain, but it really seemed like the only option. As we began to double back, we became aware of a couple in their 60s heading our way. As they neared us – and could see our bovine friends champing at the bit – we briefly chatted about our options, before one of them confidently but kindly told us he would be happy to lead the way, and so he did. Hiking pole in hand, he opened the gate and began clapping and hollering at the young cows (his wife a few steps behind telling us, “a few years ago I would have been the same as you but I’m getting more used to them now.”)

And just like that, the cows nervously retreated and the four of us marched on through, attempting to mimic our new friend’s authoritative vocalisations and confident strides. It turned out that both he and his wife were recently-retired private school teachers – a fact which now made his confidence at herding a large group of rowdy adolescents make complete sense. It also turned out that they had until a few years ago lived a few miles from where I grew up. They were a lovely pair, and the four of us spent the next kilometre or so chatting away merrily – as much from the joy of doing so as the endorphins coursing through us at having made it through quite an anxious situation. They left us at Old Man’s Bridge where we heard they quite often kayak on the river – they’ve taken to their new life in the country very well, by the sounds of things.

The rest of the afternoon was without further issue, our only notable companion being an RAF 747 circling overhead as it made several wide arcs around Brize Norton, we hope, practising go-arounds (or practising – and failing – landings). We arrived at Newbridge (insert disclaimer here about this in fact being the second ((or first?)) oldest bridge on the Thames) as dusk fell. And although bright lights were absent as predicted, we could see the pretty twinkling fairylights of the Maybush pub and then finally our own destination for the night, the Rose Revived on the other side of the bridge.

This historic pub, now run by Greene King, appears in many tales throughout the centuries, not least the lives of our guardian angels earlier (we learned that they were married there many years ago). I recently read a great diary written by a British cyclist in the 1920s and 1930s who quite often called in at the Rose Revived – usually for a Bass (or two) along with his lunchtime staple of cheese and bread. Things are a bit more modern now, with an extensive and enticing selection of cooked meals and drinks available.

Our day could have been slightly more eventful – we were rung mid-afternoon by a concerned-sounding duty manager who told us our reserved room was no longer available due to an undisclosed incident the night before. He had secured alternative accommodation, but this was not what we wanted to hear as we walked. Happily, once he knew we were on foot, he made efforts to ask one of the other guests booked for that night – ideally if they were travelling by car – if they would mind taking up the other rooms instead. The pub hosts many Thames Path walkers, he told us. By the time we arrived at the pub, all was well, and we enjoyed a warm welcome from all the staff we dealt with during our stay.


Thames Path day two: Cricklade to Lechlade-on-Thames

This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.

This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.

The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.

There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.

Below is a recap and photos from the second section, with posts to follow for the next stages. Section one from the source at Kemble to Cricklade is here.


Day two of walking the Thames Path took us from pretty Cricklade to downright handsome Lechlade. Leaving Cricklade to the sounds of the bells for Sunday morning amidst bright sunshine and blue skies was a lovely way to start a day’s walking.

We dodged most of the passing showers (and were treated to some truly spectacular rainbows), although we did have to trudge through fields calf-deep in floodwater where the Thames had burst its banks. Truly, walking the Thames.

I picked up a pair of Sealskinz waterproof socks just before this trip. I knew from bitter experience that my Berghaus walking boots are no longer waterproof and have had a couple of walks soured somewhat from damp feet. I am pleased to report, having walked through waterlogged fields deep enough for water not just to seep in through the sole seals but actually pour in at the ankle, the Sealskinz socks worked perfectly. Once we had the opportunity to sit down and assess the situation at the gorgeous church of St Mary the Virgin at Castle Eaton, I found that my wool socks I’d worn inside the Sealskinz were bone dry. Amazing. And thank goodness the Sealskinz come halfway up my calf.

At Upper Inglesham we found to our delight that the route of the Thames Path had recently been altered to more closely follow the river rather than following a busy A-road for a short distance. Our guidebook was from 2015 but fortunately we use the Ordnance Survey’s mapping apps on walks like these, and these maps are always the most up to date they can be. All the route signage had also been updated to reflect the new route. It struck us as quite an achievement that a new public footpath – not just a permissive route over private land – had been put together by a number of organisations and private land owners. Well done and thank you to all involved.

This was also the section of the Thames Path where we first saw boats on the river – first some kayaks, and then two motor boats. The river still looks rather too small for boats at this point, but it must be possible.

At Lechlade – somehow even lovelier than Cricklade – we stayed at Vera’s Kitchen and B&B. We cannot recommend this place highly enough. Gorgeous self-contained units at the rear of a delightful cafe. Attentive and welcoming staff. And for the price you pay for a room for the night you get a huge and delicious breakfast and drinks the next morning, as well as a welcome fresh drink and cake each on arrival. Nothing better to warm up and dry out with when arriving in a new town.

Once warm and dry we set out for an evening wander round town and found lots of delightful details. The clocks having gone back the night before, sunset was now just before 5pm.


Thames Path day one: Kemble to Cricklade

This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.

This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.

The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.

There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.

Below is a recap and photos from the first section, with posts to follow for the next stages.


Day one of walking the Thames Path – from the source near Kemble to pretty Cricklade. When starting from Kemble railway station, one must walk to the source along part of the walk which entails doubling back a KM or two.

The river was invisible at the marked source but quickly emerged as a decent-sized stream at a spring named Lyd Well. We followed it through muddy meadowland and fields, and the young river is currently swollen in places from recent heavy rainfall. We had expected that the recent rainfall would have made the river visible from the source, but apparently not. Walking at this time of year the days are quite short. Today was a Saturday so we still had an extra hour of daylight which the next few days will lack, the clocks going back overnight.

We stayed at the White Hart Hotel, Cricklade, which is a nice little pub that does food and has plenty of rooms. Very comfortable and enough room for a session of post-walk yoga. We had also stopped for a drink on the way at the White Hart at Ashton Keynes which was a lovely place to take a break.

One unexpected joy of walking in October has been the huge numbers and varieties of fungi we have seen. They’re everywhere.

St Sampson’s Church at Cricklade looked very elegant floodlit in the dusk light.


Visiting the National Gallery

Visiting the National Gallery during this pandemic is, somewhat perversely, something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I saw a tweet from someone I follow who was one of the earliest visitors after the doors reopened and the new system was in place.

The system for limiting numbers and following a one way system is necessary to enable galleries like this one to reopen. Although they are large spaces, they can be tricky to navigate and – possibly even by design – allow the visitor to get lost in a reverie and wander the halls for hours. This sort of flaneuring is incompatible with the Covid world, and one way systems are now found everywhere from supermarkets to art galleries.

The National Gallery is still free to visit, and access is still reasonably easy, albeit via an online ticketing system. Those wishing to remain anonymous might wish to utilise a burner email account, and I’m not sure if there is a satisfactory offline system for those who find the online world daunting or unusable.

Entry is simple enough – I ran there, actually, and was a few minutes late. There was a small holding queue around the corner from the entrance and I assume this was for the next batch of visitors; when I told the guard my time slot and apologised for being a few minutes late, he happily waved me through and I walked straight in. Just inside, I scanned my QR code for the NHS app, and I was waved inside by another bank of security guards who had no desire to see inside my running backpack, thankyouverymuch.

Inside the main (Salisbury wing) entrance, a lady asked if I was here to see “the exhibition”, which threw me a little, but she probably meant the paid-for/ticketed one. No, I said, I was planning to follow route B. Hearing this, she gave me some slightly convoluted directions.

For a gallery with a tricky layout like the National, they have devised three lettered routes for visitors to follow, which means deciding between a greatest hits of artists. There’s no bad route to follow, in fairness – though I must admit I was a bit daunted by the choices and  a bit like a kid choosing between different Now! compilations, I didn’t know if I wanted the one with Michelangelo and Raphael, the one with Van Gogh, Rubens and Pissarro, or the one with Holbein and Canaletto.

(It turns out that routes B and C actually overlap, so you get some Monet and Seurat and co whichever you choose.)

I went with route B, and wasn’t disappointed. I can’t remember if the gallery is deliberately laid out in chronological order, but this route certainly is. (There is a chuckle-worthy sign near the loos on the way in which riffs on this, kindly informing you that the next toilets are 700 years away, e.g. at the other end of the gallery by the exit.)

The gallery did, indeed, feel quite empty. I don’t tend to make a bee-line for institutions like this at times when they are normally busy – a sunny Saturday afternoon in Trafalgar Square and you’ll find me far, far away. But a rainy Monday afternoon in a pandemic with enforced restrictions on visitor numbers? Bliss.

I found that some of the curators seemed quite keen to give impromptu explanations of this painting or that. I’m not sure if they’re normally this chatty, but it caught me off-guard and I somewhat ashamedly found myself mentally rehearsing what I’d do if one of them sidled up to me and asked me if I wanted to know more about this Rubens painting. What am I going to say, “no”? Such are the trials of the introverted gallery-goer.

Most people were doing as they were told. Arrow signage on the floor was subtle but useful. The curators that weren’t spouting off wisdom were doing the other thing they not-so-secretly love: quietly telling visitors what to do. In this case, it was almost always asking them to put their damn masks on properly. Too right. Most people I see in London are doing this fairly well, but I’m regularly left frustrated by the amount I see who have gone to the effort of putting a mask on, only for it to hang below one or more of the few holes in their head it’s designed to cover.

Art-wise, I found myself gravitating towards the landscapes, and paintings featuring architecture. I can only take so many religious allegories or portraits of dead rich people. Show me a photo-realistic streetscape with sunlight glancing off stonework, or a sea of roofs punctuated by smoking chimneys and I am away, floating off into a daydream as close to time travel as I can get.

I recently updated the screensaver images on my Fire stick so that it shows a slideshow of photographs we’ve taken over the years. I also added about fifteen artworks from a little list I keep when visiting galleries. It was nice visiting the National Gallery today, knowing that a few of the images that now grace my TV screen while it’s idling are on show here. But of course most of the time they are much larger in real-life than on a 40″ screen.

And that’s part of the joy of coming to an art gallery. Not just the sheer variety and quantity of what’s on show, but the physicality of each individual, unique object. These are not prints or facsimiles: each one is the final, painted, physical, three-dimensional object. This is, of course, obvious. But it’s worth reminding oneself of this simple fact. The way the light plays off the brush-strokes set hard all those years ago. The vastness of some of the canvasses and the logistics involved in not just framing it or moving it from one building to another but even painting the damn thing. It’s amazing.

And of course the final piece of the art gallery package is the space itself, particularly one as large as the National Gallery. Huge long halls create vistas and focal points in and of themselves; the art hanging on their walls suddenly playing second fiddle. The high ceilings and the inimitable ambience of hushed voices and shuffling footsteps, occasionally interrupted by a clipping heel or a voice suddenly coming out louder than one expects which reminds everyone how quiet it has been up to that point. That subtle atmosphere that can only be conjured by a congregation of bodies in a space has become a rare sensation in 2020.

My visit to the National Gallery today was much-needed, partly to top myself up on some art and a visit to a London institution (to remind myself they’re there). But also to show me with my own eyes how the world works now. I’m glad places like this have made it work so well. Not everywhere can.

95bFM

After listening to 95bFM for the first time in a while, albeit as an on-demand podcast of the top ten, this morning I am listening live – to the end of the top ten show, and now to Freak the Sheep (the NZ music show). Haven’t listened live to 95bFM in so long.

95bFM is an Auckland-based student radio station, one of a nationwide network. They play great music, from ambient chillout and hip-hop to rock and metal. I’ve been listening to bFM for the best part of two decades* (their website and online streaming has always been quite ahead of global trends for radio stations, particularly of their size).

* The first mention in my diary of bFM is from November 2004, by which time I apparently felt cosy enough with listening online to text the overnight DJ and request a song, which they kindly played for me.

It also has that ‘I keep getting older, they stay the same age’ vibe that all good student radio stations can have – bFM seems simultaneously not to have changed in the time I’ve been listening to it, and yet they still seem fresh and cool, and they engage in fresh talent in their DJs and the songs they play, as well as not forgetting to look back.

Like all good radio, listening live to a station like this is where it’s at: brief mentions of local news and affairs, plus ads for local events and businesses, it all makes it feel very local and takes you right there.

An ad for a camera rental firm in Newmarket, sent me straight to Google Maps trying to see where it fits into my very patchy mental map of Parnell and Newmarket, where I was based for a few months in late 2008. This was initially very confusing, but it was quite a nice sensation feeling the bits slip into place as my brain wrapped itself around the physical map/streetview.

I’m also struck by something I know I’ve felt before, but perhaps never written down, which is that I tend to find myself gravitating towards checking out 95bFM as the seasons change – rarely in deep winter or the height of summer (though I’ve always enjoyed the mental juxtaposition of hearing about surf conditions out at Piha in mid-December or ski conditions at Cardrona while I’m experiencing a heat wave).

Rather, it’s more when there’s a noticeable change in the weather and my mind seems to wander to the other side of the world where a similar change is happening, albeit in reverse. Can’t put my finger on the cause of this, but it’s something that I’ve always been half aware of.


On a related note, I’ve often likened music from the early 1980s by Dunedin and Christchurch bands – early Flying Nun releases, the so-called Dunedin Sound – with what I imagine were drafty, damp student digs in the winter term.

Inevitably there’s a lot of poetic licence and leaps of imagination in this: the truth is probably far less ‘neat’, but I do find myself conjuring images of a frosty morning in Christchurch, or emerging from a foggy, cold street into a pub in Dunedin when I listen to the Chills (hah!), the Clean or the Verlaines. Woolly jumpers and smoking a fag in the cold night air, or trying to get the car started first thing in the morning with steamy breath visible.

I got the Roger Shepherd book about Flying Nun Records for Christmas a couple of years ago and haven’t read it yet. Haven’t found myself in the right mood to really dig in. Want to give it my full attention and wallow in a book that, a few years ago, I’d have lapped up. Perhaps that’s part of it: I listen to 1980s NZ music far less nowadays than I used to. But it’s still in my bones.

And so I want to crank that up a little bit more, get it more into the foreground, and get into the right headspace to read the book, my mind all the more receptive to every morsel and anecdote. And as the nights draw in (we haven’t done the clocks yet, but with gloomier weather, the evenings do feel that bit darker suddenly), perhaps it’s becoming a good time to get back into that mood.


Back to the original thread, and that’s one other thing I love about occasionally dipping into 95bFM (and the other bnet stations): I can hear brand new and even unreleased demos by up and coming NZ bands played alongside the kind of stuff I hear daily on BBC 6 Music, and then occasional plays of proper NZ alternative classics – legendary tracks by some of the bands I mentioned earlier – just dropped into the playlist because they’re part of the fabric of NZ radio and popular culture (or at least alternative pop culture, perhaps not quite the mainstream). Hearing a track by someone like the Chills on 6 Music is almost unheard of – almost, because every few years they seem to play some of their Peel Session recordings at an obscure hour. But that’s pretty much it.


Oh – one more thing while I’m at it: a thing I want someone to invent, which feels like it should exist, but I haven’t even Googled yet to see if it does:

I want to have a database of loads of global radio stations (ideally with good streaming), and an input form where I drop in a few bands I’m digging lately. The database holds all these stations’ playlists. It then returns stations which have played those bands I love recently. Some sort of background algorithm so that it doesn’t just find a station that played one Deftones track yesterday, but nothing else for months, but actually ‘weights’ the results by stations that more consistently play tracks by artists I’m into.

Better yet: let me plug my last.fm or Spotify library into the database: scrape my favourite artists and show me which radio station – anywhere in the world – aligns most closely to my taste in music.

This feels like it could exist, but would necessarily depend on radio stations accurately logging their playlists in a common format. Which seems… unlikely. Unless there was an over-arching authority like PRS that did a better job of this. But still. Seems as unlikely as it does a cool concept. I can dream.