WESSEX

Messing about on the River

there's not much industrial goods being moved along this super-highway; it's mostly tourist traffic. This isn't an entirely modern phenomenon; in the year of Waterloo (1815), the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin (the Stephen King of her day) rowed from Windsor to Lechlade. When he got his puff back, Shelley wrote "Stanzas in a Summer Evening Churchyard" beneath the tall, elegant spire of St Lawrence's church. A plaque there quotes a few lines in commemoration.

Now there's a marina and a boatyard with a chandlery to service the boating trade. A miniature village attracts tourists to St John's Lock (the highest lock on the Thames), as well as a statue of "Old Father Thames". This statue was created for the Crystal Palace exhibition. Thereafter, it was moved to the head waters of the Thames, near Kemble, before coming to rest here.

Lechlade has one facility not many towns have; a Christmas Shop, where it can be Xmas all year round.

Why anyone would want to, I don't know - but it seems to be a well-established business.

A few steps further down the river, Buscot Park has an attractive old Parsonage in Queen Anne style, set in 55 acres of parkland. This includes a water garden, close to the river, where the National Trust has set up a picnic site. Eat your ices by the Isis (this stretch of the Thames down to Oxford is sometimes referred to as the "Isis" - by pretentious students).

A little further down-river is Kelmscot. It's a pretty little village, but it's main claim to fame is as the home of William Morris - leading light of the 19th century "Arts and Crafts" Movement. He lived in the Manor House (a 16th century farm house) from 1871 to his death in 1896. For the first three years of his stay, he shared the house with painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Considering some of the tales told of this Pre-Raphaelite bunch, there must have been some pretty raunchy parties here.

Kelmscot Manor now houses many of Morris's possessions, including his own work, and that of his friends and colleagues in the Arts and Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I imagine that some yuppie or other must have fantasised about grabbing the best of both worlds, by buying some little property up here, and commuting down-river to London. After all, it's only 146 miles to Canary Wharf. But when it is pointed out that the maximum speed (for most of the trip) is 4 mph, with occasional, breathtaking spurts of 8 mph, the idea loses its appeal.

But, with mobile phones. faxes and data links, why not set up a virtual office in a narrow boat? You could pop into the office occasionally, but for the rest of the time, you could potter around England's waterways at will, connecting to the "real" world via cyberspace.

Trouble is, those narrow boats can get a little damp - not good for the electronics.

The A361 now crosses the Thames over Halfpenny (pronounced "Ha'penny") Bridge. This used to be a toll-bridge - cheap at the price. A mile or so further on, and we're out of Gloucestershire again, and into Wiltshire. (In fact, recent local government re-organisation has produced a situation where Swindon Borough Council takes control immediately after Halfpenny Bridge. Our first experience of Swindon comes from two double yellow (no parking) lines along this country road.)

Young Whippersnapper Thames Young Whippersnapper Thames Swindon Swindon
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