Our Narrowboat Adventure on the Thames Ring
Doing the Laundry –-Meeting the Neighbors
Sunday, September 16: The customer service clerk at the Waitrose Market found us a nearby “launderette”. We will wear clean clothes tonight and the other people at the church will benefit! We don’t know it yet but the day will include, “laundry, evensong, a ruined abbey, plan B.”
We will finish some housekeeping today then attend Evensong at Christ Church.
The laundry is located conveniently near the market and not far from the boat. We watch our four loads of wash circle while chatting with other patient people waiting at the launderette.
On this trip, we are not in a hotel, so we do have fewer services, but we interact more with regular folks. During a longer trip like this one we feel we are getting a sense of daily life in the places we visit.
First we talked with a California man folding clothes. He lives on a narrowboat with his British wife and 7-month-old daughter. He works in Tech with the Oxfordshire Council. They are continuous cruisers.
This means that they move their boat regularly, mooring in different places and walk or take the train to work. The life seems to suit them, they are in the market for a bigger boat.
Another man, a little older, is restoring a 19th century house on the river. We did the same, with a house of similar age in St David’s Pennsylvania, a pretty town we enjoyed. Our old house came with a deed forbidding us to operate a tavern, a tannery or a brothel on the property. We bought it anyway.
The problems are always the same with old houses. We all need to find people skilled in working with old materials. The replacement parts are always a challenge. In both cases we needed to find craftsmen with knowledge of actual plaster walls.
We shared a few complaints, but we all enjoyed our old houses. It seems to us that he is taking the right steps. We hope it works out for him.
The chores are done and we prepare to return to Christ Church. This is a vacation spent constantly moving. Oxford is a town with many musical options, but none fit the dates when we were in town.
Evensong, however, is an opportunity for beautiful music in a spiritual setting. It is interesting, in a nation with declining churchgoing, that this service is growing in popularity. In London, Westminster Abbey sees lines of 400 people, residents and tourists waiting to enter for the musical service.
Consider Evensong to be a sort of combination of Vespers and Compline in the Roman Tradition. It has its deepest roots in Jewish hourly prayers. It began in the English Reformation and is derived from monastic tradition.
Elizabethan Music-Cute Little Kids
As such, we will hear music written at the time of Elizabeth I. and we can expect to hear from the best of English composers. As I write I am checking a website offering 30 Evensong services on the same night, in Oxford, all less than 2 miles apart. Update: in a time of COVID 19 this website will lead you to virtual Evensong. Tudor Technology at its best!
You will hear a variety of choirs as this is a musical place. Several are based here, and many touring choirs appear in this cathedral throughout the year. We were fortunate to hear the Cathedral Choir and view the induction of three small boys into the choir. They were pretty cute!
Starting time is 6:pm here and you sit in pews and are given a program. We do all need to recognize the obvious-we are in someones’s religious service. This was unforgettable, an evening of wonderful music in a beautiful setting.
If you go, expect to be treated like a valued guest. Your hosts will line up at the end and say good night.
A New Mooring On Christ Church Meadow
Monday September 17: Today we move the boat. At our present mooring location we have used up our allowed time and we have more sightseeing to do in Oxford. There is about one mile of mooring space along the wide Thames behind Christ Church Meadow. The mooring place will look out onto the university building and the rowing crew boat houses. Quiet but plenty of activity.
The town is reached by crossing a nearby bridge and we can walk in bucolic places as we view the sights. We cross the Osney Lock and travel the wide section of the river. But we are not successful.
There are a few mooring spots, but this dry summer has left the river low and the banks crumbling and rough. We run the boat aground twice. Each time we free ourselves with effort. Again we are helped by a neighboring boatman. This guy has got prodigious skill with the long push pole. We thank him and abandon the effort.
Plan B quickly evolves. Oxford has been fun and we would like more time here. We will go upriver on the Thames to our original boatyard in Eynsham. This will allow us to get needed services and travel on to Lechlade and William Morris’ house, Kelmscott Manor, and return to see Oxford and the rest of the sights we would like to see along the Thames.
One thing that travel teaches us is to be flexible. Some opportunities are lost but you can usually find others to replace them with.
This should be fun; we will cross the Godstow lock which is adjacent to the ruins of Godstow Abbey. The Abbey was built by Edith of Winchester a widow in 1133.
This was a time period when women of any social or economic class had no power over their lives. Monastic life was a rare opportunity for a woman to build an enterprise of lasting value.
Henry II believed in her vision and supported the project. The place was later famous as the home and burial place of the “fair Rosamund,” Henry’s famous mistress.
Blenheim Palace which we visited on this same trip holds part of the King Henry II and Rosamund story. The property in Woodstock, which became Blenheim, was Henry’s favorite hunting lodge and the place famous throughout history as “Rosamund’s Bower” is in the Blenheim grounds.
The early architect offered to create a monument there. Sara Churchill rejected the idea. She thought that if there were monuments to all the various monarch’s “women” the place would be “littered with them”!
Now we have trouble! We are facing a radical change in our trip but don’t know it yet! The engine stops in the middle of the lock and we can’t get it to start. (We hear a whispered conversation between the Lockkeepers- “Americans…flooded the engine.”)
They leave for lunch and we tie up the boat in the lock. The lock is wide enough that another boat could get through, but no one comes along. A call to Rob the manager of the Anglo Welsh Boatyard gets prompt results.
The Abbey and Wilvercote Village
We do some sightseeing and photography at the abbey ruins. This is a beautiful rural appearing area and a little atmospheric. People say that Rosamund haunts the place. It’s certainly a spot for ghost stories.
The Trout Inn
If we have a long wait, then we can walk across the nearby Godstow bridge with its pretty round arches and have a meal at the 17th century Trout Inn on the river.
It would be fun to sit beside the water and think about the literary figures who liked the pub. It is in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien visited it. Colin Dexter used it in his Inspector Morse stories.
We enjoyed reading and watching Dexter’s entertaining “The Wilvercote Tongue”. We liked the mystery and the depiction of pushy American Tourists.
Rob makes quick work of the engine and we move on. We don’t know what the problem is, but they will have tools at the boatyard.
We come to Kings Lock, it’s a film set; in open country, water, green lawns, a handsome house, well maintained garden, benches to sit on.
The Thames locks are manned, however if you arrive at a lock at lunchtime you will need to operate it yourself. Here the river widens, and the hills rise. Next comes sheep, loads of sheep. A lone swan hunts in the reeds for tasty morsels.
The river is nothing at all like the canals. It is broad with placid ripples. It moves in slow serpentines, the tiller always in motion. We move aside to avoid the cattle. On a warm day they are all in the river, not interested in us, just keeping cool.
We arrive at the boat basin at Eynsham. The crew gets right to work on the boat. But they are not satisfied that they have identified the real problem.
We work out a compromise; we are near enough to Oxford to finish our sightseeing and they can have the next day to work on the boat. We can take a bus, but Rob offers to drive us.
We finish the day on the boat, in the dark, the river is silent under the stars. For a day with some problems, it’s a fine end.
Chapter 10 is next “Two Towers and an Road Trip”