Thames Path Stage 18 (Part 2): Buckland to Lechlade

Published 23 November 2016

The road to Buckland

Welcome to Buckland! We welcome careful walkers!

I spent my lunchtime sat in a bus shelter munching on an Oatmeal Crunch biscuit whilst wringing several pints of water our of sodden socks. It wasn’t the best lunch, but I wasn’t particularly hungry; even less so when I’d discovered that the only other option would be buying a Ginsters Pasty from petrol station.

Part of me didn’t want to leave the draughty yet dry environs of the bus shelter, however I had to go somewhere; staying here for the night simply wasn’t an option. Especially not when I had a bed booked in a pub in the village of Kelmscott.

But how to get there? With all my detours away from the Thames Path, I was a bit lost and had little choice but to consult the all-knowing Google on my phone. And it offered me two options. First was to follow a series of A-roads, cross the river at Radcott Bridge, and then continuing along more roads to the village. Alternatively, I could pop down into Buckland, and then follow a quieter lane to the river at the wonderfully named Tadpole Bridge, where, next another pub called the Trout Inn, I could rejoin the Thames Path.

Given the fact that I’d not managed to get near the Thames Path all morning, following the road was obviously the sensible option, but the manically busy A420 was doing my head in, and Tadpole Bridge seemed like an option that might restore my sanity. And for a short while it did. Buckland was another lovely village, with its own pub, a large manor house and two churches. Plus it was away from the main road, and soon my flagging mood was revived once more. My optimistic side began to take over, and once more I was hit by that naive optimism that maybe, just maybe, things would start to be all right again once more.


Tadpole Bridge and the River Thames

Tadpole Bridge. It's not a bridge and there's no tadpoles. (Okay, it is a bridge.)

Throughout the long walk to Tadpole Bridge, there was a nagging worry at the back of my mind. What state would the Thames Path be in when I got there? Would I find a navigable path, or just more flooding?

And what would I do when I got there? If the path looked inaccessible, it was an easy call to make. I would simply end up roaming around country lanes until I somehow managed to find myself in Kelmscott. But what if, when I stared at it from Tadpole Bridge, the path looked fine and usable? What then? whilst all might be good initially, there was nothing to say it would be further down the path. I could walk along the Thames Path for some way and then find myself completely stuck again.

So it was with a dull sense of foreboding that I approached the Trout Inn. Originally this had been the place I’d intended to have a spot of lunch. In my original, perfect-world, utopian plan, drawn up in the safe confines of a pub bedroom some hours earlier, I would have arrived here over two hours earlier and would have had plenty of time to stop in and casually munch a sandwich, and sup on a pint.

The Trout, Tadpole Bridge

The Trout. Looks nice, doesn't it?

If only. There was certainly no time now for such things, and if I had gone in now, I doubt I would have mustered up enough willpower to leave again.

So instead sitting there with a foaming pint of real ale, I walked past the Trout, and nervously approached Tadpole Bridge. And it was with trepidation that I looked over the bridge wall, towards the river path.

What I saw was a path that was clear and distinctly water-free. Yes, the water levels of the Thames were a tad high, but the path itself had no problems.

I was looking downstream, and I was supposed to be heading upstream, so I rushed to the other side of the bridge to check out that view. All clear too! And even better, there was a tarmac road built on top of an embankment that appeared to go all the way to Rushey Lock. That was promising. Even if the Thames Path was dodgy beyond that, there was a public footpath from the Lock that headed away from the Thames and that would take me roughly in the right direction, which would most likely be dry.

The river seen from Tadpole Bridge

Is that a river with a walkable towpath, or are you just pleased to see me?

For the first time in the whole day I felt like the whole endeavour might just be doable after all, and I strode down the road with a renewed sense of purpose.

Coincidentally this happened to be the point that my friend Storm Imogen, also decided to give me one more good battering.

The weather had been variable all day. Strong gusts of wind and frequent showers would hit me at regular intervals, whilst at other times everything would be serenely calm and peaceful. As I’d walked through Buckland, there had even been some sun, and for a while I thought Storm Imogen had given up and gone elsewhere. Ha. If only. For now the wind really began to blow in earnest, right into my face. And with it came a hail shower.

Hailstones the size of golf balls rained down; the wind ensuring they bashed and stung my face. Tightening the strings on my hood as much as possible, I put my head down and tried as best I could to keep walking whilst the wind tried with all its might to blow me off the road and into the mud of an adjoining field. Several times, it almost succeeded.

At one point I passed a couple out walking their dogs, but all we could do was stare at each other and grimace mutually. Any attempt at more detailed communication was simply impossible, and doomed to failure.

Rushey Lock

Rushy Lock. Looking calm and tranquil.

Things had calmed down a little as I reached Rushey Lock, but not enough for me to walk across the bridge over the lock without clinging desperately onto the handrail. It was a similar situation as the Thames Path went over the weir too. It was clear that the Thames was in quite a state. The lock’s water levels were extremely high, and water was rushing through the open weir gates as fast as it possibly could. But once I’d finally made it back to ‘dry’ land, there was cause for optimism. Despite going through fields, the Thames Path seemed to remain clear, so with reckless abandon I continued to follow the river towards Radcot Lock.

The Thames had burst its banks though, spreading out into several adjacent fields – well that’s nature for you. When rivers get too full, they look for somewhere to expand into, and fields are the obvious choice for conversion into impromptu storage tanks for the river, allowing the river to get rid of the excess water and deal with it at a later date when things are calmer. It’s a system that works well. At least until humans come along and try to stop the water going into the fields by building flood defences. When that happens, water is simply pushed further downstream, often spilling out in towns and villages that the river passes. The human cost in damaged property and belongings is almost always far greater than the income gained by the landowner by the nature of their land not flooding, yet somehow successive governments have continued to allow it in places.

Thankfully on the Thames, nature is generally allowed to take its own course, although part of me did rather wish the Thames Path itself had more protection. And no more so than when I arrived at a field boundary, a mile or so on from Rushey Lock.

Here, as at several other places, river water had spilled over into the fields. In each of the places I’d passed earlier, I’d been able to get round the problem, either by walking round the water, or striding over it. But at this spot, things were more difficult. My route was being blocked by a 3m wide channel of fast moving river water, and there was absolutely no way round it.

Flooding at Carswell Marsh

Where does the path go? Well straight through all that water...

Water was flowing into an absolutely massive lake that had formed in an equally big field. It was everywhere, as far as the eye could see. There was not a single smidgen of green to be seen anywhere, and the field itself was completely full, right up to the hedges that marked its boundaries.

Yet again, flooding had thwarted my ambitions. And it was depressing. I was thoroughly fed up and for the second time that day, I felt like I wanted to burst into tears. Nothing seemed to be going right at all, and I was being thwarted at every turn. And now I’d have to retrace my steps. I’d have to go back to Rushey Lock, and two miles of walking would have been wasted.

Still at least when I got back to the lock, I could follow by ultimate backup plan and follow that series of inland paths towards Kelmscott. Couldn’t I?

Well no, I couldn’t. Back at Rushey Lock I found out that the path I needed to take was also completely inaccessible due to it also being substantially submerged under water. It ran along the edge of a field, and that field was being used as a water holding tank.

I was out of options. With no other side paths or trails, I would have to walk another mile back to Tadpole Bridge and somehow, goodness knows how, make my way to Kelmscott from there. Wearily I trudged up the path and ninety minutes after I’d last been there, I returned to Tadpole Bridge with absolutely nothing to show for the time I’d spent other than wet socks and a hail-stung face.

Traffic lights at Tadpole Bridge

Should I stay or should I go?

It was four o’clock, I was many miles from where I needed to be, on a road served by no buses. All I could do was stumble gloomily down the road to the town of Bampton, whilst doing my best to avoid the heavy traffic speeding down it.

A few taps on my phone and Google helpfully told me that if I could get to Bampton in the next ten minutes, I’d be able to catch a bus part of the way to Kelmscott. Then it broke the news to me that I was two miles from Bampton and really had no way to get there in less than half an hour. Oh and that bus was the last of the day.

But perhaps I could walk from Bampton? Well my phone also told me that arriving at the town would still leave me six miles from my intended destination. The sun would soon be setting and I was absolutely knackered. I had no chance.

Slowly but surely it dawned on me that there was no way I would be getting to Kelmscott by foot. Even if I hadn’t bothered going to Rushey Lock in the first place, and had just gone along the road, I would never have made it. Conditions had made things impossible. The only thing I’d achieved all day was getting cold, wet and thoroughly miserable. My socks were sodden, my boots soaked and my mood glum.

My fate was clear. I had no choice. Reluctantly I reached for my phone and searched the internet for one last nugget of information. And then I made a phone call.

“Hi, is that the taxi company? Can you come and pick me up please?”

Through the sound of strong winds, I tried to impart the information that I needed a car, and I needed it quickly. And that they’d find me somewhere five minutes or so drive away from Bampton’s town square.

“I’ll get someone to drive down to you,” the operator told me and having hung up, I continued walking down the road, keeping my eyes peeled for my promised saviour.

Half an hour later, I was still walking and still looking.

By now my brain had given up and was mentally sunning itself on a beach in the Bahamas, which is presumably why it took me so long to realise that the cab was taking its time finding me. Suddenly it dawned on me that it probably wasn’t coming. I phoned again.

“Ah yes, she’s waiting for you in the Market Square,” I was informed. “You said you were five minutes away.”

If there had been a brick wall there, it would quickly have found itself with a brand spanking new and rather substantial dent in it. But there wasn’t, so it didn’t.

Through winds, and gritted teeth, I managed to get the taxi re-routed to the edge of the town, and a few minutes later I collapsed into its calm, warm interior, slumping almost catatonic into the front seat, whilst the driver darted down a never ending series of rural lanes. She could have been taking me anywhere for all I knew; the only certainty was that the meter was slowly but surely building up a substantial bill. There’s a reason why I rarely take cabs and that’s that they cost a fortune. But then it wasn’t as if I had another option.

I had a bed booked at the Plough Inn, which looked positively charming from the outside. What it was like inside, I didn’t really get to see. All I know was that the first words I heard from a member of staff where “Do you know we don’t serve food on a Monday?”

What happened next, I wasn’t particularly sure as my brain – completely exhausted after the nightmare of the day – had ceased to function. All I knew was that mere minutes after arriving at the Plough, staff were bundling me back into the cab, which was now heading goodness knows where. All I knew was that we were going to the Plough’s “sister pub” several miles away where my room booking had magically been transferred to, and which, rather importantly, did have someone on site who could cook me an evening meal. Where that pub was, I had absolutely no idea. All I can tell you was that it required going down many more quiet country lanes and that the fare shown on the taxi’s meter was getting higher and higher.

The Five Alls pub, Lechlade

Where am I? A pub? That'll do.

Some time later I alighted the taxi for the second time, even more flummoxed and bewildered, as well as being £25 lighter in my wallet (the driver having let me off an additional 60p that the meter had demanded I pay.) Then I was inside a completely different pub, and one that appeared to feature a photograph behind the bar of then Prime Minister and local MP, David Cameron, standing next to someone who looked a bit like chef and TV presenter James Martin.

I had no idea where I was. Literally. All I knew was that the pub was called the Five Alls, but that was it. What village it was in, or even where the village roughly was, well I had absolutely no idea. What on earth I was going to do the following morning was another mystery, as was where the pub’s management had managed to hide the kettle in my room (after ten minutes of hunting, I eventually concluded that there wasn’t one, although there was a bag of chocolate fudge, so it wasn’t all bad.)

One thing I did know was that I needed a beer. Or five. Well, after the day I’d had, I felt I rather deserved it.

Rambling Man walks the Thames Path

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Your Comments

Matthew

14 December 2016 at 12:57 pm

Thanks for writing your accounts, trials, and tribulations of walking the path. I am walking the path, only from Oxford to the river head, in February, 2017, and I am very thankful for this awakening you have provided. Had it not been for your attempts at “rambling” the Path, I may have never been aware of the potential hazards and ill prepared for my version of the Thames Path story. After doing more research, I have educated myself a bit more, and will continue to do so.

Cheers

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

15 December 2016 at 9:50 am

Matthew – I was in the same boat a year ago! But so much is dependent on the weather. You might be okay!

Matthew

15 December 2016 at 12:59 pm

haha…by the looks of it, I imagine you may have wished you HAD a boat available at the time…;)

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

15 December 2016 at 1:24 pm

I couldn’t find the right place in the text to include this, but the morning before I was chatting to a couple at the pub in Newbridge and when I said I was walking the Thames Path, the woman did say “Do you have a boat?”

At the time I hadn’t seen how bad things were on the other side of the bridge but for most of the day I wished I’d asked her where I could get one from!

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