You have to be determined to find Oxford waterways – you can see them, but to walk along them intelligently, that is another thing completely. On our first attempt last weekend, we wandered through the Jericho section of Oxford which is quirky and filled with great cafes and fun shops and came to a bridge crossing a waterway. We had been told this was a great place to explore and indeed it was, but the lure of the waterways was too much for me – I was determined to explore and uncover their secrets. We stumbled over this bridge crossing the canal:
It was the canal heading towards Banbury, so we set off along the muddy, puddle-filled path in that general direction. It got muddier and muddier. There were brightly painted barges moored along its banks, many had gardens planted on their rooftops, through the windows you could glimpse into their kitchens – brightly coloured kettles, empty coffee mugs, books….
A canal is really just a long narrow stretch of waterway, lined with trees with a narrow pathway running by its side. You can walk for hours by its side and not meet anyone else mad enough to brave the mud. I kept thinking about the wonderful book I read The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by AJ MacKinnon – a true story recounting Sandy’s journey from the Severne River near the border with Wales to the Black Sea in a small mirror dinghy. He travels along the canals during his travels. It is entertaining and he describes the waterways vividly.
The next day after attending an encouraging church service at St Ebbe’s and again meeting old friends and new from Oz, we went armed with instructions to find the Thames footpath. It is easy once you know how, but don’t rely on signposts or google maps.
It was with a sense of accomplishment that we found a track leading to the Thames footpath and found Port Meadow as well. The sun shone, and all was well with us. I did feel a bit like Mole from Wind in the Willows when he first stumbled across the Thames. In fact, his description beats anything I could say:
“He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.
The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one speel bound by exciting stories….”.
We walked through Port Meadow by the river bank and reached Pixie Meadow and a lock, again with no clue as to where we were but we found a bus stop and a bus that took us back into to the city – as the clouds had returned with vengeance. Now I know how to find the waterways, I can explore some more.