LOCKS. - GEORGE AND I ARE PHOTOGRAPHED. - WALLINGFORD. - DORCHESTER. -
ABINGDON. - A FAMILY MAN. - A GOOD SPOT FOR DROWNING. - A DIFFICULT BIT
OF WATER. - DEMORALIZING EFFECT OF RIVER AIR.
WE left Streatley early the next morning, and pulled up to Culham, and
slept under the canvas, in the backwater there.
The river is not extraordinarily interesting between Streatley and
Wallingford. From Cleve you get a stretch of six and a half miles
without a lock. I believe this is the longest uninterrupted stretch
anywhere above Teddington, and the Oxford Club make use of it for their
But however satisfactory this absence of locks may be to rowing-men, it
is to be regretted by the mere pleasure-seeker.
For myself, I am fond of locks. They pleasantly break the monotony of
the pull. I like sitting in the boat and slowly rising out of the cool
depths up into new reaches and fresh views; or sinking down, as it were,
out of the world, and then waiting, while the gloomy gates creak, and the
narrow strip of day-light between them widens till the fair smiling river
lies full before you, and you push your little boat out from its brief
prison on to the welcoming waters once again.
They are picturesque little spots, these locks. The stout old lock-
keeper, or his cheerful-looking wife, or bright-eyed daughter, are
pleasant folk to have a passing chat with. * You meet other boats there,
and river gossip is exchanged. The Thames would not be the fairyland it
is without its flower-decked locks.
* Or rather WERE. The Conservancy of late seems to have constituted
itself into a society for the employment of idiots. A good many of the
new lock-keepers, especially in the more crowded portions of the river,
are excitable, nervous old men, quite unfitted for their post.
Talking of locks reminds me of an accident George and I very nearly had
one summer's morning at Hampton Court.
It was a glorious day, and the lock was crowded; and, as is a common
practice up the river, a speculative photographer was taking a picture of
us all as we lay upon the rising waters.
I did not catch what was going on at first, and was, therefore, extremely
surprised at noticing George hurriedly smooth out his trousers, ruffle up
his hair, and stick his cap on in a rakish manner at the back of his
head, and then, assuming an expression of mingled affability and sadness,
sit down in a graceful attitude, and try to hide his feet.
My first idea was that he had suddenly caught sight of some girl he knew,
and I looked about to see who it was. Everybody in the lock seemed to
have been suddenly struck wooden. They were all standing or sitting
about in the most quaint and curious attitudes I have ever seen off a
Japanese fan. All the girls were smiling. Oh, they did look so sweet!
And all the fellows were frowning, and looking stern and noble.
And then, at last, the truth flashed across me, and I wondered if I
should be in time. Ours was the first boat, and it would be unkind of me
to spoil the man's picture, I thought.
So I faced round quickly, and took up a position in the prow, where I
leant with careless grace upon the hitcher, in an attitude suggestive of
agility and strength. I arranged my hair with a curl over the forehead,
and threw an air of tender wistfulness into my expression, mingled with a
touch of cynicism, which I am told suits me.
As we stood, waiting for the eventful moment, I heard someone behind call
"Hi! look at your nose."
I could not turn round to see what was the matter, and whose nose it was
that was to be looked at. I stole a side-glance at George's nose! It
was all right - at all events, there was nothing wrong with it that could
be altered. I squinted down at my own, and that seemed all that could be
"Look at your nose, you stupid ass!" came the same voice again, louder.
And then another voice cried:
"Push your nose out, can't you, you - you two with the dog!"
Neither George nor I dared to turn round. The man's hand was on the cap,
and the picture might be taken any moment. Was it us they were calling
to? What was the matter with our noses? Why were they to be pushed out!
But now the whole lock started yelling, and a stentorian voice from the
"Look at your boat, sir; you in the red and black caps. It's your two
corpses that will get taken in that photo, if you ain't quick."
We looked then, and saw that the nose of our boat had got fixed under the
woodwork of the lock, while the in-coming water was rising all around it,
and tilting it up. In another moment we should be over. Quick as
thought, we each seized an oar, and a vigorous blow against the side of
the lock with the butt-ends released the boat, and sent us sprawling on
We did not come out well in that photograph, George and I. Of course, as
was to be expected, our luck ordained it, that the man should set his
wretched machine in motion at the precise moment that we were both lying
on our backs with a wild expression of "Where am I? and what is it?" on
our faces, and our four feet waving madly in the air.
Our feet were undoubtedly the leading article in that photograph.
Indeed, very little else was to be seen. They filled up the foreground
entirely. Behind them, you caught glimpses of the other boats, and bits
of the surrounding scenery; but everything and everybody else in the lock
looked so utterly insignificant and paltry compared with our feet, that
all the other people felt quite ashamed of themselves, and refused to
subscribe to the picture.
The owner of one steam launch, who had bespoke six copies, rescinded the
order on seeing the negative. He said he would take them if anybody
could show him his launch, but nobody could. It was somewhere behind
George's right foot.
There was a good deal of unpleasantness over the business. The
photographer thought we ought to take a dozen copies each, seeing that
the photo was about nine-tenths us, but we declined. We said we had no
objection to being photo'd full-length, but we preferred being taken the
right way up.
Wallingford, six miles above Streatley, is a very ancient town, and has
been an active centre for the making of English history. It was a rude,
mud-built town in the time of the Britons, who squatted there, until the
Roman legions evicted them; and replaced their clay-baked walls by mighty
fortifications, the trace of which Time has not yet succeeded in sweeping
away, so well those old-world masons knew how to build.
But Time, though he halted at Roman walls, soon crumbled Romans to dust;
and on the ground, in later years, fought savage Saxons and huge Danes,
until the Normans came.
It was a walled and fortified town up to the time of the Parliamentary
War, when it suffered a long and bitter siege from Fairfax. It fell at
last, and then the walls were razed.
From Wallingford up to Dorchester the neighbourhood of the river grows
more hilly, varied, and picturesque. Dorchester stands half a mile from
the river. It can be reached by paddling up the Thame, if you have a
small boat; but the best way is to leave the river at Day's Lock, and
take a walk across the fields. Dorchester is a delightfully peaceful old
place, nestling in stillness and silence and drowsiness.
Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British times; it was
then called Caer Doren, "the city on the water." In more recent times
the Romans formed a great camp here, the fortifications surrounding which
now seem like low, even hills. In Saxon days it was the capital of
Wessex. It is very old, and it was very strong and great once. Now it
sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.
Round Clifton Hampden, itself a wonderfully pretty village, old-
fashioned, peaceful, and dainty with flowers, the river scenery is rich
and beautiful. If you stay the night on land at Clifton, you cannot do
better than put up at the "Barley Mow." It is, without exception, I
should say, the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river. It stands on
the right of the bridge, quite away from the village. Its low-pitched
gables and thatched roof and latticed windows give it quite a story-book
appearance, while inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timeyfied.
It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay
at. The heroine of a modern novel is always "divinely tall," and she is
ever "drawing herself up to her full height." At the "Barley Mow" she
would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.
It would also be a bad house for a drunken man to put up at. There are
too many surprises in the way of unexpected steps down into this room and
up into that; and as for getting upstairs to his bedroom, or ever finding
his bed when he got up, either operation would be an utter impossibility
We were up early the next morning, as we wanted to be in Oxford by the
afternoon. It is surprising how early one can get up, when camping out.
One does not yearn for "just another five minutes" nearly so much, lying
wrapped up in a rug on the boards of a boat, with a Gladstone bag for a
pillow, as one does in a featherbed. We had finished breakfast, and were
through Clifton Lock by half-past eight.
From Clifton to Culham the river banks are flat, monotonous, and
uninteresting, but, after you get through Culhalm Lock - the coldest and
deepest lock on the river - the landscape improves.
At Abingdon, the river passes by the streets. Abingdon is a typical
country town of the smaller order - quiet, eminently respectable, clean,
and desperately dull. It prides itself on being old, but whether it can
compare in this respect with Wallingford and Dorchester seems doubtful.
A famous abbey stood here once, and within what is left of its sanctified
walls they brew bitter ale nowadays.
In St. Nicholas Church, at Abingdon, there is a monument to John
Blackwall and his wife Jane, who both, after leading a happy married
life, died on the very same day, August 21, 1625; and in St. Helen's
Church, it is recorded that W. Lee, who died in 1637, "had in his
lifetime issue from his loins two hundred lacking but three." If you
work this out you will find that Mr. W. Lee's family numbered one hundred
and ninety-seven. Mr. W. Lee - five times Mayor of Abingdon - was, no
doubt, a benefactor to his generation, but I hope there are not many of
his kind about in this overcrowded nineteenth century.
From Abingdon to Nuneham Courteney is a lovely stretch. Nuneham Park is
well worth a visit. It can be viewed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The
house contains a fine collection of pictures and curiosities, and the
grounds are very beautiful.
The pool under Sandford lasher, just behind the lock, is a very good
place to drown yourself in. The undercurrent is terribly strong, and if
you once get down into it you are all right. An obelisk marks the spot
where two men have already been drowned, while bathing there; and the
steps of the obelisk are generally used as a diving-board by young men
now who wish to see if the place really IS dangerous.
Iffley Lock and Mill, a mile before you reach Oxford, is a favourite
subject with the river-loving brethren of the brush. The real article,
however, is rather disappointing, after the pictures. Few things, I have
noticed, come quite up to the pictures of them, in this world.
We passed through Iffley Lock at about half-past twelve, and then, having
tidied up the boat and made all ready for landing, we set to work on our
Between Iffley and Oxford is the most difficult bit of the river I know.
You want to be born on that bit of water, to understand it. I have been
over it a fairish number of times, but I have never been able to get the
hang of it. The man who could row a straight course from Oxford to
Iffley ought to be able to live comfortably, under one roof, with his
wife, his mother-in-law, his elder sister, and the old servant who was in
the family when he was a baby.
First the current drives you on to the right bank, and then on to the
left, then it takes you out into the middle, turns you round three times,
and carries you up stream again, and always ends by trying to smash you
up against a college barge.
Of course, as a consequence of this, we got in the way of a good many
other boats, during the mile, and they in ours, and, of course, as a
consequence of that, a good deal of bad language occurred.
I don't know why it should be, but everybody is always so exceptionally
irritable on the river. Little mishaps, that you would hardly notice on
dry land, drive you nearly frantic with rage, when they occur on the
water. When Harris or George makes an ass of himself on dry land, I
smile indulgently; when they behave in a chuckle-head way on the river, I
use the most blood-curdling language to them. When another boat gets in
my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it.
The mildest tempered people, when on land, become violent and blood-
thirsty when in a boat. I did a little boating once with a young lady.
She was naturally of the sweetest and gentlest disposition imaginable,
but on the river it was quite awful to hear her.
"Oh, drat the man!" she would exclaim, when some unfortunate sculler
would get in her way; "why don't he look where he's going?"
And, "Oh, bother the silly old thing!" she would say indignantly, when
the sail would not go up properly. And she would catch hold of it, and
shake it quite brutally.
Yet, as I have said, when on shore she was kind-hearted and amiable
The air of the river has a demoralising effect upon one's temper, and
this it is, I suppose, which causes even barge men to be sometimes rude
to one another, and to use language which, no doubt, in their calmer
moments they regret.