From Lechlade to Newbridge

The day started early in Cirencester, where our Chartist
Allen Davenport was a cobbler before he married Mary,
And moved to London, where the writings of Thomas Spence
Led him into revolutionary politics, writing, and action –
But that was less on my mind than finding the bus stop:
The bus for Lechlade left from near the Job Centre
(‘Didn’t know we had one,’ said one young man;
‘You mean the Labour Exchange,’ said an older man),
And was twenty minutes late and anonymous:
‘Damned thing kept stalling,’ said the driver,
As she drew a large 77 on a piece of paper
Which she stuck to the windscreen, to denote the service –
But we got there in the end, dropped off by Shelley’s Close:
Percy Shelley, admirer of the Luddites and the Spenceans.

I crossed the bridge and turned left for London,
It was just the sort of light I like for a riverine walk:
Waves of silver rippling through the dark waters,
Moody clouds and a humid air,
As I made my way to the statue of Old Father Thames,
Once of Crystal Palace, now recumbent at St John’s Lock –
But the nineteenth century was soon forgotten:
It all got a bit Mrs Miniver and Went the Day Well?
After Bloomer’s Hole footbridge:
I lost count of the pillboxes in the fields and on the banks
(‘Mr. Brown goes off to Town on the 8.21,
But he comes home each evening,
And he’s ready with his gun’),
As I walked on past Buscot, with its line of poplar trees,
Planted to drain the soil in its Victorian heyday of sugar beet
And once with a narrow gauge railway dancing across
A lost Saxon village at Eaton Hastings;
Then on past William Morris’ ‘heaven on earth’
At Kelmscott Manor (‘Visit our website to shop online!’),
Walkers occasionally appearing beyond hedgerows,
Like Edward Thomas’ ‘The Other Man’,
Wandering past teazles and Himalayan balsam;
Then Grafton Lock, and on to Radcot’s bridges and lock
(The waters divide here with two bridges:
The older, the site of a medieval battle after the Peasants’ Revolt;
A statue of the Virgin Mary once in a niche in the bridge, too,
Mutilated by the Levellers, before their Burford executions;
The newer bridge was built in the hope and expectations
Of traffic and profit in the wake of the Thames and Severn Canal),
Past Old Man’s Bridge, Rushey Lock and Rushey Weir:
A traditional Thames paddle and rymer weir
(The paddles and handles, called rymers,
Dropped into position to block the rushing waters).
Now it’s on to isolated Tadpole Bridge on the Bampton turnpike,
Now past Chimney Meadow – once a Saxon island,
Then Tenfoot Bridge – characteristically,
Where an upper Thames flash weir
Used to pour its waters,
Until Victorian modernity silenced that;
Then past Shifford Weir and the hamlet of Shifford,
Once a major Wessex town, where King Alfred
Met with his parliament of
‘Many bishops, and many book-learned.
Earls wise and Knights awful’.

But you finish your waltz through a Saxon landscape:
(The honeystone bridge at Newbridge is in sight)
Buscot, Eaton Hastings, Kelmscott, Radcot, Shifford;
And along the Red Line of resistance from the summer of 1940,
The skeins of geese and ducks no longer calling,
Dragonflies and butterflies making way for moths and bats,
Swallows no longer swooping, nor rooks so persistent;
There’s an evening mist gathering over the river:
‘The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman plods his weary way
And leaves the world to darkness and to me’;
It’s time for a pint at the Maybush (the Berkshire bank),
And a sleep at the Rose Revived (the Oxfordshire bank) –
I hope I sleep well – no ‘Night awful’, I trust, at Newbridge;
The bridge is actually 13th century, and only called Newbridge
As it’s newer than the original 12th century bridge at Radcot:
‘The Thames Path 40 miles to the Source153 to the Sea.’
The bridge, built ‘to improve communications between
the wool towns … and the Cotswold farms. In 1644 …
the Battle of Newbridge was fought on the banks of the river.
Parliamentarian William Waller attempted to cross in order to surround Oxford and capture King Charles, but was defeated.’

I rather like the use of the word ‘but.’

But it’s time for a sleep.
On to Oxford, tomorrow.