Clifton Hampden – Dorchester – Wallingford.
In May 2016 Mel and I enjoyed a lovely few days walking from the source of the Thames to here. It is with some sadness that I am continuing alone. Mel’s health has deteriorated further and he probably won’t be tackling anything strenuous in future. My plan is a few more days on the route before visiting him and his wife. I will need some good photos to show them.
Getting back to the thatched village of Clifton Hampden was not as easy as expected, since we were here they have stopped the bus from Abingdon. This hasn’t pleased the locals and I wasn’t that happy about forking out £10 for a taxi.
The day is murky, the Thames is running high but without flooding. The paths are muddy as the recent snow melts. I soon get back into stride alongside the river. There are few people about but within a mile I stop for a chat with a friendly couple walking up the Thames. She’s from Finland and he’s from Oregon they make an interesting pair and have travelled the world including sailing round it!
Ahead are the Sinodun chalk hills capped by ancient beech trees hence the name Wittenham Clumps, They also were known as Mother Dunch’s Buttocks, named after an unpopular local lady who was Oliver Cromwell’s aunt. An Iron Age fort tops one of them and there have been other Bronze age and Roman discoveries.
In the distance is Didcot power station a landmark we had passed on the previous trip. It has the unenviable history of a collapse being prepared for demolition in 2016 killing 4 men, Grimly it took 6 months for their bodies to be recovered.
A little further and it’s the first Lock, Days Lock. An environment employee is checking the state of the river, there has been a red warning when no boats are allowed to move as the current is too strong. A vast amount of water is coming through the weir gates where they can regulate the flow to help prevent flooding.
The name Dorchester-on-Thames conjures up a vision of an ancient Wessex city. Iron Age Dykes partially surround it and are very obvious on the ground. It was a Roman town on the navigable river and later a Christian centre with an important Abbey.
So I thought I’d better make the short diversion to have a look around. The place was so sleepy, presumably a commuting town now, the shop had closed, the cafe was shut and the old coaching inns had few customers. The highlight was the Abbey.
Back on the river for a while before being diverted annoyingly away onto the busy main road into Shillingford. Here by an old wharf is a wall charting flood levels – 1809, the highest, was about 8ft whilst 1768 beat 1947. Global warming or natural variation. You may need to click for clarity.
A quiet stretch of river led to a busy mini marina at Benson Lock. The Waterfront Cafe here provided tea and teacakes. It even provided blankets for those wanting to sit outside in the hazy sunshine. Actually that sunshine was stronger than I thought and by the end of the day I was looking a bit red and going to the chemist for sunblock which I hadn’t brought.
It was just a stroll into Wallingford past the remains of a former Norman castle, later a Royalist stronghold eventually destroyed by Cromwell. There is a lot of history in this area. The town, once the largest Saxon fortified town in England, was full of interesting old buildings. A good start to a few days walking.
My airbnb was a time warp of 60’s music and a shrine to Dusty Springfield [more of her later].