Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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A BOATING EXCURSION ON THE RIVER CHERWELL (OXON).
To the ordinary boating man doing the River Thames, the Cherwell is only a name, and when I explored this tributary, I had navigated the Thames practically in every way from Thames Head, near Cirencester, to the Nore, and all its creeks, canals, and docks, by motor boat and other types of craft. As to a description of the Thames itself, and the pleasures to be had on its stream, much has already been written and more will doubtless yet appear. I can say I have spent the most pleasurable days of my life on good Old Father Thames, having done the river in every way, even to residing on its waters in a snug houseboat.
But to come back to the Cherwell. Being in the vicinity of Oxford, I chartered a skiff from Messrs. Salter Brothers, and with a crew of three embarked on a fine sunny day in September for our little excursion.
The passer-by on the Thames, seeing the modest looking bridge close to the University Boat Club barge would hardly realize that this is where the Cherwell flows out to the main river, about a quarter of a mile or so down from Folly Bridge, and here we enter on our river course.
The water was unfortunately rather low, after the long summer drought, and it looked as if our journey would not be of long duration, but as we proceeded the depth became greater, which made the conditions more satisfactory for sculling.
At length we reached the part known as the Rollers, some three miles from our start, where we had the boat carried a few yards over to the upper reach. To our surprise the river here assumed a wider form, with a considerably greater depth of water, which is accounted for by the water being held up at this point.
What also struck us was the number of canoes, punts and skiffs afloat, the crews sporting themselves - or as the local expression has it - "slacking on the Cher" - in these shady reaches, which, we might say, are almost unknown to ordinary boating men. We came across several camping parties too, and numerous picnic gatherings on the banks, making it not unlike a miniature regatta scene, and showing that the Cherwell was fully taken advantage of by the local inhabitants.
The boating man is well provided with craft here, for, apart from the Oxford firm, there are two boat-letting establishments on the upper stretches with equipment equal to those on the Thames.
As we wended our way along we passed Magdalen Bridge and College, and we were reminded that the Choristers of this College keep up an ancient and quaint custom of singing a Morning Hymn at 5 a.m. on May morning, on the top of Magdalen Tower.
We next came to the University Park which borders the course, and then to a couple of bathing stations - one known as Parsons Pleasure - where the Oxonians do their swimming exercises. Farther on we noticed some unpretentious hotels and refreshment stands, all signifying the fact that the pleasure seeker is well catered for in these parts.
The Cherwell rises some three miles from Charweltown in Northamptonshire, a few miles, by the way, from the source of the River Nene, and flows in all some 45 miles south, and through Oxfordshire, passing Banbury on the way, till it joins the Thames as already described. It is said to be navigable from Kirklington Weir, near Bletchington Station on the G.W. Railway, for 14 miles down.
Although our intention was to get to Islip Mill, seven miles up stream, we were only enabled, owing to the state of the water and the weeds on the upper reaches, to scull to Water Eaton Bridge, seven miles from the start. It is interesting to note that this primitive little village was the birthplace of King Edward the Confessor. Here our voyage came to an end. At this point we had a waterman from Salter's to meet us to row the boat back the return journey to Folly Bridge.
Some few miles higher up stream the Cherwell becomes part of the Oxford Canal, which is followed to advantage for some seven furlongs along the waterway.
The trip, although a short one, was thoroughly enjoyed by the crew, and the scenery was of an attractive character, the bushes showing good foliage right down the river banks. From Water Eaton we continued our way by land by the riverside and soon reached Islip, our destination.
It should be mentioned that there are no locks on the Cherwell, but in navigating the upper reaches there are several portages necessary, at the Mills and other places.
From here we returned to Oxford by motor-car, which had been sent on ahead to join us, and so we finished what was a very pleasant outing.
Pictures related to this cruise