Another Source of the Thames

Travelling through Gloucestershire on our way to Cornwall we paused at Seven Springs. We have passed along this route a few times and never given it thought. This time we decided to have a coffee at a well-equipped van in a lay-by just off the A436. Like many lay-bys it used to be part of the original road before it was straightened. As we wandered around the picturesque site under the shade of beech trees we noticed a set of steps down to a small stream running under the road and to decided to investigate.

Coffee by the springs (7)

The stream was crystal clear with water bubling from a series of springs (and yes there were seven). We had stumbled on the reason for the name of the hamlet but it turned out we had also come across something a bit more intersting.

Investigating Seven Springs

Where the stream passes under the main road we found a stone embeded in the bridge proclaiming in Latin "Haic Tuus O Tamesine Pater Septemgeminus Fons". Obviously something Thames related - I never learnt Latin.

Latin Inscription

It all became clearer when we discovered a grubby notice in the lay-by from the local parish council who stated the sites claim to be the "the ultimate source of the Thames". It was Coberley Parish Council who arranged to the engraved stone to be set into the bridge. The waters from the seven springs form the River Chum and this flows into the Thames at Cricklade. On the basis that the waters at Thames Head sometimes run dry, and the waters from Seven Springs do not, they consider their claim to be the true source is convincing.

The Parish Council also point out on the notice that regarding this as the Source of the Thames adds an extra 14 miles to its length making it 9 miles longer than the River Severn and the longest river flow in the UK. So perhaps the answer to the quiz question "What is the UK's longest river?" could be the Thames, or perhaps more accurately the Chum/Thames.

Either way, I still can't get out of my head the Michael Bentine (It's a Square World) sketch where they search for the Source of the Thames. They find it to be a dripping tap in a field, they turn it off and this drains the whole river.

Over and Under the Hill - Potterspury History Group

For some years I have been helping lead some of the Over and Under the Hill events at Stoke Bruerne where participants explore Blisworth Tunnel by boat and walk back over the top with guides. Last Saturday we held a special version for our village history group. With the warm and dry spell of weather we managed to fill trip boat Charlie. The tunnel element of the event never fails to impress. Despite travelling through the tunnel on Albert you get a new perspective sitting in Charlie near the water line when you can concentrate on looking at the side passages and the wonderful colours of the mineral deposits on the walls.

Familiar view

Checking the route

Boat Horses in the quarry field

We carried out a reconnaissance on the Thursday before the trip and some our pictures are from that walk.
A group of happy walkers ready for the tunnel

In the tunnel and looking at interpretation material

Leaving Charlie at Blisworth

Finishing with a meal for over twenty at the Navigation Inn it was a memorable event.  The next event like this is at the end of August which is being organised by Trip Boat Charlie.

Kelmscott Manor

Almost 12 years ago we had a trip up the Upper Thames and moored up at Kelmscott overnight. This was following the summer 2007 floods that devastated the Cotswolds and caused havoc across central England. We had planned to visit the former summer home of William Morris, Kelmscote Manor but, although the floods had subsided, the damage to the house was so bad it was closed to the public. We particularly remembered that even the Plough Inn was out of beer because of the flooding and an unfortunate couple who had travelled from Norfolk in their camper van to visit the manor and had slept overnight outside only to discover it was closed for the rest of the year.

Since then we have not been back along this stretch by boat, so when we found ourselves travelling through the Cotswolds a week ago we decided it was about time that as William Morris enthusiasts we visited Kelmscott. We were not disappointed.   

Kelmscott village does lie a little off the beaten track but it is delightful. A visit to the manor can effectively become a visit to the whole village since there are connections throughout to Morris family (William, Jane and May) and their fellow Pre-RaphaeliteDante Gabriel Rossetti who had a complex relationship with the Morris family . Just look at the map supplied by the manor.

We arrived late morning on a glorious summer's day and parked in the village car park (a field) designated for manor visitors. After "the pub with no beer" episode twelve years ago we visited The Plough and had a great lunch. The inn has several rooms so would make a good centre for walkers since it's not far from the Thames Path. It was busy and one of their outside rooms was set up for a party. I discussed the floods with the staff - it appears that the wooden floor of the pub was destroyed by the floods so they now have one in stone.

A pub with beer - this time

On the gentle walk to the manor we passed the cottage that has a wonderful stone carving of William Morris and I was also taken with some unusual nearby stone fencing.

William Morris contemplating life
Memorial Cottages 1902 - carved by George Jack
 Quite a different field boundary
The manor is not a large property if you are familiar with visiting stately homes, and you will soon become aware that it had a long history before Morris lived there. Visiting this building is all about William Morris and his work, but there are other little gems, notably by his daughter May who lived there for many years following his death.

William Morris's Bed  

Jane Morris's Bed decorated in Willow Boughs 

It is a widely held view that Willow Boughs (which we have decorating Albert) was inspired by the backwater of the Thames that passes through Kelmscott.


Split-stepped staircase installed by the Society of Antiquaries in 1962

Attic bedspread

Jane and William Morris

Cartoon of Morris fishing on the Thames

The gardens and outbuildings shouldn't be forgotten. Maggie and I were particularly taken by the massive mulberry tree in the back garden. It was too early in the season for ripe fruit but maybe in late August?

Kelmscott Manor's magnificent mulberry

A Three-seat Privy

The Manor owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer. Also this year it will close for an extended works, mostly associated with the outbuildings and infrastructure so next year they may have quite a short season. I did ask the guides about the damage done in 2007. It appears that none of the artifacts were damaged but they had to have a new floor at the rear of the building.

Morris's Topcoat

The mooring at Kelmscott is a very short walk to the manor and is a delightful setting. Although we moored up there in 2007 and have now visited the manor, we still aspire to do both things at the same time. I suppose that is icing on the cake? - talking of which the manor does cream teas!

Kelmscott moorings

Down the River by H E Bates (1937-1979)

Having posted about the 1987 (50th) edition of this book, I began to look for earlier versions which I soon realised had wood-engravings for illustrations - I just love wood-cuts. It soon became clear that the first edition of 1937 had been reprinted in 1968 and 1979 and these editions used the same illustrations. Although I prevaricated (I like using that word), when eBay advertised a copy of the 1979 edition for less than £4:00 I couldn't resist buying another copy.

The hardbacked copy came with its original dust jacket complete with a charming illustration. The book boasts 83 wood-engravings; some full page, some included in the text and some decorating the chapter headings.

Lace Making

The book has a much more old-fashioned feel to it than my later edition and this version has paper quality which is surprisingly heavy gauge. It is altogether a better version printed and produced version as long you appreciate, as I do, the black and white engravings.

Title Page

Agnes Miller Parker's illustrations are extraordinary and invoke some of the same atmosphere as the Denys Watkins-Pichford work later had in Tom Rolt's Narrow Boat.

One example of just how "alive" the engravings are is the group of illustrations that accompany the story of Quintus that Bates relates when discussing the characters that lived near his home close to the Nene. It is a story of  the close (and somewhat ambivalent) connection working-people had with their pigs in the early 20th century. Bates' grandfather and his friend Quintus used to spend long periods admiring their pig and discuss her litters. Many in our Northamptonshire village also kept pigs; I bet they had similar discussions. The writing describing the characters and their views of life is first rate, but just add a few wood-cuts and it moves to another plane.

Quintus, pigs and piglets

According to the dust jacket, which contains a reprinted a review from The Observer published in 1937, "Very few modern books  have been so brilliantly illustrated". Over eighty years later I would certainly agree.

 Look out for copies of this edition from the usual on-line sources - you won't be disappointed and they probably won't be expensive.

Down the River by H E Bates

Having recently spent an idyllic holiday on the River Nene, I revisited a book we have had for some time. H E Bates, the famous novelist came from Rushden and wrote an evocative book about the rivers of eastern England "Down the River". There are several editions but ours is the 1987 (50th anniversary) edition which has illustrations by Peter Partington.

The book is based around two rivers, the Nene and the Great Ouse and is full of wonderful descriptions of the wildlife, flowers and people living alongside. 

Our copy has an inscription by Maggie's father Hugh, "To a family who have the luck to live between the Two Rivers". He was referring to the Chapter titled The Twin Rivers ad the fact that we live between the Two Rivers and we agree that we are lucky living in this area. With the inscription and its memories we particularly treasure this copy.  

Black-headed Gulls - we saw a lot recently near Woodford

A Lock


There are chapters on fishing, wild flowers, water mills, and otters but unusually there is an interesting chapter on lace-making. The villages in South Northamptonshire have a long history of lace-making and we live opposite a row of cottages that was a lace making "factory".  We can relate to the stories Bates relates about the craft because our village has similar. The history of how the art arrived in our part of England is retold and this is important. .

There are a least two other editions with first edition, published in 1937, having wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker. However, the 1987 edition is widely available through the usual second-hand book sellers for around £12.  Its a good read and the illustrations of the edition we have are charming.

Researching for this post has convinced me that we must also get a 1937 edition because it is illustrated with wood cuts - I love wood cuts.

Northampton, the Arm and Home

We sorted out our overnight mooring fee at White Mills on Wednesday morning (29th) and then had a pump-out so we were not "quick out of the blocks". It was an interesting manoeuvre getting out of the marina with a stiff wind against us but we managed to reverse pretty well. As we left the marina we met NB Alfred coming out of the lock. manouvre. We met this boat before at Aston Marina - it  is owned by a syndicate. It is a 67ft Steve Hudson tug with a Gardner 2LM engine so its not your average time-share boat. At one time is had a Greeves 2YWM engine. 

The family on board were taking her (Alfred) to Northampton so we shared locks all day swapping turns to set them up. We made a good team. 

Locking with NB Alfred

By late afternoon we had reached Northampton Marina. We moored up there overnight but took the opportunity to take in another tapas meal at Les Olives in the town.

Northampton Riverside

On the Thursday (30th) we left Northampton and went up the arm to Blisworth. 

Flag Iris on the Northampton Arm

An IWA working party were litter picking and carrying out maintenance in the first lock. Good to chat to our marina-friend Geoff Wood who was organising the team. They were doing a great job. Luckily the weather was good. 

Locking up the Northampton Arm gives you a sense of achievement when you get to the top. Mostly it was plain sailing but a couple of the pounds were low and a couple of locks had very hard paddle mechanisms. 

Lock under M1

Hovel at the top of Northampton Arm

We turned south at the junction and then moored up for the night in Blisworth village not far from Candle Bridge. We went for a walk to the Royal Oak but didn't stay to eat. We found it a bit disappointing.

On Friday morning (31st) we went through Blisworth tunnel, meeting only two boats, and then went down the Stoke Flight. CRT volunteers were assisting and encouraging lock sharing. We shared with one boat for the first two locks but then they moved ahead to share with a single boat in front so we then shared with a single boat who came down behind. That boat was single-handed so we (I) did most of the locking apart from the occasional help from a volunteer. They were a few site-seers around who wanted to chat and some motor homes had set up for lunch just below the Northampton Road.

Blisworth Tunnel Northern Portal

Emerging from Blisworth Tunnel

We paused by the bottom lock for lunch and reached our home moorings at Kingfisher Marina mid-afternoon. When boating we usual have car parked at the marina but this time our car was at White Mills in Earls Barton so we walked home to Potterspury over the fields. There is something satisfying about walking home to our village rather than driving. The barley in our local fields had grown whilst we had been away. In case your wondering, we picked up a car in the village, travelled to Earls Barton to pick up our car, unpacked Albert and then returned home. A great boating trip.

Walking home from the marina

Irthlingborough and Earls Barton

On the 27th and 28th and May we continued retracing our steps heading home to Yardley Gobion. On the Monday (Bank Holiday), our intention was to have a short day. We covered little ground and moved from Woodford to Irthlingborough. While we were on the move the weather continued warm and pleasant

Maggie trying her hand at a Manual Lock (Upper Ringstead)

We tried mooring up on the Friends of the River Nene moorings at Stanwick Lakes but unfortunately we were too deep drafted (or to put it another way the moorings were too shallow). Either way we failed to moor up so we moved on to the familiar ex-Rushden & Diamonds moorings. 

Irthlingborough Lock

In the afternoon we walked over to Stanwick Lakes which was busy with families enjoying the sun. As we left we had a rain shower and got wet since we failed to take any wet weather gear with us. However, being warm it wasn't too unpleasant.

The next mooring there was a lot of low cloud be it stayed dry for most of the day and we travelled up to Wellingborough for lunch and then on to New Mills Marina for an overnight mooring.

Fishing Heron


Dark clouds near Wollaston

As we approached White Mills Lock our friend Edward passed over us in a Sky Arrow aircraft. He is part of a syndicate and is building up to getting his PPL. He saw moving boats (but not ours) and he was little more than a black shape against a grey sky. But having said that, a rendezvous between a narrow-boat and an aircraft is pretty unusual.

Sky Arrow passing over Albert

We moored up on the visitor moorings at White Mills for the night. Unfortunately the Boat House cafe is closed on Tuesdays.

Moored up at White Mills again

Almost as soon as we arrived we were befriended by another thirsty racing pigeon. It was also a bit peckish so we fed it some duck food we keep on board. The markings of this bird were particularly attractive -  under its wings were bright flashes of red and its neck was iridescent. 

Another off-course racing pigeon.