Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Donnington and Oxford University Boathouses

Oxford University Boathouses
Oxford University Boathouses

Downstream of Folly Bridge the river suddenly comes alive. It is only 8am but the various College rowing crews have been hard at work for some time already, and are being put through their paces by enthusiastic and vociferous coaches. No doubt they are all working up a good appetite towards a hearty breakfast before a hard day studying.

Do those racing boats move! They skim through the water at speeds that motor vehicles caught up in the Oxford rush hour would consider sheer ecstasy. There are so many boats chasing up and down the river that how they manage to avoid collisions is a miracle. It is really quite amazing that there are not constant clashes of oars echoing across the morning air.

The coaches also seem to have their own invisible radar system to avoid collisions. They cycle furiously along the towpath seemingly not looking where they are going with their eyes firmly fixed on their particular team of heaving rowers while shouting a constant stream of advice and encouragement to exhort their protégés to even greater efforts.

For a rower it must be a huge advantage to your blood-pressure if you are somewhat deaf. All the while that you are heaving and straining on a giant oar, sweat pouring from your brow, some bloke on a bike is yelling at you to put some more effort in. Even worse, there you are, six feet four and sixteen stone of well-honed Adonis and at the same time you are also being screamed at by a seven stone midget wearing a baseball cap who is sitting at the front-end of the boat. I know that it would really wind me up.

To all of the rowing activity add a full procession of people along the towpath intermingling in both directions. There are people cycling to work, school or to the shops. There are more people on foot propelling themselves at different speeds, fit-as-a-butchers-dog runners, puffing joggers, walkers, dog walkers, pram pushers and one man plodding his way down the Thames Pathway watching everybody else around him. Ladbrokes must surely be offering short odds on a pile-up somewhere. But no, all too soon Iffley Lock comes and goes, the throb of activity gets left behind and it is out to open countryside for a peaceful ten miles to Abingdon.

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