Monday, 11 January 2016

Walking the flooded Thames: from Cricklade to Lechlade

The record of the first stage of our Thames walk to London (from its source to Cricklade), involving the life of the local Chartist Allen Davenport of Ewen (Saxon derivation, indicating source of a river), can be found at
December’s weather was, of course, dreadful in 2015, with floods in the north and in Scotland. We had to keep a constant eye on the weather down here too – if there were floods at Castle Eaton then we could be stymied … so … Jim decided he would make the trip in a canoe; Kel and myself opted for walking, and haiku jokes were swopped via email in December.
What if paddles break, Bungs come out, rapids appear? Oh, damp sandwiches.
Three men in a boat? It's too Jerome K. Jerome. Two of us should walk.
But the New Year saw the continuance of the misery of ‘the rain it raineth everyday’; would we all three, in fact, need the inflatable canoe: a sort of rabbit, fox and lettuce conundrum?
I met Jim on the 4th of January in the Black Book cafĂ© in Stroud; he was his usual ebullient self and pushed a box of chocolates towards me. I should have known that the box would contain the stone he had found at Ewen (Allen Davenport’s birthplace); the one involved in our pilgrimage to Kensal Green, along the Thames.
A geologist friend had showed Jim how the reverse side of Jim’s beautiful carving indicated the stone’s history: the piece of oolite limestone revealed its Jurassic origins and mutation, with tiny shells and eggs, and whirls of movement caused by eddies in the water, in this slow, peaceful, sedimentary transformation. The stone was beautifully carved with a flowing A and D. The letters resembled herons or swans or leaves – it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Needless to say, there was a biro haiku inside the box:
Oo aha oolite’s
Eggs still laid in shallow seas
B.C. to A D.
John Basset immediately quipped: ‘This is a haikoolite.’
Jim smiled and then showed us a woodcut of the Saxon mother and child carving from Inglesham Church (our putative walker—boater lunchtime meeting place). Jim showed us the hole on the carving – an indication of a Massdial. The carving would have originally been placed outside, and the cycle of light would have indicated Christmas, Candlemas, Martinmas, Lammas etc.
We went next door to R and R’s – I needed another copy of Tristram Shandy, while John needed a copy of Das Capital; there in the window was Jim’s beautiful carving of the Saxon Mother and Child. Jim had been inspired by a leaflet I had given him about the church; inspired by his copy of The Book of the Thames with its woodcut, and inspired by his visits to the church – I resolved, as the final part of the prologue, to revisit the shop window the next day to take a picture. By the way, my copy of Tristram Shandy only cost £2 – I totally recommend R and R in Nelson Street.
Here was supposed to be a record of the second stage from Cricklade to Lechlade, involving Davenport and Percy Bysshe Shelley – but, as it happened, we were stymied on a couple of occasions and will have to re-walk this stretch, WHEN THE FLOODS RECEDE.
In the meantime, here is a haiku record of the liquid alchemy that we saw and walked. There was a tragic beauty about it all: ‘coming events cast shadows before’.

Ridge and furrow fields,
Once beyond the river’s reach,
Now puddled and drowned.

Peasants till the fields,
Barefoot ghosts and revenants
Follow in our steps.

Silhouetted trees,
Pewter sky and silver clouds,
The water’s canvas.

Swans glide the field-flood,
A limitless lake’s expanse,
Burnished willow boughs.

And at Inglesham,
A medieval village,
Lost to Time’s waters.

While we ooze and splash
Through rising water tables,
To a drowned future.

Post script from Kel Portman

walking through water
in winter's delicate light
so many more clouds

From field to wetland
Submerged ridge and furrow fields.
Only geese rejoice

Newbuilds encroaching
On ox-ploughed ridge and furrow
Built on old floodplains

Connecting pathways
Link old fields and new town
Concrete covers soil

Hungry water floods,
Transforming land into lake.
Soil becomes mirror

Across old-ridged fields
Footpaths lead dogwalkers home
To floodprone newbuilds

New Rugby pitches 
All fresh-white-lines and mown grass.
Lost, the ancient fields

Two new waterscapes
Made by this flooded river
Which of them is real?

Trees stand in water,
Surrounded, up to their waists.
Waiting for summer

Threat'ning Iron grey skies 
Bring more rain to fill the Thames.
Filling forlorn fields 

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