Liquid History

Official Source of the Thames

Official Source of the Thames

My friend Martin is drama teacher who moved from Oxford to London a few years ago and recently gave up full time teaching to work on various projects of his own. One such project was to make a film related to his move and originally it was going to be based around a journey from Oxford to London on a boat called “Old Boy” that belongs to his friend Chris in Oxford. However, it would have taken a couple of weeks to get to London and back and Chris couldn’t spare the time so there was a change of plan. Martin’s new idea was to cycle from the source of the Thames to the Thames barrier, filming along the way. Knowing that I am a keen cyclist he asked me if I wanted to join him and as things progressed I became more involved with the project.

On August 25th Martin picked me up with both my bikes and drove to Oxford where we left one of them (the fixie) with Chris before continuing on to The Thames Head Inn where we were booked in for bed and breakfast. In the morning we walked to the official source of the Thames before packing our panniers and setting off down river, leaving Martin’s car in the pub car park to be collected later. Being summer the riverbed was dry until we entered Cotswold Water Park and the trickle then gradually built up to a proper stream by the time we reached Cricklade. We carried on a few more miles before leaving the river and cycling uphill to our accommodation, The Plough Inn at Highworth. The next day we continued on to Oxford where we stayed with Chris and were joined by Patrick who would be cycling with us to London. Until now we had just been using Martin’s camcorder but Patrick had an HD camera with him and after the journey he would be doing most of the editing work.

Chris Piloting Old Boy with Martin on Deck

Chris Piloting Old Boy with Martin on Deck

On August 28th Chris took us upriver by boat for lunch at The Trout Inn, a historic pub which features in Colin Dexter’s “Inspector Morse”, so it was well into the afternoon before we finally set off again on our ride to London. Patrick doesn’t have a bike so he borrowed mine and I switched to the fixie, which meant I had to carry my stuff in a rucksack. It turned out that Patrick had not ridden since he was a kid so he struggled a bit and it was well after dark by the time we reached South Stoke where we stayed the night at The Perch and Pike. In the morning we cycled to Goring where Martin had to see a doctor about an insect bite on his hand, which had apparently become infected, and we then put Patrick on a train to Maidenhead because we thought he was too exhausted to do another full day of cycling. Martin and I set off on a fairly direct route to Henley, avoiding the big loop down through Reading. After Henley we more or less followed the river to Maidenhead where we met up with Patrick and cycled together directly to Windsor. Martin had booked a couple of heavily discounted rooms at the famous Harte and Garter Hotel right next to the castle but despite the supposed luxury I thought it was the worst place we stayed, partly due to the drunken shouting outside which woke me at about 2am and continued for a couple of hours.

On the morning of August 30th Martin got up early to do some filming and then after breakfast we put Patrick on a train again because he needed to retrieve some stuff from Oxford (he would also leave my bike with Chris to be picked up later when Martin went to collect his car). Martin and I then set off for the final leg into London. After a while we picked up National Cycle Network Route 4, crossed The Thames from Shepperton to Weybridge on the pedestrian and cycle ferry, then followed the river to Kingston before taking a short cut through Richmond Park. We were aiming to reach the South Bank in time to join Critical Mass and were cutting it a bit fine so we had to press on without stopping for any more filming. We cycled round Parliament Square and crossed Westminster Bridge, arriving at the meeting point with about ten minutes to spare. It was Martin’s first Critical Mass.

Me and Old Father Thames

Me and Old Father Thames

We had been blessed with fine weather for the whole five day trip and the sunshine brought lots of people out for the Mass. It is hard to estimate numbers but at a guess there were maybe 800 riders. There was also (unusually) a samba band distributed amongst several pedicabs which added to the carnival atmosphere. I got up near the front as we approached Trafalgar Square and took part in a sprint down The Mall to Buckingham Palace where I waited at the Victoria Memorial for everyone else to arrive. After doing a bit of filming with my GoPro I sat down to chill out but a woman asked if I had a pump and I ended up fixing a puncture. By the time her bike was ready to go the Mass had left and Martin had gone off to a pub so I headed up to Kings Cross to catch a train home. Although we had been travelling at what for me was a slow pace I was aching a bit from having to get on and off the bike so often, and from carrying a rucksack, which is really not to be recommended on a long journey.

Last week Martin sent out an invite to the screening of a trailer for the film, which will be called “Liquid History – A Journey down the River Thames”. The screening was on Friday at Arch1 near Canning Town. Patrick finished the editing in the nick of time but there was not much of an audience – apart from the musicians who were there for a blues jam. So we showed them the trailer and to be honest it didn’t create a great deal of excitement, though it was at least received with polite applause. I think some people may have been more confused then anything! Still, it was a rushed edit and there is a lot of footage to work with.

On the journey we made good use of a book by Christopher Winn called “I never knew that about the river Thames”, which also follows the river from source to sea and is full of interesting historical facts and stories. Martin and I both shot camcorder footage. He did most of the talking, either reading passages from the book or ad-libbing, but I did a few bits to camera as well. Martin and Patrick will presumably get to work putting something together from the existing footage but the journey is not over yet. Sometime in October we plan to spend two or three days cycling from where we left off at Westminster Bridge all the way out to the Crow Stone at Southend, which marks the official limit of the river on the north bank. Of course we can’t expect to have such good weather again but it needs to be done and I am quite looking forward to it.

I stayed at Martin’s new flat near Deptford Bridge on Friday night because I had to be in Tooting Bec on Saturday afternoon for a family occasion. So we had Saturday morning to do stuff and coincidentally it was the first weekend of the Thames Festival which would surely present some filming opportunities. We cycled to river to watch crews preparing for The Great River Race then made our way to Tower Bridge in time to see the first boats passing beneath us on their 21 mile journey to Richmond. After the serious crews had gone by there were all sorts of vessels large and small, many being rowed or paddled by crews in fancy dress. Then of all things an EDL march came over the bridge from the south! I thought the best response was keep my back to it and focus on the boats but I couldn’t help hearing a slurred rendition of Rule Britannia – a noise which might have been described by Douglas Adams as almost, but not quite, entirely unlike singing.

Once most of the race had passed we briefly visited the St Katherine Docks Classic Boat Festival before I had to set off on my seven mile ride to Tooting Bec. Later I cycled from there back home to Hatfield, travelling at least thirty miles in about two and a half hours. I have certainly covered a lot of ground in the last fortnight and will be off again soon to cycle with friends in Holland where we will spend a few days relaxing in Amsterdam.

2 responses to “Liquid History

  1. Ian,

    Is there any chance I could borrow your GoPro for a couple of weeks?

    I’d like to male some video of ASLs in St Albans from a cyclists’ point of view.

    I could pick it up at the LAF next week if you’re ok with it.


  2. some video..

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