Once a week I get up early and leave the house in time to do a bit of riverside cycling on my way to work. There’s only about a about a mile of this riverside ride – part of Sustrans Route 5 – before I rejoin the Oxford traffic, but it does me the world of good to be in the green, by the water on a stunning late spring morning. In the past I would rush along here, I did this ride a lot, but now I choose to dawdle along and stop and stare (though I have to watch I’m not late for work!)
I start at the bottom of a steep path, there are a couple of narrow boats moored up along this stretch. I wonder about the mornings of these boat dwellers, are they the same as me, getting ready to go to the office? Or do they live an idyllic waterbourne existence. Of course in my imagination it’s the latter – getting up early, listening to the river sounds as the coffee comes to the boil in the stove top pot and the toast browns under the grill. Sitting on deck and taking in the air while still in pyjamas. That’s what I’d do anyway, in my dream boat-life (this is only one of my many dream-lives).
Cycling along, the path goes past Iffley Meadows. Managed by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust the meadows are a beautiful green space bounded by the river, the A415 and the Abingdon Road. These are so busy, even at 7.30 am, even in a city as small as Oxford.
At this time of year there’s still dew on the ground, the meadow is filled with pink and yellow flowers – clover and buttercup and tall grasses. Beaten down tracks left by animals (and humans. most likely) the night before lead off to the meadow edge. The surrounding hedgerows are still frothy with cow parsley and hawthorne blossom. New spring green leaves a fluttering backdrop to it all
Past Iffley lock now, avoiding the occasionally belligerent geese who hang out here. The lock keeper’s cottage sits on an island in the middle of the river, there’s the lock, the wier and a roller system for punts and canoes to go over. For walkers there’s a rather elegant small stone footbridge to the island, as well as the wooden one I prefer. This is where I see the first canoeists, pulling their boats along the roller which allow them to go further downstream.
Past Iffley Lock, and a row of narrowboats are moored; these are long term moorings and I get used to the order the boats go in. When one moves away it’s a bit unsettling, like a house has got up and left the rest of its terrace behind. The slightly eccentric Isis Tavern is here too (Isis – a word now tarnished by world events – is the alternative name for the Thames as it runs from the Cotswolds Down to Dorchester, ). This beautiful Georgian farm house become pub is almost on the riverbank, it’s shabbily elegant in that way only Georgian buildings are. The pub’s only open part time but when it is it’s usually crammed full, especially on a sunny afternoon, or if there’s music on. Not at 7.30 on a Wednesday morning though, when it’s all peace and quiet.
The University boat clubs are usually out by 7am whatever the weather; single sculls, pairs, fours and eights zooming up and down on the water. However busy it is, it’s a more enjoyable busy than the road which now hoves into view. On a bike it’s sometimes a close call not to crash into one of the coaches cycling or running along the bank shouting at their boat. There are a number of eights ou training hard for Eights Week, a ‘bumps race’ which has been going on for over 200 years.
On my way back home later in the day I see the race itself, a few minutes of frantic rowing and cheering. It was so ‘peak Oxford’ I stopped to film it for my Instagram Stories.