Thursday, 15 March 2012

Clifton Hampden, Culham and Abingdon

The dry spell unfortunately drags on, after a week of anti-cyclonic gloom; the clouds have started to break up after foggy mornings. Today was forecast to be the sunniest day of the week, as often turns out that yesterday, would have been a slightly better choice. Last year I reached as far as Clifton Hampden on the Thames Path, I decided to extend the path as far as Abingdon. The lack of bridges and footpaths make circular walks quite hard to make in this area. Here is a Google map of the 10 mile route I took:

View Clifton Hampden and Abingdon in a larger map

First I visited the church at Clifton Hampden, an interesting one, with features dating back to 1180 - lovely rounded pillars. It was tidied up by a Victorian benefactor Henry Hucks Gibbs, a banker, businessman and Governor of the Bank of England who hired Sir George Gilbert Smith to re-build the church and also build a bridge over the River. In 1779 John Ridge (churchwarden) was excommunicated for failing to keep the church in good repair. The south side has two windows with stained glass; one has fragments of what look like 13th century Flemish work.

stained glass,Clifton Hampden

The village has its fair quota of quaint thatched cottages.

cottage,thatch,Clifton Hampden

Then I strode East along the Thames Path. Here's an 'artistic' shot of the dried remnant of Giant Hogweed seed heads.


Birds were all around. I was pleased to see Lapwings (Peewits) performing impressive aerial antics in courtship displays. A group of shrubs had dozens of yellowhammers and linnets. I saw a tree creeper too. When in flight the brightness of the yellow of the yellowhammer was quite amazing.


Flowers were less abundant. I saw quite a few areas of Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). This is a plant I had some years ago dismissed as 'dandelions' from a distance. It only flowers for a short time in Spring.

Coltsfoot,Tussilago farfara

Sweet violets (Viola odorata) were out too. A very agreeable scent.


There were no houses along the path until I reached the road bridge at Culham. (You may have noticed that my last walk was around Sulham, just a pleasing coincidence).


The river Thames begins its wide loop west then north towards Abingdon. On the way there were many teasel seed heads to admire as well as the slightly less common burdock (Arctium lappa), that seems to like river banks. Presumably because towing boats along the Thames proved a good way for the sticky seeds to catch a lift.

burdock,Arctium lappa

Now approaching Abingdon, a marina and a set of boats came into view. This one stood out, the word ‘skiff’ came to mind, but apparently a Thames skiff is completely different. Let's just say sailing boat.

sailing boat

Abingdon is an ancient town, and I am reserving another walk to explore it properly. I stayed on the East side of the River Thames today. The Church of St. Helens, Abingdon looked good over the water.

St Helens Abingdon,Abingdon

It's unlucky to see one on its own, I know, but I wonder if it unlucky to take a photograph of one, still the magpie did look good against the now blue sky.


And so to the important crossing point of the river: Abingdon bridge, reminding me very much of the bridge at Wallingford.


The view back under the bridge into the sun looked good too.


The Thames Path crosses the river and takes the West bank up past Radley to Oxford, I continued on the East towpath which leads to Abingdon Lock.


In this time of water shortage, it was interesting to see the height of previous floods, not all that impressive as they must be only a few feet above the normal level.

hAbingdon lock

After passing the lock, the countryside opened out. I was interested to read about the Swift Ditch which the path now crosses. We think of the River Thames as easy to navigate. That was not true for this stretch, it was full of shallows that beached boats. From Oxford quite a lot of heavy goods were carried overland to Burcot where the Thames has a greater depth of water. The Swift Ditch was a canal cut in Norman times to avoid the shallows around Abingdon and also the overland slog. Anyway, this swan was in full courtship display.


Further on along the bank I came across a patch of Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Ground Ivy,Glechoma hederacea

A large field along the tow-path had a large gaggle of geese, mainly Canada geese and some Greylag geese.

canada geese,greylag geese

greylag goose

I then cut back overland to my starting place at Clifton Hampden. The path follows the main Oxford-Didcot railway for a mile or so. Contractors were busy tending to the signals.

oxford-didcot railway

Crossing the railway the path takes you around the perimeter fence of Culham Laboratory or Culham Centre for Fusion Energy as it is now labelled. For over 30 years this research centre has sought to capture ('limitless', 'clean') energy from nuclear fusion. Superhot and dense plasma is created that produces energy from fusion reactions as in the Sun. However the problems of keeping the immensely energetic reaction safely confined long enough to generate energy has proven elusive (and may be illusive too). It consumes huge amounts of energy to generate the plasma in its toroidal trap (hence all the power lines). It is not just coincidence that the Large Hadron Collider and the Culham Fusion System are both tori. Strange that quiet, rural Oxfordshire is the scene of such ground breaking and world beating research. Joint European Torus (JET) is being superseded by ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in Southern France, due to be in operation in ten year's time.


Finally, back to nature, a familiar Spring image, Pussy Willow catkins opening out.