We pulled pins about 10am and set off down river.
Domesday in the 11th century recorded a mill on the River Thames at nearby Sutton Courtenay, where the river originally meandered. However, in those days the lock (probably a flash weir) was difficult to negotiate by boat due to the shallow river - and the tolls were said to be the highest on the Thames, making it unpopular with merchants using the river. Eventually, in 1809, a new deeper Culham Cut - and a new pound lock - were excavated and both were welcomed by all who used them if only because the tolls were not so high.
Apparently Culham is a 'shrunken village' - that is, it's much smaller today than its original size. It is a mystery why this happened. Suggestions include the Black Death and poor harvests following wet summers in the 14th century.
Clifton Lock - or Clifton Hampden Lock as it's also known - was first talked about way back in 1793, and discussions continued in 1811. But it wasn't until 1822 that this lock was constructed. Originally, the River Thames flowed in a loop towards Long Wittenham village but it was decided to dig a new, more direct, cut to by-pass the longer route. So today's lock, a hydraulic pound type operated electrically, looks very much like it did when it was built nearly 200 years ago, but without the heavy oak beams used to operate the lock manually.
Apparently St Michael & All Angels Church at Clifton Hampden was originally built on an ancient volcano blow-hole.
Just before Day’s Lock we spotted Still Rockin and No Problem moored up. We pulled over and had a quick chat before going down to the lock.
The area around Day's Lock is said to be the most historic place in Oxfordshire. There are many reasons for this: a hilltop fort was built by iron-age man on Castle Hill and when the Romans invaded they built a camp where the nearest town would be founded - Dorchester. For centuries this has been a religious area. Neolithic man built ritual henges a mile upstream. During the sixth century, St Birinus established the first cathedral in Wessex. From the lock you can see two hills topped by trees. These are the Sinodun Hills - known usually as the Wittenham Clumps and less respectfully as Mother Dunch's Buttocks. The unfortunate Mother Dunch was the wife of a less-than-popular local medieval squire.
Day's Lock is the main gauging station for measuring the flow of water in the river. It has another claim to fame too - in 1605 King James I instigated the Oxford-Burcot Commission which built the first locks on the Thames in the 1620s. Burcot is a small village near Day's Lock.
Before Shillingford is Shillingford Court probably my favourite house on the Thames. It is only a semi nowadays but I can just imagine it when it was built in the late 19th century. One part of the house with six bedrooms was on the market in 2012 for £1,295,000!
Benson lock was on self-service – I think that’s only the second this year.
Benson Lock's history goes back into the late 1300s, when a mill and weir were recorded. It wasn't until 1788 that the first timber lock was built and in turn this was converted to a stone lock in 1870. There used to be a ferry operating here, but this stopped running when the weir walkway and lock gates became available to the public.
We moored up in Wallingford and had a wander up to the town. There really is very little in the way of shops except for a very good hardware shop and a Waitrose. We returned to Mary H and sat out on the bank with Steve and Diane until about 6.30pm when the cold really got to us!!
Our flights to the US have been booked today – only 229 days to go!
Strictly started tonight – yeeeeees!