Monthly Archives: August 2010

The slow road to Thames Head

Thames Path

Yesterday we decided to walk to the source of the River Thames, something we’ve been meaning to do ever since we moved to Orchard Cottage, but haven’t quite got around to due to the lamest of logistical reasons. Thames Head is only about 6 or so miles away from the cottage, but it’s not like there’s a taxi cab rank at the other end to drive us home (heaven forbid we simply walk back!). But finally, our good friend Rory came to visit with a rental car and the genius idea of dropping it off at the end of the walk.

And so we set off for a three-ish hour jaunt along our little slice of the Thames Path, wondering what geyser of a spring would be waiting for us at the source.

ThamesPath

The Thames Path is nice – flat, well-marked, and with lots of pretty countryside and greenery along the way. But Tim and I agreed that the highlight of the walk wasn’t the walk itself, but a chat we had along the way with a local who was out for a walk with his dog.

The guy was about 80 and walked (very well) with a cane. As we crossed his path we said hello, but every time we tried to scuttle ahead he kept stopping us to point out something about the nearby dairy farm or the canal up the road. We finally conceded and slowed down to have a longer chat with him.

He said he was a retired farmer living near Kemble. We explained that we used to live in London but moved to the area about a year ago.

“The one thing you’ll have a really hard time with when talking to a town person like me is learning to slow down,” he said.

“Go at the country pace.”

He made his point even clearer by stopping every few yards so that we had to chat (gasp) standing still.

Later, Rory, Tim and I talked about our “keys in hand” tendency to look forward to the end of something (like a long walk) before we’ve barely begun (with our keys in hand, ready to unlock the door and be back home). Is this the city’s influence? Why do we always feel like there’s somewhere we have to be? Or are we just lazy? Deep down would we prefer to be at home?

I don’t think we’re lazy. We do stuff like walk to Thames Head because we like to. But we do have something to learn about being in the moment when we’re doing these things. When we catch up to someone on a walk, it’s an opportunity to meet someone new, not an obstacle we necessarily need to rush on by. I’m not saying I want to stop by everyone I meet on my journeys and hear their life story, but I do know that the conversation with that country dude was probably the best part of the walk – it certainly gave me the most to think about.

About a mile later, we made it to Thames Head, which wasn’t the gushing geyser we were hoping for. In fact, it looked more like a gravesite than a river source.

Thames Head

Not even a trickle of water from this meagre spring. I later learned that this spring is only seasonal, and oft debated:

The usually quoted source is at Thames Head, about a mile north of the village of Kemble and near the town of Cirencester, in the Cotswolds. Seven Springs near Cheltenham, where the river Churn rises, is also sometimes quoted as the Thames’ source, as this location is furthest from the mouth, and adds some 14 miles (22 km) to the length.

We weren’t quite up for another 14 miles, so we decided to head on home for a roast dinner. Maybe next time… when we’re feeling more country.

Monica and Rory at Thames Head

Thames Path

Me and dad in England and Ireland

Cliffs of Moher

I’m back from a longish trip around my little corner of the universe with dad, celebrating his retirement with a trip overseas to visit his daughter. How lucky am I?

Last time dad came to England, I was living in London which made for a mostly urban visit. This time around, we spent most of the trip driving and walking around the English and Irish countryside, with a few village and town stops in between. For example, here is my dad in Lacock, a ridiculous English village better known as a movie set than an actual living community because it’s so damn “quaint”. In fact, being there felt a bit like being in a post nuclear holocaust where the only beings left were posh Cotswoldian zombies. Here’s my dad pretending to be one of them:

Surreal Lacock

The weird thing is, people do seem to live in Lacock. But can you imagine growing up in what is essentially Disney World for hardcore fans of Pride and Prejudice? That can’t be normal.

I also took my dad to see some of my own favourite spots in England: the farm, Stonehenge, Avebury, Bath and Demuths Restaurant. We had a particularly good time at the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre in Cirencester, pretending to be Romans in the most pathetic gladiator fight of all time.

Lamest mock gladiator fight ever Lamest mock gladiator fight ever Lamest mock gladiator fight ever Lamest mock gladiator fight ever

For the most part, his trip was a great excuse to see some things I’ve always wanted to see, especially Ireland. Neither of us had been to Ireland before, so we did what most tourists seem to do: rent a car, drive around, see lots of ruins, drink lots of Guinness, and sleep at B&Bs along the way.

Many pints of Guinness

We couldn’t have asked for better weather – it barely rained a drop the whole trip. I expected Ireland to be shrouded in gray, but instead it bursted with greens and blues and only seemed black when I was staring into a pint glass.

Wicklow Gap

But for all of its greenery, one of my favorite bits of Ireland was the stony Burren, punctuated by its karstic limestone pavement, sporadically topped by cool neolithic tombs.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

We were there for five days, but we only managed to see a small slice of Ireland between Dublin and Connamara. But maybe it’s for the best that we left places like Cork, Killarney, and Donegal a mystery: it gives us an excuse to go back. And I really hope we do. Trips like these make me homesick. I wonder, am I doing the right thing by living here in the UK, while the rest of my family are in Chicago? Or am I missing out, missing opportunities to get to know my family better?

And then I think, if I lived at home, would we ever bother to take the time to go on trips like these? I don’t know. I hope that by living in the UK, the time I DO spend with my family is of a higher quality than it would be if I were back home. Plus it gives us both an excuse to travel, see new places, and pretend we’re Irish monks meditating on a rocky spur.

St. Kevin's Cell

I should add, my dad is half Irish, and I’m 25% Irish, so going to Ireland was sort of like a family pilgrimage. Sort of. Apparently, the family is from Limerick, but the Irish people we met didn’t have many good things to say about Limerick, so we decided to pass it by. In fact, it was hard to feel any sense of heritage in a land so covered with tourists. But that’s how it is with these sorts of places. Take it or leave it. Or get off the tourist path, hike into the hills and pretend you’re there all by yourself – that’s what I hope to do next time.

For sake of completeness, here’s a laundry list of the highlights from the two weeks my dad was here:

Click here to view the entire photoset on Flickr.

Me and Dad
Life is good in Shaw town