A few days before I set off, my friend Louise asked a pertinent question. Princess that she is, Louise phrased it thus,
“Luke, what are you going to do about…..well…..?”
“Shitting?” I responded, purely to shock.
“No, I presumed you had thought about that. But what about keeping clean?”
I had visions of bathing at the side of the river with the Dead Sea soap recently gifted to me, a mid-distance distraction in a Constable painting. By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag, exhausted but buoyant on the airbed, at the end of day two, I could feel a salty sheen all over my body. This clearly isn’t a dating profile. When I awoke on Saturday, the shower beckoned. I sudded and scrubbed with vigour and delight.
Suitably refreshed with ablutions and breakfast, Bella dropped me back to the previous evening’s pick up point, and the day spread before me. Although I was more limber than the day before, I decided that I was going to take it extra steady. I had covered about 45 miles in the previous two days and felt a trek of less than 10 to Abingdon would suffice. Also, Saturday mornings on 5Live are fantastic, so I resolved to stop for an hour and take in Fighting Talk in the sun. Ah, the sun. Not only had I experienced no rain, I was in the midst of the most balmy spring time (during the day). I like to think I am a person that keeps his chin up, literally, to see what is happening in the world, but the volcano meant that my head was often tilted towards the cloudless sky, trying to drink in this possibly unique view.
It was a pleasure to be back in the fields proper, after the flirtation with urban sprawl and there were noticeably more walkers – beautiful weekend, just outside the city. After a mere hour and a half, I found a bench table and sat down, topless (it how my pale belly rolls), and listened to the radio for an hour. I ate nuts and dried fruit, drained my water and felt the old, familiar granite-like ease in my joints as I got up.
Incredibly, I reached Abingdon just over half an hour later, so decided to go to the pub; this was a Saturday, you have to understand that, and Citeh were playing at Old Trafford. A good bunch at the Nag’s Head was excellent company for the match, although 3 pints was a little ambitious. And whilst my throat was lubricated, my joints were still stubbornly stiff.
After a slow couple of hours I arrived in Long Wittenham, home of another shitty Greene King pub, The Barley Mow. This was the first place that scribbled parts of Jerome K Jerome’s 3 Men In A Boat on the beams, but not the last. The problem with tied boozers on the scale of the Greene King stable is the atmosphere utterly devoid of individual soul. That and the fact that they are bending landlords over the bar and the daisy chain finishes with you, the customer paying over the odds for a lack of choice and bland food.
There’s a beautiful campsite behind the pub, run by the welcoming Lizzie Gower; I showered, had a very quick snack and fell asleep looking out over the river, as Chavori, a narrowboat I recognised from Oxford, drifted past.