Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Meanders and Pill Boxes

I am now entering the Thames at its most tranquil. For the next 30 miles the river meanders its way to Oxford through lonely water-meadows with only the occasional glimpse of distant farms and villages. Here I became as one with my surroundings. Only the sounds of nature disturb the air. Birds sing, the river ripples on its course, and the insects and butterflies go about their daily business.

The path is extremely well maintained. The fencing keeps the traveller to the riverbank but it does not seem to intrude upon the pathway, keeping its distance from the waters edge while maintaining its major function of guarding the farmers land.

The river meanders its way downstream, with twists and turns so severe in places that it seems that it sometimes wants to join up with itself. Meanders derive their name from a river of that name in Asia Minor that featured very pronounced bends and loops. The name of the river was adopted to describe any stretch of water that exhibited such features.

An interesting snippet of information that I came across while conducting my research is that if you take the straight line distance between the source of a river and its mouth, multiply by PI (3.142), it will be found to be approximately the full length of the river as it flows. This may sound incredible although along this section of the Thames it seemed something of an understatement.

Gradually the realisation dawns on me that following the riverbank is probably adding several miles to the journey. How much shorter would the route be if water not only always flowed downhill, but also always flowed in straight lines?

These thoughts were replaced with an exciting game of “where will the river go next?” Will it be towards the trees on the left or the bushes on the right? As I progressed the way forward was slowly uncovered but only by a little at a time. It was as if the waters wanted to retain their mysteries and only reveal the next enticing secret in their own time.

Pill Boxes, Stopline Red Pill Boxes – Stopline Red

After a while I begin to notice the regular appearance of concrete “pill boxes” along the north bank of the river. Some were so eroded that they looked like tiny grey castles. What were they doing so far away from any obvious strategic military target?

The boxes are here because during World War II this was designated as “Stopline Red”. If we were invaded this is where the enemy would be brought to a juddering halt before they could reach the Midlands.

At this point some logical thinking started to set in. Which bright-spark in the War Office decided that the might of the German High Command would ignore all of the major roads and bridges and take their heavy Panzer divisions across the remote water-meadows of West Oxfordshire? And how, exactly, were these boxes in which you could not fit more than a handful of men, expected to bring about this sudden halt to Adolf’s cunning plan? Did they expect that having come this far that Jerry would see the pill box filled with the local Captain Mainwaring and his Dads Army finest, shout “Gott in Himmel! Ve vill never vin!”, and turn back to get home in time for the Oktoberfest?

It was our good fortune that this defensive shield was never required to be put to the ultimate test. So here the boxes stand in their own silent tribute to those uncertain times, while the elements slowly erode their walls and mother-nature works her magic to re-establish her dominance over their intrusion. In some unfathomable way the concrete abhorrations contribute something to the atmosphere, adding a certain serenity of their own. We will leave them to stand for as long as they may.

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