Saturday, 16 May 2015
We recently took a trip. A long weekend away. Thanks to my work on insideKENT and insideSUSSEX Magazines, I had been offered the chance to travel to Oxford and enjoy four days and three nights on a narrowboat. We'd never done anything like this before, and although my cautious nature threw up myriad reasons with this would be a bad idea (especially with a 4 year old, especially as we had no boating experience), in the end I said yes.
Saying yes to scary things had been an unofficial new year's resolution of mine, but until now I hadn't had much of a chance to do anything about it, yes here was the ultimate test. If I could say yes to a long weekend on a narrowboat, I could be proud of myself. Not only that, but it would be nice to get away from it all for a few days. It would make a change. And we might never get the chance to do it again.
So off we went.
The trip itself was by turns terrifying and hilarious, argument forming and bonding, and you can read all about it in June's issue of the magazines.
But there was one moment that stood out for me.
On the way from Eynsham (where we had picked up the boat from the lovely and accommodating Anglowelsh boat hire company) to Oxford (our ultimate goal), we had passed a ruin of a building that, because we had our mission in mind, we hadn't stopped at to explore. I felt this was a shame, and managed to snap a few blurred pictures as we sailed (if that is the right word when it comes to a narrowboat) past. It was interesting, and I thought I would be able to use it in a short story or novel at some point in the future.
I forgot about it after that - we had locks to contend with, and mooring to deal with, and Oxford to be tourists in, so it was the furthest thing from my mind. But of course, when our time in Oxford was up and the weekend was drawing to a close, we had to return to Eynsham. So we passed the place again. This time, we passed it as we were looking for a place to stop for the night - the last night - of our trip. It was only as we were passing the ruins that I spotted a likely looking place for mooring, but by the time I had articulated as such, as had passed it.
It's a good thing that Dean is actually quite proficient at steering a narrowboat. He had liked the look of the flattish piece of bank and the open area beyond it, as well as the pub that could just be seen on the other side of the river, so he turned the boat around. This didn't cause too many problems. Mooring up, on the other hand, did. I jumped off the boat, but took so long hammering the mooring pegs into the soft ground that the back end started drifting out again. Panic ensued, but as luck would have it a couple who had moored up (with much more luck than us) just a little further upriver came to our rescue, directing Dean and helping me to tie some pretty sturdy knots.
That boat was going nowhere without our say-so.
In fiction our rescue and the tale of what the building actually is or was would be looked at as a coincidence too far, suspension of disbelief stretched to the limit, but this was real life, and so anything was possible.
Once settled, we - Dean, Alice, and I - went to check out the building we were moored directly next to.
It was called Godstow Nunnery.
It was supposed to be haunted (so of course we tempted fate by going inside and making a bit of a racket), but we saw and heard nothing that night, nor the next morning. It's still going to be the basis of a short story though - watch this space.
What we did discover, though, was that the Reverend Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll, of course), had come here. And not just him either; he had brought Alice Liddell (THE Alice) and her sisters here for picnics, after rowing down the Thames from Oxford.
What a beautiful coincidence.
Not long before discovering this information my own Alice had been running around the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, inside and out, playing and laughing, much as I imagined Alice Liddell to have done.
No ghosts were seen that night, but my dreams were full of stories. I hope to write them soon. I wonder what stories Lewis Carroll thought of here?