National Geographic : 1983 Jun
Birthplace of this history-haunted river remains a matter of dispute. Officialdom says Thames Head, where no running wa ter, in fact hardly any water at all, has been seen in years. Others place its origin at Seven Springs (higher even than Thames Head), whose dribbling output spawns the River Churn, a Thames tributary. Either way, the first depth reliable enough to carry a canoe in most seasons starts at Cricklade, where I, too, began my mid-March rambles downstream. Lazing along beneath sparse sunshine, I paddled for miles through a countryside little changed in a thousand years. Church towers pinpoint ed rare patches of civilization; cows, crows, and coots were my only companions. In all, a placid panorama that conjures up images of England in its infancy. At Newbridge, marked by two inviting inns, the river begins winding between townless water meadows to reach Oxford, home-since the 12th century-of Britain's oldest university. PAINTING BYWILLIAMH. BOND. COMPILEDBY GRAHAMJ. TRUSCOTT. BOTHNATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF Runnymede (8), includingan acre given to the United States in honor ofJohn F. Kennedy, saw King John accept the Magna Carta.Hampton Court (9) was expanded by Sir ChristopherWren, who also rebuiltSt. Paul's Cathedral(10) after the GreatFireof 1666. The river'sflood stage (11) illustratesLondon's need for the Thames Barrier. London's Globe Theatre gave Shakespeare (12) a stage,just as its waterfrontstirred Charles Dickens (13). Royal barges included Queen Mary's shallop (14), built in 1689; the 19th- century Cutty Sark (15) evokes the golden age of clipper ships. Greenwichtime was launchedat the Old Royal Observatory (16), which stands at 00 longitude. An enormous steamship engineered by I. K. Brunel (17) sailedfrom London's docks, now eclipsed by Tilbury's (18).