Rowing down the Thames Meg Mitchell...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

March 04, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Rowing down the Thames

Meg Mitchell

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Taking writer John Ruskin's pronouncement that "all traveling becomes dull in exact proportion to its rapidity," we rowed more than 100 miles along England's upper Thames River at what we called a swan's stroke.

Passing through a landscape of water meadows with grazing cows, shoreline bordered by tall elms, graceful willows and low, steep hills, four of us began a five-day rowing tour down the Thames. Ancient villages, lacy spires, dignified manor houses and monasteries high in the hills constantly drew our attention. The river was fringed with wild-flowers and swaying reeds as it wandered toward London.

Our adventure began at Lechlade, a sleepy market town, and concluded at Windsor Castle. One of the challenges was rowing our leased racing shell through 37 narrow locks. One of the many fascinations was seeing the hundreds of swans that would form a barricade across the river and then peacefully give way as we approached.

At 3:30 each afternoon, we began to anticipate docking our shell for the night and locating our reserved lodgings. Among our destinations was Oxford, the city of 39 colleges and beautiful cathedrals. Another stop was the village of Abingdon, which grew up around the great Benedictine Abbey founded in 675.

The river town of Goring, with its curiously named Miller of Mansfield Inn, was our favorite overnight spot. Directly across from the inn was an ancient parish church built about 1090.

At the charming village of Sonning, our inn, the Great House at Sonning, was within a stone's throw of the Thames. The picturesque grouping of a mill, two bridges, a church among the trees and the ancient houses made the village seem like something out of a fairy tale. The next day we diverted from the river villages and biked to Salisbury Cathedral, following the pathway of the pilgrim's journey in "Canterbury Tales."

Henley-on-Thames, the celebrated home of the Henley Royal Re- gatta, was our last stop. In July, this tiny village comes alive for four days, holding the most famous rowing regatta in the world.

It is also the oldest British garden party, complete with an elegant Edwardian setting. Ladies promenade in long, filmy dresses and broad-brimmed hats. As for the gentlemen, where else would the style of a lapel braid and the color of a blazer instantly identify one's boat club or school?

Being spectators at the regatta was a fitting end to our river jour-ney.

Meg Mitchell lives in Annapolis.

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Philip Saviano, Boston, Mass.

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READERS RESPOND

Where is the best place to see spring blossoms, and why?

Giverny, France

Gwyn Gilliland, Baltimore

"The best place to see spring blossoms is in Monet's garden in Giverny. The tulips are the size of grapefruit! On a sunny day, everything glows with color, just like you are in one of Monet's paintings."

Appalachian Mountains

Melinda Smith, Baltimore

"I have seen spring blossoms at the beach, on the desert and in many cities around the world, but riding through the Appalachian Mountains on horseback provides the most dramatic, intense view of spring -- raw beauty in its natural state."

Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

Marilyn Gibson, Essex

". . . the most spectacular display of spring flowers -- more than 600 varieties of tulips set in beds with hyacinths, crocus, daffodils and narcissus, all spread beneath trees in full bloom."

Kyoto, Japan

Mary Gray, Towson

"Kyoto is the place to see spring cherry blossoms because there are so many cherry trees. It is glorious."

OUR NEXT QUESTION

What are your favorite tips for traveling with pets?

Please answer in 50 words or less. Send via fax to 410-783-2519, or write to: Travel Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or send by e-mail to travel@baltsun.com.

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