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The Thames rises in the south-eastern slopes of the Cotswold Hills. For about twenty miles it belongs wholly to Gloucestershire, when for a short distance it divides that county from Wiltshire. It then separates Berkshire first from Oxfordshire, and then from Buckinghamshire. It afterwards divides the counties of Surrey and Middlesex; and then, to its mouth, those of Kent and Essex. It falls into the sea at the Nore, which is about one hundred and ten miles nearly due east from the source, and about twice that distance measured along the windings of the river. From having no sand-bar at its mouth it is navigable for sea vessels to London Bridge, forty-five "miles from the Nore, or nearly a fourth of its entire length, a circumstance in which it is probably unparalleled by any other river in the world besides the Amazon. The area of the basin drained by the Thames is estimated at above six thousand five hundred miles.
THE HEAD OF THAMES.
Two streams contend for the honour of the parentage of the Thames. Both rise from the southern slopes of the Cotswold Hills, but some sixteen miles apart. The source of one of them is known as Thames-head, that of the other as Seven Springs.
The stream which flows from Thames-head would seem at first sight to have the fairest title to the pre-eminence. Its source has ever been called Thames-head by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood; and the stream itself has always been called the Thames, long before it meets the other branch, which, on the other hand, has always beenjcalled the Churn. But then it must yield to its rival both as regards the distance of its source from the main trunk and its size—and whatever may have been the received opinion, the Churn is now considered by geographers as the true head of the Thames. We will visit each, and trace them from their springs till they meet and form one river.
Thames-head is about three miles south-we9t of Cirencester, and within sight of the Tetbury-road station of the Great Western and Gloucester Railway. What should be the spring, lies in a hollow close to a bridge over the Thames and Severn Canal, known as Thames-head bridge. The field in which it rises is named Trewsbury Mead, and the hill at whose foot it lies, has on its summit a circular earthwork, probably lloman, called by the country people Trewsbury Castle. Leland notices this spring, and calls it the "very head of Isis;" and adds that it "is in a great somer drought, and offereth very little or no water, yet is the stream servid with many of springs resorting to one bottom." This peculiarity of many springs, as he terms it, resorting to one bottom, is yet noticeable, but it does not need a great summer to make the head dry, for now little or no water issues from it at any time. In Cooke's 'Picturesque Views on the Thames,' which are generally correct as well as picturesque, there is an engraving of this ' Source of the Thames' which represents the water as bubbling up so as to make a moderate-sized fountain, and overshaded by a rich group of trees; and this appears to have served as the original of most subsequent views of it. Nothing can be less like the spot. The field is bare and barren. The spring is only distinguishable by a circle of naked pebbles, with one large upright stone near it, which marks where once stood a sort of grotto that covered the spring. The spring itself has long ceased to flow. At the farther end of the field is a powerful steam-engine, which is almost ceaselessly at work pumping up water from a well sixty feet deep, into the canal already mentioned. This has effectually drained all the springs that here originally contributed to form the Thames. When the engine has left off working for a few days—-which is only when there is what the manager of it calls "a glut of water "—the water flows out from the head spring; from another spring,, two or three hundred yards lower, the water issues after the engine has been still for a few hours. Ordinarily, however, this stream is now first traceable at Kemble, a pleasant village situated on an eminence about half a mile from Thames-head, where a plenteous supply from one or two other springs enables it to spread out into a pretty brook. It then passes Somerford, where, it will be remembered, there is evidence in Abbot Aldhelm's charter, quoted by Gibson, that the stream was anciently called the Thames. The church of Somerford Keynes deserves notice as one of the comparatively few churches that contain some vestiges of Anglo-Saxon architecture. At Ashton Keynes the Thames receives the Swill brook, which rises in the high ground about four miles from Tetbury. Leland, as we have seen, calls Thames'head the very head of Isis, but in other parts of his 'Itinerary' he mentions other heads. Thus he says (vol. ii. p. 25), "The head of Isis in Ooteswalde riseth about a mile on this side Tetbyrie." By this he must mean the Swill brook, which, however, as has been mentioned, rises four miles on this side Tetbury. Our stream, considerably enlarged by its^union with the Swill, flows on without further augmentation, and at no great distance from the Thames and Severn Canal, till it unites with the Churn near Cricklade. In its course hitherto, there has been little to notice. . Nowhere could it be called picturesque, and there has been no place possessing any particular claim to attention. We will now turn to the other and principal branch.
And here we might linger awhile; a prettier stream of its kind could not readily be met with than the Churn. Near its head it is separated into two branches: the one which is rather the longer, and which some affirm to be the true head, rises at Ullen Farm, about a mile west of Seven Springs, the source of the other. Both rise near the root of Leckhampton Hill, about three miles south of Cheltenham; they unite about a mile from their respective sources. That which issues from Seven Springs appears to be the main branch; and is so considered in the locality, where it is looked upon as one of the principal " lions," and few go to any of the neighbouring villages, or to Cheltenham, without being carried to see it. From its situation and the greater quantity of water that constantly flows from it, Seven Springs seems fairly entitled to the name of the "very head " of Thames; and it is as lovely, quiet, and everflowing, as we could wish the head of Thames to be. The springs, which lie in a secluded dell, are overhung with a luxuriant canopy of foliage. The water gushes, clear and pure as crystal, out of the rock from several different openings (it is commonly said from several different springs; but they are evidently connected with each other), and, after whirling round a few times, starts
"Off with a sally and a flash of speed,
As it flows from the springs the water is deliriously cool, and very grateful to the rambler,— who will not need to use the cup of Diogenes. A sturdy dame has for the last quarter of a century scrambled down the dell to every comer, with a glass clear as the water itself with which she fills it, that the visitor may " taste the Thames water at its source." She is a sober, old-fashioned country peasant, without much of character in herself or her story, which it will be best to let her tell in her