I was surprised that addedentry hadn't texted to warn me, as he'd left about ten minutes before me, but in fact the tree must have fallen at some point in the ten minutes between us passing that point — so, a lucky escape for both of us.
The towpath: a digression
When we first bought this house we cycled along the towpath to get to and from it several times; it was the middle of summer, and it was wonderful to cycle along beside the river in the sun looking at the flowers and the ducks — hello trees hello sky sa Fotherington-Thomas — but if I'm honest, I thought that the towpath would be a summer treat, and the rest of the time it'd be a boring road commute up and down the Abingdon/Iffley Roads. In fact, I've only taken the road once since we've lived here, and that was because I turned left out of Holy Rood Church down the Abingdon Road in a moment of confusion about where I was in relation to the turning for the towpath, and then couldn't be bothered to turn round (I really am that lazy). In the sun, the towpath is still marvellous; in the rain, you're no wetter there than you would be on the roads, and you're not constantly being bullied by cars and buses: you're negotiating with cyclists and pedestrians (plus joggers, anglers, dogs, and people on bikes shouting through megaphones at boaties) on some kind of equal footing. There's some kind of social interaction: a nod, a smile, a mutual giving-way, a quick "thanks" or "sorry". Cycling on the roads makes me feel like an insect; cycling on the towpath restores my humanity.
Throughout the summer the path was edged with cornflower-blue chicory flowers and purple-headed clover; as autumn drew in the leaves turned to red and brown (though the hedges and weeds remained lush and green), and the air was thick with woodsmoke from the houseboats; and now enough of the trees are bare-branched that you can see Corpus Christi Barge from the path. By night it's dark and quiet; sleeping geese stand on the banks by the boathouses, ghostly white and still like miniature menhirs. On a moonlit night, the reflections light every ripple on the river. On Bonfire Night we watched fireworks exploding over the water.
I'm starting to feel I know every curve of the path between Donnington Bridge and Folly Bridge; I notice when a branch is hanging slightly lower or when a lifebelt is missing, when there are particularly big puddles or emerging potholes. So to find a tree in the middle of it was something of a surprise... but at the same time, it was part of the patchwork. The towpath is a lot like the estate where we live — there are no neat edges, everything leaks into everything else. Houseboats have half of their contents on the outside; weeds tumble into the path, the path slopes into the river, bikes lean drunkenly into the hedges, and occasionally wildlife finds its way out of the river on to the path. So a tree had wandered across the path; fair enough. It didn't even occur to me to turn around, go back, and take the road instead: the digression had long since become the normal path. I arrived at the obstruction at around the same time as a couple of other cyclists from the other direction, and was quickly followed by another behind me; we leaned our bikes against trees and fences and started clearing branches to the side of the path, snapping off the dry wood and piling it out of the way until there was a roughly bike-sized clear way through.
Then we all went on our way.