Thursday, June 30, 2016

Busier river as we head up through the gap.

Between Shiplake and Abingdon, some 35 miles, there is only one public water point and it’s at Cleeve Lock. Experience (and common sense) suggests it’s likely to be busy, so we chose to get off a little earlier today, hoping to beat at least the upstream boats.

This stretch of the river is very attractive, wide and with well wooded banks.IMG_0607

The ground either side steadily rises as we take the river upstream towards Goring. Here, after heading predominately east/west, it’s heading south from Oxford through the Goring Gap between the Berkshire Downs to the west and south, and the Chilterns to the east and north.
The river shares this route through the chalk ridge with rail and road, the Romans drove a road through here, probably following an earlier prehistoric track, to link the settlements of Dorchester and Silchester.
The river didn’t always follow this route though. Evidence suggests that the chalk ridge running southwest/northeast which comprises the Berkshire Downs and the Chilterns was continuous before the last Ice Age, half a million years ago. The river at that time encountered the ridge and turned east, ultimately reaching the sea near Ipswich in East Anglia.
The ice blocked off this estuary, forcing the river to back up and create a large lake north of the ridge. Eventually this body of water breached the obstruction and the river found it’s current course. If it hadn’t happened, would Ipswich, instead of London, have been the capital???

Turning to the north about a mile downstream of Goring Lock IMG_0613
The building, just visible through the trees, is Basildon Grotto, or lately known as Ilam House. Built in the 18th century, it’s now for sale and looking a little sorry for itself.

Glancing back as we approached Goring Lock we were surprised to see a couple of narrowboats followed by a couple of cruisers. So much for avoiding the traffic! There was a “narrer” waiting on the lock landing, too. The lock was on self service, which made the descent of several boats coming down pretty slow.

Traffic backing up below the lock

By the time we’d got three narrowboats and a large cruiser in the lock the lockies had arrived to preside over the operations.

Looking back as we leave the lock

The cruiser chased past, knowing that Cleeve Lock, just half a mile up, was smaller than Goring…

Cleeve Lock
As it turned out both ourselves and Del Boy were left out in the cold.

This lock was also on self-service, so I dealt with the buttons to speed things along. When we were in the lock a chap off a boat wanting to come down did the business.

Then the wait began. With three boats ahead of us wanting water it took an hour before we even got on the wharf. But at least the hose is a big one here, taking only about 20 minutes to fill our almost-empty tank.

After a sunny morning the clouds started to roll in. With another hour and some to Wallingford we decided to pull in rather than chance getting wet for no good reason.

I remembered a likely spot from when we last came this way…IMG_0625
That’ll do.

As it turned out we could have pressed on; the rain didn’t arrive till late afternoon. But we’re in no rush. We just need to be in Abingdon on Monday to collect a package.

Locks 2, miles 4

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Twice in one week!

Out of Europe, that is!
First we had the shock “Brexit” result last Thursday, which has, as predicted, had severe repercussions. The pound falling to it’s lowest value for over 30 years, billions wiped off share prices, both the government and the opposition in disarray. Not to mention the Scottish call for another independence referendum which, if successful, could allow Scotland back into the EU… maybe. And then Irish unification has appeared on the agenda again. Thank God for Wales!

And then last night Roy Hodgson’s band had a humiliating defeat at the hands of Iceland! Still, it could have been worse. If we had have gone through to face France, losing to them would have been so, so much more shameful. Just imagine the Gallic gloating!

Not a good few days for the UK, eh.

Yesterday was a fine day at Pangbourne, but we knew that the weather was due to change today. So we upped sticks and set off at around 11:00, heading under the recently refurbished Whitchurch Bridge to Whitchurch Lock.

We passed this boat flying what appears to be a Royal Standard. I thought it might be something to do with the annual Swan Upping, but that’s not until next month.
In medieval times swans were a valuable commodity. The meat was prized, the feathers made durable quills for writing and the down was useful for cushions and pillows.
It’s a common misapprehension that the Queen owns all swans. Not true, two of the ancient London Livery Companies also have rights of ownership.
The annual swan upping was to mark young swans to identify ownership. Originally done by filing grooves in the beak, it’s now done by leg ringing. The ceremony, taking place on the Thames during the third week of July, has the practical purpose of assessing the population and general health of the birds.
Six skiffs and crews are involved, two from each of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and the Royal Swan Uppers, representing the monarch. Working together they capture each young bird and attach leg rings to indicate the company’s ownership, and a census ring for the RSPB. The Royal Swan Uppers only attach the RSPB ring. Cunning, that. Any that they miss automatically become the property of the monarch…

There’s a schedule for this year’s event here.

Whitchurch Bridge, taken from Pangbourne Meadow…20160627_100655

…and from the river.
There’s been a bridge here since 1792. This is the third span, it being replaced in 1852 and again in 1902.
The major rebuild undertaken in 2013 and 2014 strengthened the supports but retained the 1902 lattice girder sides. It’s one of two privately owned toll bridges crossing the Thames.

The lock is a couple of hundred yards beyond the bridge.IMG_0595

Some fine houses above the lock…

The broad reach up to Goring

We hadn’t intended going far, and, spotting a suitable bit of bank at Beale Park, pulled in.IMG_0601

It was a fine morning and early afternoon, but clouds started to roll in and the rain followed by half-three. Tomorrow is looking a bit dodgy too, so we’ll probably stay put.

Locks 1, miles 1¾

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reading and beyond, three easy days.

On Friday we headed off from above Sonning Lock, heading for Reading. An uneventful lock-free trip which took us to the moorings alongside the large Tesco.

Passing the entrance to the Kennet and Avon Canal

Moorings under the trees at Tesco

We were lucky to find a spot.
With no restrictions on this stretch, it’s attractive to boaters who have no intention of going far. So there are limited spaces for boats passing through.

On the opposite side of the river, I can’t believe this is still floating.IMG_0564
It must be on the bottom!

I did one load of shopping after we arrived, then intended to do more on the Saturday morning before we left. But I was just getting ready to go when I heard a clunk from the front of the boat and went out to find a pair of youths emptying gear from inside the cratch. When challenged they told me that they were just “borrowing“ it to help a mate out on his boat across the water. What sort of task they had in mind requiring two axes, two ropes and a mooring chain I have no idea. Anyway, I got it all back…
I decided not to leave Mags on her own, so we untied and set off into Reading. The shopping can wait!

Caversham Lock

We were collecting guests on Sunday morning for a cruise up river, so really wanted to be conveniently in the town.

We were lucky again, getting a good mooring on Christchurch Meadow.IMG_0567
The bridge in the background, giving pedestrian and cycle access from the meadow to Reading Station and the town centre, was opened last September.

A trip to Waitrose supplied the essentials that the aborted trip to Tesco’s didn’t…

We were up on Sunday morning fairly early, a chance to tidy up a bit before our guests arrived. Simon, Ros and Simon’s son Henry turned up late morning, having driven from home north of London to Oxford, then back to us. They’d already done some miles!

After an early lunch/late breakfast we set off upriver.IMG_0574

Reading Bridge

We had a gentle cruise out of Reading, passing several craft out and about on an overcast but warm and dry Sunday.

Mapledurham was our one and only lock on the trip.

A first for Simon and family. Although he has a boat on the Lee, he’s never brought it down onto the Thames.

Out of the lock and heading for a late lunch at Pangbourne Meadow.IMG_0585

Father and son team on the tiller…

Mooring on the meadow

We had a good afternoon, Henry and Meg playing ball and the older ones chatting. It was with regret that they had to leave to catch a train back to Reading and their car for the drive home. I think Henry would have stayed, given half the chance! Great company. See you all soon, folks.

We’ve had a chillin’ day today, but tomorrow we’ll push on a bit. Maybe not all that far, though.

Locks 1, miles 9 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Whatever happened to summer?

Another dull, grey, damp day. Not particularly wet, although we did have a short shower around midday. But it’s raining properly now. Hopefully that will reduce the oppressive, humid feeling.

The kites were out and about again this morning as we left.IMG_0523
Beautiful birds.

Hambleton Lock was our first for the day, just 20 minutes from the mooring. IMG_0527

Lots of water coming down through the open sluice gates.IMG_0528
We’re still advised of a strong stream warning, and it’s very noticeable below the locks where the weir streams enter the main channel.

Out of Hambleton and we start to get involved with the build-up to Henley Royal Regatta.IMG_0530
From the official website -

Henley Royal Regatta is undoubtedly the best known regatta in the world and is both one of the highlights of the summer sporting calendar and the social season.
It attracts thousands of visitors over a 5-day period and spectators will be thrilled by over 200 races of an international standard, including Olympians and crews new to the event.
Aside from the rowing, visitors can take in the ambience enjoying the facilities within the enclosures.”

The fun starts next Wednesday and continues until Sunday week. Huge amounts of preparation go into the event. I bet there are a few anxious glances at the sky.

Lots of crews are out practicing...

…and marquees and temporary boathouses are being erected.IMG_0533


Thankfully the activity thinned out after we passed Henley’s 18th century bridge. Above the navigation arch, are sculptures of Tamesis and Isis, one on either side.

Tamesis faces downstream…

…while Isis looks upstream.

Tamesis is the Celtic name for the river, and it’s romantically (though unofficially) know as Isis above Oxford.

Henley waterfront was busy as usual, with trip boats and private craft. The visitor moorings were quite full too. Maybe a lot of folk were waiting out the weather.

I was glad to see the lockie at Marsh Lock was on the ball, opening the lock ready for us. IMG_0542
The lock landing is on the left, with the weir stream coming in from the right. Once pinned on the landing we might never have got off!

The river above Marsh Lock breaks around several small islands, and there are some isolated moorings lurking off the main channel here.IMG_0545


More posh houses in Wargrave
The square structure in the middle distance is an equally swanky property, but covered in plastic-shrouded scaffolding while it gets a new roof.

Shiplake Lock was passed on our own, having left the hire boat with which we’d shared the previous two locks outside the St. George and Dragon in Wargrave.

Shiplake Lock ahead.
The River Loddon joins the Thames from the south here.

We wanted to top up the water tank here, and thought we were in for a bit of a wait as two narrowboats arrived just before us. But there was no problem, one only wanted to drop off rubbish, the other was looking for the lock landing!

Water topped off and our rubbish disposed of, we were now looking for a mooring. There are spots around the back of two islands, The Lynch and Hallsmead Ait, so we had a mosey round there – unsuccessfully. Boats were already on the most likely spots, and even a couple of unlikely ones!

Out from behind The Lynch…

…lets have a look behind Hallsmead Ait.
The boats that were there look like they’ve been there some time…

So we decided to toddle on to Sonning, go up the lock and moor just above.

Sonning Bridge, you have to be careful here.
It’s a good job I remembered that downstream boats have priority, as one came steaming through the blind arch as we approached!

We had to wait behind a couple of boats that had passed us earlier, then went up and found a spot a little further on. Official moorings, and the first 24 hours are free!

Sonning Lock is a little more unkempt than most…
…maybe the mower’s bust!

So that’s it; another day, another cruise.

Locks 4, miles 10

A bit more water coming down…

Finally posted Thursday am, Wednesday 22nd’s cruise…

Rain overnight persisted into this morning, but it had slackened off to fine drizzle or just moist air by then. Still, it was pretty gloomy as we set off along Cookham Reach.

Cookham Moorings

The wide reach.
There are sailing and rowing clubs here taking advantage of the wide, 4½ mile lock-free water.

The river follows a wide sweep around the chalk ridge of Winter Hill. On the far side, heading towards Marlow, there are several fine houses tucked into the trees on the slope overlooking the river.


Wootten’s Boatyard, established in 1908 as a canoe and skiff hire business by Arthur Wootten.IMG_0475
Boatbuilding began here in the 1920s, with Henry, a boatbuilder by trade, joining his brother at the yard. 

A little further on is Marlow Lock. We’d been warned that this is quite a savage filler, so Mags was prepared, with a couple of turns of the bow line around the T stud.

Approaching Marlow Lock

Three boats coming down

After all the rain…

Lots of water going over the weir.

Grebe and chick braving the tow from the weir

Marlow Suspension Bridge was opened in 1832, replacing a wooden structure a little downstream. There has been a Thames crossing here since before 1227.IMG_0488
There was a proposal to replace it with a concrete structure in the 1950s, but local opposition to the scheme caused it to be rejected. The 235 foot span was rebuilt in 1965, and has a 3 tonne weight limit, effectively banning larger vans, goods vehicles and buses. These larger vehicles cross the river on the new by-pass bridge just upstream.

Floating apartment in Marlow

Bisham Abbey has a watersports centre

Salter’s MV Reading overtaking us below Temple LockIMG_0494 
The church behind Reading is All Saints, Bisham. The 12th century Norman tower is flanked by Victorian additions.

The next two locks come in quick succession, a half hour to Temple Lock, then 10 minutes to Hurley. Both are quite shallow, and compared to the gushing water at Marlow, are pussy-cats.

Temple Lock

Another old boatyard below Hurley Lock, this one is Peter Freebody & Co (wonderful name!) specialising in wooden launches.

More rowers from a club above Hurley Lock

Soon after Hurley the river follows a loop past several small islands, heavily wooded and narrow in places.

Medmenham Abbey, once home to Sir Thomas Dashwood and the notorious Hellfire ClubIMG_0507
It's for sale, follow the link!

We decided to pull in on the Westfield Farm moorings, it’s open and peaceful here. Fairly busy, too, with boats - and sheep!

But we managed to find a spot, looking out over the fields.

The day brightened up in the afternoon, giving us some good sunny spells. In the evening The New Orleans cruised past…IMG_0512

…with a slightly unconvincing stern paddle-wheel.

IMG_0516This area is home to several pairs of red kites, and when I took Meg for a walk around the field later they were snacking on a sheep carcass. Of course, no camera! This morning I took the camera, only to find they’d already had breakfast!

Locks 3, miles 8