Thursday, 26 March 2009

Abingdon to Godstow

Having moored alongside Abingdon Bridge, we began the day (late!) with a shopping trip. We missed the large Waitrose supermarket until a kind local lady escorted us across the town square to make sure we found the way!

By the time we returned to the boat it was time for lunch so it was just after 1 o’clock when we finally set off. It was quite blustery and there were some short, light showers of rain, but nothing to complain about, especially as there were some wonderful sunshine spells.

Eventually, Oxford came into sight and we planned to find one of a couple of mooring spots shown in our guide in the stretch below Godstow. Alas, the banks here are very shallow – so much that there are signs to warn boaters. Neither of the alleged mooring spots proved viable (even if we could have been sure where they were supposed to be!) so we went through Godstow Lock and found a suitable place just before the bridge.

We moored alongside the remains of Godstow Nunnery – said to be the place where Henry the Second met his mistress – for some time this was a rich nunnery, serving the needs of young monks from neighbouring abbeys!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Switches and Abingdon

After taking advice from David at Oxfordshire Narowboats, Mike set about replacing the suspect battery isolating switch. (the one on the right in the photo) Although it took the best part of an hour, it went as smoothly as these things do and: switch on! Yes, it seems that the switch was indeed the cause of the immediate problems. The old one must have been able to make some contact but not enough to deliver more than a limited amount of power. It is even possible that it contributed to earlier problems.

The journey back up through Wallingford was quite difficult, with a strong wind, and any stopping and starting - such as at a lock entrance - needed concentration: and a lot of luck!

Christine continued with her CAB studies and before long we felt that it was lunch time. Several marked mooring places passed with no obvious place to stop. We made an attempt just above Shillinford but the wind made it too difficult to moor. We did get one line ashore but Christine had to let it go so Mike took the boat around for another attempt, almost a complete about turn was nearly needed. In a second attempt we managed to get lines from both ends ashore but it was soon clear that we could not hold the boat safely whilst putting in mooring pins. So we quickly jumped back on and continued up to Day's Lock.

By late afternoon the wind dropped and Culham Lock was worked through with no difficulty - pity there was no lock keeper to watch! Finally we arrived at Abingdon where we knew there would be a good mooring - we called there on the way down.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Reading, Mapledurham and Goring

Another bright and sunny day, although a little colder than last week. After Sonning we soon passed Kennet Mouth (scene of two night's stay earlier in the trip!) and again passed Mapledurham. We made good progress until lunch time when the boat electrics started to play up again - this time the cabin services supply.

We checked that the nearest boatyard, at Moulsford, could assist but it was still a good distance away, above Goring and Cleeve locks.

We pressed on and reached there by 4:30 They proved very helpful and quickly confirmed that, as we suspected, the immediate problem lay in one of the battery isolations
switches (this was also highlighted by the engineer yesterday).

Although they were able to re-establish power, we also bought a possible replacement switch if we encountered further trouble. It was now quite late in the day so we moored by a field on the opposite bank. (Half in mind was the that we might need to return to the boatyard in
the morning!)

In fact, we did have further problems but by then it was dark and we left any switch replacement until the morning. In addition, the charging was suspicious! Ah! The joys of owning your own boat!

Monday, 23 March 2009

To Sonning

Overnight, Mike had discovered that he had packed insufficient of one type of medication. So, first thing he walked into Marlow to find a chemist - and also to pick up milk and a paper.

Although more seasonably chillier than the past week, it was still sunny as we set off into the lock, continuing our journey back up the Thames. Before long, alas, cloud arrived and a stiff breeze. One lock keeper informed Christine that rain was forecast for the afternoon!

We called at the first boatyard, HarleyWood, just above Temple Lock. They were most helpful and it did indeed turn out that the electrics problem was the same as last year and was fixed by the application of some insulating tape to avoid the shorting out of the control panel!

The now stronger wind made navigating in and out of locks quite trick and above one lock we were almost blow around to face the wrong direction - saved only by the piers protecting the weir stream! (Not quite as serious as it might sound!)

We moored up just below Henley for a late lunch but did not stay too long as we were aining to get as close to Reading as possible. Before long the rain duly arrived, mostly light drizzle but, for about a quarter of an hour, was rather heavy. Undeterred we carried on: Mike steering and Christine doing her CAB studies!

Lat afternoon, the rain cleared and the last hour or so of cruising as again sunny and pleasant, if still cool. Although we made as good progress as we could expect, by six o'clock were were below Sonning, near enough to Reading to moor up for the night.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Return to Marlow

We knew that we had to clear Cookham Lock by four o'clock because of the stoppage. (In fact, the weekend opening was a concession which we only realised when the lock keeper told us about it on the way down!) So we set off in good time, back up the route we had come yesterday. Again, the weather made some of the views especially attractive. There was a little more traffic on the move but, after the mooring rush of rowers out to prove something, there was really not a lot. However, there were plenty of walkers and strollers on the bank sides and at locks.

We also have to make sure that we were able to drop Andrew at a suitable place to catch a train back home. Our plan was to reach Cookham by three at the latest - to allow for any unforeseen hitches.

Coming back upstream we caught a view of Cliveden House that we had missed on the way down - it is only visible in the one direction and for only a short distance.

Cookham was reached with plenty of time to spare and we cruised gently onwards to Marlow, mooring in the same place as two nights ago. We did encounter one problem on the last stretch - the engine battery alarm started sounding again - the same problem as we had last year. No immediate explanation and the battery monitor suggested that there was not actually a problem with charging so it seems, once again, to be the control panel itself. Tackling this is a task for the morrow!

After mooring at Marlow and tea and buns, we walked into town with Andrew to catch his train and a little more shopping. A reduced pack of minced pork from Sainsbury's changed the menu to meatballs!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Maidenhead and Windsor

We began the day with a shopping trip into Marlow - lots of small shops, restaurants and boutiques. Both supermarkets (Waitrose and Sainsburys) were on the small side but well stocked. The hardware shop was a real 'Tardis': a narrow street frontage but which went a long way back and had at least as many lines as the more famous 'sheds'. Indeed, we were able to buy some of the MR11 connectors we had previously hoped to get at Reading.

The rest of the day was a gentle cruise downstream. Being a bright, sunny and warm weekend, there were more boats on the move - and very varied. Several large converted barges passed on the way up as well a number of trip boats from Windsor and Runneymede.
Windsor Racecourse is alongside the river. Even more than further up the river, the properties adjoining the water were expensive-looking and sometimes just a little eccentric.

We had failed to buy an extended licence yesterday and for most of the day the locks were either unmanned or the keepers took very little notice as we passed through. Eventually, however, at Old Windsor we encountered one with a keen eye for licences (or the lack of them) but Christine managed to persuade him to upgrade our two day licence for a fifteen day one. Actually, that was what we had expected to purchase in the first place but were persuaded otherwise by the lock keeper at Oxford.

As we passed through Windsor, close to the castle, it did look as if everyone was out enjoying the weather and at some locks we were the side show for quite a sizable audience!

Negotiating the licence took some time so we decided to moor overnight before the next lock after Old Windsor where there were extensive public moorings.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Reading to Marlow

Andrew was expected soon after 11 o'clock so there was time to do some more work on the under-bunk cupboard doors, starting to varnish them. We also went back into Tescos for a paper and a couple of other items - we would need more bread for lunch now.

When Andrew had joined us we set off downstream. It was another very pleasant day and we gradually made our way through the locks, mostly about one every half hour. Still very little traffic about but around Henley there were a few rowers, including a ladies eight.

Most of the locks were unmanned - the last three were after four o'clock anyway when the lock keepers go off duty at this time of the year. We tried to buy a licence at a couple, of locks but they did not have the means to take payment so relied on us to pay sometime later when we reached a lock that could do so!


We moored below Marlow Lock for the night - an official 'free' mooring: the charges posted on the notices at various places further up ranged from £4 to £10, although it seemed unlikely that there would be anyone at the remoter spots to collect it!

Going Nowhere

19th March 2009

We decided to take the day easily, planning to walk back to the retail park. However, we received a call from BW to tell us that the sunken boat will not now be raised until next Friday - 27th - and so we would not be able to go beyond the next lock. Our main problem was water, having not filled up for almost four days. We were passed on the the local supervisor who gave us some explanation of what had happened. A local hire boat had been left with a tap running, it seems, over the weekend and sank right across the channel. Walkers told us that it could just be seen poking out of the water!

BW thought that there was water back at Blake's Lock (the guide was known to be wrong in giving a water point at County Lock). As we had not see a tap when we came up, we checked with the Environment Agency, who run Blake's Lock, who said that the nearest water point was two locks down from Kennet Mouth or five locks up. In fact, when Christine checked with a local boatyard in Reading several also supply water.

A local water bailiff stopped to chat and thought that the lady who lives at Southcot Mill, alongside the lock which is closed, would be helpful and let us fill up. It was worth a try and the guide said that there was a winding point below the lock. It was only a short distance but when we arrived the first issue was that the sign said 50ft max in the winding point! (Not mentioned in the guide) We moored below the lock to see if the lady from the house might return (no-one was in) and had lunch. No sign of anyone (except the postman) so we opted for our new plan: to return to Reading, find water, moor for the night and decide what to do thereafter.

With a little difficulty, and help from a passing walker, we did manage to turn the boat around although the strong flow in the river made it rather tricky. Exiting from the next lock was even harder with the strong weir stream more difficult to manage than when coming upstream.

As expected, the journey downstream was very fast, not easy to control the boat on tight bends and by the time we arrived at County Lock it was positively exciting! The traffic-light controlled section flashed past - downstream there is very little control unlike upstream where is a balance between the force of the on-coming river and the boat engine. Downstream, the only control is left or right: sometimes!

Eventually we made it out onto the comparative calm of the Thames and went a short distance upstream to a boatyard where we took on diesel, filled with water and emptied the toilet. Then we returned to the Tescos mooring for the night. Mike walked into Reading to buy some more varnish from Homebase.

During the evening we were called by Andrew who had decided to join us in the morning for the weekend - it was a good train route from Pewsey to Reading.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Before setting off, we called the Waterways Regional Office and were told that they hope to clear the sunken boat which is blocking the canal above Lock 104 by Friday afternoon. It is clear we will have a lazy few days!

It was only a short distance from where we moored overnight to the entrance to the Kennet and Avon. The first part of the canal is really the River Kennet and the stream flow was even faster than on then Thames. We proceeded very slowly upstream until we reached Blades Lock, still under the Environment Agency jurisdiction. There is no attendant lock keeper here but the operation is quite conventional. However, the paddle mechanism is one that we have never seen anywhere else - a large 'steering wheel' raises and lowers each paddle, with white and red indicator rods to show how far open or closed it is. Fairly light to operate.

On then to the centre of Reading. There are few mooring places but then there are no other boats around! (Not moving, anyway) We found a good spot close to the Oracle shopping centre, just before the traffic light controlled one way system. We went into the centre but Christine was disappointed to find that the ex Principles stock had not made its way to Debenhams and MandS proved fruitless! Still, Mike stocked up on a few basics from M&S.

Back to the boat and then along the towpath back to an earlier bridge to track down Homebase. Here, we managed to find most of the hardware items needed to progress the under-bunk storage doors.

After lunch we began with the traffic lights (whilst stopping a local man warned us against mooring overnight where we were as it was a haunt for drug dealers!) It quickly became apparent why there is a one-way system. As well as being narrow through the new shopping centre, the water flow makes steering difficult and there are numerous tight bends. It felt like being in a water flume at a leisure swimming pool!

Fortunately the bottom gates at the next lock were open - the fast running weir is close to the lock, pushing the boat hard up against the lock landing below the lock.

We had hoped to moor near to the Brunel Retail Park (to visit Halford, Maplins etc) but the banks were quite impossible to moor against and so we were forced to continue through Fobney Lock. Here there is the river stream coming from the left and a strong weir stream on then right at the lock entrance. Tricky! We moored for the rest of the day in the canal section just above the lock. At least we now have three storage doors complete!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Down to Reading

We wanted to clear Caversham Lock (Reading) today so that we do not have to pay another day's Thames licence. So, we made an early start - early bed yesterday helped and it is very light by 7 o'clock! Even so, we did not set off until 8:45.

Another wonderful spring day and very warm, until just after four in the afternoon when it became a little chilly. As a result, the journey downstream was most attractive. However, we soon noticed how large - and no doubt expensive all the houses seemed to be, with their well manicured lawns stretching away from the river. There are several 'large' houses as well, such as Mapledurham, which often assert their rights and do not allow even a footpath along the water's edge. We were soon to remark how different life is in this part of the country and how large the divide between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Far greater divide, we suspect, than we are used to in Cornwall.

Only about half of the locks were actually manned when we arrived at them. By the time we arrived in Reading, Christine was quite an expert at operating the machinery - which is not always as obvious as the writers of the instructions would have hoped! The main problem is that the sluices at the opposite end of the lock are not easily seen and are often left open from the previous boat. The system has an interlock and will not allow one set to be opened until the others are closed - but the indicator lights do no make it clear. Also, the sluice start button has to be pressed and held until it starts and then gradually lifts automatically. (The instructions do not include the wait until it starts bit!) However, the gate button has to be pressed and held until the gates are fully open or closed. So, now we know!

Eventually, we reached Reading. Just before Caversham Bridge we found all the swans in one flock - we had been wondering why we had seen so few further up!

Finally we locked ourselves down through Caversham Lock (below Reading bridge). Soon afterwards, just before the entrance to the Kennet and Avon, we found a good mooring, close to a 24hrs Tesco. (Just in time before the teabags run out!)

Oxford to Clifton Hampden

Monday 16th March

We began by doing a 'full service' at the facilities near to our overnight mooring. Then we continued down through Oxford, out through Louse Lock into Sheepwash Channel and from there onto the Thames itself.

The picture below is of the new light in the bathroom which Mike eventually managed to connect up after a lot of initial frustration, feeding the cable behind the panels. It may seem unremarkable in the picture but you should have seen the sweat it caused.

We quickly discovered a much faster pace - the river was flowing well, although now well down onto Orange, after Red Boards a week ago. Arriving at the first lock our next task was to purchase a 2 day licence for the river - £35. The fee structure at the lock seemed rather different from that on the web site - but it did seem slightly more favourable!

There was very little movement on the river - we only passed three boats all day. The first was pulling a chain of punts back up to Oxford and the second was a workboat.

The weather was splendid and it made the river scenery quite special. Unlike the Trent, the banks are quite low and there is much more to see. Coming into Abingdon Lock was quite tricky. The alignment involves coming quite close to the entrance to the weir stream and the keeper was somewhat slower in coming to operate the lock than we expected. All in all, this resulted in us being drawn unavoidably onto the poles placed in the river for just such an eventuality, but not one that we had intended to use!

We moored below the bridge at Abingdon for lunch. Afterwards we made a quick trip into town for some shopping. A pleasant centre but the market we had been promised was rather disappointing and the fruit and veg stall had already packed up for the day! Still, we did find a new, small Co-Op which had what we wanted - milk was the most important - and a couple of other shops yielded a few additional items, including a couple of OS maps which we had forgotten to order before leaving.

The Thames locks are very different in operation, including a requirement to turn off engines whilst in a lock. Fore and aft lines have to be held from the boat - at least when the lock is manned. We failed to reach Clifton Lock by four o'clock when the lock keeper went off duty. (We arrived just three minutes too late!) However, we had been told that we could operate ourselves: just follow the instructions. This we did but there were a few false starts along the way and it took us almost half an hour to pass through! Will do better another time, now we know what is supposed to happen.

We were promised moorings on both banks just before Clifton Hampden Bridge. The one on the right bank had 'No Mooring' and the other indicated a £3 mooring fee. We shall just have to see who collects it!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Into Oxford

We had a lazy start to the day - a delightfully warm, sunny day which made all the trees, some with their winter colours glowing, shimmer against the blue sky. Eventually, we set off about 10:15.

We joined the River Cherwell for a short period, alongside the old cement works with its tall, but evidently crumbling, chimney.

The lock at the end of the river section - Shipton Weir Lock - is diamond-shaped to allow more water through that the small fall would otherwise have permitted. The result is a cranked lock beam which is not as easy to use as the standard straight type.

The sharp turn at Thrupp was as 'interesting' as ever, made a little more difficult with one boat moored so that it took up both of the mooring slots at the service point. The stretch immediately after the lift bridge is very pretty, with a long row of old cottages and pub lining the bank on the towpath side.

There were not too many boats around so it was a peaceful cruise towards Oxford. Later, by mid afternoon several Oxfordshire Narrowboats were on their way back - we passed one in a lock about 3 o'clock with the hope of returning to base by 1`0 tomorrow. Given their evident lack of experience and only two in the crew, they will have to be up early!

We stopped for lunch just outside Kidlington and enjoyed a bowl og the lamb soup which Christine had been preparing all morning. With a bag of vegetables found deep in our home freezer, it was a true winter soup!

On again and by late afternoon we were looking for a mooring in Oxford. They are notoriously scarce, especially in the main season, with long stretches designed a Conservation Area and others for Agenda 21 residential mooring. We eventually tied up in Summertown, even thought the designated 24 hour mooring needed the gangplank to reach the bank!

Once moored, Mike continued to fit the new light in the bathroom - not without some frustration in pulling the wires behind the panelling! In the end he succeeded - now he has to re-fit the shower light: tomorrow now!

The roast meat, lamb, smells ready so back to the galley.