Saturday, 26 April 2014

Caversham and Home

River Today : Thames

We had only a short cruise around forty minutes to reach Better Boating at Caversham where we had arranged to leave the boat for the next month. They do not have many moorings but could just about fit us in!

Leaving Christine to continue packing and cleaning, Mike and Andrew drove to Packet Boat Marina to collect the other car.

Back at the boat we unloaded as quickly as possible. Although we had confirmed on arrival that it would be about mid day before we would be ready to leave, a couple of the staff hassled us as we were temporarily occupying the space where boats might come alongside for fuel (They would move the boat across to the little island after we left)

It was no more pleasant a journey back to home as when we came up with rain creating unpleasant spray, especially on the motorways. However, we returned in good time, ready to tackle the busy schedule in the four weeks before we could come back to continue our trip.

With access to the Kennet still a problem with every rainy period, we will be keeping a watchful eye on reports of river levels, hopefully seeing a return to more normal seasonal conditions.

2.8 miles - 0 locks

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Marlow, Henley and Sonning

Today's River : Thames

With a strong flow on the river still we made a prompt start so that we could get as far as possible today, leaving only a short stretch for the morning. We have to do a car shuffle as well as drive back home.

As we left the mooring - advertised charge £8 per night - a parking attendant turned up in his van and started knocking on the adjacent boats. Hopefully he didn't think that we pushed off quickly after seeing him. If you are reading this, sorry but it was not at all deliberate!

It was a grey and even misty morning to begine with but the day gradually improved and for most of the time it was bright and sunny. At times, it was almost like summer, so long as there was no breeze which could still occasionally be rather sharp.

Another panorama bridge shot, this time of Maidenhead Bridge, just above the railway bridge where we moored.

After working through first Boulter's Lock and then Cookham, we reached Bourne End. Along the way we passed along Cliveden Deep where, for just a short distance, there is a good view of Cliveden House itself.

There are a number of estate houses bordering the river, including a grand boat landing.

At Bourne End there was as very convenient boatyard with the service pontoon that was easy to approach. We filled up with fuel whilst Andrew popped to the nearby shops for the usual paper, milk and bread. Pushing against the flow takes quite a lot more fuel than usual so we were rather glad to have found a top up at last. We probably would have had enough to see us back to Caversham but a fast flowing wide river is not the the best place to run dry.

By mid-morning - the above shot was taken just after 11 o'clock - the sun had arrived and the rest of the day was really pleasant. Many of the stretches were now quite wide which meant that for most of the day we were able to progress at over 3 miles an hour over the ground instead of yesterday's meagre 2.25! Even so, when on occasions the channel narrowed, the effect was very immediate and obvious.

Riverside house come in all sorts of shapes and sizes - no doubt this one was a delight to its original owner!

Below Marlow the A404 Marlow Bypass crosses the river. Minus the sound of traffic and any noise from the aircraft leaving their vapour trails, it all looks quite elegant.

Marlow is very much a town lock with all sorts of developments crowding in on the lock. Oh look, there is stranger. What are you doing here?

Above the lock and the extensive weir, the scene is definitely chocolate box country!

At Hurley Lock the keeper was just going off for lunch after opening the bottom gates for us to come in, leaving it on Self Service. This was convenient as, by setting the water tap to fill very, very slowly we could have a useful lunch break as well as using the usual disposal facilities. The footbridge just above the lock is rather attractive.

Medmenham Abbey was originally a base for Cistercian Monks, founded 1200AD, up to the dissolution of the monasteries. For the last two or three centuries it seems to have been associated with less spiritual matters, having at one time been the base for the Hellfire Club. It is now a private residence.

We now approached Henley. The approach from downstream is marked by the highly-regarded Business College (now part of Reading University) and Temple Island.

Nearer to the town centre, preparations are already well under way for the famous Henley Regatta held each July. The wide, straight section of the river is favoured for this event which must see a phenomenal amount of money being spent. These preparations - stands and marquees and so on - on their own will not come cheap!

Andrew walked the three mile section from Hambledon to Marsh Lock and was already there when we arrived. The approach to the lock is a little tricky as the eddies from the adjacent weir spill across the lock entrance.

A number of small islands punctuate the river. In some cases there are directions about which side to take but in others we were left guessing.

This boat had a sign saying that it was for sale with an asking price of £170,000. Just think how much money is tied up in all the boats we have passed today, many tied up ate marinas and boatyards and only used a few times each year.

The last couple of locks were on Self Service but as they are all now on public power they are straightforward to operate. Five years ago when we first came this way some had to be operated manually out of hours and required a lot of energy!

Shiplake College is an independent schools taking both boys (from 11) and girls (from 16). Boarding pupils pay up to £28,000 a year in fees. A good number were out taking advantage of the substantial rowing facilities which the school has to offer.

This bird, silhouetted against the late afternoon sky, could be seen from some distance away. It looked at first as if it was attempting to imitate the Angel of the North.

Sonning Bridge looks as if it is a major bottleneck. Traffic can only cross one way at a time and lights lead to the build up of long queues. We happily sailed underneath, unhindered by other boats!

We moored above Sonning Lock. There is a good length of free mooring here, even if the bank is a bit ragged in places. We now only have a short distance to cover in the morning.
22.1 miles - 9 locks

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


River Today : River Thames

Before we set off, Andrew walked to a nearby corner shop for a paper. It was a much better day, with a clear blue sky and some warmth in the sun. It did not last and from mid-afternoon onwards it was rather wet.

Rowers were out already as we crossed over to the lock. The flow on the river together with the complex currents made it an interesting short trip!

The locks at the stage are still quite large - some of them can pack a lots of boats in the season but most today we were on our own. The keeper at a later lock suggested that it took over a million gallons to fill. Looking at the weirs, however, showed that we were in no danger of draining the river this time!

All day we passed a succession of small islands, some little more than enough for a single house and only separated by a narrow stream. Just had to take care that we did not head up an unnavigable backwater by mistake.

After seeing some fairly ill-kempt houseboats earlier on this trip, this one was rather high spec.

Although we have recognised some former lifeboats before, Christine decided that the colour of this one justified awarding it the Unusual Boats accolade.

Most of the bridges across the Thames are quite elegant - especially on a sunny morning.

Chertsey Lock
All of the locks are manned and with not too much traffic around the gates opened as we arrived. As a result we passed through most very quickly. The keepers can operate the sluices much quicker than when the lock is on public power (ie self service). Here we arrive at Chertsey Lock.

The level in our fuel tank is at the stage when we really ought to find a top up and at Penton Hook we thought about finding the marina but it is some distance up a side arm. The lock keeper suggested we would find it easier to call at Windsor marina where the pump is alongside the river.

Just above Penton Hook lock a work boat was clearing debris from the barrier protecting the top of the weir - some substantial items there!

Houses built along the river are lifted off the ground level to give some protection against floods. Of course, this winter tested many of these assumptions but it seems that new builds have to make even greater provision.

Above Staines, this boat seems to have not yet made it back into the water after its flood-driven trip ashore.

On Bell Weir, above the lock, someone's fridge is looking for a rescue.

Steamboat Willie?

At Runneymede will pulled in to moor up for lunch, just opposite the Magna Carta Memorial.

By the time we we off again, the sky had clouded over and before long light rain arrived which eventually graduated to a continuous drizzle. Old Windsor Lock has three lock cottages. In the 1920's and 30's, most of the older cottages - one here was dated to 1871 - were replaced with a standard design. Only recently have the Environment Agency started to sell these off as automation reduces the need for prmanent on-site staff to control the weirs which have to be adjusted as the levels go up and down.

As we passed through Windsor we were right below the flight path of planes coming in to Heathrow - a continuous stream from all over the world, this one from Quatar.

As we passed the edge of the Windsor Castle estate, signs display dire warnings about what would happen to any who was so presuming as to land on the Crown Estate! A day late for birthday greetings, however.

All day we had struggled against the current of water coming down the river. Our speed over the ground was often around 2.5 - 2.7 mph, little different from progress on some of the shallower canals. Just before Romney Lock we came under a railway bridge where it was especially slow progress. The force of the water against the bridge pillars could be seen.

Windsor Food bank for swans? All day breakfast for swans?

Just after the centre of Windsor is the best view of the castle - which shows just how much it dominates the town.

The next bridge is having work done on it which reduces the headroom. Not a problem for us but an on-coming trip boat had to care very considerable care to ensure that, with the current, it lined up with the narrow section that allowed it to pass underneath, with not a lot to spare.

A Malaysia Airline A380 lined up to approach for its landing, dwarfing all the others which were flying overhead.

From here on we had a lot of rowers to contend with, mostly wearing Eton Blue (more like green) even though we did not get a good view of the college from the river.

At Boveney Lock, the keeper set the lock but then went off duty so it was on to self service from here.

This lock also has very prominent boat rollers rather than the simpler portages elsewhere - no doubt much appreciated in last week's DW race.

We had another boat rescue: we could see a hire holiday cruiser in difficulties and then a man in the water near the bank opposite the footpath. We enquired and he very much wanted to be rescued. the boat had lost power and steering and he had volunteered to go into the water the push it away from the bank. But then he lost all contact with the boat - we could not see how he could have climbed aboard anyway - as it drifted across to the other side. It was with some difficulty that we eventually picked him up and then nudged the boat the side. By then they discovered that whatever problem they had had was now resolved and we left them to carry on with their cruise. They were grateful for the assistance and even handed over a bottle of Bucks Fizz, which we later enjoyed with our meal. Thanks guys!

We were now keen to make as much progress as possible, having worked out that we have a tight schedule ahead of us if we are to reach Caversham by mid day on Friday. we continued into the wet and gathering gloom, failing a couple of times to find a fuel point which was open.

Not all riverside house are as elegant as others! this one looked decidedly unloved.

We eventually moored, close on 7 o'clock, just below Maidenhead Railway Bridge. We did not know beforehand that this is supposed to be at £8 a night so we will just have to see if anyone comes to collect before we leave in the morning.

19.8 miles - 8 locks

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Today's River : River Thames

Actually, we started on the Grand Union Canal for just a little more than the length of Thames Lock, where we moored overnight.

Although we were originally told to lock out at 6:30, the lock keeper came by last night and suggested that it would be better to go out at 7:30, not too early and we will still go up on the last of the tide.

Two other boats arrived after us yesterday but moored ahead so they went out first, one at a time, despite the lock being able to hold four. In fact, the tide level meant that we locked up to the river, by about 100mm.

The weather was grey and damp as we turned out of the canal onto the main river. Alas, this means that photos today will be less than brilliant - at some times it felt almost misty.

We were very noticeably under the Heathrow flight path with a constant stream making their early morning arrivals.

There are many grand houses bordering the river at every point. Syon House, one of the grander, is just above the junction where we joined the river.

Our first target was Richmond half-tide lock. The lock itself bypasses the tidal gates which hold back the water apart from a period either side of high tide. Boats from the canal are let through the locks on the basis that they will not need to use the lock but when the tidal gates are shut it is possible still to make a passage. Mike experimented on this trip with using the panorama camera option - produces a rather surreal version of the scene.

By the time we had passed through Richmond the tide began to turn and we slowed down very considerably. Speed through the water was one thing, over the round very different.

The Star and Garter Home on Richmond Hill is a prominent landmark but the effect of the rain on the camera is all too obvious.

Eventually, the Teddington Lock came into view and as we approached a green light beckoned us to the lock landing. The lock itself was in use, as the royal barge Gloriana came down.

According to the lock keeper, the barge has been in constant use since its original jubilee celebration and looked well-maintained.

Above the lock we had to moor for a short while. Christine had to see the lock keeper to pay for a visitor licence. She had tried to see whether we could upgrade our standard licence to a gold version but it seems that this is not yet one of the options which has been fully modernised!

At least we did not now have to be concerned about the tide but as the day progressed, the speed of the river flow increased significantly - there is now and amber warning for this section of the river up to Reading, not doubt as a result of the heavy overnight rains.

We saw a couple of pseudo trip boats - this one masquerades as a paddle steamer!

Overall, the river seems so far to have recovered well from the winter flooding but not all made it through. We were told later that we shall see more marooned boats further up the river nearer to Windsor.

The weather was not to deter rowers and several groups as well as individuals were out, battling against the river flow.

This boat really does deserve its entry into our Unusual Boats collection. (It is actually three alongside each other)

Hey, look what's behind you! This one is pretending to be a stern wheeler, more at home on the rivers and bayous of Mississippi.

After the long loop in the river through Thames Ditton, we reached Hampton Court with the splendid gold painted gates guarding entrance from the river landing.

Next in our sights was Molesey Lock where two very friendly keepers awaited us. Above the lock we used the water point and sanitary station. There was also an information panel about the extensive re-building of the weir which started last summer and will complete this year. Wonder how they coped with the floods?

A little further and we spotted a good visitor mooring where we could safely stop for lunch. We the river flow it is helpful to have an easy spot to come alongside.

The afternoon gradually became a little pleasanter, weather-wise, and the various dark clouds managed to hang on to their rain. For a short time we even had some patches of blue sky but they quickly disappeared!

At the EA dept where a large new dry dock is under construction, it looked as if the mini digger is having to be rescued from its precarious angle by its big friend!

The busy bridge at Walton was replaced by a new structure, the sixth at this crossing, and opened last year. Since then the old bridges alongside have been demolished and no sign of them remained.

Finally, we came along the Desborough Cut, a section that was created to bypass some lengthy and shallow bends. Blue sky - for a moment!

At the end of the cut is the confluence of the Rivers Thames and Wey, just below Shepperton Lock. We planned to stay overnight here on the visitor mooring, but they were just around the final bend. As we slowed to spot them, the river flow - all over the place because of the complex junction but also now remarkably fast, swept us to the side and for a time we were stuck in shallow mud. A passing boat offered to tow us off but by the time it had stopped, ready to turn around, we had managed to lever ourselves off the bank. Shortly afterwards we were - gratefully - safely moored on the bank opposite the lock.

Another boat moored in front of us suggested that the nearby pubs were good so Christine and Andrew went to investigate. Sadly, one of them was not only pretentious in its offering but pointed out that it was the last night for the advertised menu and did not deny that we might have to put up with 'leftovers'! The other one, which attracted Andrew on account of its CAMRA membership, sadly did not do food tonight!

16.4 miles - 5 locks