Friday, 29 September 2006

a week on the Thames

Just for a change I've managed to blog properly about something. Get a get of tea and a biscuit first, mind. Picture heavy - anyone still on dialup?

Mon 11th Heyford to Oxford

A slight delay in London before I got a train up to Heyford on the Oxford canal, but I'd picked up the ordered anchor & life ring - safety gear for the teacherous tempests of the Thames - and was on my way by about two. It was hire boat changeover day, so I couldn't moor anywhere near the boatyard; anchors are big, heavy and awkward to carry. As long as it holds the boat if it needs to...

I then headed south into Oxford, which did take longer than expected. Pretty neveryeless - Thrupp feels like a village where the canal is the High St, down to the bizarre right angle in the middle.

It's always good to see boats being used for a gainful income - farm shop boat Pam, for example.

The Oxford canal is full of lift bridges - one of the more awkward aspects of working a boat single-handed, as they are generally lifted from the side opposite the towpath. The first one I attempted I tried to pull the boat through, but of cousre I was holding up the bridge and the boat stopped underneath - that one I was rescued by an oncoming boat. The next one a passing boater helped me with, and the one after that I managed myself, using the gangplank to hold the bridge up. Apparently the answer is a shortend length of boat pole, generally termed an 'Oxford pole'.

I finally made it into Jericho well after dark, at around 9pm; running on headlights was fun, although I did take things slowly, as visibility isn't great. I moored up opposite the hire boat boatyard, and summond the waiting masses from the pub (well, those who hadn't got drunk and sulky, and stormed off home). Lovely to see everyone - and lovely to be able to turn up to a place and invite people over, as I was able to do later in the trip, too.

Tues 12th - Oxford to Clifton Hampden

Through Jericho on to Thames, then parked up at Osney lock to get license - ended up being done while boat was in lock - friendly chatty lock keeper, not keen on the paperwork... Osney would be a good place to moor next time, seems nice.

Then out onto the Thames, past familiar boathouse, Iffley lock...

Flow not really noticeable from boat, but river bigger & wider, more variety of boats. Also this floating crane being towed past by a tug:

and this one which had seen better days:

past 'Jubilee Junction' near Culham, the start of a reconstruction of the Wilts & berks canal:

I stopped off in Abingdon for a trip to the supermarket I was told there was a choice between Somerfield & Waitrose, and tried the latter - all very posh, as you'd expect, but a nice range of veg, and lots of lovely vegetarian beer - I did need to restock the drinks cabinet after Oxford, after all. I also bought a self-inflating lifejacket, part of the recommended safety kit - to be honest I never wore it in the end, I always felt completely confident about operations.

Unlike the canals you can't moor just about anywhere on the Thames - mostly the banks are unsuitable, but there's also lots of 'no mooring signs' on otherwise lovely sites - property is theft indeed. Found a nice spot though in Clifton Hampden, a lovely small village of thatched buildings ruined by too much traffic. The £3/night goes to the local primary school & pays for swimming & french lessons, courtesy of the landowner - which is a lovely idea. The pub was reputed to be in Three Men and a Boat - only at first I went to the wrong one, and had to have a second pint in the [much nicer] right one on the other side of the bridge... ;-)

Weds 13th Clitfon Hampden to Pangbourne

Leaving Clifton Hampden, just about to pass under the pretty, but odd, bridge:

I had hoped to be able to moor up for an hour to walk up Wittenham Clumps, but once through the lock there wasn't anywhere suitable, so I had to settle for this picture - another time, though:

One feature of the Thames is the boat bouncing around in the wash of the big plastic boats that look more like mishapen wedding cakes that some know as 'gin palaces'. They charge along at way faster than the 8km/h speed limit. I try not to be snobbish about types of boats or stereotype their owners, but it's difficult not to. here's a typical example, sharing a lock - I wouldn't suggest that alcohol had been taken, but the guy on the rope wasn't paying attention, the rope got jammed and one corner of the boat ended up dangling from it...

Another lengthy shopping trip in Wallingford - bits and pieces in a hardware shop (reall glasses! - well, tumblers, now), another Waitrose raid, and too many charity shops. I also thought I'd found that holy grail - a battery radio alarm clock with the 'sleep' function that means it'll turn off the radio after an hour - but alas that's the one thing it didn't do, so it got taken back before leaving. I also chatted to a guy called Harry, oroginally from the East end of London but now resident in Australia - he'd been evacuated out to Wallingford during the war. He was sitting on the bench by the boat, and told me with a tear in his eye he'd been taught to swim from the opposite bank of the river. Sweet.

I think it was close to Wallingford that this piece of graffiti summed up the area:

It's all a very nice wealthy, white area. Anyone who looks down on me I have my own opinions of, but it's a chunk of tory middle england that you feel they want to keep to themselves.

Thurs 14th - Pangbourne to Medmenham

I found myself sharing a lock with a huge great passenger cruiser - put's things into perspective. Some passengers spent the entire time in the lock looking down into the boat, and I wish I'd washed up and made my bed...

I wanted to stop off in Reading to make email contact with someone, which was a good excuse for another shopping trip - I can't resist a Woolworths. I managed to squueze the boat in by another one just by Caversham Bridge, and cycled off into the one way system on my folding bike. This was getting itno the stretch of Thames I know a little, so it was nice to start seeing landmarks I'd seen from at least the train.

I scooted on through Henley - no reason to pause there - but admired Temple Island as I went:

I moored at Medmenham, on a lovely curve of river. I'd barely got the mooring stakes in when a rather fluffy dog bounded up, and I recgonised the owner - turned out to be a CBBC producer. It's odd to be relatively far out of London and yet bump into people from work, especially in a quiet place like that. A friend used to work at the Water Research place there - appropriately flooded a few years ago, the workers were ferried in by tractor. It's deserted now, although I saw one room with lights on as I walked back from the pub - and I'd only had a half. The pub was typical of realtively remote pubs, that can only really make a living as a restaurant. Had a short chat with the landlady about such things, that didn't end comfortably - on London, she said 'I'm not racist, but I don't want my children to grow up multicultural'. I made it clear what I thought of that, singing the praises of the food & the markets. I drew my own conclusions about her replies.

Fri 15th - Medmenham to Windsor

It was a short hop up to Marlow; I'd arranged to meet american visitors Bonnie & Rob there. I moored up close to the suspension bridge after passng this riverside church I've seen from the bank before:

; the river was shallow but clear, in the sun the bottom was very clear. After B & R had arrived we stocked up on food and set out. They were visiting London for a week, so what could be more english than a trip down the river to Windsor?

Lovely to have them along, and fun to play tourists in Windsor, sitting in a coffee shop opposite the castle, eating at an outside table of a restaurant by the market hall, and drinking in deliberately 'characterful' pubs.

Sat 16th - Windsor to Hampton Court

It was sad to see Bonnie & Rob leave for a wander around Windsor (Bonnie was very tempted by Legoland, but I don't think they ever made it - I would have gone too, to be honest), but they were quickly replaced by neighbours Hugo & Morven, laden down with wine:

From here on in there seemed to be little in the way of green riverbanks, and instead a constant stream of riverside houses, most of which had boats of various sizes moored outside. We passed Taggs Island, lined with houseboats that are more like floating prefabs. These seem to be going for stupid prices at the moment - as much as a house, but with ongoing mooring charges maintenance, and less space, they can't be as attarctive as they one were. I must admit if I was going to live on a boat I'd like a boat that looked like a boat.

Nearby is Dave Gilmours' floating studio, an impressive looking beast.

We'd checked tide times for the run up to Brentford, and decided to moor up at Hampton Court, just below the house itself. A good chance meeting was with Lee, a dyslexia expert who lives aboard his boat, who came back a few minutes later with Haagen Daz (for everyone else) and Fig Rolls (for me). He was going through the todal section the following day too, so we made our plans for the run up to Teddington in the morning. The engine had been starting to run a little hot; I'd checked the cooling water flow, but it was still worrying me.

Sun 17th - Hampton Court to Brentford

We left for Teddington about half past eight; the engine temperature climbed quickly, so much so I paused a couples of times to check the cooling water path. At Teddington I checked the engine oil which was a little low; Lee provided some spare oil to top it up; Tess () had joined us for the trip through, so we sat around, chatting, being shown around Lee's boat and watching the gathering boats, hovering around the lock. At the appointed time we all piled in - three boats abreast, we were in the middle so difficult to take a representative picture. I was still wary about the engine temperature so took things gently; Lee hung back too look after us if things got worse, which thankfully they didn't. It was a lovely trip up, though, through Kingston, Richmond, and finally between Syon grounds and Kew Gardens, poised to make the right hand turn into Brentford and back onto the Grand Union:

It was odd to be home, but I was in no rush to go back to my house. We all had a pub lunch, and ended up wandering back to the boat, drinking tea until we were hungry again, so I cooked and we sat outside and ate, watching the sun go down over the boats and tower blocks. I went back to check the house was still standing, but I must admit I did go back to the boat that night to sleep. I'd got used to a living on the water, I must admit.

No comments: