We have spent more time on the Thames than the other waterways, and although it was grey as we set off, we felt the presence of an old friend.
The river is wide, most of the large locks are manned during the day by cheery lock keepers. At lunchtime and later in the season the locks become ‘self service’ operated by boaters. It only requires the press of a button, so my days of winding heavy lock gear and opening gates are over for the moment.
We noticed a change in propeller noise, and hoped it wasn’t too serious. Sheltering under a large road bridge, Dugald rolled his sleeve up and prepared himself for one of his favourite tasks. He opened our weed hatch and delving up to his armpits in the cold water, managed to untangle a cycle inner tube which had wound its way around our new propeller. No damage done, we were on our way again.
We moored on the edge of Abingdon, looking forward to revisiting this lovely old town. The first time we went, influenced by the MG car plant closures in the 80’s, we had for some reason expected something grey and unattractive. The reality, at least in the centre, is a really interesting town with winding streets and beautiful historic buildings.
It was bright and sunny the next day. The river lit up and we started to see the large houses, gardens and boathouses that are this river’s signature.
We had hoped to moor on the visitor’s moorings at Wallingford, but found a large white hire boat comfortably sitting in the middle of the mooring leaving not quite enough length for us on either side. A request from us to move up a bit received a negative response. This gave Dugald the opportunity to practice one of his favourite mooring techniques. We turned round, went up the river and found a couple of conveniently spaced trees to attach ourselves to. This type of mooring has sometimes led to slight disagreement between skipper and crew, but on this occasion the bank I jumped onto was firm, the trunk of the nearest tree was accessible, and not surrounded by brambles or nettles – all happy.
The next day we donned walking boots, and complete with picnic and map set off to walk part of the Ridgeway. It was a beautiful day and a lovely walk.
We carried on to Goring where we had arranged to meet Kay and George, Dugald’s sister and her husband. Typically the weather was overcast and the river looked a little dull. We still had a great day.
More opportunity for Dugald’s tree technique at lunchtime, and in the afternoon we passed an alpaca farm – instant memories of great times had at Brookfield.
We dropped Kay and George near Reading station. Continuing to Shiplake we moored on an island, tied between two trees of course.
The Thames islands are reminiscent of those found in children’s stories. The next day Swallows and Amazon style we checked out our island – it took ten minutes to walk around. Signs of previous camp fires and people but we were alone.
Having spent a day playing on our very small island we set off again planning to meet Hugh, Dugald’s brother in Henley on Thames the next day.
Although the weather was dry and bright, a northerly wind was blowing and it was very cold as we left Henley.
Hugh took over as temporary lock keeper in several ‘self service’ locks. Stopping in Cookham for lunch we decided to visit the Stanley Spencer gallery – he lived in Cookham and many of his paintings include local characters from the village.
Cliveden reach is one of our favourite spots, and we have spent quite a bit of time there.
We like to moor on one side of a particular island, but often find another boat sitting in ‘our’ space. We planned to return the next day and crossed our fingers.
On to Maidenhead, mooring for the night just below Maidenhead railway bridge, Hugh caught a train home. The railway bridge has always fascinated Dugald. Built by Brunel, its brick arches are the widest and flattest in the world.
We failed to keep our plan to leave early the next day, and found ourselves following a couple of other boats as we went back towards Cliveden, fingers still crossed. Fortunately they turned away from our island, and it was still empty. We moored between the trees and settled in. This island is only a few metres long, so no need to spend much time exploring.
A day spent relaxing and watching other boats.
The rowers were out in force as we went from Maidenhead to Windsor the next day.
In Windsor we moored on yet another island, connected to the town by a footbridge. If you look at the main blog picture you can see we have been here before.
What you won’t have seen is the life size Hurricane sitting in the park opposite the island. It is there to celebrate the local aircraft designer Sydney Camm.
Another long walk was planned. Although we had been to Windsor several times, we had never been to Windsor Great Park.
We tried to avoid the deer who were in rut, roaring stags trying to round up their hinds, and the smell of musk everywhere. I was keen to avoid tangling with a testosterone fuelled stag.
Once off the Long Walk we found ourselves in ancient woodland full of enormous oaks. We seemed to be alone, apart from an unexpected group of children riding.
A Dutch barge passed us as we waited at a lock below Windsor – much more spacious than Ginger Bear, but also more difficult to handle and no good on canals. A bit like a car that won’t fit in your garage, or street!
Arriving at Desborough Island we met a dinghy race, squeezed through without upsetting the race, and moored on a grassy bank opposite the island for the night.
The following day we picked up Sara Hollingshead an ex colleague of Dugald, and her family for a quick trip around Desborough Island. Their three small children are used to boats and were brilliant. The children seemed to be excited to be motoring round the island which is home to their rugby club – the Weybridge Vandals.
Having dropped them off on a rather rickety trip boat pontoon, we found ourselves in a middle of a skiff race. Dugald rows with the Dittons Skiff and Punting Club and it was no surprise to find some of them racing. Fortunately I don’t think they recognised him in the boat – most skiffers think narrowboats are a nuisance.
Nearer to London the traffic and activity on the Thames increases. Sailing, rowing, canoeing on the river, walkers, runners and bikers on the towpath. It is good to see so much energy and enthusiasm when we are constantly told the population is becoming fat and lazy.
I have been trying to get a decent picture of a heron for months, suddenly I had a model who didn’t fly away as soon as my camera came out.
Just before Molesey lock we pass a group of houseboats. I have always rather fancied one of these – they are also grouped around an island.
Through Molesey lock to Hampton Court, we moored just behind Magna Carta. She is a luxury hotel barge, aimed at the American market – worth looking up to see what barge luxury looks like.
We have often come across her, she is usually taking up all available mooring space!
I have never been to Bushy Park and wasn’t aware it is another of Henry’s hunting parks, apparently the second largest – he did lots of hunting around London. I was rather engaged by this park, similar to Richmond, and thought it would be good for picnicking in the summer. More deer in rut! Not everyone was keeping clear. One dog owner was ignoring his dog’s efforts to taunt a stag. The current view is that too many voyeurs are putting the stags off mating, and that people should keep their distance not only for their own safety, but to give the stags some space and avoid scattering the hinds.
Nearly home, we arranged to meet our daughter Anna and grandsons at Teddington Lock. We needed to go through the lock early the next morning. It was great to see them and catch up.
Early the next morning we went through the lock and onto the tidal Thames. It was cold and grey and the river seemed deserted apart from the narrowboat we had joined in the lock. Dugald named the skipper Captain Slow for obvious reasons. There was no way they were going to get to Brentford at their booked time through the lock.
We passed them and then found ourselves following a crane pulled by a smoking tug.
Turning in towards Brentford, we motored up to the Thames Lock where the lock keeper was waiting to let us in.
Now back on the Grand Union, the Gauging Lock is next and last. This is where they used to assess your load by measuring your freeboard and charge you accordingly.
Quick sprint across the canal to our mooring – home at last.
We had covered a total of 655 miles and 488 locks since we left.
I am pleased to be sitting snugly on the boat as I write. Wind and rain have been lashing the boat continually all morning. It wouldn’t be fun to be out on the river.
Our next task is to find some things to occupy us through the winter. There is a plan to head north, and across to Wales to find the Llangollen canal in the Spring. More news later.