Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Our Own Thames Barrier

Last week should have been dominated by our passage down the Thames from Oxford to Reading, and I suppose it was, but not in the way we had imagined.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, we had to wait around a bit in Banbury before we made our passage as old Father Thames had been in flood for weeks and the red warning boards were showing. This began to ease as the weather picked up so by the time we went through the last lock on the Oxford Canal last Thursday morning and as we swung into the river we were expecting the “normal stream conditions” displayed on the web site for Thames conditions.
Our last lock on the Oxford Canal

Ohhh no..... She took off like a rocket: we flew under the first bridge and as we approached the first lock at Osney, which is known as a tricky one to moor up at, it became very apparent that the boat was going to be nigh on impossible to stop – even in full reverse. It was a pretty hairy experience and Pat had to jump off as we bounced off the jetty and pull me slowly in. I was very glad of every one of those 43 horses under my feet that morning. However, I felt a whole lot better when the boat that came up behind us, had exactly the same issues and the one in front reported a similar docking.
Pat queues for Thames licence at Osney Lock (Always wear life jackets on rivers folks!)

Even though we pay a hefty annual licence to cruise the canal network, if you go on to the Thames, you have to pay separately and it is not cheap. We had planned a leisurely four to five day cruise from Oxford to Reading, but on finding they would charge us £38.50 a day for the privilege, we agreed to go for it over two days, paid the lock keeper, got our paperwork, and pressed on. Once through Oxford the current calmed down, the river opened up, and the biggest hazard were the skullers from the university rowing clubs and their coaches .
I had high expectations of this part of our odyssey, and I think both of us were a little disappointed with it. That’s no fault of the river. It is very relaxing, and for the most part undemanding. It is, of course, stunningly beautiful, especially the part downstream from Goring, where we were joined by dozens of red kites souring above us as we approached the outskirts of Reading. But mooring is a nightmare in any town you care to stop in. Cabin cruisers can pop in under a tree and moor, but not a 60ft narrowboat and I think Pat missed her lock keeping duties. And it has to be said, that a narrowboat is not the perfect vessel for a fast flowing river. Other narrowboaters we met said that after a few days you adopt a new mind set in dealing with rivers and their demands, and it has to be said we had superb weather all week so we saw it at its best. But to do 42 miles in two days in a boat like ours, meant two very long days at the tiller, in 30+ temperatures, so when we swung off the Thames at Caversham Lock, last Friday afternoon neither of us were too disappointed.
Somewhere around Goring on The Thames

Pat checks out the Red Kites flying over us as we enter Reading

Our mooring over the weekend was in central Reading, in a little loop, which was once a wharf that served the Huntley & Palmers Biscuit Factory. Considering its location, it was very quiet, and there was an abundance of wildlife to enjoy, even though we were surrounded by modern office blocks and a Homebase.
It was only two minutes away from a Wetherspoons and that is where we ended up at 8.30pm last Friday night to watch the opening ceremony of London 2012. We were joined by our boating neighbours Peter and Linda, on NB Bullfinch, who we had moored against the previous evening at Wallingford, and all was going very well, until five minutes to midnight when all the TV’s were turned off and we were asked, very politely to leave. So we had to hot foot it back to the boat to see Team GB make their entrance and the flame lit.
One of the major disadvantages of these flash hot spells are the insects that want to invade your space and feed off you. I have been bitten to bits over the last 10 days, mainly by horseflies, yet they leave Pat alone.  We’ve got stuff in our first aid box to relieve stings, but it is not that effective, so over the weekend we bought the strongest “after bite” Boots could offer us, as we hear they bite even harder on the Kennet & Avon.
I like Reading. It’s a town I know well. Especially Reading F.C., on the outskirts of the town on the M4. The club shirt is sponsored by Waitrose, and we held our John Lewis internal five-a-side tournament there for several years until I retired. I notice that hasn’t happened this year.  I also worked at John Lewis Reading, when it was called Heelas, for several months in the late 1980s and at the Waitrose branch over the river at Caversham, so finding our way around wasn’t much of a problem, though like so many towns they have knocked it around a fair bit. Ever-ready to absorb ourselves into local culture, on Sunday afternoon we went into the park above the canal, with our fold-up chairs, and watched the local town band. We also took an umbrella, which we had to press into action on a couple of occasions.
What could be more British than listening to the band on a Sunday afternoon

Our guests on Monday with Dorothy and Steve Woods. I worked with Dorothy at John Lewis Welwyn and we have a bit of a history with the Woods, so we were delighted to welcome them, especially as they had made the long journey from Suffolk to be with us for the day. And boy did we need them. A windy day, in conjunction with some strong currents and small landing stages at locks, saw them taking a very pro-active part.
With Dorothy and Steve Wood in our little basin in central Reading

We are currently in the middle of nowhere on the Kennet & Avon, between Reading and Aldermarston (Ban the Bomb I say! – You have to be of a certain age to understand that). The boat is surrounded on one side by six foot reeds and on the other by overhanging trees so it should be a very quiet evening. Should be in Newbury Wednesday or Thursday.

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