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Old Father Thames beckons

Old Father Thames beckons

W/C 5th July

Having said goodbye to the kids, we spent another night at Cropredy Marina and then made our way slowly down to Banbury, through the pleasant Oxfordshire countryside. We arrived at mid-morning on Thursday and it was very noisy. Lots of construction work by the visitor moorings. They are building some new bars/restaurants and also a LIDL, which will be very handy being directly on the canal bank.

Paul had to work as usual, so I busied myself with cleaning the outside of the boat, ready to receive our next set of guests, sweeping the roof and the decks and mopping. Hot work! We also took delivery of our supplies for the weekend, after work had finished.

As we were in town, we decided to take advantage of that fact and ordered a takeaway. Sadly it wasn’t brilliant, but filled a gap.

We did some internal cleaning and tidying, hoovering and washing floors and then settled down for the evening. We were pleasantly surprised to have an incredibly quiet night! Totally unexpected for an urban mooring. And very welcome.

Paul had an appointment with a chiropractor (his second) for his poorly shoulder so I finished off the cleaning and prepared the bedroom, ready for our imminent visitors. Nick and Sarah Holmes. Paul was back just before they arrived and we quickly got their stuff on board and set off.

The first job was a swing bridge, followed by a lock, followed by dropping off our rubbish and getting water. A bit of a baptism by fire for them!

We moored out in the country ( ///innovate.shine.lecturing) and had a very pleasant evening, accompanied by frozen margaritas. Only three of us were drinking them and we managed to sink a whole bottle of Tequila! Oops!

Paul amused us all by flying the drone over our lovely, rural mooring. Drunk in charge of a drone?

The next day – Saturday 10th July – started drizzly, which continued for a few hours until the sun came out. We had dinner booked at a pub that evening, but our progress was slower than expected, so we rang ahead and cancelled. We much prefer to be mooring out in the countryside anyway.

Sarah had a go on the tiller both days and proved to be a natural although more practice at passing boats and suchlike would add to her skill. The main thing was that she enjoyed it and was a willing pupil. It’s nothing to be scared of, but can be a bit daunting nonetheless.

We were sad to note that the once thriving Rock of Gibraltar pub is now closed and very abandoned. Some happy times spent there.

Sad times for the Rock

It turned out to be a lovely day weather-wise and an even lovelier evening. We moored just below Shipstone Weir Lock (///extensive.writing.flood) and had an elegant sufficiency of Frozen Piña Coladas, which slipped down a treat.

We spent both evenings playing games. We taught Nick & Sarah how to play Dobble (which they owned, but had never fully explored) and they taught us how to play The Game, which was a big hit with us and which I immediately ordered. To be delivered to a secret location in Stubbington, home of our next guests. I knew they would enjoy it too!

Sunday started in a leisurely manner, with bacon sarnies all round. And then we set off for The Jolly Boatman, in Thrupp, which we had determined was a good spot for getting a taxi back to Banbury. We waved them off at about 11, finding time for coffee and biscuits before their taxi arrived and then set off again.

Our ambition was to find a nice spot on the Thames ready for the England v Italy ⚽️. We decided to eat out, so aimed for The Trout at Wolvercote and rang ahead to book an early evening table.

Access to the Thames is either above or below the town of Oxford. We chose the above route, via the Dukes Cut, a short branch (roughly a quarter of a mile) of the Oxford Canal, with a stop lock, which leads out onto the Thames. It is named after the Duke of Marlborough, across whose land it was cut in the late 1780s.

I started my approach to the tight turn, using my horn prior to my manoeuvre. I swept the boat round in an elegant arc only to be stopped by Paul. It seemed there was a small motor boat in the lock and no room for passing. I swiftly abandoned what looked to be a perfect manoeuvre and reversed to let the little craft out. It’s a shame they don’t carry horns! I’d never make such a good move a second time!!

Half way along the narrow cut we spotted a very ramshackle, small cabin cruiser, covered in tarps. We could not see the helmsman and it was pretty obvious he (as we eventually saw) could not see (or hear!) us.

He was making very erratic progress turning in circles and pirouetting and coming to a complete stop on a couple of occasions. He was either very drunk or off his swede on some substance, that was for sure. We hung well back and were very glad to see the back of him as we turned left towards King’s Lock and he turned right at the junction.

King’s has nothing to do with kings, by the way. Kin is an ancient word for cow, apparently, and the original name was “Kingisweire”. There is a record from 1289 of a weir and fish traps on the site of the lock, which was built in 1929. There are 45 locks to be found on the Thames. If you number starting from St John’s Lock (being number 1) the highest lock on the river, near Lechlade, King’s is Lock 10.

We have not been on the Thames for many a long year – I think it was 2003? We both felt a bit rusty about lock etiquette, but the keeper was very friendly and helpful. It was a short trip down to the Trout which, although riverside, seems to have no moorings, something we have found odd on the Thames. It’s like they just don’t encourage trade from boats on the river?

We moored by the ruins of Godstow Abbey, just across the river from The Trout. We had a snooze, showered and went to bag our table. We opted for the Triple Roast – pork, beef and chicken plus Yorkshire and veg. The waiting staff were young, h elpful and attentive and had obviously had a very busy service at lunchtime. Sadly, our food looked a bit tired too and the lucky boys got most of mine. Meh. That said, it’s a great location and I’d definitely return to give them another chance. It must be so hard for pubs to estimate demand.

Sadly, despite scoring a goal within the opening minutes, dear old England lost on penalties. Very disappointing.

W/C 12th July

It had rained overnight, but was merely overcast and misty as we made our way upriver to King’s Lock again. The route took us under the A34, which was busy with Monday morning traffic. Shudder.

As Paul was working, we just did a short hop, mooring opposite the weir, on a free, 24 hour mooring just below Eynsham Lock (///seasons.rocks.testy). I was very envious of the kids who arrived after school to swim in the river. It looked very inviting.

After work, we took the boys for a walk across the lock and weir and a bit of drone flying practice. It’s quite scary to watch Paul sending it out over the water, let me tell you!

We had a very peaceful night there but were up early (06:30) the next day (Tuesday) and off through the lock and through another (Pinkhill) until we arrived at Bablock Hythe where we moored (///fence.nicknames.comedians) for the day and night, just past The Ferryman Inn and the VAST and prone to flooding mobile home park.

There are records of a ferry at Bablock Hythe dating back to the 13th century. It was still in operation for cars until 1959, by which time it was a cable ferry. There was a campaign in 2012 to restore the ferry but it clearly failed. Some great old images here

After another quiet night, we made another early start and continued our journey upriver. I had noticed that there was a mooring at Shifford Lock with electric hook-up and that priority was given to electric boats. As luck would have it, there was no-one on the mooring so we bagged it.

We were on a quiet and shady backwater of the Thames, with our very own private island! I quickly did a load of washing and put it out to dry. Which it did. Very quickly! Sadly, the electric supply kept tripping out, which was a shame, but not the end of the world.

Our pontoon had a ladder and so we decide to have a cooling dip after work, it being quite hot. By gum it was chilly but wonderfully refreshing and very deep. This mooring was absolutely wonderful and would have scored the perfect 10 if only the flipping electricity had worked. We did report it to the lock-keeper as we were pretty sure it was not our lead. We were very sad to leave there and resolved to stay there again on our way back downstream.

We were sad that our dear friends, Kate & Paul Hansford were unable to join us, as planned, for the forthcoming weekend. Kate’s Dad is very poorly indeed and it’s not a good time for her to come away.

UPDATE – Kate’s Dad has made a somewhat miraculous recovery and, whilst still poorly, appears very much on the mend.

Our friends, Anne and Gray – our very first guests on board Old Nick – were on cancellation watch. Once it was obvious that Kate would need to stay by her Dad’s side, we quickly arranged for them to join us.

We had our, by now usual, early start and in sunshine, too, although this didn’t last. In fact, by the afternoon/evening it was frankly quite chilly.

We dumped our rubbish and watered at Rushey Lock and then – as advised by a very nice couple with whom we locked up, (who happened to be from Denmead!) – we found a delightful bank side mooring, which we had all to ourselves! All day and all night! The field was great for the boys to play in and they really made the most of it, racing round madly, playing chase and play-fighting.

Solitude

I need to mention that getting supplies on the Upper Thames is not easy. It is quite deliciously wild and rural, but shops are not by any means abundant and involve a bit of a walk or cycle, largely. A warning to those who intend to cruise – provision up before you leave the canal!

The Robertsons had very kindly agreed that we could arrange for a grocery delivery to be sent to their house for them to bring up by car. It would take care of our food for the weekend plus a few meals into the following week.

We were starting to read stories of extreme temperatures at the weekend so it was with some trepidation we arrived at our planned meeting spot, only to find no mooring opportunities near it. The nearest we could find was around a 1/3 mile away and would involve a very hot trudge through the field with heavy groceries. Oh dear. I felt very guilty indeed as I watched them in the heat haze, staggering to the boat. But the tea was on! And everything was quickly stowed.

We had planned to have a pub meal but, once again, no moorings available. As it was a beautiful evening, we decided to cruise back to where we had started that day. Sadly, there were three boats in “our” space but luckily we found a spot opposite that was pretty good, although not to the boy’s taste. They seemed averse to walking in the hillocky, possibly thistle-y terrain.

We had a royal banquet – well beans on toast actually – with scrambled egg and grated cheese. Not a bad improvisation!

We played several rounds of The Game – until we could see no more, and then retired. We have learned not to put lights on because the boat very quickly fills up with all manner of bugs! Many of them bitey types. Yuk.

I discovered on Saturday morning, that I had omitted to order any milk. What a ridiculous state of affairs! Luckily, we were on our way back to Radcot bridge, and had a hunch that the the shop at the campsite there might well stock it. Our hunter-gatherers were despatched and returned triumphant!

As it was very hot on deck and there was imminent danger of burning skin, despite precautions, we pulled over fairly early and spent the afternoon reading and otherwise entertaining ourselves (see below), before beginning prep for our barbecue.

We had fun with the young heifers in the field. I entertained myself (and them) by singing to them and I had a very appreciative audience indeed. I gave them such classics as MOOn River, Blue MOOn, Under the MOOn of Love, MOOnlight Bay, and so on.

Sadly they enjoyed it so much that they came back for more, by which time we had lit the BBQ. I had to usher them around it for their own safety.

The remainder of the evening was spent playing The Game – until poor light forced us into bed. Actually, I quite like the idea of rising early and going to bed early. It’s a rhythm that suits me.

We set off – early again – bound for Lechlade-on-Thames – effectively the head of the navigation for larger craft like us. Smaller craft can continue as far as Cricklade. However, as we were approaching the Roundhouse, where we should have turned, a chap on a broad beam boat engaged Paul in conversation.

He said that a great deal of restoration work had been done and that we could now continue further upstream for an hour and a half, giving explicit instructions where we absolutely MUST turn. The die was cast. We were off on one of Paul’s misery trips, despite my misgivings.

It all started quite well and then we hit a shallow bit where progress was only obtained by high revs. My anxiety started to mount. I had a very bad feeling about this “adventure”.

We eventually arrived at the specified turning point and tried the manoeuvre. No go. Just not quite enough room to turn, despite our best efforts. It looked as if we would have to reverse all the way back to flipping Lechlade. Gah!

We had a couple more attempts further downstream but still no dice. Very stressful indeed! For me, anyway!

We finally found a wider bit of river, with a fisherman ensconced on the bend. We explained to him what had happened and he said the chap must be stupid. and proceeded to film our turn. How embarrassing. But this time, Old Father Thames must have been on our side. We managed to turn and made our way back to Lechlade. We’ll be the talk of the town!

The screen grab above shows how far we went (red arrow) and the nominal end of the navigation (the channel off to the left). I guess it was a bit of an adventure, but not one I’d care to repeat!

We made our way down river a bit and moored for the night. It was still very warm and Paul and I took a refreshing dip. And I mean REFRESHING!

Cooling off

For a variety of reasons, Anne and Gray had decided to stay an extra night. We’d have a 6am start but it would be cool. This was good as Gray was borrowing a bike to cycle the three-ish miles back to their car.

Luckily, although the days have been baking, it is cooler at night and we have been sleeping with pretty much every orifice wide open. To hell with security! So we all felt pretty refreshed when the alarm went off. And it was a beautiful morning.

Gray sped off on the treader, while Anne did last minute packing. He was pretty quickly back, being a a regular cyclist and we whispered goodbye and went through St John’s lock, where we planned to spend the day on hook-up. And that’s where you must leave us, baking gently in the warm sunshine.

Below is a song about the Thames that I used to sing with my Dad on the back of his boat. Some of my Portchester Players friends may remember it, as we used it in an Old Time Music Hall. It’s a lovely song, made popular in the 30s by Peter Dawson a very prolific Australian singer, who was chosen by the Guinness Book of Recorded Sound as one of the top 10 singers on disc of all time, alongside Elvis Presley and operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. It was also sung by Gracie Fields.

Old Father Thames.

High in the hills, down in the dales,
Happy and fancy free
Old Father Thames keeps rolling along
Down to the mighty sea
What does he know,
what does he care, nothing for you or me
Old Father Thames keeps rolling along
Down to the mighty sea
He never seems to worry
Doesn’t care for fortune’s fame
He never seems to hurry
But he gets there just the same
Kingdoms my come, kingdoms may go
Whatever the end may be
Old Father Thames keeps rolling along
Down to the mighty sea

Old Father Thames – St John’s Lock, Lechlade

6 thoughts on “Old Father Thames beckons

  1. Oh I loved this blog Kay, being an ex boater myself, I could relate to so much if it. When are you writing your book! So many useful tips for new boaters. Keep them going. X

  2. Thank you for taking us on this fantastic journey on the Thames, it is just wonderful to be taken through the events of your journey. I have only ever been on a holiday on the Norfolk Broads, my only boating experience, but you are making me think about a canal holiday. I am looking forward to the next episode xx

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