Monday 19th July
You left us at St John’s Lock, charging and (me) musing about whether it was pronounced St John’s or Sinjeon.
It was a hot day and, as soon as we had reached 100% charge, we unhitched and I took the boat downstream to the cow field, where we had barbecued on Saturday night, while Paul finished his day’s work. As soon as he had, we donned swimming regalia and went for a wonderfully refreshing swim before dinner at a sort of “beach” where we could walk in. Very handy. As usual, the boys looked on with mild interest but absolutely no desire to join us.
We were sad to be making our way back down the river as we had absolutely loved it’s wildness and remoteness. I took the helm again, while Paul worked, suitably anointed in SPF50. It was another hot day..
There was one space left, with our name on it at the field below Rushey Lock. We nabbed it PDQ I can tell you! The field in which the boys had frolicked last week, had been cut, dried, bailed and removed. The farmer had clearly been “making hay while the sun shone’.
The river was pretty deep here and so we brought our trusty telescopic ladder into play, to assist us in getting out. We brought it with us for just such an occasion. It’s kept in the engine room, when not in use.
As we were preparing to swim, a couple of ladies arrived. They swim here every single day of the year. I’m kind of envious. It sounds like a nice – if slightly bonkers – thing to do. And they were obviously such great friends and chatted their way upriver and back. They said the spot where we had moored was “their spot” and thanked us for not mooring across it, as many boats do. Pure luck, I’m afraid.
There were another couple of boats moored with us and we said they were welcome to use the ladder if they fancied a dip. One boat did take us up on it and we had a really nice chat with them. When you are out for long periods, you gradually see boats time and again and strike up a bit of chat as you pass them or they pass you. It’s very pleasant.
We had another of our early starts the next day, which I’ve grown to enjoy. Early mornings are so fresh and we have our travelling pretty much done by 09:00, before the heat sets in in earnest. Having such a quiet engine and a routine that we both know means that we can slip away without making any noise and disturbing other boaters. We could not do that with a diesel boat – unless we bow-hauled it? As we did once on one very memorable early morning, some years ago.
We set off with high hopes of nabbing the electric boat space at Shifford lock and were jubilant to arrive and find it available. The electricity point was still not working but it’s such a great spot we weren’t too bothered. I managed to get two loads of washing – including bedding – dried. And the beauty, the crowning glory of Shifford? A ladder to get into and out of the river on our private and secluded pontoon. Perfect for another dip in this heat!
The next early morning was absolutely priceless. Rosy and very slightly misty until the sun warmed up. It was the sort of morning that makes you utterly grateful to be alive and doing what we do. A feeling of rare and pure happiness. I wish I could save some for when I particularly need it.
We arrived at Bablock Hythe just as another boat who had overnighted there slipped it’s moorings. Bingo! And right near the car park, which was handy, as we had a grocery delivery booked for the following morning.You may be interested to know that the word “hythe” is Old English for a landing place or haven.
Paul settled down to work and I pottered about with breakfast and washing up and we were suddenly aware of a great deal of mooing and bellowing. We popped our heads out to see what all the fuss was about and could not believe our eyes! A complete herd of cows was swimming across the river at the site of the old ferry crossing. It was such an amazing sight as you can see from the video below.
When the farmer who owned the cows eventually rocked up he told us that they had been being herded into their usual field when all of a sudden, one made a bolt for the river. With herds. if one goes, they all go and you’re pretty powerless to stop it. It’s just unfortunate that there are very few crossings on this part of the Thames (hence the ferry) and he had to organise a trailer to pick them up, which would take several trips, each of 10 miles!
A little later I was aware of more commotion and one of the cows was back in the river, heading for the opposite bank, where a handy paddle-boarder managed to send her back. The banks were too high for her to get out and she then made a beeline for Old Nick. I quickly grabbed the boat pole and encouraged her up river to the ferry point, where she got out safely. I’d hazard a guess that, of all the things the farmer might have imagined happening on his Thursday, this was not one of them!
We had dinner at the pub again and an early night. It was amusing to observe that their front lawn was liberally splattered with the cow’s calling cards. Ooops!
Our delivery driver had a bit of trouble finding us the next morning but Paul found him and talked him over to where we were. We grabbed our groceries, stowed them and made off.
Our next destination was back at Eynsham Lock, by the weir where we had moored before. We were lucky once again, which was handy as Joel from Vetus was popping in with a new controller unit for our E-Line, which keeps emitting random beeps, for some reason.
It was pretty noisy at the lock as the local schoolkids were all enjoying the river and there was much laughter and screaming from the girls, It was nice to see them having fun and they eventually all went home, probably driven there by hunger! Peace was restored.
Saturday (24th July) saw us setting off at a slightly less early time. The weather was beginning to cool a little so there was really no hurry. We knew we’d be breaking “new” ground that day as we’d be back in Oxford and going beyond. Interestingly, all the locks below King’s lock are electrically powered. No more wheel turning!
Port Meadow. to the North of Oxford above Osney lock, with it’s cattle and abundance of waterfowl was as beautiful as we remembered, but we were struck with the impression as we progressed through the town, that Oxford kind of turns its back on the river, rather than embracing it.
The many boathouses of the various Oxford rowing clubs were a sight to see and we also saw some punts and – somewhat bizarrely – two ladies poling a gondola along!
By now our stomachs were beginning to rumble and we decided to pull over and have lunch at the Isis River Farm House, which is only accessible by river or along the towpath. It’s a very popular spot for weddings and we witnessed one wedding party process from (we imagine?) Iffley church (whose bells were pealing joyfully) across Iffley lock and then down the towpath to the pub. We also saw a wedding party on a pair of trip boats. Clearly the river is very popular way to celebrate your nuptials in Oxford. And why wouldn’t it be?
By the way – between Osney Lock and just below Iffley lock the Thames is known as the Isis – nothing to do with the extremist Islamic group, you’ll be relieved to hear. Isis was an Egyptian goddess who married her brother, Osiris. There is speculation as to why it is thus named and there is no clear-cut agreement as to which bit of the Thames the appellation “Isis” actually relates to. There’s a good article here though if you’re interested.
Having lunched – albeit a bit late – we set off in search of a pleasant mooring. And we found it – a little above Sandford Lock, a meadow and solitude. (///brave.rams.prompting). Perfect. A little noise from the nearby railway line, but nothing too intrusive. Rivers and roads and railways very often go hand in hand, as you’ll probably remember from your geography lessons?
We had a very quiet night and a lovely egg breakfast before setting off on Sunday. It was drizzly and a little chilly but very soon cleared up. Sandford Lock is the deepest lock on the non-tidal Thames, with a fall of 8ft 9inches. And it felt very wide too, but that may have been just an impression because it is so deep.
It was around this point that I realised we had left our wild Thames far behind. The Thames is – well – “thamed” I guess. Manicured lawns, large houses, both modern and oldy-worldy and sometimes a weird mix of the two. Flashy Tudor-style boathouses, gentlemen’s launches and fibre-glass cabin cruisers abound. This is the start of the commuters’ Thames.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love it. The wooded sections are very green and beautiful and its fun to speculate how much those massive properties actually cost. It’s just different.
We eventually moored just below Abingdon lock (///wheels.grape.pine). Abingdon is (as well as being the birthplace of Paul’s Mum and home of the MG car) very welcoming to boaters. These were 3 day free moorings. The towpath is well used by families and dog -walkers and the town has plentiful mooring’s right by the town bridge, too. We approved.
Monday (26th July) saw us pass through 3 locks (Culham, Clifton and Days) before finding a very pleasant, secluded mooring just downriver of Days lock and the confluence with the confusingly-named River Thame, which rises in Buckinghamshire.
It was a hot evening and we had a lovely dip in the clear and cooling waters. I used the opportunity to clean our tunnel bands – which are the red and white stripes round the stern that help you identify which way a boat is facing. Clever eh?
We seem to be racing through the locks now and passed through another couple on Tuesday (Benson and Cleeve) taking us up to 20 out of 45. Every lock has a little story to tell, which I love. For instance Cleeve Lock is interesting in that the reach (the stretch of water between locks – what we’d call a pound on the canal) above the lock is the longest, and the reach below it is the shortest, on the non-tidal river. Its other claim to fame is that the local landowner, Lord Lucan (ancestor of the ‘disappeared’ Lucan) claimed that the lock and lock house spoiled his view. Accordingly, the lock house was ‘sunk’ into the ground, causing a later resident to complain of the ‘low and therefore damp situation of his bedrooms’.
Our Tuesday cruise saw us also pass through Wallingford – famous for being the location for a handful of fictional murders in the much-loved (although not by me) classic “Midsomer Murders” and is the former home of Agatha Christie. Wallingford was also the last remaining Royalist stronghold in Berkshire (during the civil war) before surrendering after a 16-week siege. Fearing that Wallingford Castle could be used in a future uprising, Oliver Cromwell ordered its destruction.
We moored just past the famous Beetle and Wedge restaurant in Moulsford who, in our opinion could do more to welcome guests from the river. I had to console myself with a look at their menu online. But it was a lovely mooring and we had another nice dip so I soon got over my disappointment. And anyway, it would have meant getting “tarted up” as my Mum used to say!
The Thames was quite heavily wooded on the next stretch and you could see impressive properties peeking out from under the trees.
Wednesday was a long day at the helm for me. Paul was pretty busy and we needed to be in Marlow by Sunday so I took us through Reading, stopping at Caversham Boat Services for diesel – just as the heavens opened! We didn’t really need much diesel, it’s just that it’s a precious and rare commodity on the Thames. And it’s the first time we have topped up since Napton, back on the Oxford Canal a few weeks ago.
Our passage through Reading had been swift and uneventful and we had spotted the entrance to the Kennet & Avon Canal, where we are bound in September.
It was a very changeable day, all in all, and we eventually moored just above Sonning Lock, in glorious sunshine.
Thursday was an early start and poor old Paul got stung on the lip whilst taking the boys for their morning walk. It swelled up pretty quickly, but he wasn’t sure whether it had been a bee or a wasp, so he chugged an anti-histamine and hoped for the best.
The Thames was very peaceful and we were treated to a fishing display by Grebes and Cormorants and fantastic aerobatics from the many Red Kites in the area. .
It was a fairly short hop to where we planned to spend the night, just above Shiplake Lock on the electric hook-up point. We took on water and then moored up. Paul started work, and I did a couple of loads of washing.
In case you’re wondering, our water tank capacity is 500 litres and usually lasts us a good week or more of normal living – washing up, showering, laundry etc). We have never yet managed to go much below 100 litres before filling up, though. We are prudent with our water and never leave taps running (except in the shower, and even then, we turn the water on and off several times to conserve it).
Because of its location, rubbish bins are delivered to the lock by boat and it was interesting to watch the crew making the delivery by tug – one called Churn, which appealed to me, though goodness knows why!
Friday morning saw us setting in drizzle and wind for Henley. We had a grocery “Click and Collect” and needed to be sure of a mooring so that we could achieve that. Old Father Thames was clearly smiling down on us because there was just one Old Nick-shaped spot available, near the Rowing Museum and we swiftly made it ours.
The Royal Henley Regatta takes place on 11-15th August this year and preparations were very much afoot as we went through on Saturday (31st July) morning. I don’t think either of us realised how much effort went into it. The river is cordoned off and there were rowers all over the place and even some actual racing – qualifying, we assumed? It was really quite exciting! We imagined what chaos it might be on race week, though!
We were recognised by the very friendly Lock Keeper at Hambleden Lock – one Tim – who said he’d seen us on the Cruising the Cut video about Ortomarine’s trials event. We were tickled pink!
Shortly after that, the weather took a turn for the worse and we arrived in Marlow in a pretty heavy shower. We were meeting some old friends there the next day and had been a little worried about finding somewhere to moor. But lo and behold! There was one space, with a great view of the bridge. We were a bit taken aback and looked for the usual “no mooring” or “space reserved for insert name” signs. But none were in evidence. Pinching ourselves, we manoeuvred into the spot and tied up. More or less opposite Chris Evan’s Thameside home. Lucky him!
The waterfowl were legion, ducks swans, geese and more! And all very well fed, as evidenced by the succession of small humans armed with the very best bird food that money could buy. No mouldy, stale bread for the many and varied river birds of Marlow! The night’s mooring, by the way, was costing us £15. That’s the most we’ve ever paid for a night’s mooring!
We did some housework, both inside and out, so that the boat looked at its best for our friends the next day and then ended the day with home cooked fish, chips and peas and an evening of television. Find out what we did with our friends – and more – next time.