Sunday, September 23, 2018

Saving money on the Thames

I've suddenly learned to appreciate the Thames Visitor Licence charging system. We had to buy more time today as our original 2x1 week licence had expired. We reckoned we needed at least a couple extra days. Well for us, 2x1 day would be £67, or 7 days would be £54.90. so naturally we thought we'd get the 7 day option. But no!! We give grateful thanks to the lockie at Shifford who said, as we had already had two weeks we could upgrade that to a month for just £44.50, thus extending our possible stay for two more weeks for less than the cost of two days. Crazy but good.

This means that when taking out a visitor licence, it's best not to buy extra time at the outset just in case, because you can upgrade later if you need to and still get the full discount. Good innit?

A one day licence works out at £33.50 a day, a seven day licence at £7.84 a day, and a one month (31 day) licence at £4.97 a day. That's some discount.

Tonight we rest near the Maybush at Newbridge. That's another off the bucket list.

The river bank here is a bit high for comfort, we'll have to leap or scramble up to the pub.
Better not drink much or we'll end up IN the drink coming home.

The pub has been radically altered with a new extension. Traditionalists won't like it, but the tourists might as it capitalises on the views of the bridge and the river.

Dare I mention that the forecasters tell us that we're in for a long spell of fine weather from tomorrow? Better not tempt fate, so forget I mentioned it.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Making the best of it.

When, years ago, all keen to enjoy the delights of the waterways, I signed up to be a narrowboater, days like today were not what I had in mind! Much as I love the river and the rushy bends and the herons and the odd kingfisher and all that, it's hard to enjoy it with a face full of rain.

Luckily we had a cunning plan to alleviate the suffering and after an hour or so we stopped off at Kelmscott to pop round to William Morris's place at the manor. Sadly, he was not in on account of having died in 1896, but after greasing the attendant's palm with silver we were let in to admire the wallpaper and tapestries and the like. The gardens were cute too. Morris was a great advocate of keeping old buildings going by maintaining and "mending" them sympathetically. Well as it turns out, the building was in such a poor structural state when the current owners ( a charity) took it over that it was a wonder it hadn't fallen down. I think it was a good job he put up all that thick wallpaper or maybe it would have.

We couldn't resist wandering on to find the old Plough pub in the village. Forty or so years ago we used to camp for weekends across the river at Eaton Hastings and we'd cross the little wooden footbridge and walk to the Plough, which was small and rustic and had bantams wandering in and out. The beer was served through a hatch. Now of course it has a restaurant and wifi and sandwiches cost £8.50. I confess we were weak with hunger so we splashed out. My hot roast pork baguette with apple sauce and onions and a decent helping of chips was very good so I'll let them off.

Returning across the field to where Herbie was clinging nervously to the crumbling river bank we set off again in the rain. At Grafton lock we were (not ) entertained by the most taciturn lock keeper we have ever encountered. Saying nothing to us,he only emerged from his hut for seconds at a time, to wind up a sluice or close a gate, then scuttled back inside each time to shout angrily at his unfortunate dog. I doubt he'll make the shortlist for the current vacancy in the Chuckle Brothers.

Pressing on in the increasing rain we eventually reached the meadow above Rushey weir and called it a day. A nice little herd of, I think, Dexter cattle came over to inspect us and seemed to give us the ok, so we're here for the night. Little do they know that at midnight we shall become outlaws because our Thames Visitor Licence will have expired. We can buy an extension at the next attended lock.

Second confession of the day: We have resorted to heating the boat. Goodbye summer. Our stove is put of action because I pulled out the old rope door seal then bought the wrong size replacement. Doh! So it was back to the dear old Eberspacher to try to dry our wet gear for tomorrow and to warm us through. Tomorrow morning the weather is supposed to be worse, so the plan is to set off after lunch and make a dash for the Maybush moorings at Newbridge.

Until then, as the French say, "Reservoir".

Friday, September 21, 2018

Skipping cows and good food

1.View from starboard galley window

2.View from port galley window at the same time

The Lechlade cows seemed not to mind the wind, and they deftly skipped over our centre rope :

We like Lechlade very much and I'm sure we'll want to come back. A proper butcher/greengrocer, a sourdough bread bakery, a good chip shop, and some nice tea rooms and pubs, a reasonable Londis for essentials. Plus of course all those lovely Cotswold stone buildings. What's not to like? Except perhaps a man knocking on the boat roof at half past eight and asking for a fiver.

The wind is at last dying down so we upped sticks and pulled across the river to moor on the New Inn garden, as recommended by No Problem Sue. Thanks Sue, nice one.

This evening we ate at the said New Inn and we're pleasantly surprised with the food, local and fresh and well cooked, the service, efficient and friendly and the beer, a good choice and well kept. Not too pricey either . No surprise then that it was busy. And of course we got a free mooring . Recommended.

Well of course Lechlade is as far as we'll get up the Thames so in the morning we'll turn and start heading back. If things go according to plan, we'll manage to stop at places we missed on the way up.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sitting it out

"The battle outside raging
Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the Thames it is deranging."

Bob Dylan helped me write that.

Well we've hammered on every available stake and tied to a wooden post and we're all nicely sprung in the proper manner so let the wind do its worst.

We set off early this morning and got here in Lechlade just as the wind was getting up Here on the meadow below the bridge, Herbie is rocking gently in what according to Beaufort is a "force 7, moderate gale - whole trees in motion- waves 13 to 19 ft at sea" while we wait for the threatened midnight thunderstorm. I'll probably be fast asleep by then. I'm happy to report that the waves on the river are somewhat less than 13ft, but the trees are certainly getting a workout.

If you're going to be stuck anywhere on the upper Thames, Lechlade is the place to be as it's the only place with shops and such like. I can already highly recommend the fish and chip shop.

Various people have warned us that the cows here like eating rope, but when they came and inspected ours this afternoon, they turned their noses up. What's wrong with our rope then? I feel slighted.

Our planned itinerary is all awry because of this weather, but are we downhearted? Nah!

San Fairy Ann as they say in the trenches

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Interesting times

"May you live in interesting times."
So goes the old Chinese curse, and on that basis our cruise today was one of the most interesting we've ever done.

I must have a word with the Met Office. Their wind strength predictions were about an hour out, so when we set off at three o'clock expecting the wind to drop, we were cruelly misled.

Another saying is "There are no problems, just opportunities." Well I had plenty of opportunities to get Herbie blown into the reeds. Blimey it was hairy going round all the hairpin bends with the wind blasting in unpredictable directions and the rain on our faces. I feel quite proud that we arrived unscathed at Radcot, grabbing a just-long-enough bankside mooring and tying to some scaffolding poles before the boat blew away.

All is well though and we are warm and dry in the very friendly Swan pub

where a nice man says it's ok for us to tie up on what is really a private mooring. After a pint and a plate of pub grub I feel ready to do it again tomorrow to get us to Lechlade which is effectively the head of navigation. So then we can say we've cruised the whole of the navigable Thames. An early start might get us the least worst of the weather. If the met office has it right this time of course.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gung Ho cruising

Tonight's mooring:

"Hang on," says the observant blog reader, "I thought you said you were going to the Maybush. This looks like you're out in the sticks."

Well we might have stopped at the Maybush if it had been open, so whilst we did cross another item off the bucket list and pass beneath Newbridge.

and peek up the final yards of the River Windrush

and made a note of the Maybush moorings for our way back, we decided to press on.

At times this morning it was scarily windy and we saw some boats pull in and peg down, but we are made of sterner, or stupider, stuff and plodded on in the knowledge that the weather may be worse tomorrow.

Steering a boat on this stretch requires a fair bit of concentration at the best of times. I've never experienced so many consecutive blind hairpin bends. With this wind, and warnings of silt shallows on the inside it was challenging at times, but fun. I felt like I was applying the wee bit of sailing knowledge that Rick has mostly failed to teach me. I'm sure Rick, who is a fan of such things, would have loved it. Kath did sterling work with the haroogah, sounding the klaxon to warn any unseen boats coming the other way. In the event though there were only one or two, like us, sufficiently stupid to be out on the river. A couple of times we caught lockies napping as they weren't expecting any boats to roll up.

When I was about thirteen, I read all the angling books I could get hold of, devouring wonderful old works by "BB" and the glorious writings and paintings of Bernard Venables. Angling was different then. Fishing rods were wondrous things made of split cane, floats were made from porcupine quills and ages old techniques like long trotting and stret pegging were what you read about. Baits included 'bullocks pith' whatever that is, and maggots if you used them rather than bread or worms, were called 'gentles'. I am happy that the largest fish I ever caught was tempted by a piece of ordinary bread. Nowadays it's wheelbarrows full of gear, carbon fibre poles and electronic bite alarms. Yuck. I'm not sure I ever want to fish again, but I have a deep affection for these lovely old books. It was in such works that I first read the magical names of Tadpole Bridge and Tenfoot Bridge, and today for the first time I travelled beneath them. I was not disappointed.

So here we are above Rushey lock having doubled our intended number of miles and locks, so if it is stormy tomorrow we can make a short hop to Radcot or Kelmscott and head for the pub. Nice one.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Warp factor 7

We came up from Abingdon todayin a bit of a convoy - three, sometimes four of us meeting up at each lock. As it happens we were first in Abingdon lock, so first out and away. This week I've been a bit conscious that most boats seem to go a bit faster than us, so today we wound Herbie up to warp factor 7 (1800 rpm) in a bid to not hold up the others. Using my patent Herbiesoft Speedo Android phone app,

it looked like we were getting up to an amazing 4.6 mph at times. Kath was downstairs shouting "She canna take any more Captain" while I struggled with the G forces on the command deck.

When we got to Iffley lock I said to the lady on the next boat, "We weren't holding you up were we? That's about as quick as we can manage."

"Blimey no,"she said," you were going really fast, we could barely keep up!"

Aah well we've slowed down now to our customary 1400 rpm and at last we're on the "upper" Thames where the pace of life is more leisurely. Tonight, having departed Oxford via the amazing vastness of
Port Meadow, we dine al fresco on the moorings below Eynsham lock. ( That's spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M only without the K.(apologies to anyone below about 65 years old who won't get that joke.))

Tomorrow we venture into waters hitherto unpenetrated by Herbie. I'm particularly keen to revisit my old haunt of Newbridge where the lovely river Windrush ( possibly named after a ship full of Jamaicans) joins the Thames. There we shall have the dilemma of choosing whether to give our patronage to The Maybush or The Rose Revived, or I suppose we could do both.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Thames trivia

Here we are at Abingdon. Well here's Kath at any rate. Someone has to take the photo.

I love the waterfront here, so many lovely old buildings, and the moorings are not only lovely but free too.

I was annoyed on the way here seeing that this Thames side house

had been sold. If only we had come by earlier I could have bought it with the proceeds from my book. Hmm well I might have been able to afford the Sold sign anyway.

Thames thoughts No 1:

I have decided that the Thames looks gorgeous when the sun shines but often drab when it doesn't shine. Something to do with the reflections or lack of them on the wide water. Luckily we've had enough sunny periods to enjoy some lovely scenes.

Thames cruising handy hint No 1:

We've got a broom with rubber bristles, and it has proven a boon for sweeping the dried goose poo off the grass to clear a patch to sit out and have a BBQ. Last night at Day's lock we really needed it.

Thames cruising handy hint No 2:

Take a boat hook to pick up the coil of rope from your boat roof when you enter a deep lock on self service (as most have proven to be). Ours must look a bit like a harpoon since one lockie said to Kath, "Are you going whaling with that?"

Friday, September 14, 2018

One off the bucket list

Well it would have been a shame to moor in Reading without taking the canal trip through the town centre, so that's what we decided to do before we turned round and headed back up the Thames. Reading is our local big town, so we know it well, but we've never boated through it. The canal follows a narrow and twisting route through the Oracle shopping centre, and because it is narrow and twisting and the current is often strong, there is a traffic light system to avoid opposing boats meeting in the middle. It was fun.

Once through, we just turned round below the County Lock weir and did the whole thing in the other direction. The turning was a bit scary, because I wasn't sure how deep the pool was or how strong the current was. I just stuck the bow out into the stream and let the current swing us while I kept the stern close to the bank. The weir is barely a foot high, but there's a strongish flow over it. I suppose the front of theboat was about two thirds across the river.

It was fine, but I'm not sure I'd do it after a week's heavy rain. The Kennet has a hell of a pace on it sometimes.

Anyway we enjoyed the little jaunt immensely and felt we had crossed something off our bucket list.

So after that urban fix, we're now back out in the sticks and tied up for the night in a quiet spot in Beale Park.

We ought to be making a bit more progress on the way back up river but Herbie seems comfortable at about 4 mph (as measured by my home developed Herbiesoft Speedo App) which is a good bit slower than the plastic cruisers and a little bit slower than most other narrowboats, but we find it less tiring when Herbie is happy.

Who knows where we'll be tomorrow night? I don't.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Reading Gaol

I think Reading Gaol is now shut, but readers of my first novel Jobs for the Boys might think that that is where the opening chapter is set. In the interests of anonymity of inmates I couldn't possibly comment.

The moorings here are I suppose the best in Reading, but they do cost £9.50 for 24 hours. A number of boaters who fail to comprehend the small print on the signs claim that it costs £100. Cobblers! That's what they could demand if you fail to comply with the procedure. You pay on line.

Here's us tied up there.

That's the prison wall on the left in the lower picture. Next to that (not shown)are the attractive old abbey ruins

Carol asked where it was, so here goes.

From the Thames turn down Kennet mouth and pass through Blake's lock. Shortly afterwards, just after the Weir on you right take the sharp right hand turn and follow round through two low bridges ( not much more than 7ft for the first one) and there you are. It's called Chestnut Walk. The town centre shops are barely five minutes walk away. To get back to the Thames just follow round the loop back to the lock. No winding required.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Oscar and me

Here is our view from the window as I write. We're at Pangbourne meadow, empty when we arrived late this morning and now choc a bloc with boats. It was a ridiculously short run from Goring, but we are pacing ourselves to arrive in Reading tomorrow for Grace's birthday.

Kath took the train into Reading to do some shopping while I rested my rather painful left knee. She came back with a thing to strap it up, scarily robust. I feel like my leg is in plaster.

I have been reading Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray ( well it was free on Kindle)and I must say I'm finding his smarty Alec prose a bit annoying. Contrived, I think I would call it. However as one great author to another, I'll do him the honour of pressing on in order to see how it unfolds.

I have to admit that the river is very attractive down here, if somewhat gentrified. We might moor up by the prison in Reading tomorrow, that won't be so salubrious, at least it wasn't when I did a bit of work with young offenders in that establishment in the 70s. Now I'm in my 70's I suppose I might be an old offender. I find that thought quite stimulating.

Of course old Oscar himself spent a while in Reading jail( or gaol), so perhaps we have more in common that I first thought. He was of course in there for outraging public decency whereas my young offenders were mostly in for "Taking and driving away" and such like. Happy days.

PS look at the sunset outside the boat now

PPS I'm writing this blog post on my phone. How magic is that?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What rich people can buy.

Yesterday's lovely mooring above Day's lock does have one disadvantage; the wind fairly whistles across the river there. Admittedly it did push us securely against the river bank, but we were buffeted overnight. When we set off this morning we feared a blustery trip, but once we got round the corner we had no further trouble, apart that is from having forgotten how to work a Thames lock when it's on self service. We didn't realise that mere mortals like boaters are prevented from operating sluices and gates from the console at the opposite end, while superior beings like lock keepers have no such restriction.

We passed quite a few more ultra posh houses today. I don't now how people get all that dosh but it sure ain't through a regular wage or salary. Maybe it's by selling their one bedroom flat in Knightsbridge and moving up country.

Anyhow we got to Goring about lunch time and tied up on the moorings below the lock.

Soon after we were joined by a family on a hire cruiser from Kris Cruisers of Datchet. A nice boat if you like that sort of thing, nowhere near as huge as many you see on the Thames.

Now I have some sort of notion of the price of most narrowboats we see, but when it comes to these tupperware boats, I had no idea. Luckily this sort of boat tends not to be bespoke like a lot of narrowboats, so like a car it has a make and a model number for all to see. A quick call to Mr Google got me a price and I was fairly stunned. £215k for a new one, or you can pick up a ten year old one for around £100k. I mean it's not as if you would want to sell up your house and live aboard on of these things like narrowboaters do. That makes narrowboats look very good value don't you think? It also makes you realise how much spare cash some of these private owners must have to splash out on what is usually a weekend boat. And they still have enough left for Breton fisherman's smocks and yellow wellies. Not that I'm envious or anything.

I looked up the cost of hiring the boat, and the next available slot was 7 days in October for £1400. A bit dearer than a narrowboat hire, but compared with the cost of each boat, it looks like the canal hire companies get a better return on their outlay.