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Summer 2006 trip to the National Waterways Festival.

Including the River Thames and Shakespeare's Avon

Part 2

Soon 6 o’clock arrived, the creek had filled up with water, and it was time to go. Accompanying another boat who were a little nervous about their first tideway trip, and who were VERY grateful when we directed them down the correct side of Isleworth Ait, we made good time to Teddington with a superb tide pushing us along at almost 8mph. We moored above the lock for the night and to sort out our licence paperwork. One unusual passage downstream early the next morning was by Lewis Pugh; fresh from his record-breaking swim in the Antarctic he was swimming the entire length of the Thames from its source at Kemble in Gloucestershire (where he had to walk at first) right through to Southend-on-Sea, to publicise a campaign to fight climate change.

Next stop was Walton-on-Thames, where we met a few members of the Canal World Forum for a few beers. It was a superb evening as the conversation and the beer both flowed freely. Supporting the EA’s campaign for mooring alongside, the three boats had breasted up together to moor, but even so the return journey from Keeping Up proved too hazardous for one other boater who broke her thumb most painfully when closing the sliding hatch on her own boat.

In Desborough old channel a young grebe was hitching a ride on its mother’s back – apparently this is quite common but it was the first time we’d seen it. As usual we stopped to fill with diesel at Laleham; exactly 2 years ago (almost to the day) it was 32p, now it’s 53p, but what will it be next year? And what colour will it be?

A sign half-way along the little backwater where we moored by the Leisure Centre at Windsor said “small craft only, open boats, dinghies etc” but it was too late to turn round so we just interpreted “small” as meaning “narrow”, and “open” as meaning that the windows and side doors should be open, of course there was plenty of room. A superb afternoon at Windsor Castle was followed by a fish-and-chip supper at the Chinese Restaurant in Nell Gwynn’s House, a real trans-global anachronism but very very tasty!

 

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Moored 3-abreast at Walton on Thames
.Baby grebe hitches a ride on its mother's back
Windsor Castle is very impressive on top of its hill
Maidenhead Regatta
Waiting below Boulters Lock
A fine day at Henley gave us the chance to do some washing

As usual we moored on the fields below Henley, this time opposite the Management College. There was a marquee in the gardens for a wedding reception, so we listened to their live music all afternoon and evening then had a very close-up view of their firework display which was set off on our side of the river, about 50 metres from us. Luckily our dog Molly just loves fireworks, and sat with us on the deck wagging her tail at the rockets!

Having plenty of spare time, we spent a week travelling up the Kennet to Newbury and back. I had forgotten how pretty this river is, and we really enjoyed our detour apart from actually having a windlass stolen from us at Woolhampton. While Debbie crossed over to put the barriers down at the electric swing bridge, she put her windlass down on the bridge control panel so that it couldn’t get lost. When she returned to the panel to press the button and open the bridge, the windlass had gone; someone from a small cruiser that was waiting for the lock, had run back and taken it before proceeding into the lock (I’d seen him run back but had assumed that he’d just realised he’d left one of his own windlasses behind). I admit to be utterly amazed by this unusual piece of dishonesty.

Then it was back to the Tesco moorings at Reading again (passing the beach near the Oracle Centre), before heading up-river to Lechlade. I say up-river because that was the way the locks went, but there was so little flow of water on the river that it was more like being on a canal. We stopped at Pangbourne and had a wonderful afternoon and evening with a few friends that we hadn’t seen for years and years, and also met loads of friends at Lechlade. Meeting friends old and new seemed to be the theme for this trip – which was just marvellous.

 

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Reading Beach has sand, deck chairs, and a Punch & Judy show
Tricky bridges on the Kennet at Reading
A field full of Alpacas at Pangbourne
Some Thames lock-keepers are brilliant at their topiary
An impressive mooring at Lechlade
The ruined nunnery at Godstow

On the way we stopped at Sandford (just south of Oxford) and had a really bizarre evening in the pub there.

Actually the food and the wine were very good; meanwhile a group of lonely Vikings in the corner were chanting “Spam Spam Spam …”

A week later we came back down-river and arranged to meet some friends for a meal in the Trout at Godstow. Guess what? Yes, the pub had run out of beer! Why is there a beer shortage at Oxford? Is it all being diverted to Beale Park?

At Culham, Nicholson says there is no mooring in the lock cut. Don’t believe it, there is wonderful lay-by with enough room for a couple of boats, courtesy of the Lion pub in the village. A wonderfully friendly village pub, they deserve more boating trade. Also, the walk from there to Sutton Courtenay along by the mill stream and across the weirs, is one of the most beautiful walks I have ever seen; if you go down that way, don’t miss it.

Finally we arrived at Beale Park for the IWA Festival. We’ve never attended by water before, so this would be interesting! Our mooring was bankside (which was good with the dogs) but we were so completely hidden in the bulrushes that Debbie wanted to rename the boat ‘Moses’ (which was bad; if you are one of the people who tried to find us and failed, then I apologise but there was nothing we could do to become visible without cutting down the reeds). We thoroughly enjoyed the festival. It was great having plenty of time to explore the beer tent, the stands, the beer tent, the exhibits, and the beer tent. The parade of illuminated boats was excellent (although we would have put the first and second placed boats the other way around). We again met up with some members of the Canal World Forum and had a most enjoyable chat over a few beers. There were over 50 beers to choose from at first but someone had underestimated the thirst of the average boater; by the end of Saturday evening they were down to their last barrel, and although they were able to re-stock and never ran out, there was never the same variety again.

 

Click for NWF page Click for parade page Click for Jubilee Junction page
Page of pictures from the IWA National Waterways Festival
Page of pictures of the parade of illuminated boats (rather dark), or view as a slideshow
Page of pictures of the opening of the Wilts & Berks canal junction

After the festival we had to make our way smartly up to Oxford and off the river before our licence ran out. But there was just time to stop on the way for the opening ceremony of the new junction with the Wilts & Berks Canal. While waiting for this we employed our most ambitious bit of “creative mooring” to date, simply throwing the bow rope to someone on shore (turned out to be Robin Smithett the photographer) who simply passed it round a tree and threw it back to us. The ceremony was total chaos and great fun, especially with a Salters steamer holding station in the middle of it all. Apologies to the rowing boat that our prop-wash sent under the trees. We made it down the new arm as part of the ceremonial flotilla, winded successfully and found our way out again; we’ve got the certificate to prove it too!

We happily made our way up the Oxford canal, pausing to buy a bottle of gas and a packet of Banbury cakes at Cropredy, and reached the summit in an absolutely howling gale. The trees were bent double, the birds were flying backwards, and the telegraph wires were singing loudly, but we suddenly found a hundred-yard oasis of calm as the canal wound its way around Wormleighton Hill. All night long that spot remained calm as the countryside around us tried to shake itself to pieces; we awoke to clear blue skies and just a gentle breeze, the storm had passed. We were delighted to find that BW have allowed 48-hour mooring in the pound above the bottom lock at Napton, took advantage of that and enjoyed a pie (what else?) at the Folly before proceeding to Braunston. We had been due to have a full survey here but our insurer had agreed to defer it for 5 years so we deferred the blacking for a year and concentrated on pointing out the oil leak in our new gearbox. It looks as if it’s losing oil from the input shaft seal, which will have to be investigated under warrantee.

We now had some spare time to go down to Stratford. A quick phone call yielded a couple of good first night tickets for the opening night of Romeo & Juliet, so down to Stratford we went. There are a lot of locks; we made excellent time on the Grand Union sharing with other boats but the southern Stratford was dreadful, being stuck for several hours behind hirers who honestly thought that getting through 3 narrow locks an hour was pretty good. We made better progress after they’d stopped for the night, and got to Stratford with several days to spare. We moored overnight in the basin (meeting yet another Canal World Forum member) then decided to spend a few days on the river. We went upstream to the winding point by the Red House, with a brief pause to rescue an outboard-powered day-boat that had got its propellor full of weed; the water was crystal clear so we could see all the fish swimming about, all the weeds waiting to trap us, and all the broken plates lying on the bottom of the river (??? maybe the remains of a Greek Wedding party  ???)

 

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Keeping Up dominates the moorings in Stratford Basin
Looking through the ice-cream boat to Keeping Up on the other side of the basin
Heading up-stream under Stratford Tramway Bridge ...
... and under Clopton Bridge ...
... to the current limit of navigation ....
.. where we winded in front of the Red House

We gently drifted downstream to Offenham, then made our way back upstream. It was idyllic – one afternoon we even looked up to see a kingfisher standing on our T-stud poised to catch his supper. We were in no hurry, it didn’t even seem to matter when four “Ethos” boats from Evesham, who had all stayed overnight below a lock on the lock moorings, all decided at once (at around 11 am) that it was time to set off just as we arrived to set the lock, so that after drawing the paddles and opening the gates we were fifth in the queue. We got back to Stratford in plenty of time to moor for a night on the river and then for 2 nights in the basin. I’m glad we did, it rained hard that day and overnight so the river came up about 15 inches, which meant that people moored on the recreation ground had to wade ashore (one of our dogs would have loved that but the other would have hated it); it was easy to see who hadn’t thought of leaving some slack in their mooring ropes, their boats were leaning over crazily and I’m sure some of the occupants must have been tipped out of bed.

The next night, Patrick (Jean-Luc Picard) Stewart was playing Prospero in “The Tempest”; w we created a surreal atmosphere on Keeping Up by playing the CD of “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at the same time. In case you don’t know, that’s a highly Shakespearian rock & roll version of The Forbidden Planet, which was itself a science-fiction film version of the Tempest). I thoroughly enjoyed the superb production of Romeo and Juliet although Debbie had trouble in adapting to the nurse (Sorcha Cusack) having an Irish accent.

We had a superb meal at “The Wood” near Lapworth (it used to be called “Tom of the Wood” but gained a rather seedy reputation as a lap-dancing bar so the new owners decided to change the name until people have forgotten about that, then hope to change it back again) then left the boat there for a day while we drove to Peterborough for our grand-daughter’s birthday, then had some bad news that Debbie’s mother was very ill. We agreed that I would take the boat to Birmingham, where Debbie would join me again briefly before going down to her mother’s in Pembroke for a couple of weeks.

This meant a lot of single-handed boating. Lapworth flight was a doddle, and I was so lucky when a boat came the other way at each of the manual lift bridges; but I was slightly worried about how long it would take me to come down Farmers Bridge and Aston flights on my own. I needn’t have worried; the boat in front very kindly lifted a paddle for me after leaving each lock on the Farmers Bridge flight, and there were a few boats coming up the Aston flight, with the result that just 4 hours after leaving Cambrian Wharf I had stopped for lunch near to the famous Spaghetti Junction. Then followed a fairly leisurely afternoon before I stopped at the Kingsway at Wiggins Hill Bridge for a few much-needed beers.

At the Dog & Doublet the next night, the first of the real autumn mists came down. After meeting yet another good friend from the Canal World Forum, who crewed for me for a couple of days (only 5 locks though) I made my way along to Atherstone. There was plenty of traffic coming the other way, so being single-handed wasn’t much of a problem; in particular, I never had to go ahead to open the gates of the next lock, nor stop to close the gates of the lock I had just left. All the same, after all these locks, I decided to treat myself to a trip up the lock-free Ashby canal to visit my friends Kay & Bill on their boat Secret. When I arrived they had broken down and were running out of water, so I topped up their water tank and went off to fill up. By the time I got back they’d had showers, done the washing up, and had the washing machine going, so I topped up their tank from mine again and had to go and get some more for myself!

Back at Hillmorton, Keeping Up had her BSC inspection and passed straight away. Wonderful. Then someone came to look at the gearbox; they decided to put some dye in the oil and try and find the leak that way. I don’t think it will help, the gearbox oil drips off the engine sump, but as it’s under warrantee they can do what they like as long as it fixes the problem!

Debbie re-joined me at Hillmorton, and we travelled down to Stoke Bruerne for my Birthday (October 6th). Beer and food in the Boat on Friday night was followed by an excellent Saturday lunch opposite in the Bruerne’s Lock restaurant with all the family.

Finally returning home a couple of days later after 11 weeks cruising along 670 miles of waterway and through 476 locks, Milton Keynes felt strange as if we were returning from foreign parts. We had travelled along canals broad and narrow, urban and rural; we had seen rivers tidal and non-tidal, large and small; and we had met friends old and new, encountering people friendly and (not too often) unfriendly. Most people we met, from boaters to anglers to gongoozlers, had been happy and chatty, although some of the boaters on the Thames had completely the wrong attitude, acting as if they were driving on the M25. One narrowboater got most upset because we didn’t use our bow-thruster to get out of the lock more quickly. When I said I didn’t have one he answered (in all seriousness) that I shouldn’t be allowed on the river without one “because it wasn’t safe”. Really? In that case I shall continue my unsafe travels at the first opportunity - see you there!

 

 

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