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View Slideshow Our 2nd 2010 trip: the Nene, Middle Level, Ouse, and Thames

The Thames, and the K&A to Devizes

Part 1 - Down to London and up the Thames

Last summer the friends whom we had met on the Rochdale Canal, Janet & RJ, had said how much they wanted to travel through London by boat. During the next few months the plans all came together; they hired their favourite 34-foot boat "Rosemary" from the Canal Cruising Company at Stone in Staffordshire for a month, and we bought ourselves the Gold licence which would give us unlimited use of the Thames and other EA rivers for the year.

The trip made a lot of sense. The wide locks of the Grand Union from Milton Keynes to London would be a lot easier for two boats travelling together, even if one was twice as long as the other; the trip from Limehouse to Teddington is much safer when two boats travel together (indeed, the hire company and our own insurance company both require it); and we are not only fully equipped for river work but also familiar with the Thames which our friends were not. So it came about that Janet and RJ on Rosemary joined us outside the Globe at Linslade for a good meal to mark the start of our travels together.

With a crew of five people on two boats we made rapid progress down the Grand Union. Passing Apsley, where I used to work, I was amazed at how different it looks now; in place of the old mills and paper works there are modern buildings and a marina, and I wouldn't have been certain that it was the same place had it not been for the little two-arched bridge that I knew so well outside my office. The smaller arch was built for the river Gade to flow through without impeding the progress of a boat in the main arch. It was not long before we reached London; it was a hot day, and the area around Camden Lock was buzzing with life so it was tempting to stop, but we were on a tight timescale to reach Limehouse Basin in just four days so we pressed on until we reached the basin for the night before our tideway trip. I was pleased that Molly and Telford had no difficulty jumping between the boat and the high wall of the basin, and I found a really nice park to walk them in just a hundred yards away.

 

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Rosemary catches up with Keeping Up outside the Globe
Rosemary and Keeping Up sharing a lock
The two-arched bridge at Apsley
We took one side each at the North Circular Road aqueduct
The lovely old terrace before Little Venice
Waiting to enter Limehouse Basin

The tide was perfectly timed for us, with a preferred start time of 0930. We were joined by another friend who was keen to experience the tideway with us before venturing out in his own boat a few weeks later, and then we entered the lock to the lock-keeper's comment of 'hold on tight it's a 4.5 metre drop'. There was not much river traffic as it was fairly early in the morning, and the catamarans made surprisingly little wash, but we were rocked about a bit by a convoy of 3 rib's full of police who headed past us extremely quickly.  Little Rosemary was rocked by the wash a lot more than we were. I decided against claiming the centre arch of  Tower Bridge as a catamaran came up fast behind us, then with the engines only cruising gently we let the tide push us rapidly through London and past all the landmark sights. We reached Teddington perfectly on schedule just three and a half hours later, and stopped to let Molly and Telford gratefully stretch their legs while the crew of Rosemary bought themselves the necessary licence for the rest of the Thames.

We spent that night on the fabulous moorings by the gates of Hampton Court palace; could there possibly be a grander view to wake up to in the morning? We could easily have travelled further that day, but it was nice to just stop and relax after the tideway trip.

 

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Moored against the wall of Limehouse Basin
On the Thames, we soon approach Tower Bridge
Debbie holds the bow rope in Teddington Lock
A very posh mooring at Hampton Court
Hampton Ferry
In the Thames lock gardens, topiary is still very popular

I love ferries, especially small old-fashioned ones, so I was delighted to see that the Hampton Ferry is still running; just a small boat with an outboard engine, and a jetty for people to stand on and wave across the river that they want to cross.

Molesey lock had  the first of several topiary bushes that we saw. They are so imaginative that they always make me smile. I am so glad that the tradition is being continued even though many of the gardens are now maintained by contract agencies. People seem to enjoy maintaining their gardens by the river; we saw one house with a back garden populated by Lara Croft and a Dalek, and one castle (Windsor) who were holding an equestrian event with lots of very heavy security.

 

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In the Thames lock gardens, topiary is still very popular
In this garden, Lara Croft meets the Daleks
In this rather large grand garden they hold equestrian events (it's Windsor Castle)
Rosemary passes Windsor Castle
The beautiful approach to Cliveden

We were able to stop for the night and purchase essential supplies at Tesco's in Reading. All but one of the illegal occupiers of the moorings have been successfully moved on now, so we had no trouble in finding somewhere to moor - not on the jetty admittedly, but between two trees next to a good section of bank. We also spotted another unauthorised resident at Reading; a Canada goose had decided that it would be less effort to adapt someone's thatched roof than to make a nest from scratch. The goose looked very comfortable on the roof, but I wonder what the owners thought about it?

Ever since we last visited the 'Beetle and Wedge' restaurant at Moulsford about 15 years ago,and had had the most wonderful meal, we had promised ourselves that one day we would return. This trip gave us the opportunity to do exactly that, so we phoned ahead and reserved no only a table for dinner but also the entire length of their mooring for the night. We arrived on schedule, and sat by the river with a drink while we examined the menu. We could have saved money by choosing their fixed menu, but the dishes on the main menu were just irresistible and we had the most fabulous 3-course meal imaginable. The food was absolutely exquisite, the service was impeccable whilst still being persona and extremely friendly, and the drinks were marvellous (and plentiful). The evening even finished with the waitress having a tour of Keeping Up because she had never seen inside a narrow boat before. We must really start saving up for our next visit to this marvellous restaurant.

Further up the river, we have usually avoided Wallingford because we do not like having to pay for a high mooring that is so unsuitable for narrow boats, so it was good to see that they have almost finished building their new moorings, many of which are much better for narrow boats. Maybe we'll pay the fee and visit Wallingford again later in the year.

We like Abingdon, as it has a long stretch of excellent free moorings. As we came in to moor, we suddenly recognised a boat which was already moored there; it was our old boat Thistle. Mooring close to them, we were able to spend some time nattering with her current owners - who were about to head down to the Kennet and Avon canal so there was a good chance that we'd see them again very soon. Abingdon is also a delightful town, convenient for shopping, eating, drinking, and even for doing the washing!

 

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Why build a nest if someone has built one ready for you in their roof?
Moored outside the excellent 'Beetle and Wedge' restaurant
Just after this bridge at Wallingford there are plenty of moorings
Just after this bridge over the Thame is a bend that we cannot get around
Moored at Abingdon in front of our old boat 'Thistle'
After doing the washing at Abingdon, Debbie sets up the spin drier on the bows

Soon we reached Oxford, and ventured a short way up the canal to Thrupp where we met some other friends for a meal before bidding farewell to Janet and RJ; they were continuing their rapid journey back towards Stone, while we were going back to the river to continue our meanderings up and down the river to include Lechlade and also a diversion to Devizes on the Kennet and Avon. In Oxford there were, as usual, lots of people in strange clothes finding ever-more bizarre ways to propel their craft, and we also took the time to visit Oxford Castle which we had not seen before. The guided tour was simply excellent, and in all we had an excellent day in the city before we moved out to the countryside that night.

The weather turned bad for us the next day, with a series of absolutely torrential showers accompanied by some spectacular cloud formations. That night the level of the river rose significantly, and the lock keeper was away tending to his weir when we arrived at the first lock the next morning; it was only just possible to operate the lock ourselves as the lower landing was only a fraction of an inch above the water level, and when we filled the lock the water overflowed its lower sides by a fair amount. So we fought our way upstream to Lechlade, where we moored for just one night. There have been some changes since our last visit; our usual pub has turned into an Italian restaurant, but the Crown on the junction near the bridge has gained its own micro-brewery (and excellent beer they produce too!)

 

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A restoration project? The old Salters steamer 'Marlow' at Oxford
Oxford; a pig in a punt
Oxford; a very strange way of rowing.
The view over Oxford from the old Oxford castle
A sudden change in the weather gave us some spectacular cloud formations
In Lechlade the cows licked the side of the boat 'clean' which drove our dogs wild!

We finally left the Thames via Duke's cut, but the river didn't want us to go; our departure was delayed by a tree that had fallen down and blocked the cut; and the EA got so fed up with waiting for BW to clear it that they sent one of their own teams up the cut to do the job. That meant we were released to visit Thrupp yet again before heading for home, but first let me tell you about our diversion up the Kennet and Avon canal to Devizes ...

 

 

View Slideshow Our 2nd 2010 trip: the Nene, Middle Level, Ouse, and Thames
Go to Allan's Page Part 2 - the K&A Canals Home Page Part 3 - Wildlife Go to Deb's Page

 

Note: photos with their caption in italics are J.Stansfield

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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