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Sweden: the Gota canal Springtime in the East Midlands Summer (part 2) on the Thames, Avon & Severn

The Thames, Avon, and Severn in 2013

Part 1: The Lower Thames and the K&A

After our amazing Swedish trip from Stockholm to Gothenburg on a vintage passenger-boat we were back in England and ready for our main trip of the year. Two friends of ours were keen to take their new narrowboat 'Avonturier' through the centre of London, and we decided to travel to London with them before spending a month on the Thames.




In contrast to our Easter trip there was now a scorching  heat-wave. Each morning we made an early start while it was still cool,  intending to take an afternoon break under a shady tree somewhere, but somehow that didn't seem to work properly for us this time. When we did stop we found that we couldn't be bothered to set off again in the early evening to complete the day's travel, and we had to keep to a schedule to catch our intended tide at Limehouse so we just carried on regardless.

After a few days the weather was obviously feeling the strain too. While we were enjoying an evening drink on the towpath below Springwell Lock there were a few drops of rain - followed half a minute later by an utterly torrential downpour, with a brilliant flash of light and a deafening clap of thunder. Not only had the summer storm broken right overhead, but also a tree just 50 yards down the towpath had been struck by lightning and had come down across the towpath and half of the canal. It was a good thing that we hadn't travelled a couple of lengths further before stopping! As soon as the rain stopped we heard the sound of chainsaws; within minutes the local boaters had chopped up the tree and carted it away to store as firewood.


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As our friends crossed the North Circular Road aqueduct ...
... we could take pictures of them ...
... and they could take pictures of us ...
... as we crossed the North Circular Road aqueduct

It was late in the evening when we stopped at Little Venice and we couldn't find anywhere to moor overnight except for the trip-boat's space so, knowing that we would be setting off very early the next morning, we ignored the signs and tied up there for the night. Of course, for most of the evening people kept asking us how much we would charge for a boat-trip, and it was almost tempting to try a spot of "moonlighting".


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Our friends manoeuvring at Little Venice
Together we start down to Limehouse (this is at Camden)
Keeping Up reaches Limehouse basin ...
... and makes the sharp left turn towards the visitor's moorings.
On the pontoon. In the background our friends fill their water-tank

We reached Limehouse early, to ensure that our friends could use the 'disabled' pontoon, and breasted up to them while we made the usual preparations (attach the anchor, test the VHF radio, check all things like the fan-belt, weed-hatch, oil and water levels, etc) to be ready for the next morning's 8am tide. The next morning we were joined by our daughter Vicki together with her husband Paul and daughter Lauren who were keen to travel the tideway with us, then we happily locked down to the river where a wonderful tide was waiting to push us along.


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Out on the river and everyone is busy taking photos
The whole crew enjoy the trip
Cruising on the river ...
... towards Tower Bridge ...
... and past HMS Belfast

We had timed things perfectly: it was too early for the trip boats to be running so the waters were smooth and peaceful and we were soon able to throttle back and let the wonderful tide do all the work. We reached one bridge just a few seconds after its arches reopened from overnight engineering works and - with smoked salmon sandwiches for breakfast accompanied by a glass of Bucks Fizz - we had an easy and uninterrupted trip up-river to pass Brentford Creek just 2 hours later.


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Avonturier tests its powerful engine on the river
Leaving Tower Bridge behind us ...
... past the London Eye ...
... the Houses of Parliament ...
.. .and the Old Battersea Power Station

We had made such good speed that we arrived at Richmond half an hour too early. The half-tide barrier was still closed and we spent half an hour playing about, making figure-of-eight manoeuvres around each other in the motionless water below the barrier. When the levels had equalised, the barriers rose slowly out of the water and rotated to lay flat under the arches of the bridge; we were free to continue our journey to Teddington in time to stop for lunch.


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The only other traffic we met was human-powered
The half-tide barrier was still closed at Richmond
Having fun in the still water before the barrier
After half an hour the barriers started to rise
The barriers have been raised nearly all the way

After sorting out the paperwork for a short-term Thames licence we carried on upstream, past Hampton Court (our original target for the day) where our family disembarked to catch a train back to their car which they had left near to Limehouse, and on to Sunbury. Just above Sunbury lock we were lucky enough to find a mooring outside the Weir public house, where we had a superb meal and several drinks to celebrate the end of a perfect day's cruising. We could hear music from the stage of the nearby Filipino Festival, and were slightly worried in case we would be disturbed later either by late-night music or by returning revellers, but the music finished early and we were assured that there was no need for concern about misbehaviour as the festival is a well behaved and alcohol-free event. We went to bed about midnight and were just dropping off to sleep when we were instead woken by a loud roar of engines and were almost tipped out of bed as a boat passed us at an absolutely insane (and highly illegal) rate of knots. At least our ropes held and we suffered no damage, unlike some of the other boats that we talked to the next morning.

The next day was the hottest day of the year, 33C (unlike our previous trip when it struggled to reach 33F). After reaching Staines we spotted a handy mooring behind Church Island, near were the London Stone used to be (where is it now, we wondered? Even the replica seems to have disappeared). The park there was packed with families, dog-walkers, cyclists, sunbathers, and others enjoying the fine weekend; there was also a very welcome ice-cream van close to the river, and we found an excellent pub just a few minutes walk from us, so it was altogether wonderful!

Overnight we sweltered in the heat, as a violent thunderstorm forced us to close all but the smallest windows. Once again the sun the next day was blisteringly hot, and when we spotted a mooring under a shady tree on the island at Windsor the next morning we moored underneath it for the rest of the day. We walked around the town and enjoyed a pub lunch followed by an ice-cream; it was difficult to eat it fast enough to stop it from melting, and Debbie ended up wearing more of hers than she actually ate.

We had hoped that perhaps the new Royal Baby would be born as we passed through London, so that we could be greeted by a salute from the cannons at the Tower - as we were on the Queen Mother's birthday in 1993 when the cannons started firing as we passed under Tower Bridge and it had been quite a few moments before we realised that they were not actually firing at us. In fact we were moored at Windsor when the baby was born, and we looked in vain to see if they would hoist a pink or a blue flag to announce the news.


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What a view from the side doors, at Windsor
We had moored with our bows well out from the bank
Avonturier had moored with its stern well out from the bank
This damselfly reminded us of 'Captain Jack Sparrow' sailing by on the mast-head of its own leaf

If you look carefully at the photo of us moored, above, you can see that there is an extra rope snaking its way downwards from our bow. At the end of this rope is an old 56lb weight which we bought on eBay, and which we use as a mud-weight because it is much easier to retrieve than our anchor. Earlier that day we had tried to moor for lunch in the middle of the river by using just  the mud-weight, as there was no convenient bank-side mooring available, but the flow on the river was so slow that the boat kept drifting around it in huge circles. Overnight, however, it made a good precautionary measure with the bows so far from shore.

We continued up the river to the Beetle and Wedge restaurant at Moulsoe, where once again we had a superb meal, before coming back to Reading to spend a few days on the Kennet and Avon canal. We travelled slowly up to Dreweat's Lock near Kintbury in blazing hot sunshine, staying there while Avonturier continued to Kintbury for fresh water. The next morning we dropped backwards through the lock to turn round (the sign says 55ft maximum but you can turn a full-length boat there if it is no more than 2ft deep at the bow) and then headed back towards the Thames. On the Monday lunchtime we arrived at Greenham Lock Marina in Newbury to find a sign saying they were closed Mondays but giving a phone number. We phoned to ask what time they would be opening the next morning and the marina owner immediately drove to the marina to fill our tank for us; he said he'd been trying to get out for breakfast since 8.30 that morning but every time he got half-way to the cafe he got a call from a potential customer and always returned to serve them. Just as he was about to leave again after serving us, another boat arrived to buy fuel so he got back out of his car and walked over to the pump again. I wonder if he ever got breakfast that day.

At Theale we moored opposite the old mill and walked to the Fox and Hounds pub for lunch, where we found the best selection of Wadworths beers that we've ever seen outside Devizes itself. The pub was extremely welcoming and well worth the 10 minute walk from the canal; it was so good that we returned for dinner carrying several empty bottle-bags so that we could take a really good supply of bottles back to the boat. In exchange the landlord gave us a tour of his cellars and even a discount on our purchases.


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Traffic has to stop as the lift bridge at Aldermaston opens for us ...
... then has to wait while Avonturier follows us through
The horse-drawn trip-boat that runs out of Kintbury
I've never seen this symbol for a lock before

We rejoined the Thames at Reading, and set off towards Lechlade the next day. At Goring lock that morning I had to apologise to the lock keeper that I couldn't stop the engine, as the rules require in Thames locks, because when I pressed the "stop" button nothing happened. After leaving the lock I stopped on the lock moorings and was quickly able to see that part of the "stop" lever mechanism had fallen off the side of the engine, and I was able to fix the problem within a few minutes once I had found the lever and retrieved it from the bilges. Meanwhile the lock-keeper had most helpfully offered me a selection of possible spare parts from his personal stock, and offered to telephone someone who could help to repair it for me. Such helpful service is typical of the Thames lock-keepers who aim to make a Thames trip so enjoyable.

That night we had difficulty finding a mooring as several of our favourite places were full to capacity when we arrived, and we eventually moored to a pretty but isolated field with our bow just 30 feet above a large weir. There was not much water flowing over the weir but being wary of relying on just two small mooring pins in that situation we put the mud-weight down as well, in case the pins worked loose. I will leave you with a picture of that night's sunset, before you read on about the rest of our summer on the river Thames, the Stratford Avon and the Severn to Gloucester.





Sweden: the Gota canal Springtime in the East Midlands Summer (part 2) on the Thames, Avon & Severn
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Note: photos with their caption in italics are J.C.Griffin


All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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