Reading to Oxford, and the Goring Gap.

It seems that we have hit the jackpot coming back to England this summer with daytime temperatures up to around 80F (27C) with night-time cooling down to 60F (15C) in what promises to be the longest, hottest, driest summer since 1961 (I was in shorts and sandals then too!).

Waiting to head upstream at Caversham Lock

So the temptation to re-acquaint ourselves with our favourite stretches of the River Thames, between Reading and Oxford (38 miles and 12 locks), has become a weekly occurrence. The Goring Gap forms the boundary between Oxfordshire’s Chiltern Hills and Berkshire’s Downs and is the classic setting for Three Men in a Boat and The Wind in the Willows.

The Goring Gap. Illustration by AR Quinton in Hilaire Belloc’s The Historic Thames (early 1900s).

Some years ago I found myself sitting next to a fellow Englishman, at a business dinner in a casino in Reno, Nevada, who kept a boat on this stretch, and before heading off to the Craps tables (best gambling odds for punters he assured me that his statisticians had worked out) I suggested that instead of timing and monitoring machines and TV on the rowing kit in his new chain of Health Clubs he should simulate a virtual reality based on the sounds and sights and fresh air of rowing down this stretch of the river. Later on in the evening – he lost heavily at Craps – he asked me to waive all intellectual rights to this idea! I’d rather have the reality than the royalty, any day.

The Goring Gap – an evening at Beale Park.

From our mooring at the Thames and Kennet Marina it is a six mile two and a half hour cruise, up through Caversham Lock, past Tilehurst and Purley-on-Thames, and Mapledurham Lock to Pangbourne. Here there are lovely free 24 hour moorings (no services) in Pangbourne Meadows (owned by the National Trust).

Pangbourne Meadow.

A short walk away in Pangbourne Village one can buy award winning pies, bacon and sausages from Greens (the butchers), or cheese from The Pangbourne Cheese Shop (Wigmore Sheep’s Brie, produced in Berkshire, for me) or eat and drink in one of a number of upmarket pubs, restaurants, or coffee shops – or if you’ve had enough of boating get on a train here and head back to London (as done by Three Men in a Boat). Our choice late one evening after a BBQ with friends was to head back down the river under the light of a full moon getting home just after midnight. An unforgettable experience – I love cruising at night on an empty moonlit river.

A crescent moon at Pangbourne.

Just above Pangbourne, through Whitchurch Lock, there are more free overnight moorings along the banks (now getting rather overgrown in places, no services) at Lower Basildon. This is a great stop for both peace and quiet at night and for entertaining any children aboard at the Beale Wildlife Park here – specialising in breeding rare birds and organic farming, with attractions. We were a little surprised on a glorious Sunday evening to hear a booming sound, which at first I mistook for some kind of alarm, but as the tone settled into a gentler rhythm I realised that it must be emanating from the World Yoga Festival in the final stages of “an incredible weekend filled with knowledge, harmony, love and peace”.

The Old Ferry Cottage at Gatehampton.

At Goring one can take a break at the moorings below the lock (free overnight but you need to register on arrival) and have breakfast, brunch, lunch or afternoon tea at Pierreponts on the bridge opposite the Mill. It could well have been in 1961 that on a rare ‘day out’ from prep-school with my parents I was introduced to Jugged Hare at the Miller of Mansfield pub (still going strong). I settled for rather good fish and chips this time from The John Barleycorn after finding The Catherine Wheel (favoured by the late local George Michael) exceptionally without cooking gas for the day. In Streatley, across the river bridge, The Swan Hotel (once owned by Danny La Rue) is undergoing extensive renovations.

Goring Lock and Weir.

On the stretch above Goring and through Cleeve Lock to Wallingford there are few mooring opportunities unless you want to take an expensive lunch or dinner at either the Ye Olde Leatherne Bottel or the Beetle and Wedge Boathouse. We found the moorings at Wallingford fully occupied on both occasions (we used to live in the town so had no particular desire to explore here although it makes a good boating stop) and carried on through Benson Lock upstream passing Shillingford (where there are moorings with services at the Shillingford Bridge Hotel) and Dorchester (where we had moored in the past on a high bank, which now looks uncomfortably overgrown) to Days Lock where we moored in the field just upstream (there are moorings on the weir side of the lock island which are pre-bookable, popular, and £9.50 a night) in company with cows, geese and an interesting assortment of birds in the scrubby hawthorn trees by the old concrete bunker.

Moored for the night above Days Lock.

The bridge below Days Lock was the site of the annual World Pooh Sticks competition, started by the then lock-keeper in 1984, until it was moved to Witney in 2015. The river is overlooked by Wittenham Clumps, local landmarks 110m-120m above sea level and at one time housing an Iron Age hill fort and overlooking what were some of the first settlements of the English – “a beautiful legendary country haunted by old Gods long forgotten” (Paul Nash, artist) – and sometimes otherwise known as the Sinodun Hills, Berkshire Bubs or Mother Dunch’s Buttocks. Cruising doesn’t get much more English than this!

Days Lock and a Wittenham Clump behind.

Another major landmark soon comes into sight above Days Lock as the river takes big loops to Clifton Hampden Lock and past Appleford to Culham Lock; the remaining cooling towers, 110m high, of Didcot Power Station are always on display across the fields until one reaches Abingdon, holding claim to the title of Britain’s oldest town. Here boaters are provided with plentiful moorings, free for three days above and below the bridge and above the lock too, surrounded by well-kept parks and gardens and a short walk from the town centre and Waitrose. A very nice staging post in what was once a flourishing agricultural centre, trading in wool, with a well-known weaving and clothing manufacturing industry.

Moored below Abingdon Bridge.

Whilst tying up here Ade, from new Piper barge Sirius, having read my blog, came to ask about his upcoming trip across the Channel to Calais and beyond, this August. He and Ruth are new to barging so it was a pleasure to share what little I know of cruising on French waters – and I think I may have put the case strongly against hanging around in Northern France instead of heading directly south! They plan to spend their first winter in Auxerre whilst they decide.

Abingdon Lock, and more moorings.

Moving on the next day and stopping for lunch at Sandford Lock (free 24 hours, no services at the far end of the lay-by) another barge owner whom we had met at the Kingston 2011 DBA Rally also came to say hello and let us know of their plans to cross the Channel for the first time this year. It seems to be a Brexit induced exodus! We were soon through Iffley Lock and into Oxford where somewhat to our surprise there was a gap in the row of moored ‘houseboats’ opposite Christchurch Meadows (free mooring if you can get in – no controls appear to be in place, hence the permanent moorers here in what is the closest mooring to the town centre, and the nicest). It is a great spot and actually with less park bench drunks than I remember from years ago.

View from Folly Bridge of the moorings opposite Christchurch Meadow.

We were disappointed to see the permanent closure of the only fishmonger in the Covered Market but did manage to find a kiosk there selling a new cover (only in pink though) for my MotoG mobile phone and a new USB for my old IPad2. Moving across town via the Shuropody shop (2 new pairs of shoes at sale prices) we made our first visit to the refurbished Westgate Centre and were impressed by the choice of restaurants and bars (and Cinema) up on the Roof Garden Terrace. It reminded me very much of our visit to the Confluences in Lyon – just with an English view.

Oxford skyline from the Roof Terrace in the Westgate Centre.

For some reason on all our previous visits to Oxford I had never got around to visiting the Botanic Gardens. Really nice and well worth a visit!

In the Botanic Gardens.

A small cruiser fitted in behind us in the morning having had a bad night with a fouled propeller and the need to call home for diving gear – all cleared just in time to start a team-building exercise with staff! I remembered all the times I was glad to have a boat with a weed hatch. The team of young office ladies arrived and after lunch we found ourselves setting off downstream with them behind us.

Some rather scruffy neighbours and some College Boathouses.

As I pulled past the College Boathouses to let the Salters Trip Boat and them go past there was a loud bang and the engine cut out – signs of wood astern, but I couldn’t engage the forward drive and so had to be rescued by the cruiser with some good rope throwing (all part of the team building tasks I understood) and nudging us in towards the bank where we were able to raft up against Alphi (no-one aboard) whilst I rummaged through lockers and holds in search of the only saw that would be able to reach and cut through the 4’x4’x3ft long piece of wood speared by one propeller blade and jammed up against the underside of the hull. The hacksaw, first try and pictured, was not up to the job but the short bladed one-handed ‘flick’ saw, found eventually deep in the hold above the black tank and below the safe, was and we carried on quietly to Abingdon where we found the team-builders moored and clearly well into their (well-provisioned) exercise. Thumbs up all round!

Large piece of wood; small saw.

We spent 5 days going up-river to Oxford (allowing for a day to get our routine dental check-ups in Pangbourne) and 4 days coming down – making stops again at Abingdon, Days Lock, Beale Park and Pangbourne (for lunch only); wonderful cruising in wonderful scenery with wonderful weather.

Cleeve Lock on self-serve.

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Posted in 2018 season, English Cruising., The River Thames. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cruise to the Tidal Thames and Thames Barrier.

“This cruise will include all the sights of Central London and will allow enough time to explore further downstream passing the Cutty Sark, Greenwich Naval College and the Thames Barrier often called a triumph of modern engineering and the eighth wonder of the world. 14th – 19th June”

Thames Barrier (EA photo)

This email reminder from Lee, our Thames and Kennet Marina Manager, caught my eye when it pinged into my inbox on June 1st, as I hadn’t taken on board that there was a Tingdene Cruising Club, and we immediately signed up even though it was primarily intended to be for cruisers. Reading is 56 miles and 19 locks upstream from Teddington where boats can enter the Tidal Thames and we needed to catch the high tide there at 6am on Saturday 16th. Even with some help from the river flow, for us to get there would take a good 14 hours cruising plus 5 hours for the locks – so, as the sun was shining, and the Cabbage Van had delivered our Ocado groceries bang on time, we set out a day ahead of the others on Wednesday 13th June.

On our way. Sonning Lock.

Day 1. T&K (Caversham) to Henley. 8 miles, 3 locks. 11.45am-3.45pm (1hr20 lunchbreak).

When I say the others – we were in a very select group of three; db Helianthus (Dave with crew of Tim, wb Argey Bargey) and cruiser Bermuda Blue (another Tim, due to join us at Windsor) being the other two boats. We spent the first night moored on our own in Henley at Mill Meadows (£10 per night, no services) after a gentle and very pleasant afternoon cruise, having moored up for lunch on the Great House Hotel and Coppa Club private moorings (free mooring for 24 hours) in Sonning.

Outside the Great House Hotel and Coppa Club, Sonning.

For us, one of the attractions of the cruise was the opportunity to visit the Windsor Racecourse Marina (we get free mooring there as a Tingdene Annual Moorer) and a special effort was made to fit us in for a night both on the outward and return journeys. The outward journey coincided with Pam’s birthday and we made an early start from Henley hoping to make it in good enough time to have a celebratory meal at GOGO’s Waterside Restaurant in the Marina.

1934 Slipper Launch at Shiplake Lock.

Day 2. Henley to Windsor Racecourse. 20 miles, 7 locks. 8.50am-4.30pm (1hr15 lunchbreak).

On the way we passed by The Waterside Inn at Bray (3 Michelin Stars) where on a previous visit we had ended up sharing our post-prandial coffee with some ducks in the black Gazebo (pictured).

Black Gazebo at the Waterside Inn, Bray.

This is altogether a beautiful stretch of river cruising, full of beautiful houses, gardens and boats to keep one entertained.

Lovely riverside gardens.

The Windsor Racecourse Marina is accessed down a very narrow, winding and tree lined stream for about half a mile off the main river – we were relieved to have only met canoes – and we made it there in time to get the last table available at 6pm.

We spot Bermuda Blue at Windsor Racecourse Marina.

Pam enjoyed her birthday meal which included her favourite lobster tail – good food in a great location. GOGO’s is a very popular South African themed Restaurant and Bar, a new dining experience for us, and their specialty, spare ribs cooked for hours in a Braai, were mouth-wateringly tender and tasty.

About to eat at GOGOs.

Day 3. Windsor to Teddington Locks. 26 miles, 9 locks. 7.30am-5.00pm (1hr lunchbreak).

We woke up early and it was another bright and sunny morning so we headed out at 7.30 am ahead of Bermuda Blue, whom we had spotted at the end of our pontoon but not yet had a chance to say “hello” to. The Thames locks can be operated on ‘Self Service’ out-of-hours, when no lock-keeper is on duty, at any time, using simple to operate push button electronic controls. This does give boaters huge flexibility when it comes to journey planning (and there are no lunch-time closures as we have become used to in most of France).

Blue ‘Self Service’ sign out at Hurley Lock.

By lunchtime we had reached Chertsey Lock where we tied up on the waiting lay-by for lunch and whilst eating were caught up and passed by our two companion boats. This lock was on Self Service (no Lock-Keeper in attendance) and we noticed was taking ages to fill and empty even though only a 1.2m depth. Most of the locks we passed were under a 2m fall and so in theory can be passed through in 5 minutes if left in one’s favour, with no other boats in either direction, but it is not uncommon to take nearer to 30 mins locking through from start to finish.

Passing Passenger Boat Streatley.

Bermuda Blue was already moored up in Kingston for the night (for local guests) when we passed but we had left Helianthus behind at Shepperton Lock where Dave had stopped for lunch and a visit to the nearby Nauticalia Chandlery. He wasn’t far behind us though and after we had each checked in with the Teddington Lock-Keepers, paid our respective £9.50 overnight mooring fees, and discussed locking times for the morning, we had a drink aboard Xenia (Tim had abandoned Dave for a party of his own locally) and studied Dave’s tide timetables. However we calculated it, it meant an early start in the morning and a full day on the Thames tideway. An early night, after a long, and for us quite tiring, day was in order.

Pam’s Birthday Cake decorated with flowers from our roof garden.

Day 4. Teddington to the Thames Barrier to St Katherine’s Dock. 33 miles, 2 locks. 5.30am-4.00pm. (3 hour lunchbreak – of a sort!)

We were through Teddington Locks on a very high tide without any need for the lock-keeper to even open the lower gates – a phone call to London VTS advising number on board and destination and keeping a listening watch on VHS Channel 14 – and we sailed past Richmond Lock (generally you can pass through the sluices for 2 hours either side of high tide) with a full English breakfast in the making in the galley. There was no traffic of any description at this hour of the morning so it proved to be a relaxing and very pleasant 3 hour run down to Tower Bridge. A little overcast but warm enough even so early.

Through Teddington at 5.40 am. Roof garden removed!

With low water at Tower Bridge due at 10.00am we had a good hour or more of outgoing tide and so carried on past St Katherine’s Dock (just downstream of Tower Bridge on the left bank) which we had been told we would be able to lock up into on their first lock on the incoming tide at 2.40pm.

London skyline at 8.30 am.

This left us more than enough time to reach the Thames Barrier (a farther 7 miles) and beyond for those wishing to go on out towards Broadness.

Helianthus under Tower Bridge at 8.45am.

Helianthus took the lead and was soon way ahead of us passing through the Barrier before 10.00am at which time we decided to turn round, having just passed under the Emirates Airline Cable Car, but within sight. We now had the somewhat daunting prospect of treading water for at least 4 hours as we could not get off the Tideway and had not identified anywhere to tie up. The fast ferries were now in full gear roaring past us one way or the other every 10 minutes or so and frequently crossing our path between stops on opposite banks. Things were beginning to rock and roll and the tide was turning! Bermuda Blue passed us, still on her way out, and Tim was set on doing some engine tests (speed trials) beyond the Barrier.

Thames Barrier in sight.

Just upstream of West India Dock I spotted a floating works platform attached to an Admiralty buoy and although it was half our length I thought we had a reasonable chance of mooring alongside. Although there are buoys outside St Katherine’s Dock they are on a very busy stretch of the river, where life can become decidedly uncomfortable between the steep walled banks, and we had been warned off using them. We had now been cruising non-stop for 5 hours and I was getting tired and after a bit of juggling around as the increasing tide swung us round we were able to put our feet up and eat some lunch. We must have been quite well hidden from view as Helianthus came past us without a word and a police launch passed by too without comment.

O2 Arena.

I dearly needed to have forty winks – the increasingly early starts over the last three days were catching up with me – but not only were the twin hulled ferries regularly rolling us but the wind was getting up against the tide and there was quite a chop developing. The ‘Thames Experience’ RHIBs were racing by at top speed and cutting a deep wash which was really causing us discomfort (if not actual danger) and increasingly we had to move remaining items from shelves before they flew off of their own accord. If it was going to be rougher by Tower Bridge then we certainly didn’t need to be hanging around there and I called to check the locking up time, which had now been changed to 3.15pm. The 5 miles back upstream, with several hours of incoming tide behind us and facing into a near Force 4 wind were, to put it mildly, rough. The RHIBs came faster and closer and there were more of them as we came to the Lower Pool. Pam was feeling quite sea-sick and I was wondering just which wave was going to roll me off the stern deck. The buoys outside St Kat’s were all taken bar one – which we discovered had lost it’s floating rope as we manoeuvred gently round it, pitching and rolling, trying to avoid hitting the group of cruisers tied to the others but I managed to get a stern line attached by leaning over the side –Pam holding on to my life jacket straps! This however was not a success as the tide swung us around only far enough to completely obstruct the boats now wishing to exit the lock – we had to move, and a nearby cruiser in fear of its life gave up their buoy for us. Mercifully though, once we had cleared the path for boats coming out of the lock we were called in (VHF Channel 80) to lock up.

A tight squeeze in St Katherine’s Dock Lock.

After signing in at the Port Office and getting various leaflets and general information we were released from the lock and shown to our overnight moorings just opposite and in front of Zizzi in the Central Basin. Leading off from here there are two further basins, West Dock and East Dock, with a total of 185 floating berths and all surrounded by restaurants, hotels, apartments, The Dickens Inn and the Tower Hotel – quite a lively spot, especially on a Saturday evening.

Tingdene Cruise boats moored together in Central Basin.

With no time to waste, I set about putting the insides of the boat back together again and generally cleaning up whilst Pam went off to the nearby Waitrose to get some finishing touches for supper – and I think we looked fairly presentable by the time very old friends Andrew and Amanda arrived at 6pm. We even had a moment to spare to watch an old Thames Sailing Barge gently making its way out of the West Dock and down through the Lock onto the river.

Lady Daphne, Rochester, about to lock down onto the river.

Aboard Helianthus Tim had clearly promoted himself from ‘crew’ to ‘Purser’ and ‘’logistics” were being discussed with Captain Dave for the timings of a series of visits from Tim’s ex-partners and current friends (all female). Our own dinner party was livened up considerably by the ‘goings-on’ next door with a visit from three very exotically dressed ladies bound for a nearby cabaret act (allegedly themed on the advantages of getting older). Bermuda Blue, with family aboard, kept a low profile, celebrating no doubt the successful speed trials which had taken them to well over 30 knots that afternoon beyond the barrier.

A good evening in St Kat’s.

Day 5. St Katherine’s Dock to Hampton Court Palace. 24 miles, 2 locks. 3.30pm-7.30pm (No break).

We slept well! And we had all morning to explore and to shop after a hearty breakfast. The early drizzle soon dried up. After lunch we cleared the shelves again – hoping for a less rough ride this time – and were ready and waiting at 3pm for the call for the first lock, which was to be just the three of us boats going upstream the 19 miles to Teddington. Martin (Humber Keel Mimo, our T&K neighbour) arrived in the nick of time to be the second crew and head-photographer aboard Helianthus. Once in the lock we each had to settle our bills – for an 18m boat at £8.53 per m per night + electric at 21p per kwh cost Xenia £160.19; a record mooring fee for us making the Arsenal in Paris (€75 in July 2014) look cheap!

View from the lock at St Kat’s of Tower Bridge.

Out of the lock at 3.30pm it proved to be a bit rough at first, until we passed Westminster, and we were able to cover the 8 miles to Putney Bridge in an hour – despite a moment of panic under Wandsworth Bridge where a loud bang from the engine and a reduction in power had me lifting up the engine hatch and then solving the problem with a thrust into reverse; something in the prop which mercifully came free.

Bermuda Blue soon overtakes us on our way back up river.

From Brentford we fairly idled along following Helianthus to reach Teddington Lock (passing through Richmond Sluices on the tide) by 6.30pm; high tide. We carried on to Hampton Court Palace where amazingly at 7.30pm there were vacant moorings. Bermuda Blue was already moored there and Tim and family were in the local Thai restaurant and I had to get to grips with registering our presence on line with Parkonomy for the free 24 hour mooring, no services, whilst we walked in to join them at Siam Paragon.

Work at Battersea Power Station.

Day 6. Hampton Court to Windsor Racecourse. 22 miles, 9 locks. 6.30am-5.20pm (2hr lunchbreak).

Our objective was to get to Windsor Racecourse in time for the Monday evening Race Meeting and the first horse race at 6pm – so we left early before the others who planned to depart at 8.45am. We made good progress on ‘self-service’ locks reaching Staines by 11am where we moored up (free 24 hours, no services) on the town quay just downstream of the bridge outside the Slug and Lettuce Pub.

Houses with moorings and boats.

Helianthus and Bermuda Blue woke us from our nap with a toot as they passed at 12.30pm but try as we might we didn’t catch them up (for photo opportunities along the Runnymede stretch by Magna Carter Island) until they were already in Old Windsor Lock and they carried on as there wasn’t room for all three of us in the lock together.

At Old Windsor Lock.

The river here skirts around Windsor Home Park and on the way down we had spotted Prince Philip driving his very smart carriage (horse-drawn, but surely he is too old, I thought). This time though we only saw a convoy of 6 parked police escort motorbikes with their riders laying down on the grass in the sun – rather hot in those leathers I would imagine.

Passing through Windsor but not stopping at the Brocas Moorings.

From Boveney Lock it took us just over half an hour to get into the Racecourse Marina, meeting only one small inflatable in the narrows, and we were moored up by 5.30pm – in time maybe to walk to the Racecourse but absolutely without the energy to move off the boat! Bermuda Blue was already moored and closed up. We settled for a stiff drink, an early supper and bed. I had been to a Monday evening Meeting at Windsor many years ago and was sorry to miss out on the fun. It is a good night’s entertainment – although probably not improved by a large screen showing the first match of the World Cup on this occasion.

A reminder on the Thames and first night of the World Cup.

Day 7. Windsor Racecourse to Temple Lock. 12 miles, 5 locks. 10.30am-4.00pm (1 hour lunchbreak)

After a water-fill and a 20 litre diesel top up – we had used about 80 litres of diesel so far over 30 hours which is average for us – we made a leisurely start. Helianthus had made it to Cookham for the previous night and was planning to reach Reading by the end of the day, but we had already decided to take an extra day as we were in no hurry and didn’t want to do another long day. We moored up for lunch on the lay-by (reluctant permission from the Lock-keeper) above Boulter’s Lock.

Riverside Cottage on the Cliveden Estate.

Passing through Cookham Lock, under the gaze of Cliveden House, we were rather gratified to hear from the lock-keeper, who often trails his small narrow-boat to central France, that he follows Xenia’s blog. Shortly after that we waved to Tony Soper (ex-Chair of DBA) whom we spotted in his garden at Spade Oak.

Cookham Lock.

A seemingly casual enquiry as to our destination from the Lock-keeper at Temple Lock alerted us to the availability of an EA mooring on the lock island there –which we accepted with alacrity (£9.50, no services – but wonderfully quiet and peaceful and on our own).

Moored for the night at Temple Lock Island.

Day 8. Temple Lock to T&K Marina. 15 miles, 5 locks. 9.50am-5.40pm (3 hours lunchbreak).

It was a dull start but quickly turned rather humid with some sunshine and we reached Henley by 12.00pm. The Regatta Racecourse was all laid out leaving a narrow navigable lane along the left bank with a flotilla of eights and fours doing practice laps on the stretch from Temple Island down to the bridge. We found plenty of space in Mill Meadows (free from 10am-3pm) and moored up outside the Rowing Museum (well worth a visit if you have the time – but we needed to shop at Waitrose in the town centre).

At Mill Meadows in Henley.

From Marsh Lock we had a clear run home through Shiplake and Sonning with no other boat traffic at all (although plenty of boats moored up at all the available moorings) taking just over 2 hours to complete this final stretch of 8 miles and 3 locks.

Back through Sonning Bridge and home.

All round a great trip, 164 miles and 42 locks – and nice to have a bit of company along the way, especially on the tidal Thames – but next time we’ll take even longer getting there and back on the non-tidal reaches. The original cruise plan from Reading of 2 days each to and from Teddington was much too ambitious for us and even taking the extra two days we have come back exhausted. But what a great reminder this trip has been of the wonderful cruising to be had on the Thames – world class!

Posted in 2018 season, English Cruising., The River Thames. | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

From one May Bank Holiday weekend to another – still at the T&K.

The May Day Holiday weekend arrived in a blaze of record breaking sunshine and warmth – and in the light of so many other boats moving about and a comfortable chair on the stern deck; we stayed put. When we were last here in the Thames and Kennet Marina in 2011 we had intended to set out on our round England trip on April 1st but had been delayed until June by various social engagements – a family christening, a royal wedding, Pam’s 6 week trip to Ohio, my VHF Radio Operators Course, a funeral and the ever present intention to tackle rust and touch up the paintwork.

Pontoon D at the T&K Marina, Caversham.

In 7 years not much has changed. To celebrate the prompt arrival of our Gold Licence (Canal and River Trust) we did venture out as far as Better Boating, for cheap red diesel (100 litres for £98.32 at 20% VAT declaration) and a new double-skinned chimney; stopping on the way to shop at Tesco (there is a mooring outside in Kings Meadow). Otherwise we have been happy to wait for the Lemon, Raspberry, Onion, or Avocado van to deliver our now weekly Ocado groceries.

Moored outside Tesco – Better Boating in the background.

This year on May 12th we celebrated our 45th Wedding Anniversary with a walk round Caversham, following the Arts Trail (36 Artists in 18 venues over 2 May weekends) visiting Florence Gardening and our old friends Phil Rudge, photographic prints, and Lou Jessop, textile pictures and figures, before stopping off for an early lunch at Papa Gee’s (Italian chef with Portuguese wife – and to us a very familiar and enjoyable little continental bistro). A colourful character on Church Street handed us a leaflet about an upcoming theatre production of Mort, by Terry Pratchett, and then on the way home we got the very sad news from Deborah that her husband Eddie Romilly, very old friend and best man at our wedding, had died that morning. It started to rain.

Our Wedding – photo taken by Eddie.

45 years on in another English garden.

The Caversham Park Theatre performance of Mort (adapted by Stephen Briggs) failed to convert me into a Terry Pratchett fan – but Pam remains an enthusiastic follower, despite the arduous uphill bike ride to get to The Milestone Centre and the hazardous but much faster downhill night-time return home to the Marina with dim lights and failing brakes. A bicycle service booking at A&W in Caversham followed and I now have a rear wheel that doesn’t wobble, a full set of gears working in the right order and both front and rear brakes. Our bicycles are in regular use, if not getting us all the way into Caversham and Reading then at least getting us down the two mile drive to the bus stop (where we can leave them padlocked to some railings and make good use of our free bus passes). Whilst in the mood of getting things, long neglected, fixed up we had Fireplace Magic in Caversham come out and service our Stovax Multi fuel Stove and provide a Carbon Monoxide alarm; and of course all this thirsty work has taken us occasionally to the Alto Lounge, conveniently close to the Library, for a pint or two of good beer.

The Alto Lounge – a temptation.

And giving in to temptation.

We had another wonderful hot and sunny weekend for my Mother’s 91st Birthday picnic at the Patch. Lili drove down from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, for the weekend – bringing with her ‘Jardin’ Chairs for our back deck (an anniversary present to replace the ones stolen when we were in Auxerre) – and drove us down to Wiltshire for this happy occasion. With the wistaria, lilac, laburnum, and Judas Tree all in full flower we were able to lay out our rugs on the lawn and relax in the sunshine or dappled shade and catch up on the latest additions to an ever expanding list of my great nephews and great nieces (3 of each and at least 2 in the pipeline), new dogs, boyfriends, jobs and more – with all around the heady scents of England in May permeating the warm air.

Birthday Aperos – Louis and Pam at the Patch.

Towards the end of the month the warmth became muggy with some occasional but quite heavy rain and the final Spring Holiday weekend weather disappointed although we had a lovely Bank Holiday Monday lunch with Ros and Gregor aboard with talk of taking them back to Purley on the boat somehow getting put aside. We moved from D32 to D20 on our pontoon where our new neighbours allow us better light on one side and no risk of winter coal smoke asphyxiation on the other.

Spring Bank Holiday Aperos and the last of the Irancy from Auxerre.

Enterprise rented us a car (they will pick us up and return us to the Marina which is a big help) and we drove down to Weymouth Crematorium for Eddie’s funeral – stopping off at Mere, Wiltshire, on the way, to visit Syb Pryor, our old Purley neighbour and godmother to our three children. She didn’t quite register on our connection but enjoyed the freshly picked cherries and raspberries (we bought in a layby on the A303) that had often been a feature of boating trips and family picnics in years gone by.

Absent Friends Aperos.

So a sad end to the month – and we have hurried to update our wills (which have been on my to-do list for a good year or two!). The health checks are diminishing by the day (clean bill of health for me) but we were surprised to get a letter from our Doctor’s Surgery to notify us of its imminent closure and so have now had to register at the nearest one in the centre of Reading (being out of the catchment of the other very good Caversham Surgery). Our diary is looking a bit clearer with regard to doing some Thames cruising and after watching an episode of Great Canal Journeys on TV (Timothy West and Prunella Scales) I quite want to do the River Wey again – where at the Pyreford Marina we can use our Ting Dene Annual Moorer Loyalty Card for up to 30 nights of free mooring. But first we have got Pam’s birthday, a trip to Henley perhaps with Ros and Gregor .. and who knows what else..

Shore Power has its advantages – an Anniversary steak or two on the Plancha.

 

Posted in 2018 season, English Cruising. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Health checks and a Lemon van.

It has been a month since we returned from France and we have been busy settling back into life afloat on the Thames. Despite a brief unseasonal heatwave (26C) in April we find ourselves in May with unseasonal cold (6C) and needing to light the wood-burning stove daily – both to keep warm and to drive out the damp.

Back by bike in Caversham Church Street.

After arrival at the T&K Marina and paying (£7,120.71 annual mooring paid in advance) our priority has been to get Xenia licensed so that we can venture out on the river, but first we needed to renew our Boat Safety Scheme Certificate; a requirement for obtaining a licence in the UK and renewable every 4 years by accredited inspector. We took the precautionary step of having a prior inspection by TM Marine (£122) of our propane gas system (in case of any damage resulting from the road transportation) and service of our 10 year old gas cooker and replaced both the gas regulator and pigtail which were reaching their use-by dates. An unexpected bonus was that Tom is a Webasto service agent and was able to run a diagnostic (£40) on our non-working heating system – which after 9 years and 4,500 running hours needed a new burner box – and he agreed to come back and fix it the next week.

A Scottish foray in Broad Street Reading.

In the meantime, we failed the BSS Inspection (£135) because of 4 missing fuel tank vent outlet flame arresting gauzes, needed 2 plaques mounted on the stern deck to mark the gas and battery isolation points beneath, and were advised that we had a shortfall of low level fixed ventilation aboard of 8,800mm2. Tom was able to replace the two round polished brass tank vents (£14.96) and provide smart new brass BSS labels (£19.96) when he came to remove the Webasto, replace the burner tube (£236.44), and flush and refill (with new antifreeze) our heating system (£180). I sent a photo of the remedial works to Rob Lambden who was able to issue a Pass Certificate (£45), without the need to do a re-inspection, enabling us to apply for a Gold Licence – £1,267 for the year Jan-Dec (I discovered I still had an active account after a gap of 4 years) from the Canal and River Trust, but covering the Environment Agency waterways too. As for the ventilation – there seems to me to be plenty of fresh air already coming through the gaps around the bow cabin doors – and with all this recent expense I could well be suffering from an over-draft!

New fuel tank vent outlet.

Although we were able to apply and pay for our licence on-line it can take up to 15 working days to arrive via the post (no easy print out option as per VNF in France). Having re-registered at our Doctor’s Surgery (they had struck us off at some point) we find that we are being kept busy on land with NHS health checks – that just seem to keep coming, all repeats of what we have already been through and for no particularly good reason as far as we can tell so far. But we are getting fitter as a result. The Marina is a 35 minute walk to the nearest bus stop on the Henley Road or a 45 minute cycle ride, (up and down a quite steep hill) to the surgery in Caversham, about 2 miles as the crow flies by river but 4.5 miles by road, on foot, or by bicycle. Same deal on the way back! However, given the uncertain weather and the long walk, we have taken the easy option when it comes to the weekly shop – to shop on line, have it delivered in a Lemon van by Ocado, and simply wheel it down the pontoon from the Boaters Bar in a handy marina cart.

Pam awaits her first Ocado delivery at the T&K.

Now that we have caught our breath a bit and got a lot of the residential housekeeping done – even a change of address at the Caversham Library requires documentary proof of identity and residence and I was surprised to learn that in order to terminate my no fixed contract Free French mobile account (signed up for and managed on line) I needed to either fax (no easy to find working faxes in Reading) or send by registered post a formal letter giving a documented reason why! – we are beginning to get impatient to go cruising; as soon as the weather warms up a bit, which might be this coming May Bank Holiday weekend, with a bit of luck.

Caversham Library.

Posted in 2018 season, English Cruising., Winter moorings | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Au revoir to Auxerre and France.

The weather during our final few weeks in Auxerre, before we headed down the Yonne (locks due to open not before March 24th partly on account of flood damage) to Migennes to be craned out, had indeed brightened up from the previous months of grey dullness and rain.  In equal measure we had some very cold, some warm, and some very sunny days, but only one day of snow and no more flooding.

A light covering of snow in Auxerre.

I started to remember all the things that we had, in November, intended to do in town but somehow not yet got around to. The Leblanc-Duvernoy Museum (tapestries, pottery, art and history) remained closed from October to April except to pre-arranged groups. I did manage to book a tour of the Eckmuhl Room in the City Hall (treasures once belonging to Marshall Davout, one of Napolean’s loyal generals) but it turned out to be a long 1 hour talk, in French, standing in a small room with very few items of much interest to us, although it is nice to learn some more French history – I hadn’t realised how relatively short a time it was that Napolean 1 ruled as Emperor. I visited the garden of the Natural History Museum but not being that much interested in fossils etc never made it inside. The CGR Cinema with Cinemanie ran another batch of Original Version films and we watched Wonderstruck (La Musee des Merveilles). We thought that we would enjoy a Sunday afternoon ‘Escapades Celtiques’ at the Theatre with the Dunbrody Duo but arrived to find it sold out and had to content ourselves with a brief visit to look at some modern art ‘Fragments d’une collection’ – part of a local private collection being exhibited in the small gallery Hors Cadre across the street. The Silex Theatre just across the roundabout from the Port seems to feature some rather more alternative concerts but we didn’t notice one that looked like it was our ‘truc’ (thing). The 5eme Salon Vins & Terroirs put on by the local Rotary Club also proved to be a short visit with nothing of unusual interest although a few choice tastings were on offer. The Saint-Germain Museum however warranted several repeat visits and I enjoyed their special changing exhibitions as well as repeat visits to the permanent displays.

Temporary exhibits at the Saint Germain Museum.

And then there are the things that one finds out just as one is about to leave. We already knew about the location of the Grand Frais Market (for those in the know, by far the best French chain offering of fresh food) out on the furthest away retail park but only in March realised that it is at the terminus of the #1 Bus route which also runs near the Port – and so only a short walk and an easy 25 minute bus ride (€1.20) away.

Le Meilleur Marche – Grand Frais.

It was during a couple of emergency runs (thanks to Bob, nb Lazy Notes, and his car) for compressed logs to the Brico Depot next door that I spotted the bus stop. And more galling still was to find that the integral Marie Blanchere Boulangerie there sells my favourite ‘Pain Nordique’, for which I have been pining all winter. Bob and Penni also drove us on a day out to Avallon, a trip that had been on our winter list four years ago, some 50 km (26 miles) south – site of a Roman citadel and believed to be (by Bob and others) the Isle of Avalon from Arthurian legend. We had a light lunch at Dame Jean, a Salon de The recommended to Penni by local friends for its desserts, and a wander through this very picturesque town to view the Cousin Valley from the old ramparts.

Lunch in Avallon.

On board entertainment has been expanded after our introduction, by Bob and Penni, to Mexican Train Dominoes. Having practised a bit we thought we’d try this out on John and Rosemary (Forty Roses III) who were still beating us at Six Qui Prend, only to find that John, an ocean going sailor of long-standing , was not only more than familiar with the game but had his own set of ‘house rules’. Yet another defeat or two ensued.

Seasoned games players – John and Rosemary.

We were not tempted to try any new restaurants and that included Les Cocottes gourmet burger van which is soon going to be facing some stiff competition from the new restaurant now being built just the other side of the Ibis Hotel – Burger King – which we would definitely have popped into frequently for a Whopper or two.

We’ll miss the opening of this new Burger King.

Otherwise we watched life passing us by on either side – joggers, walkers, with and without dogs, and cyclists on the town side, shoppers, workers and camping vans parking on the station side and more curiously a steady and regular parade, one at a time, of an assortment of people who scavenge though the public rubbish bins which are situated in the side road along the car-park/ port/park/ fence. Over the winter I have been trying to figure out what they are scavenging for. One man drives up in a small white van and simply takes whole unopened black bags out of the bins and puts them in his van and continues on – I recently learned that he was in fact from the council doing an interim pick-up due to the high use of these bins by recreational vehicles. An old lady, with a purple woolly hat, takes everything out and seems to be placing things into piles, including stale baguettes and books, but I realised that my binoculars were revealing more than I needed to know when she squatted between two bins and appeared to be peeing into a bottle which she then used to wash an old piece of uncooked meat found in the bin. Ever since, I have relied on the naked eye, and am perhaps confusing the old lady with an old man in a red hat who takes his plastic bags of booty over to feed the pigeons on the town side every Sunday. There are others, some in cars and some on foot and I can only imagine that they are looking for certain materials that they are able to recycle to some good use or profit. We observed the same activity from an old man on a bike in Clamecy who, whilst we were there in October, would go through the bins by the port every morning and evening, obviously looking for some particular items. Perhaps it is time to be moving on! VNF have been busy, in their workboat, clearing logs jammed across the bridge piers and on the weirs in preparation for opening the river to traffic, then scheduled for March 26th. The Nivernais Canal though will remain closed for repairs at the Vaux barrage, which will not be complete before May 15th, so we are lucky to be heading North this year.

VNF work boat salvaging tree trunks from the river.

On the weekend before Easter the port sprang to life with owners arriving and many out in the glorious sunshine de-winterising and preening their boats ready for a new cruising season. I managed a very thorough wash down of Xenia – her first this year – after having a major hiatus with our Sanimarin loo which had finally petered out. With advice on the phone from Leesan in England and the technical muscle of Jean-Philippe we managed to strip the whole system down and clean out the calcification clogging every pipe and part. Lucky that it happened in port with nearby toilets, as the process took a couple of days but fortunately needed no new parts – not bad after 9 years of trouble free service! Charles and Sally who had driven out to de-winterize BlueGum in Roanne stopped by for an evening on their way back home – the first we’d seen them since we both left Frontignan on our separate ways to the Rhone.  On March 26th Forty Roses iii set off early heading for Paris, only to be turned away at the La Chainette lock (PK1) in Auxerre and they had to moor on the opposite quay for a night before being the first to get away the next morning – but as the Epineau lock (PK 25, just before Joigny on the Yonne) was not due to open until March 31st, they only went as far as Gurgy (PK 10, nice jetty with water and electric – not normally turned on until April 3rd).

Lock #1 is just beyond the bridge but Forty Roses can only get as far as the opposite bank.

I was getting nervous about the timing of our departure from Auxerre, wanting to be sure to be able to get to Migennes (PK 23) before April 3rd and so we moved it forward from April 1st to 29th March and decided not to overnight in Gurgy but to get to Migennes in one day. Jean-Philippe and Christian came round for ‘aperos’ on our final night and we headed off on a bright sunny Thursday morning getting to Gurgy in time to be invited aboard Forty Roses iii for a lunch of soup and croissants and cheese and claret. What a nice start to the new cruising season!

On our way. Lunch at Gurgy.

After lunch we both cruised on the 3 hours to Migennes, where we squeezed two 18.29m boats into the 38m Laroche lock and moored up on the Burgundy Canal on the quay just beyond the busy Le Boat base above the lock (free mooring, €5 a day for water or electric – we were the first boats of the season to moor here). To round off a great first day John and Rosemary joined us for a convivial dinner aboard Xenia and beat us again at Mexican Train Dominoes.

Le Boat base at Migennes, just above the Laroche lock.

Next morning, John needed French-speaking help to look for a mechanic – we were lucky to find Mark, an Englishman, at Evans Marine working on Good Friday, not a holiday here, but Friday is always a half day at the Evans – only to discover that the diaphragm on his 11 month old combined grey and black water tank German-made pump had split. His tank was full. The Germans obviously take Easter more seriously than the French as they would not be available to even take an order for a replacement part (not available anywhere else we could find) until Tuesday. I thought that I had seen the last of our manual pump-out kit when I put it away the previous week – but out it came again, and after some initial difficulties with priming it sufficiently, we spent the afternoon, rain and windy spells, emptying the tank – so that he and Rosemary could carry on to Paris (and the nearest pump-out machine) with at least some of the comforts of home (perhaps foregoing the use of the dishwasher and the washing machine in favour of the bathroom). It was Friday night pizza, salad and rose wine, on the Teeds at the nice little Calimero pizzeria near the port.

John ordering a tattoo with his pizza, after a long hard day.

VNF (Voies Navigable de France) were as good as their ‘Avis’ notices and opened the Epineau lock on Saturday March 31st and Forty Roses iii was on its way again that morning making it to Sens (PK 67) that night – only 138 km and 16 locks to go to get to a Tuesday rendez-vous in Paris with their transatlantic guest.

And finally Forty Roses out of the Laroche lock and the race to Paris begins.

Just when we thought we could relax – having got to the crane – an email came through from Eurostar cancelling our Wednesday train booking on account of the SNCF strikes now being held two days a week for the next six weeks or so. That afternoon nb Lazy Notes arrived from Auxerre, having fairly flown down river. Bob was expecting trouble with the port electrics – live and neutral reversed – and he got it, taking us with him (tripping out the whole Le Boat base) just before getting up for breakfast on Easter Sunday! It didn’t prevent us all from enjoying Pam’s hearty Cassoulet for Easter lunch and whilst Bob worried about electrical fires, and menaced the bornes with a screw driver, Pam managed to beat Penni and me at –yes, you guessed it! Mexican Train Dominoes.

At Migennes with Lazy Notes.

By Easter Monday the Yonne was closed again – strong flows – from Auxerre to Le Pechoir (PK 29) until April 9th. I worried that they might not let us back down the lock – memories of getting stuck for a week in Leeds in Clarence Dock on the river just before the first Leeds and Liverpool Canal lock – to get round the corner to Evans boatyard. I worried about my mobile phone losing all signal towards the end of each day. I managed to re-book a Eurostar train for an hour later on the 4th April, but then I worried about how I would get to Paris if there were no trains running, and no-one would know what trains were scheduled until 5pm the night before.

Something French about Simon Evans’ boatyard!

Well I needn’t have worried. We went down through the lock at 4.00pm on Tuesday and got to Simon’s yard where he had almost completed moving boats about to fit us onto the quay by the crane, which was already in place. In quick succession the CPL transport and safety car arrived as did Andrew and Debbie, wb Nounou on blocks in the yard for blacking before they set off on their French adventure, and we exchanged our French propane gas cylinders for their English ones.

Nounou and some blacking in progress.

Next morning, once Simon had finished breakfast, the crane roared into action and we were loaded up, €350 bill paid, and ready to go by 10.00am.

Out of French waters and onto a flatbed for Xenia’s trip home.

There was only 1 train running to Paris from Migennes on April 4th and it had left at 6am. Bob came to the rescue and most generously drove us to Paris, Place d’Italie, from where we were able to complete our journey to the Gare du Nord by Metro, arriving in time for a leisurely lunch at the Terminus Nord Brasserie. A farewell and very typical good French lunch before taking the Eurostar back to St Pancras, London.

Lunch in Terminus Nord Brasserie.

Xenia had an un-eventual journey back too, arriving at Caversham the night before and being craned off the transport by 9am on Friday morning – with only a minor delay, before being lowered back into the Thames, for welding on 4 new 2.5kg Magnesium anodes (once we noticed that the 8 much smaller Magnesium and Aluminium anodes put on in Toulouse in Oct 2016 had very little life left to give).

A little detour for new anodes at Butcher Marine, Caversham.

And so we have come full circle – having set out from The Thames and Kennet Marina in June 2011 to first explore the English wide canals and rivers before moving on to France in 2013. We eased into our new annual mooring here on Pontoon D, between Valiant and Big Baloo and started the clear up of the inside of the boat – the wardrobe had decided to topple over, as had the desk, spilling contents across each cabin – but nothing was broken and we were back to normal by 6pm in time for a Pastis and an early night!

Gently does it – back into the Thames.

Posted in 2018 season, Auxerre, French Cruising - north and central | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Looking on the bright side

It is the light of the Midi which we are missing most here in central France. But the sun did shine for the day on Saturday Feb 10th after 3 months of at first rain and floods and then snow and cold. One soon forgets – Xenia was launched in the snow on Feb 5th 2009, with us wearing our skiing clothes, followed by three weeks of floods and the River Thames in Abingdon on red boards.

The quay under water.

Here in Auxerre, the odd meal out – La P’tite Beursaude’s rich traditional Burgundian fare nearly sunk us without trace – and films – God’s Own Country (translated here as Seule La Terre) screened by Cinemanie, made for powerful but sometimes uncomfortable viewing – have helped to alleviate our otherwise rather damp and dull reintroduction to winter in northern Europe.

Life goes on.

As soon as it changed from rain to colder snow our Webasto diesel-fired central heating system, temperamental at the best of times, decided to go completely on strike. Fortunately we have an electric immersion water heater and a wood burner and Jean-Philippe, the port mechanic and Aquarelle general factotum, offered to drive us to Brico Depot for a bumper load of compressed wood logs. We are now getting through up to 50 logs a week from early morning till bed-time whilst the outside temperatures hover around freezing all day and night. In good supermarket tradition the nearby Leclerc has decided to let its, up till now well-stocked, wood supply run out.

Jean-Philippe and Christian check the mooring stakes.

John and Rosemary (Forty Roses 111) have introduced us to the card game ‘Six qui prend!‘. ‘Les Cocottes’ have returned, after a few weeks’ absence, for their Friday lunchtime gourmet burger slot in the car park but we have not yet been tempted away from our traditional ‘Whopper Wednesday’. Old habits die hard and the unexpected discovery of an organic vegetarian buffet La Jasette in the town centre hasn’t impressed us sufficiently either – although I really enjoy a good vegetarian meal, the previous one being three years ago in Toulouse at La Faim des Haricots.

Les Cocottes – gourmet burger van.

What a difference the sun makes. On that one sunny day I was motivated to spend time in the engine bay tightening the fan belts, taping and securing the loose and frayed Travelpower alternator wiring connections, and running the engine – for the first time since the beginning of November. All seems to be in order – no flat starter battery so far. We’d rather avoid the embarrassment, as happened to us one April in Carcassonne, of saying our winter goodbyes to all and sundry on the day of departure only to find the engine won’t start. Our neighbour Christian (Libellule 5) even supplied a Chinaman’s hat, something I’ve spent the last 4 years looking out for in various Bricos (DIY Stores), to fit on the chimney and to keep the rain out. He happened to have been given it by another boater and has no need of it himself.

Lock-keeper’s cabin at Bartardeau (closed till March).

Our plan made in March 2017 for being back in England before the Brexit Divorce is agreed, or not as the case may be, still seems to be on target despite us being 3 months behind our original schedule. The good news is that The Thames and Kennet Marina in Reading have now been able to offer us a rarely available annual wide-beam mooring as from April 17th this year – so we will be able to get all those fair weather boat maintenance jobs done at our leisure (for which read, probably no time soon) whilst catching up with friends and family locally and settling back into English life generally. We are looking forward to being back on the Thames – despite our reservations about getting used to dull English summer weather.

Alfresco dining at The Trout Inn, near Oxford on the Thames, June 2010 with Kathy and Charles. Note the jackets!

For cruising news I read other boat bloggers – some who through the winter post blogs of their last summer’s cruising, Elle on www.eucruiserelle.blogspot.com  , Catherina Elisabeth on www.eurmacs.com , L’Escapade on www.lescapadefrance.wordpress.com, and some with more up-to-date news from Francoise on www.contentedsouls.com , and Quaintrelle on www.nbquaintrelle.blogspot.com  . They make a pleasant diversion from the continuous news diet of Trump and Brexit and occasionally just to remind me how much I love the Thames I dip into Still Rockin on www.wbstillrockin.blogspot.com . Other blogs that I used to enjoy, Esme on www.mvesme.co.uk , Rangali on www.rangaliadventures.blogspot.com and Zonder Zorg on www.skutsjezonderzorg.blogspot.com , have fallen very far behind or stopped altogether but still contain excellent cruising notes for those interested in following the same routes. I also enjoy news from Joli Roger on www.onaboatinfrance.blogspot.com who manage to keep up to date in the season but retire home for the winter and give boating and blogging a rest. I get a great sense of community as I read the accounts of others, going places that we have been and meeting other boaters that we have met on our travels, and indeed hearing about canals that we have not yet travelled and boaters that we have yet to meet.

Alfresco dining on L’Escapade at Frontignan, Rhone a Sete Canal, with David and Evey. July 2017.

The first signs of Spring are poking their heads through our plant pots on the roof and on the bow deck – daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, Star of Bethlehem, tulips and grape hyacinths. And there are daffodils emerging in the local park and through the winter pansies in the street plantings in town. We missed having spring flowers whilst in Carcassonne – they don’t seem to go in for them much there (in fact, unusually in France, one of the few towns we have visited that doesn’t maintain colourful floral planting displays in their parks, gardens and along their streets). But there is still rain and still more cold to come according to the forecast. So it will be back to the library for yet more films – we are getting quite an education from the documentary section – Inside Job, Capitalism – A Love Story, Darwin’s Nightmare, Food Inc, We steal secrets – amongst others, none of which are casting our global economy in a particularly bright light. Maybe we need to get out more – I always reckon that mid-February is Cabin Fever season.

Remembering warm sunshine. Montferrand in April 2017.

But after a night of listening to the bumps of floating logs against the hull and water over the quay again, and waking to a dense fog in the morning – the sun has come out and stayed out all day, warming the boat and making me think that maybe, just maybe, Spring is round the corner.

Posted in 2018 season, Auxerre, French Cruising - north and central, Winter moorings | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Winter in Auxerre, and possibly in need of therapy.

After two winters spent in Carcassonne in the south of France I am now beginning to wonder if boating pal David – who after two winters in northern Europe, France and Holland, has returned to Toulouse – was right in suggesting that I might need therapy after deciding to return north to England. Although we didn’t actually make it back to England as planned this year, we might as well have done from a weather perspective. Since November we have had no more than a few hours of sunshine on a handful of days and rain on most of the days including those with some sunshine. The temperature has steadfastly fluctuated somewhere between -2C and 12C – this week being no exception with rain forecast for the next seven days and winds between 30-80 kph today. The river is rising and flowing faster with each successive day of rain and will most probably flow over the quay once again this weekend. Just as well we kept our old gum boots in the hold!

Gum boots needed.

So, bearing in mind that it has been dull, damp and fairly (but not yet very) cold we have been making the best of what Auxerre has to offer by way of entertainment. Christmas festivities here were on a noticeably more downbeat scale than we had enjoyed in the South and we did rather wonder if Father Christmas had lost the plot whilst using Google Maps.

Is this a reindeer I see before me?

We returned by train to England to spend Christmas with family and friends – on our way, stopping off for a night in Paris with Bruno and Miquette at St Cloud. Champagne, fois gras and coquilles St Jacques for dinner put us in good festive spirit.

Paris as seen from the Parc de St Cloud.

Maurice and Lauren did us all proud for Christmas lunch in Kidlington, Oxford, with roast Goose and more accompaniments than would fit on one’s plate and later gave us all a family outing to the Pantomime, Peter Pan at the Hexagon in Reading. In Wiltshire we had a nice stay with my mother in Lacock, a somewhat eccentric and unexpected communion service with Syb Pryor in her ‘home’ in Mere, and an excellent lunch at The New Inn, West Bay, Bridport, Dorset with Eddie and Deborah.

Maurice, Louis, Pam, Charles, Paul and Caroline Henney, Lili, Ollie and Lauren behind the camera. Christmas lunch.

In Purley-on-Thames, our home for most of the 1980s, Ros and Gregor lent us their comfortable home complete with old lady cat Patches, whilst they were away for Christmas, and we also looked after Humphrey, Marianne’s old lady cat at Old Rectory Garden House, whilst she too was away.

Ivy Cottage, Purley-on-Thames.

It was a nostalgic visit to a village very little changed over the years – although the C of E Infant school attended by all three of our kids has now grown up into a Primary School with a large rear extension beside our old garden at Lane Cottage. Happy memories of our annual New Year’s Eve parties, epic Epiphany parties and ribald Rabbie Burn’s nights with Syb next door – in those days we had the energy to liven up an otherwise dull period of the year! A gentle stroll down to Mapledurham Lock on the Thames with Lili and Ollie was all we managed this time around.

Boxing Day walk. Ollie at Mapledurham Lock on the Thames.

Back in Auxerre we are making new discoveries. Before Christmas I spotted a wonderful (board) game shop (Cartes sur Table in Rue Fecauderie) so we added the Inns and Cathedrals extension to our game of Carcassonne as a present to each other – and for New Year the Merchants and Builders extension. So, at least one hotly-contested game, now requiring the whole of the kitchen table, has been part of our daily routine – except for the three days it took us to complete the 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle Woodland Friends, a Christmas present from my mother.

A walk in the park at St Cloud.

In addition to his ‘therapy’ suggestion David recommended La Pause Gourmande which proved to be excellent therapy in its own right. Their menu of this month featured: (Pam’s choice) Meurette d’escargots; l’onglet de veau poele, crepes de pommes de terre et jus de veau legerement chocolate; crème brulee maison; and: (Charles’ choice) Filet de thon roti, tartare de pommes et mangues, vinaigrette passion vanilla et tuilles aux deux sesames; le dos de lieu noir, ravioles de chevre et figues, crème de cepes; assiette de mignardises (8).  This €25 menu is all served up in the small dining room, with open kitchen, of this unpretentious restaurant, salon de the, patisserie fine et traiteur at 1 Rue Fourier in the town centre.

La Pause Gourmande, Auxerre.

We have become very regular visitors to the library and are steadily making our way through a treasure trove of music and films and getting a bit of an education into the bargain, mixing new with old. This week’s chosen film director has been Francis Ford Coppola – we visited his Inglenook winery in the Napa Valley many years ago, but were not that familiar with his films, apart from The Godfather – and found his latest releases Youth without Youth, Tetro, and Twixt relatively puzzling. I enjoyed them perhaps more than Pam, but made up for my film choices with some old Leonard Cohen and Beatles CDs; although my CD of the month is Raising Sand (Robert Plant/Alison Krauss). The only problem with the library is that it mainly opens in the afternoons and on each visit we have to pass the Boulangerie Patisserie Maison Eric Roy at about tea time.

View across the river from beside the fire – about tea-time.

It is just as well that we have also discovered (thanks to Google Maps) a nearby Coulee Vert cycle and footpath along an old disused railway line running from the station and across the river by Batardieu Lock and on round the south-eastern edge of town, passing another new discovery the Germinal BioCoop, providing much needed exercise and some excellent healthy organic food choices! Our latest acquisition is a Germline Salad Sprouter and we eagerly await our first couple of boat-grown trays of organic Alfalfa, Cress, red Cabbage, and Fennel seed sprouts. We still visit the Friday market for our weekly purchase of fresh watercress and exchange boating pleasantries with the friendly stall holder there.

View crossing the river on the Coulee Vert.

Putting aside all thoughts of remedial works, this is the time of year, with no actual boating under-way, that I tend to review our progress to date, and it seems amazing that we will soon, in February, be entering our tenth boating season aboard Xenia: so here is the statistics log as it stands so far;

  Licence fees Mooring costs Insurance Diesel – litres used Engine hours Km travelled
2009 £900 £3,800 £380 487 228  
2010 £1,000 £5,600 £400 328 140  
2011 £1,100 £3,700 £420 856 450  
2012 £1,280 £1,500 £440 1,070 500  
2013 £1,341 £1,348 £479 1,146 550  
2014 £206 + €509 £474+€1,339 £582 1,333 550 2,280
2015 €540 €1,890 £501 1,252 450 2,100
2016 €560 €2,168 £528 715 250 1,100
2017 €532 €2,557 £542 1,000 265 1,500

Provisional bookings have been made with Evans Marine in Migennes to be craned out on April 4th, with CPL Transport to be picked up and driven to Reading and with Butcher Marine to be craned back in on April 6th and with Thames and Kennet Marina to moor long enough to get ourselves a Boat Safety Certificate and Boat Licence – so, with estimated costs running at about £6,500, moderation on the patisseries and some belt tightening is about as far as we have got with our New Year’s resolutions.

Early one morning.

Meanwhile we continue to enjoy our winter mooring here in Auxerre, despite the dull weather!

Posted in 2018 season, Auxerre, Winter moorings | Tagged , , | 15 Comments