The Way it was – a cruising retrospective. March.

Never a fan of ‘being busy’ I found cruising to be a great way of looking occupied without really doing anything in particular. But waking up now at home faced with another day of enforced idleness and lack of social activity I feel exhausted before I even start. It is time to get back on board (even if only metaphorically) with a blog.

March 2009. Early days aboard, and cold.

Over successive winters spent aboard Xenia in moorings on the River Thames, in Abingdon and Caversham, on the Bridgewater Canal in Worsley, on the River Nene in Northampton, on the River Cure in Vermenton, on the Midi Canal in Carcassonne, and on the River Yonne in Auxerre, we usually found ourselves in March preparing to launch into a new cruising itinerary.

A cold winter in Worsley. 2012.

Some years we got off to an early start. In 2013 we braved the cold weather on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and made it down to Liverpool for a 10 day stay in Salthouse Dock.

Going down to Liverpool.

We had had to book the trip well in advance and were escorted down in a convoy with British Waterways staff operating the locks (which are kept padlocked against vandalism).

 

Salthouse Dock at night.

It brightened up at night – but there were more than a few late-night drunks about. There were still icicles hanging from the low bridges as we left at the end of March and next day we woke to a frozen Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Northampton Marina and a very tall crane in the background lifting out a widebeam trip boat. Expensive!

In 2014 it was flooding that was of concern with our plans to get to France. On March 4th, the day of my Inland Waterways Boat Handling River test, the Red flag (strong stream) warning was up at Northampton Lock and so we could only cruise as far as Rush Mills but still were able to complete our Man Overboard simulation and I learned how to spring on and off a jetty and how to handle a strong flow. And we both passed our CEVNI tests too.

Elton. River Nene.

Travelling the entire length of the River Nene to get to Wisbech by March 31st was an anxious time. When would we be able to get through Islip Bridge? We needed the water level to go down to give us 1.9m air draft clear and it was a matter of waiting to get through at the first opportunity. Once through we rested up at Elton waiting for the RYA ICC (International Certificate of Competence) to come through Poste Restante to the Post Office. We celebrated at the local Loch Fynne – crab, oysters, langoustines, prawns. A taste of things to come.

Waiting for the guillotine at The Dog and Doublet.

Getting to Wisbech on the tide required some precise timing on the day and an overnight stay at the wonderfully named Dog in A Doublet Lock and then again getting into the hoist, when the tide permitted, required timing and good positioning against the flow.

The Crane at Wisbech, River Nene.

On St Patrick’s Day 2015 we set off from Vermenton, France, but didn’t get far before being held up for 3 days whilst VNF filled the canal above Mailly-la-ville.

Waiting for the Nivernais Canal to fill at Mailly-la-Ville.

We reached the summit of the Nivernais Canal by March 26th. It was cold and miserable and quite often wet and, on our way down the other side, we shared locks with David Piper (of Piper Boats) who was having to make a detour to get his show barge from Paris to St Jean de Losne. The Burgundy Canal had failed to open on time. We didn’t meet anyone else.

On our own at Baye on the summit of the Nivernais.

The following March on St Patrick’s Day we flew back to England for a break and only returned to the boat in Carcassonne on the 31st – the day of a French Strike, with planes delayed or diverted, trains not running and a long delay for us spent sitting in the Hotel Bristol in Toulouse waiting for a bus. The food was good though! We stayed in Carcassonne the following winter and spent some of March visiting the Vermillion Coast and Spain by train and car. Our winter neighbour, Si Solo, was the first to leave port on the 19th but we set off that year on April 1st.

Si Solo, our winter neighbour, leaves Carcassonne early.

In March 2018 we again had to get our timing right to make it further down the Yonne, prone to flooding, to Migennes for a date with a crane and boat transport on April 4th. The first Auxerre lock finally opened on March 27th and we decided to head through early on 29th to make the trip in one day and wait a week at Migennes (a good move as the river closed again shortly after).

The waterfront Auxerre. March 2018.

March 2019 was our last on the boat – safely moored up at Thames and Kennet Marina in Reading on the Thames. Our only worry was completing on the sale of our house in Reading and on the purchase of a flat in Caversham. Thank goodness we are not attempting that this year.

 

Cranes over Vermenton. Harbingers of Spring.

Cranes of one type or another have often featured in our March activity over the years!

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Xenia is sold.

It’s the end of an era, a decade to be precise, and Xenia has now gone to a new home somewhere near Rickmansworth, having been surveyed for the first time and had her bottom blacked for the fourth.

April 2009 001

Early days. April 2009 on the Thames at Goring.

This leaves us shore-bound, although I have volunteered to train up as a boatman to operate the little ferry that transports members of the Island Bohemian Bowls and Social Club to and from north or south bank to De Montford Island – the site of a famous duel in 1163, witnessed by Henry the second, between Robert de Montford and the Earl of Essex, who, left for dead on the island, was rescued by the monks from Reading Abbey and lived out the rest of his life in their order. The bowls matches seem to be altogether a less risky challenge – but competitive none-the-less.

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Bowls on the Island. A more gentle form of combat than that of Knights of Old.

Everyone says “but, oh, won’t you miss the boat?”. “Well, not yet” is the current answer. Admiring the lovely landscapes between Reading and Oxford yesterday, from one of the few trains that was both running and had working air-conditioning during the hottest day on record here in the south of England, I did reflect on those days spent in the relentless heat of the Midi summers trying to find shade and to sleep in a hot steel boat whilst fighting off the mosquitos!

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The neighbouring herb garden at Caversham Court – gives me something to aspire to!

So far, we are enjoying life ashore. I still have to stop myself from instinctively checking for when the next pump-out is due, whether we need a water-fill and what state of charge the batteries are in. It seems strange not to have to be aware of how much water or power we are using or how much waste we are generating and not having to worry about what supplies we are going to need, for how long and where we will find them. Everything we need is here within walking distance, just around the corner!

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Sharing a BBQ in the garden with our neighbours.

This leaves quite a bit of time for social activities and being able to commit to things on a regular basis – although I suspect that there will be days when I just wish we could untie the ropes and cruise off to a new horizon. But for now, we’re loving our large shared garden, and being able to make our contributions to its upkeep, meeting and getting to know our several neighbours, and learning a new sport, bowls. And it will be easy to lock the door and fly off at a moment’s notice as we did in June to look after Nigel’s garden in Laure Minervois and to travel the entire length of the Midi Canal in just a few short hours – recognising every twist and turn of the canal and catching up with old boating friends.

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On the way to Sete, George Brassens and his cat. On our way to have lunch with David and Evey of DB L’Escapade at Frontignan.

Posted in 2019 season, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Away with the Fairies.

The reality is hard to grasp – we are moving ashore after ten years of life afloat. It has taken us the last year whilst based in the Thames and Kennet Marina to get this change in lifestyle organised – the final result being a slightly bigger than boat-sized retirement flat in Caversham.

The Fairies beckon.

Packing everything up into boxes has been a challenge – and a revelation as to where those things, like the spare fuel filter, got to but couldn’t be found when needed and those things, like Real Tennis Rackets, that never moved and were never needed. The silver definitely could do with a polish.

Xenia cleaned up by the Fairies.

But we are no strangers to ‘moving on’. In fact this will be the sixteenth move in our forty six years of marriage, making our time afloat our longest residence – although travelling in our home we do not count as staying put. In fact we have been on a ten year voyage – which does now sound like one hell of a trip! So we are looking forward to a fresh start and giving some of our ‘treasures’ a new home and fresh lease of life whilst at the same time being sad to leave Xenia and the peripatetic lifestyle she has so generously provided us with.

Moored in Douai at the end of our first week in France. April 2014.

And what fun it has been – an adventure and a challenge; new friends, new culture, new language, new climate, new places, new food and drink, new pace of life. They will all now convert into fond memories of years well spent, in a kind of neverland.

On the Garonne Canal.

Back to reality though and the art of quitting whilst still ahead and moving on to new pleasures and revisiting old pleasures. As with comedy, so in life, timing is everything and it is time to say goodbye to Xenia and find her a new owner. She has been cleaned up by the Boat Fairies and Clean 2 Gleam and is now on the Sales Pontoon at the Thames and Kennet Marina.

The last of the Chateau de Santenay to warm the new flat.

And as it happens we are returning to the Midi for 3 weeks in June to housesit for Nigel at Laure Minervois, so will be able to visit old haunts and see old friends all with the speed and comfort of a hire car whilst still being able to remember the delights of a slow life afloat.

Nigel’s shady terrace at Laure Minervois. 2017.

La plus ca change.

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A change of pace.

At the peak of our waterway travels we averaged over 2,000 kilometers (1250 miles) a season, some 500 hours of engine time, for 5 consecutive years travelling through first England and then France. That was until we reached the south of France where, inevitably, we slowed down to half that pace for a couple of years and enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine. This last year in 2018 we almost ground to a halt on our return to England and have only travelled for 125 hours, barely covering 600kms (370 miles) up and down the Thames – remarkably though still enjoying warmth and sunshine for this last summer at least!

At a crossroads in Caversham.

We hadn’t planned on quite such a dramatic slowdown – it was the quietest year in Xenia’s now 10 years on the water. Like us, she is beginning to feel her age and we had decided to take a year’s mooring at The Thames and Kennet Marina to catch our breath and get ourselves re-established into a home address ashore and to take advantage of nearby technicians to give Xenia (and ourselves) a thorough health check in all departments. On both scores it has been slow but steady progress but this has taken a lot of waiting time to get things done – booking service visits, waiting for parts, NHS appointments – keeping us moored up at base and not able to get away for a prolonged cruise.

  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
2018 €109+£1267 €402+£7120 £432 330 125 600

 

When we initially discussed the option of a life afloat Pam wasn’t sure about the prospect but generously gave it the benefit of the doubt for a trial of 10 years. We have enjoyed every minute of it (well bar a few choice moments) but the time for a review is upon us!

Ready to launch. Eynsham Feb 2009.

Some of the few choice moments that we haven’t enjoyed so much have often involved mechanical breakdown of one sort or another. There is a lot of equipment on a boat to go wrong! Here is the list of servicing and repairs for 2018;

Rescued from grounding on the Rhone by Udi. (Bill for £69 for repairs to his winch followed a year later).

4 new sacrificial anodes (£400), Boat Safety Certificate and Gas check (£350), Webasto burner tube replacement and domestic heating service (£485); parts and servicing for Stovax multi-fuel stove (£200); replacement of gas cooker (£400); replacement of faulty battery monitor and electrical checks (£670); new domestic batteries and wiring (£1460); regular engine service including flushing keel cooling system and fresh anti-freeze (£440); refurbishing the Travelpower alternator (£848); new fan belts (£80); replacing the electric immersion heater (£250).

Sacrificial anodes – one old one new.

So, all should be in good order mechanically but after a neighbouring boat’s flying solar panel in a recent high wind scraped across our roof, taking some paint with it, I am once again reminded of all the paintwork that needs touching up (or more than just touching up). Sanding and rust treatment and painting I find to be a chore because as soon as you have done it, it needs doing again – and I just wish someone else would do it!

Three generations at the tiller.

Our plans for 2019 are a work in progress. Firstly we have to sell our house (now under offer) to pay off the mortgage (before we reach 70) and downsize with the difference so that we have a secure land base, hopefully here in Caversham. Then we have to decide whether to keep Xenia (the considerable Thames mooring and licensing costs will no doubt be the big factor) or whether to look for a new source of entertainment. We are already missing being ‘on the move’ so perhaps a change of pace on wheels might be on the cards with some visits to places we haven’t been able to reach by boat and some flying re-visits to some of the places we have – Brexit permitting. From the day of the referendum result, when we were deep in the Gers region of France, we have been preparing for a ‘hard Brexit’ (although the Minister of Tourism for the Region did personally assure us on the day that we would always be welcome in the Gers to enjoy ‘the slow life’) and my forecast then of a no-deal still seems to be a safe bet!.

In the Gers – the night before Brexit.

Only time will tell….

Posted in 2018 season, The River Thames., Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Not doing much on the Thames

After such a glorious spring and summer, late August and early September have brought disappointing weather and we have occupied ourselves mainly in port apart from a week with a hire car visiting Wiltshire and The Calder Valley in Yorkshire to see Lili’s Yurt, meet Tom, and inaugurate her home made pizza oven.

Pam and Tom keeping an eye on the new Pizza Oven.

 

Lili’s Yurt home.

A delightful few late September sunny warm days tempted us out as far as Goring-on-Thames where Nick (same term at prep school) and Caroline joined us for lunch and a cruise to Beale Park.

Whitchurch Lock on self service.

A couple of nights moored in Pangbourne Meadow and a visit to the Cheese Shop made for a good finish to an otherwise dull boating month.

Whitchurch Toll Bridge viewed from Pangbourne Meadow.

Our pontoon neighbour Tim, on Argy Bargy, threw a farewell party before leaving for his new mooring at Shillingford Bridge. It made us realise how much we have missed our normal pattern of ongoing daily social activity whilst constantly cruising throughout the summer – and for the first time we met some of our neighbours of just a few berths away.

Argy Bargy passes use at Pangbourne.

One neighbour’s boat caught fire earlier this year whilst it was out for work on the hard standing – making them homeless. But their insurance paid out and they have been able to buy a bigger ex-hotel boat. That’s the second boat fire that we have heard of this summer.

At Mapledurham Lock.

Our last cruise, alas, also confirmed that the state of our domestic batteries has declined further and now they won’t even get us through the night without sounding the ‘low battery’ alarm, so something will have to be done before we venture out for any more extended cruising. After more checks it is confirmed that the batteries are dying and so we have decided to replace the 6 Gel 12v (660 ah) with 4 Rolls 6v S6-275AGM (550ah) – which at £300 each should give us a far greater total number of cycles and therefore a much longer life despite a slight reduction in overall capacity. In the process we have also discovered that THE bolt securing the Travelpower alternator to the engine housing has sheared in half again (this was the third replacement and thicker extra strong bolt installed at Entente Marine last September) and furthermore the actual engine bracket now needs replacement. So the alternator has been sent off for servicing and to repair the electrical connections which were badly worn.

3 men in one boat. Tim enlists help from Tingdene neighbours David (Helianthus) and Martin (Nemo) to move to his new winter moorings.

Our new gas cooker, with eye level grill, has been delivered and installed, so that has been a step forward even though it took a couple of false starts to get the damaged grill handle replaced. And with this year’s annual engine service we have, for the first time ever, changed the antifreeze. The oil pressure gauge is now on the blink and we are due a new set of fan belts (again) so there’s more work to be done – it never ends; and I still haven’t even opened the tins of paint that I ordered last September and had shipped out to France!

New gas cooker successfully installed.

After a bit of tidying up and a fair bit of research we have come to the conclusion that extending and renovating our little terraced house in Reading will simply be too much hard work, too expensive, and yield limited value – so we have just put it up for sale, but it seems that the market is very sluggish and fingers crossed that the Governor of the Bank of England’s recent prediction of a 30% drop in UK house prices hasn’t already started before Brexit.

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

Dyslectric or Watt.

August Bank Holiday weekend, and a cool dull 15C Sunday with steady drizzle dampening the sound, and no doubt the spirit, of the nearby Reading (Rock) Festival makes it a good day for indoor activity rather than camping or boating. On Wednesday we cruised through Reading along with a stream of early arrival backpacking-trolley-pushing-festival-going youngsters (90,000 + expected) making their way on foot, some by boat ferries and taxis, along the river between Caversham Lock to Rivermede and on to the huge campgrounds downstream of Mapledurham accessed from a temporary footbridge erected for the event every year across the river by Scours Lane.

Reading Festival – but what is this post transmitting?

Somehow in my youth I missed out on both Festival going and Science, not a subject taught at my school (Greek and Latin Verse taking precedence) until I was 13 and then had to take Combined Physics with Chemistry O Level in five terms. I failed. Even now I struggle to understand how the electrics on our boat function but I did learn to understand percentages in my business career and so do keep an eye on the Battery Monitor which tells me the % state of charge/discharge amongst other less easy to understand readings.

A cloudburst sunset from the Marina.

Unfortunately, and not for the first time, our Victron Battery Monitor died as we pulled into Auxerre last winter and it has taken until now to get Mark from EnergyCraft UK to come out to replace it. The shunt had gone again, and can’t be bought on its own, and he deemed our battery cables to be of the wrong (too thin) size and several leads were incorrectly wired. On recent cruises I had noticed that a ‘low battery’ warning light was coming on after what seemed a relatively short period of off-grid use and this raised the question of whether our 10 year old Victron Inverter was operating correctly and/or whether our 6 Domestic Batteries (new in May 2016) were still charging efficiently. He ordered a new BMV700 Battery Monitor (£112) and a new Victron Multiplus 12V,3000VA Inverter with 120 Amp charger (£1200) but by the time they came I had decided that he should install the monitor and rewire and check out and test the batteries before installing the new Inverter. This proved to be a good call – as the old Inverter is working fine but the relatively new batteries are only giving out 120AH (amp hours) of their potential 660AH of which one should reasonably be able to use 300AH before having to recharge. The ‘temperature’ warning light which for years has been flashing on odd occasions turned out to have a wire not actually connected to anything!

The new Victron Battery Monitor.

So cruising battery tests are under way and the new Inverter has been returned to Victron and the quote is in for 6 new Rolls S12-116AGM Batteries (£1584). The puzzle to me is why (this will be our fourth set of domestic batteries in 10 years) they always seem to die after a long period in Port connected up to mains power and being constantly kept at full charge.

Festival goers queuing by Reading Bridge for a lift on Caversham Lady.

In addition to our electrical challenges we have a problem with our Tricity Bendix LPG cooker. The Grill won’t stay lit and the burners still burn unevenly despite having it all checked over in April. Our Electric toaster also packed up but at least that was easy and cheap to replace although this doesn’t help when we are off mains power with limited amp hours to use! The more or less constant need to maintain and replace mechanical parts in a boat is, I find, somewhat wearying although it is a lot easier if one is based in port with good technicians nearby and time to wait. We were relatively lucky in France not to have too many major items go wrong whilst constantly on the move – dealing with technical requirements in a foreign language just adds to the stress and the expense.

Upstream of Caversham Bridge – for once swans and geese outnumbered.

With Reading Town Centre almost on our doorstep (but out of sight) we have not been short of on-shore activities. The address changing carries on – try doing this with an on-line bank savings account which was opened years ago with a now long forgotten and redundant email address – a nice Vietnamese Lunch at Pho in Kings Mall in the former site of one of my BKs – and since the beginning of August almost daily blackberry picking along the Marina driveway.

Blackberries galore.

We have made short cruises with visitors. Picking up Harry, old architect friend, from the station I stepped off the boat onto an uneven quayside coping stone and badly twisted my ankle and have been a bit wobbly ever since. Harry has kindly agreed to look at some refurbishment and extension ideas for our little (boat-sized) terraced house in Cardiff Road. The Annual Tingdene Berth Holders Party with Hog Roast and live band came and went. A lively cruise up to our old home at Hardwick with Maurice and Lauren and Ollie and his girl-friend Rebecca and Louis took us past all the Reading Festival activity – we have never before witnessed so much trip boat activity around Caversham, even with small ‘lifeguard’ security ribs patrolling up and down.

Hardwick House (Lauren’s photo).

The day is now so bleak and wet that I am seriously thinking of putting on coat and boots and trying to find the stove pipe buried in the bow hold so that we can light a fire and burn up that piece of timber which jammed in our propeller up in Oxford a month ago. It seems a bit premature to be harbouring such autumnal thoughts – let’s hope so.

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

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.

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