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.

Posted in 2019 season, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

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.

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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