Sun 19th April
Wallingford to Beale Park
A bit colder this morning. It even looked like rain, so we took a brolly as we walked into the village to go to Ridgeway Community Church. We have been here several times before, and it is always worth the visit. The church is very involved in the community, and this time there were reports back from the HOTS team (healing on the street). The worship was excellent, and the talk was inspired, dealing with spiritual warfare. We are asked to make a stand in the face of the enemy. Ephesians 6. They had a bring and share meal going on and invited us to stay, but we had to move on.
Part of the worship team at Ridgeway Community Church
We went to Waitrose for some shopping, and then paused at an Indian restaurant for a buffet, which was freshly prepared and very good.
We set off, wrapped up in warm clothes, heading south. The stretch from Wallingford to Cleeve Lock is one of the longest reaches with little of special interest. One arch of Gatehampton Railway Bridge was closed to traffic as they were making repairs. Brunel’s original bridge was duplicated to add more tracks, so now there are two bridges ten feet apart. To make repairs to the brickwork, the engineers had erected walkways suspended between the two bridges. As the ferry is now closed, would it be possible to construct a Thames Path footbridge here I wonder?
Gatehampton Bridge maintenance works
The platforms between the two bridges
We saw a kingfisher, and a few kites, and we had to negotiate a sailing club’s manoeuvres.
The sailing club challenge
There was very little on the river. The lockkeeper at Cleeve said he was also covering Goring, so when we got there it was self-service.
As we left there, we lit the fire for the first time for ages, and by the time we arrived at Beale Park to moor up, it was going nicely. Then the sun came out!!!
We saw our first baby birds of the season – Egyptian Geese.
Cows near Beale Park
Moored at Beale Park
It was all a bit too open for Hugo who likes his bushes. Too many geese as well, who were making lots of noise defending their territory. There were also some unusual bird noises coming from the wildlife park, where they have tropical birds, owls, flamingos etc.
2 locks, 10 miles
Mon 20th April
Beale Park to Hallsmead Ait
Morning Mist at Beale Park
Thick mist on the water this morning, and a heavy dew. The mooring pins were tough to pull up, as the ground was full of water, and as the pins were withdrawn, a vacuum was created, making a satisfactory sucking noise. The pins then needed to be rinsed in the river, as they were very muddy.
Setting off from Beale Park
We had a lovely cruise down to Whitchurch Lock, past the Swan at Pangbourne, where the “Three Men in a Boat” finished their adventure. Below Whitchurch Lock the refurbished toll bridge was looking very smart and freshly painted. Then past Pangbourne meadows and the alpaca farm to Mapledurham, where we emptied two cassettes. The rubbish facility was closed.
The Swan at Pangbourne
The refurbished toll bridge at Whitchurch
Mapledurham House and church
After Mapledurham there is a long straight reach alongside the railway near Tilehurst before the site of the Reading Festival, and the omni-present huge gathering of swans that herald Reading.
We moored opposite Caversham Boat Services, on some handy rings. Hazel went to Aldi to stock up, while James walked into the centre of Reading to visit Sweeney and Todd, the pie shop. With two pies in a bag, he returned triumphantly to Aldi to help Hazel finish the shopping. These pies are superb, and worth a special detour.
Back on board we had a brief lunch, and set off in pursuit of another narrowboat which went past, so that we could share Caversham lock. They were heading for the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Opposite Tesco we spotted a pair of Australian black swans, with two cygnets. It is good to know they are breeding again. We saw a family of four cygnets here a few years ago. We also saw several other families of young birds: Greylag geese, Egyptian geese, Mandarin ducks, and Mallards. Others were on their nests: Mute Swans, Coots and Moorhens. One Canada goose was nesting on someone’s thatched roof.
After Sonning lock we found a mooring on Hallsmead Ait, one of two islands we like to use upstream from Henley.
James managed to pick our first wildflowers: summer snowflake. We have not seen these before, as we are not usually out in April. They are like giant snowdrops, and form great carpets of white.
Hugo Sniffing around at Hallsmead Ait
4 locks, 12 miles
Tue 21st April
Hallsmead Ait to Cliveden
We are having amazing weather for April. A lovely sunny morning greeted us as we set off once more downstream.
At Shiplake Lock we filled up with water and disposed of the rubbish. It is a great shame that there are not more recycling opportunities when we are boating. We have two bins on board, and always separate the recyclable material from the landfill bits, and then we find three huge wheelie bins all marked “general waste”, so it all gets put back together again. One would have thought that an outfit like the Environment Agency would have arranged a recycling facility at all their rubbish disposal points.
We continued our cruise down through Wargrave with its huge houses, and then Marsh Lock before gently floating down through Henley.
Riverside cottage with mooring
Paddle steamer at Henley
Then it was the mooring rip-off area, where you get charged £8 if you stop even for a few moments. This goes for five miles, through Hambleden and Medmenham to Hurley. We always see red kites along this stretch, and this time we saw four swans in formation flying overhead.
Hambleden Mill and weir
We didn’t need to stop for the facilities at Hurley, and we shared a lock with a working open tugboat, sixty years old. He was working on a job that necessitated him moving up and down through Hurley and Temple Locks. He had already come up through both locks earlier with no problems, but as we came to Temple Lock we discovered that it was now being operated manually, because the electrics had failed. Without power, the way to open the sluices and gates is hydraulically, by turning a wheel many many times. Before the locks were all changed over to powered self-service, many of the locks were operated in this backbreaking way. We thought those days were over, but not today.
The dreaded wheel at Temple Lock
We continued our journey through Marlow and past the dog walking field at Bourne End where there were 19 dogs this time. The final lock of the day was Cookham, which leads through to the spectacular wooded cliff, which accompanies Cliveden Deep for a mile downstream to the islands known as Bavin’s Gulls, where we planned to moor. We found a delightful spot where we were able to put our chairs on the grass and relax for the afternoon.
Marlow Suspension Bridge
Hugo surveys his island
7 locks, 17 miles, 1 mouse
Wed 22nd April
Cliveden to Runnymede
The boat was in shadow this morning so it was good to start cruising and move to the other side of the river where the sun was shining. We noticed a large amount of mistletoe on the trees along the bank, perhaps more visible because the leaves of the trees aren’t fully out yet.
We also saw a dredger at work at the entrance to the Jubilee River, ensuring that future floodwater does not affect Maidenhead, but instead rushes straight down to flood the good people of Datchet.
Mistletoe at Cliveden Deep
Dredging at the start of the Jubilee River
At Boulter’s Lock it was good to renew our acquaintance with Rob the lockkeeper who always encourages us with his strong Christian faith. Then we continued our journey through Maidenhead, under the road bridge, and then Brunel’s railway bridge, which apparently has the longest brick-built span in the world.
Leaving Boulter’s Lock
Brunel’s sounding arch
At Bray Lock we shared with a boat called the Venturer, which used to belong to an Oxfordshire charity and had a hoist and platform for wheelchairs. It had been named by Prince Charles, and there was a picture of him inside. It was now privately owned by two guys, and on the platform were two motorbikes. They had had some very long days, and were hoping to get to Uxbridge by this evening. They had started at 5am.
They were slower than we were so we overtook them soon after leaving the lock. A cruiser pulled out of Bray Marina ahead of us, and they were going faster than we were. So the three boats were gradually getting wider apart. At Boveney Lock, the cruiser went in, and, to our surprise, the gates closed. We soon realised why, as the hotel boat Magna Carta was waiting to come up. We then shared the lock with Venturer.
Waiting for Magna Carta
At Windsor we spotted a full size model of a Hurricane aircraft as a memorial to the planes designer who lived nearby. Then we were in Romney Lock with Venturer and another narrowboat.
A Hurricane at Windsor
The Venturer at Romney Lock
After Old Windsor Lock, we paused at the Bells of Ouzeley to meet Mary Sibley for lunch. Her husband Jim is in hospital having brain surgery today to remove a lump. We heard later that the operation had been a success. We passed Ankerwyke Priory, where there was some work going on to get the site ready for the forthcoming Magna Carta celebrations.
We stopped for the day at one of our frequent mooring spots behind a big brown warehouse at Runnymede. Apart from the aircraft heading into Heathrow, and the noise from the M25 a mile away, this is quite a pleasant place.
The brown warehouse at Runnymede
5 locks, 13 miles
Thu 23rd April
Runnymede to Weybridge
James washed one side of then boat before we left, and the chap from the only other boat came and chatted. He moors in Penton Hook Marina.
As we approached Bell Weir Lock there was a large fibreglass hire boat already descending, but very slowly. We realised it was self-service, but the sign had not been changed. James offered to close the bottom gates for them so that they could be on their way, and then he walked to the top gates and started to fill the chamber, with the plan that Hazel would take the boat in. It was very slow to fill, and two other boats appeared from upstream. Hazel decided she wanted to operate the lock and James would steer, so we changed places
One of the other boats was a white cruiser, and the other was a narrowboat called Mystic Moon. The lady owner said she was going to spend a month in London talking to people about death! She was going down the tideway to Limehouse on Sunday.
The cruiser left us after Penton Hook Lock, and we stayed behind after Chertsey Lock to use the water tap. There was an amazing assortment of adaptors and connectors from the tap to the hose.
Leaving Chertsey Lock
Egyptian Goose in Flight
We had Shepperton Lock to ourselves and found a mooring place on what we call the Weybridge Wall. We then had a pleasant sunny afternoon relaxing, before meeting our good friends Graham and Sheila for a meal at the Old Crown.
The Weybridge Wall
Graham and Sheila
4 locks, 7 miles