Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Thatcham Mission

2017 13  Thatcham Mission

Sun 21st May 

The first event of the mission was a team visit to Thatcham Baptist Church (TBC) in the morning, where we had a warm welcome.  We increased the size of the congregation by about 50%, and after the service, over coffee, there was a lot of chat between team members and church members.

Worship team at Thatcham Baptist

In the afternoon we brought out Hazel’s left over birthday cake, and served teas and coffees from our boat. Most of the team had some as well as some people passing by.

Team tea and cake

The churches of Thatcham came together for a very friendly canalside communion service in the evening. David Taylor, the pastor of TBC, played keyboard. It was a beautiful evening, enjoyed by everyone, as well as by a million mayflies who chose today to emerge in vast numbers.
 Canalside communion
David Taylor

Mon 22nd May 

We had the first of our daily morning devotions as a team. Today it was at 9am and we led two songs acoustically, before a short word and a time of prayer. Then we planned who was to do what for the rest of the day. This was to be the format for these team gatherings for the rest of the mission.

Team meeting

We decided to join others of the team giving out leaflets in the Broadway, the main shopping area for Thatcham. There is a small central grass area between two roads, like a miniature park, where we pitched our gazebo. We were kept very busy at times, with a number of people crossing through the central area where we were based, and several choosing to rest on the park benches close by.

Leaflets in the Broadway

Back on the towpath later, some young girls from Rainbows came to visit the boats. They are a younger version of Brownies.

Rainbows visit the boats

Chris with kids on Kairos

In the evening we went to the Lamb for a pub meal and met six people on the next table who expressed an interest in what was going on.  Later they came down to the canal to visit us on board Gabriel.

Tue 23rd May 

The team meeting this morning was at 8.30am.  Peter and Lin both had bad throats, and we were determined to keep away from them to avoid catching whatever it was they had.

We went to a coffee morning in the TBC, where there were a few people, mostly elderly.  This event happens every week, with free teas, coffees and cakes, and the regulars come for a good chat.  They weren’t expecting to be serenaded by two people with musical instruments.  We sang three songs – The man who calmed the sea, Father’s Love, and Pilgrim.  Although many were listening, some were chatting away and did not hear the message. The parable of the sower springs to mind, where some of the seed fell on stony ground. In hind sight we may have done better with something they might have known, such as the Battle of Jericho. As we got off the bus we

While we were engaged at the coffee morning, the boats were visited in two groups by Cold Ash Primary School, and later some of the British Legion came to have a tour of the boats.

Wed 24th May 

This morning’s meeting was even earlier, at 8am, due to key people needing to be at a school assembly.  Singing early in the morning is always a challenge, and we dropped the keys for the songs by a tone so that we could reach the high notes.

We noticed a greater spotted woodpecker on the trunk of a wooden electricity pole, level with Gabriel.

In the afternoon we visited “Ladies Circle”, an afternoon ladies group who meet at TBC.  We sang several songs to them, including two hymns to start with. This time we included Banks of the Ohio, Jericho, and Oh When the Saints. We were well received, and stayed with them for tea and cakes. The lady opposite James had been born in Thatcham ninety years ago, and the lady next to him was 95! 

As we walked back to the boats we passed a lady waiting at the bus stop and we chatted to her and gave her a leaflet and invited her to come and visit us on Gabriel.

The team had visits from Francis Bailey Primary School during the day.  These school visits usually involve visiting four or five boats. They get a different bible story on each boat, as well as being told about what life is like living aboard, some of the history of canals, how locks work and so on.

In the evening a youth group came to visit, and spent some time with some of our youth workers.   A home group from the church also came, which included a lady in a wheelchair. We managed to wheel her up the towpath to the lock, where we helped her on board Litania for a short cruise.  At that moment, Remus, the other trip boat, had just turned round, and suddenly lost all transmission to the prop. They couldn’t stop, so they bumped into the stern of Litania, where, thankfully, the wheelchair lady had just sat down.

We had to leave Remus moored on the lock bollards, while we took a gentle thirty minute cruise past the Boats of Hope and beyond. Conversation developed, and James was able to give a short testimony to a man who was not yet a Christian.

Evening cruise on Litania

Steering Litania

The view from the water

We went out for our wedding anniversary meal to the Lamb, where there was a curry night. It was not exactly haute cuisine, but at least we didn’t have to do the washing up!

Thu 25th May 

Tony and Pat left early on Paws 4 Thought for a “lavender run” to Aldermaston to fill up their water tank and empty cassettes. They kindly agreed to take two cassettes from our boat plus some rubbish bags.  We are being very frugal with our water so that it will last until the end of the mission. There are no facilities for boaters in Thatcham.

We were back to 8.30am for our morning meeting. When this was over we were delighted to meet up with Jack and Sandra from Aylesbury, who took us out for breakfast at the Wyevale Garden Centre. It was good to catch up with them and find out what had been happening back at Broughton Church.

Back at the boats we had more school visits, this time from Spurcroft Primary School.

Children heading back after their visit.

In the evening we had a gig at the White Hart, where we delivered two 45 minute sets, with boating songs, folk songs, and songs about the end times.  Sadly there weren’t many pub customers present, although there was a table in the middle where people were joining in. We might a photo or a video to show here soon if one of the team would pass it to us.

We are doing it all again in Newbury, on Wednesday 7th June at the Old London Apprentice at 8pm.

The railway line is having overhead electric cables installed, and the level crossing at Thatcham is closed to cars overnight for several nights this week. On returning in Andy and Sue’s car to the level crossing, we persuaded some railway workers to carry our gear across the crossing, while we walked over the footbridge. This bridge is very high, to accommodate the planned electric cables. We had a good chat with some of the workers, who were all wearing orange Guantanamo Bay style boiler suits.  They had their own technical train which came through, with lots of specialised equipment, and many orange men on board.

Fri 26th May 

After the morning meeting we took a bus to the Broadway for Market day, and visited the excellent fruit and veg stall there.  We followed this with a Chinese Thai lunch, which was very good. We found a bus which took us most of the way back to the boats.

Thankfully, the man from RCR managed to fix Remus installing a new coupling so that they had a propeller that turned once again.

There were more school parties visiting the boats, walking down the towpath past Monkey Marsh Lock, which is one of only two turf-sided locks in the country.

School group arriving

 Kids on boats

Monkey Marsh Lock

Yellow iris

White umbellifer (anyone know what it is called?)

Sat 27th May 

After a dry week there was rain forecast for Saturday morning, our busiest day.  We had prayed that it would pass through earlier and be dry during the day.  In the end the rain came in the night – Thank you Lord.

Dawn over Thatcham

Our final team meeting on the towpath took place at 8.30am

Leading the worship

Worship on the towpath

Then it was our open day, with many boats open to the public. There was a free barbecue, and free boat trips on Litania and Remus, and everyone was having a great time. The people did not all arrive at once, so we were able to cope. We played our instruments from the back of Gabriel, using instrumental arrangements we had worked out over the years.

Open day

Peter and friends

 Rabbit races

 Turning Litania

We had worked out that the woodpecker we had seen earlier in the week was actually nesting in the wooden pole, and a young woodpecker was peering out of the hole, making loud tweeting noises, asking for food. I managed to take a photo, but Tim went into the field and took a much better one.

Woodpecker head

In the evening we went to TBC to hear Tracey’s talk entitled “The Blind Boater”.  With her guide dog Oakley, she is well known on the waterways.

Sun 28th May 


 May blossom

Back to TBC in the morning for their service.  Music led by a talented guy on a keyboard.

Thatcham Baptist Church

In the evening we had our testimony service, where we led the worship, just four songs in the end as people had a lot to share.  This was the final event of the Thatcham Mission, and we ended up back at the boats, chilling out on the towpath with wine and nibbles.

Team chill out

Next: moving off towards Newbury where we start again on Friday for a further mission.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Froud's Bridge to Thatcham via Wales and Weybridge

Sun 14th May  Froud’s Bridge

It was a lovely sunny day as we prepared to leave the boat and travel to Wales with our good friends Adline and Barry who live in Salisbury.  We had to pack a variety of clothes, as we were staying in a hotel for two nights, and trudging up a mountain track on the Monday.

We set the timer for Hugo’s food, and stowed our bags in Barry’s car.  Barry had worked out the route and knew how to get there, mostly avoiding motorways. It was very scenic at times. We stopped for lunch at a pub with a view, and arrived at the hotel, which dated back to Elizabethan times, and which was very pleasant, with carved oak staircases and furniture.

Maesmawr Hall Hotel

Carved oak seat

No boating today

Mon 15th May  (Froud’s Bridge)  Ricky’s commemoration

Breakfast at the hotel was almost anything you wanted.  Except they didn’t have laver bread!!!.

We set off using the satnav to the postcode we had been given at Pant y Dwr, and then there were arrow signs to the road up Mount Pistyll, which is Forestry Commission land.  Instead of having to walk up, or have a ride in a 4WD vehicle, the gate had been opened up for all the visitors, so we drove up a further mile to the assembly point, where cars were parked by an old quarry, and some chairs were laid out.

The weather was wet and foggy, so the stunning views were left to the imagination.  Ricky and Martina were dog lovers, and Martina arrived on a quad bike flanked by two neighbours, with a dog on each bike. It was a remarkable sight to see them emerge from the mist.  It was a very extraordinary day, celebrating the life of a memorable man.

Assembling on the mountain

Ready to start

The arrival of Martina and the dogs

Farewell eulogies

Libby and Katie

We all descended to the local village hall for a good spread of sandwiches and nibbles and then we had a further night in the hotel. 

No boating today

Tue 16th May  Froud’s Bridge

We had a scenic drive back to Froud’s Bridge, passing an amazing hillside covered in gorse, and having a lunch stop on the way.


When we arrived back at the marina, Adline and Barry continued to Salisbury.  When we entered the boat we noticed two things immediately.  The low battery warning on our carbon monoxide alarm was going off, emitting a high pitched beep every 30 seconds.  Hugo’s cat food for Tuesday morning had not been touched. 

Hugo was nowhere in sight and when we took the lid off the feeder we discovered that Monday evening’s feed had been half eaten, so we knew that he was around until Monday evening.

We called and searched the area, thinking he would come back within a few minutes. By the time we went to bed there was still no sign of him.

 Sunset at Froud’s Bridge

No boating today

Wed 17th May  Froud’s Bridge

James got up at 3am and searched once again all round the marina.  Heavy rain started and lasted all day and we wondered if Hugo had found shelter anywhere.  We had another two searches later in the day when the rain eased a little.

Meanwhile we had a lot of work to do on our songs for the mission, as we were transferring many of them to computer tablets.

No boating today.  No photos either

Thu 18th May  Froud’s Bridge

There was no cat in the boat this morning. This was Hazel’s birthday, which wasn’t proving to be a very happy one. Hugo had now been missing for three nights.  Hazel had been sent a Jackie Lawson e-card, and the image was of cats playing on top of a piano. This triggered her off, and James as well and we spent some time mourning our pussy cat, as we thought we would never see him again.

James printed off some “Lost cat” posters, took some leaflets around to local businesses and homes. We visited the Old Mill, a wedding venue behind the marina and left details there.

Flowering meadow

The Old Mill


We notified vets, local council, and of course the marina staff, who put a picture up in their window.  We had planned to move out through the swing bridge so that we could make an early start in the morning. When the time came to move the boat we decided we would stay put for one more night, just in case Hugo came back.  So another boat went through the bridge without us.  We went and paid our marina fees.

The swing bridge

This was turning out to be a very miserable birthday for Hazel, who packed up his cat food, ready to give to someone else.

We were busy working on songs again, when there was a small noise at the stern of the boat, and Hugo came through his cat flap! It was after 10pm.  He was very hungry, a bit bedraggled, and very pleased to see us, as we were to see him. We locked his flap.

Happy birthday after all. What a relief it was.

No boating today

Fri 19th May  Froud’s Bridge to Thatcham

We got up early and moved the boat to the swing bridge, from where we could empty our cassettes and get ready to leave.  The bridge was swung early for us – at 8.30am, and we were away.

Leaving Froud’s Bridge Marina

Back on board

We passed Kew moored up, but we could not see anyone around.


At Woolhampton, we saw a boat pulling out in front of us, and it turned out to be Tony and Pat on Paws 4 Thought, also heading for the mission. They had already lifted the lift bridge, so we went through with them. Then there was the lock, and just before the lock, a side stream where the river joins the canal. This is a notorious junction which causes problems for the unaware, sweeping boats into the side before they reach the safety of the lock.  Tony went first and managed it OK.  Then Hazel took Gabriel through. As the second boat, there is less lock mouth to aim at, and a danger of colliding with the first boat.  This is how she got on.

Hazel’s challenge

Old Woolhampton Lock

We passed Floating Charge, who we had first seen in Brentford. No-one in sight.

 Floating Charge

Travelling with Paws 4 Thought, we not only shared the locks, but also the swing bridges.

Oxlease Swing Bridge

 With Paws 4 Thought


When we arrived at Thatcham there were already several boats in position for the mission, so we moored alongside Kairos initially.  Later another boat moved away, so we took their place bankside in front of Kairos.

Assembling for the mission

Hazel went off to a hairdresser, and James went to the White Hart, where he left a poster for the gig we have there on Thursday.

In the evening, many of the team went to the Bella Vita Italian restaurant to celebrate Tim’s birthday. It was also Mary’s and of course Hazel’s recently. It was a good meal, amongst good friends.

4 locks, 4 miles, 4 swing bridges

Sat 20th May  Thatcham

On Saturday we had a lift with Andy and Sue to Weybridge, where we celebrated Hazel’s birthday with an afternoon tea party, with sandwiches, cakes and scones.  We had used caterers for the occasion, and they served us well, with four catering staff. We had china crockery and tiered cake stands.  There was also a wonderful birthday cake.  We had a cabaret from Sue Graves, which was very special.

The birthday cake

Jessy Clive Maggie

Family in front and friends behind

There is a video of Sue Graves singing

Hazel and the cake

No boating today

Next:  The mission in Thatcham