Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Newbridge to Radcot

With brooding sky overhead, Ian and I watched Carol Kirkwood’s smiling face on BBC Breakfast. Her message was not as bright as her smile as she presented the weather forecast for the day; projections of heavy showers and wind for the afternoon. We had about 4 hours cruising to do before reaching our intended mooring point so a little after eight we pulled up the mooring pins and set off.  The clouds overhead were heavy and grey but it was warm and still. However, a little after this picture was taken, the heavens opened and the rain came down like stair-rods. 

It was as if God had switched on a power shower and He was laughing at us “You might run but you cannot hide.” I scrambled down into the cabin to get Ian’s rain coat then closed the cratch covers as the rain poured in. A few moments later, as quickly as it started, the rain stopped and the sky cleared a little, but only a little. I made a cup of coffee and was determined to enjoy as much of the day as I could.

Ian pointed out the electric blue flash of a kingfisher as it darted away, scarcely skimming the water as it went. As if in contrast, I then saw a ponderous heron push out its long neck and almost topple over as it lifted its ungainly body into the air, then awkwardly flapped up and over the trees while pulling in its neck and leaving its long yellow legs training behind.

As we reached Shifford lock it started to drizzle again but the welcoming lockkeeper opened the lock for us. Moments later the lock slowly filled and as I chatted amiably to the lockkeeper, I noticed a beautifully crafted ‘bug hotel’ in the gardens and commented on it. It was a beautiful structure topped with bird nesting boxes. I also noticed the house martins darting to and fro obviously feeding noisy young ones. It didn't take much to guess that the lock keeper enjoyed his natural surrounds.

The river continued to meander through isolated meadowland with sharp twists and turns in places, the boat leaving a boiling wake behind it. By mid-morning the air was warm and still and even though the clouds were low and brooding, it was probably the best place to be in all of England. We soon passed a long line of moored boats just before the 18th century Tadpole Bridge and even glimpsed a tiny scrap of blue sky but it didn’t last long.

The Thames continued to meander as the sky became heavier. Light showers gave way to the promised heavy rain and by the time we reached Radcot, our stopping point for the day, we were both soaked through. The lockkeeper at Radcot Lock told us of a good mooring spot where the farmer didn’t charge for mooring and we found it easily. The herd of cows that occupied the field slowly moved off leaving us with a spectacular 'front garden' view for the rest of the day. 

By mid-afternoon, the rain had abated, the clouds lifted and the sun began to poke through although the wind did pick up a bit. Perfect time to write a blog but poor internet connection prevented me from publishing it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Abingdon was full of surprises. We discovered that Abingdon on Thames is Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited town. Recent archaeological finds have proved that people have been living there continuously for 2,600 years.  Abingdon was occupied by settlers of the Bronze and Iron ages and was a flourishing town in the Roman period, which in turn gave way to a Saxon settlement and when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, Abingdon Abbey was the 6th richest in Britain.
The bridge over the Thames (close to where we were moored) is over 550 years old. The Thames, which has always been an important part of the town, is a focal point for many recreational activities.
Mooring was plentiful and the town really makes boaters welcome with full boating facilities (such as water, refuse and sanitation point) at the picturesque Abingdon Lock. The well-kept river frontage faces open fields and sports grounds. Public facilities such as a self-cleaning toilet and refuse points are provided. Mooring is available for 5 consecutive days so we made the most of it and spent time exploring the town.
We were directed to a children’s splash park and entrance there was free! Fountains of different shapes and sizes pop up out of the ground and switch on and off at various intervals allowing children to run through them, so even tiny tots who can’t swim (and some who could barely walk) can join in the fun. We found it difficult to get Daniel out of the splash park; he wouldn’t even be bribed with an ice-cream! The only shadow was that he left his glasses there somewhere and although we searched all over and asked other people if they had seen them it was to no avail. They are well and truly lost.
Tanya and David joined us on Saturday. They had come to collect Daniel at the end of his week with us but they too found it so pleasant that they stayed most of the day enjoying the good weather.
On Monday 13th we pulled up our mooring pins and moved on promising ourselves that we would return when we had our other grandchildren, James and Phoebe, with us. We continued upstream through Oxford. Above Oxford, near Kings Lock, the river bends to the left towards Lechlade while access to the Oxford canal is a right turn onto the weir stream and through Duke’s cut. We headed towards Lechlade and found pleasant mooring above Eynsham Lock. The day had given us some heavy showers and the sky was a brooding grey as we hammered in the mooring pins.Below is a picture taken from the Swanhatch on Winedown.

Since today promised variable weather, we planned a short stretch, mooring just outside Newbridge. We didn’t see much of the promised showers and enjoyed the sunshine, even taking in picturesque walk along the Thames path.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The weather is gorgeous at the moment and we have been making the most of it. We have been moored above Day’s lock on the River Thames just a mile outside the Roman town of Dorchester. The wide open fields have been great for Daniel to run around in.
The peace and tranquillity are reflected in the pictures.

Here is Granddad showing Daniel how to untangle his fishing line...again!

Great Expectations
If we didn't call him in, I am sure he would still be there looking out for that elusive fish!

When we called Daniel in for dinner, the swan thought we meant him and came to the hatch for his share.

A wonderful sunset completed the perfect day.

Don’t you just love the irony of this photo. I am not sure who exactly is in danger, boaters or fish!

After leaving Day’s lock, we made our way upstream towards Abingdon. Our intention is to get to as close to the source of the Thames as possible. Again it was a perfect day. Our only concern was that the fuel gauge couldn’t make up its mind as to how much fuel we had. One moment it showed that we had ¼ tank, the next it showed that we had ¾ tank. We had filled up in Aldermaston 10 days ago so we thought we had ¼ tank.
As we approached Abingdon, we saw the Woolwich motor and butty pair of working boats Archimedes and Ara, plying their trade. As they drew close, I hailed them asking if they could supply us with diesel.  They acknowledged in the affirmative and we turned to go alongside.
Here we were in the middle of the river Thames, breasted up to this old working pair taking on diesel. Talk about mid-flight refuelling, this was mid-flow refuelling.  I was too busy holding on to the centre rope to take photos. Pity!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

I can’t believe that it was a week ago that we left the marina. After an interesting first day, things settled down into a relaxing rhythm
The swing bridge at Theale is about halfway between the marina and the river Thames so we had a comfortable day’s cruising. Between locks, I was able to sit back and enjoy the beauty of the countryside as it slowly slid by. The sun beat down warmly without being too hot.
I was standing on the stern of Winedown with Ian as we passed under the M4 motorway. The vehicles overhead rushed passed and probably didn’t even notice that they were crossing a canal. I waved heartily but my greeting wasn’t returned. The heads of drivers and passengers alike didn’t even turn in our direction; they were absorbed in their own world. The worked out gravel pits that are now filled with wildlife brought a degree of serenity that was in total contrast to the busy M4.
All too soon, we were on the outskirts of Reading where the waterway, a river, is shallow, narrow and fast flowing. The section that flows through the Oracle shopping centre is controlled by traffic lights. After opening the lock gates at County Lock, Ian pressed the button on the traffic lights and they immediately turned green so we were able to continue, taking the tight bends easily as we wound through the Oracle and out of the other side. Just before Blake’s lock the canal split and we took the left hand (port side) turn to moor on the courtesy mooring at ‘Bel and the Dragon’ restaurant . It was here that we met daughter Jo and baby Hollie for dinner.  The convivial atmosphere, excellent food and friendly staff is a must for any discerning diner to sample. Tanya, David with grandson Daniel met us at the same point at lunchtime on Friday to spend a long weekend with us. 
We quickly stowed their baggage and in no time at all, we had cleared Blake’s lock and turned onto the Thames. Before we could sit back and relax, we had shopping to do so we moored up outside Tesco – very conveniently – and quickly filled our basket with the supplies we needed, anxious to be away as soon as possible.

Mooring just beyond Mapledurham lock, we relaxed on the front deck with sun-downers while we caught up on all the news before starting to cook dinner. The flocks of Canada geese honked loudly just to let us know that they would not be left out of the conversation. The beautiful mute swans glided alongside the boat expectantly waiting for a morsel of bread.
A leisurely start the following day saw us traverse the three miles and a lock before we moored at Beale Park. Daniel couldn’t wait to get his fishing rod out but to be honest, it was more like… Daddy spent the afternoon untangling fishing line than Daniel quietly fishing.  Every now and again, Daniel would disappear and on his return he would regale us with fisherman stories. The fishermen along the riverbank must have been thankful to see the back of us when it was time to call Daniel in for dinner.
Sunday and we had planned to spend the day in Beale Park. Ian locked up the boat and as we were about to set off the heavens opened and we ducked under the covers of the cratch. Thinking that the shower would only last a few moments, we were content to huddle together watching the sky.  Thunder crashed and lightning flashed and the rain pelted down. Half an hour later we were still huddled together wanting for the storm to pass.  Just as we were about to give up the idea of going to the park, the sun peeped out from behind the dark cloud. A few moments later it was as if there had never been a downpour – except the soggy grass underfoot. The sun shone brightly and warm and we scuttled off down the path towards the park entrance before the weather had a chance to change its mind. The Wildlife Park and gardens didn’t disappoint and we even had a chance to celebrate the summer holiday with a cream tea.

On Monday 6th, Tanya and David left us to return to work( leaving Daniel to spend a week with Grandma and Granddad) but not before we had had a lovely lunch at Bel and the Dragon. Once we had waved them goodbye, we set off once again through Blake’s lock and headed towards Pangbourne where we moored for the night.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A New Adventure

August 1st 2012

Narrowboat Winedown left the marina at Frouds Bridge shortly after 1:00pm. It doesn't matter how many times we leave the marina the feeling is always one of suppressed  excitement and today was no different. It was the start of a new adventure - our summer holiday.

I smoothly tucked the bow into the flow of the Kennet river at the mouth of  the marina, swung the tiller hard over and increased the engine speed. We cleared the 90 degree turn easily.

About 100yds up river from the marina entrance is the K & A canal; another 90 degree, blind turn. Taking the corner wide, I increases engine speed  and swung the tiller over again to swing the stern around the corner. Ian immediately started to gesticulate and I realised that a boat was coming around the blind corner. I pulled hard of the gear leaver to select reverse, and increased engine speed again. The heavy, old, Lister engine throbbed happily in response; it loves hard work, but I wasn't thinking of that as the 60ft narrowboat slowed. I saw the bow of the other boat and it too was slowing but neither boat slowed enough. The two button fenders attached to each bow kissed lightly and gently bounced each boat back. I continued to reverse back down stream and let the other boat pass. In all the time we have been in Frouds Bridge Marina, we have never met another boat on that corner - Oh well, first for everything.

We continued without further incident towards Aldermaston lock, the sun putting in an appearance and warming our backs. At the lock, we passed a hire boat that was just setting off. The people exchanged greetings and commented on the sunshine. When the English summer puts in an appearance, it's spectacular, nothing can beat it.

We were heading for Theale in no particular hurry. Along the way we passed narrowboat Aquarius moored on the side of the canal, and later saw that they were following us. At Sulhamstead Lock, I noticed that Aquarius was a short way behind so we waited at the lock for them to catch up and share the lock. Just as well we did.

Leaving the lock, they called out cheerfully 'See you at the next one,' to which Ian replied,
'We will be mooring near Theale swingbridge for the evening. We will wave as you go by.' Famous last words...
The mooring at Theale bridge was very busy so we headed for a space that would just accommodate our 60 ft length. The current on this part of the canalised river was flowing strongly and struck the stern forcing it broadside across the canal  and in no time at all we found ourselves jammed sideways across the cut. A couple on narrowboat  'Cats Whiskers' were just mooring up and ran to help us as we struggled to regain control of our boat. Roger grabbed our bow rope while his wife hauled on the centre rope but to no avail. Roger grabbed his bargepole and nimbly traversed the gunwhale of Winedown  to help Ian free the stern while I went to help Christine with the centre rope. I noticed the cap she wore had 'First Mate' embroidered on its crown and thought how she had unselfishly  become our first mate.

We all struggled to no avail and at that point, narrowboat Aquarius rounded the bend, saw our predicament and pulled into the bank of the canal to lend a hand. As we all tugged and pulled, prodded and pushed against the barge poles, a pair of young cyclists rode up. 'Need a hand?' the young man asked me, leaping off his bike and grabbing the centre line that I was struggling with . 'Yes please.' His friend ditched his bike and grabbed the rope as well.  All in all, it took us a good 20 mins to get the boat under control and securely moored at Theale swing bridge. A huge THANK YOU to all for your help.