Monday, 3 September 2012

Lechlade to Maidenhead...

I have been firmly wrapped across the knuckles for not writing a blog for nearly 2 weeks. David has been checking on a regular basis.
‘How do we know where you are if you don’t blog to tell us?’ he complained. Rightly so!

We reached Lechlade on Friday 17th August. Although the river had risen by 6 inches over the past few days the yellow warning boards on the river Thames indicated that the stream was decreasing. The current was flowing strongly.

At St John’s Lock, the first lock on the navigable Thames, we availed ourselves of the provided sanitation facilities before cruising the last half mile. As we waited for the lock to empty and clear of craft, we chatted to the lock keeper. ‘You turning at the Roundhouse?’ he asked us. The waterways guide book had indicated that this was the start of the navigable section of river and also indicated a turning point.

‘Good luck on that!’ the skipper of the boat in the lock looked up at us sourly. It appeared that his experience was not good. ‘And there isn’t much in the way of mooring either, the current and wind is too strong to get close to the bank.’ We should have taken more notice of what he was saying.

Clearing the lock, we continued on our way, noting the available mooring as we went. When we reached the Round House took the advice the lockkeeper had given us. He told us to take a wide turn, clockwise, to use the current to assist the turn. As soon we started the turn, as the bow was swept away by the flow of the stream. I watched in anxious fascination as the trunk of an overhanging willow came closer and closer. I noticed the red, green and blue paint that marked its scarred trunk and realised that we were about to add ours to it. It was quite obvious that this tree had accidently been hit by boats on numerous occasions and judging by the bright paint, not too long ago either.

The bow was turning but not fast enough as the current swept us broadside towards the tree and with a sickening thud, we connected, but not with the side of the boat. It was the cratch that took the brunt of the impact. The left side cratch board came off its hinges and slipped over the side of the boat. I watched it helplessly as it sank beneath the surface of the river but I was too occupied with trying to save the rest of the cratch boards to be able to do anything about it.  The bow continued to swing and in another moment it was clear of the tree but the cratch was demolished and there was nothing I could do about it.

Ian got the boat back in control, continued the turn and moored alongside the river. I took up the boat hook and back tracked along the river bank in the hope that I could find the missing panel. As luck would have it, the highly varnished oak floated and the glass was intact. I laughed with relief at the sight of it and didn’t even mind too much as the nettles stung my legs as I retrieved it. Clutching my prize tightly, I returned to the boat to survey the rest of the damage. On closer inspection, we considered ourselves very lucky. Screws had sprung, dowel had popped and hinges had spread but the wood was still intact. It took Ian no more than half an hour to replace and repair and unless you had been told, you would not have noticed that anything was wrong.

With the unfortunate accident behind us, we looked for an overnight mooring and despite the wind and strong flow of the river; we found an ideal mooring close to Ha’penny Bridge (so named because of the toll once taken) on the edge of a field and slid into our new berth easily. Phew, enough excitement for one day, but without a doubt, we would never forget our introduction to Letchlade.

The church can be seen for miles and in the evening as the dusk gathers, the spire lights are switched on and the spire rises ghostly but majestically into the night sky.

Lee brought James and Phoebe to join us on Sunday 19th.  We had arranged for them to stay with us for a few days and I had been looking forward to that. I was able to get all my ‘housework’ done on the Saturday, the day before they arrived which meant that I could spend some real quality time with them.

After lunch together, Lee joined us for a walk along the Thames path which took us from Ha’penny Bridge to St John’s lock along one side of the river and back along the other  before he took his leave. As the evening gathered, the children settled down to enjoy their summer holiday with us, starting with a spot of fishing.

On Monday, we left Letchlade behind and set off for Newbridge. When we reached Shiffield lock, I showed the children the ‘bug hotel’ while Ian topped up the water tank. James was more interested in helping the lockkeeper to operate the lock as he had done at each lock along the way and at Shiffield lock, Phoebe got into the spirit of things and helped as well; much to the lockkeeper’s delight. We moored in a lovely spot alongside a farmer’s field just half a mile past Newbridge and it was here that James caught his fish. He was so excited that he almost dropped it back into the river before I could get the camera.

Phoebe and I had taken a walk along the river while the boys were fishing. We took off our sandals and paddled in the cool river (which was quite welcome after the heat of the day) and played ducks and drakes with smooth flat pebbles, sending them skimming over the surface of the water.

Tuesday brought us to Godstow and we moored next to the remains of Godstow Abbey which was founded in 12th C and enjoyed many royal benefactors before it was ruined during the Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539 and finally destroyed by Fairfax, commander of Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1645. James and Phoebe expressed much interest in the historical value of the ruins and spent time exploring and taking photographs to send back to their Daddy.

Leaving Godstow on Wednesday morning, we cruised through Oxford and on to Abingdon where we were lucky enough to find a mooring right next to the Splash Park and heated swimming pool. Needless to say, we didn’t see much of the children for the rest of the day.

We were joined on Thursday by Granny (my mother) and Terry, her gentleman friend; and after exploring the delights of the park and remains of the abbey (another victim of the Dissolution of the Monasteries) we had a long lunch together. As soon as the older couple had left us, the children were once again nowhere to be seen as they amused themselves in the play park.

All too soon, Friday came around and Lee returned to collect his reluctant children. He did however have a surprise for them so they were not too sorry to leave us as they headed for a new adventure of their own with Daddy and friends. I was able to get my housework and shopping done just in time for the arrival of Jo and Chris (Ian’s daughter and son-in-law) with their daughter Hollie, on Saturday morning. They were to spent the bank holiday weekend with us and also join us for the next leg of our river adventure; from Abingdon to Day’s lock near Dorchester-on-Thames.

Still moored alongside the splash park and heated pool (Abdingdon Town Council allows 5 consecutive days free mooring), Ian and I were able to show Jo and Chris (and of course Hollie) the points of interest that we had by that time become quite familiar.  Towards the afternoon, Jo went in search of a swimsuit for Hollie so that she could go into the swimming pool but by the time she found something suitable, Hollie had gone to sleep and only awoke as the pool was closing. Never mind, Tomorrow is another day – or so we thought.

On Sunday, the plan was that Chris would move the car to Dorchester-on-Thames and run back thereby getting his exercise as well as sorting out a transport problem. In the meantime, Jo would take Hollie, attired in her new swimsuit, to the splash park. But best laid plans…the splash park would not open until 11:00am by which time we were expect to have set off to meet
Chris on his run back. Jo and I sat on the grass and watched Hollie explore the now dry splash park and later took her to the play park for a ride on a swing.  As we pulled up the mooring pins and set off, the fountains of the splash park came to life. Oh well; another time perhaps.

Chris did very well on his run and met us before we had left Abingdon. This gave him the opportunity to enjoy the countryside he had just traversed from a new perspective. I must say that it took us a lot longer to get to our destination of Day’s Lock at Dorchester-on-Thames than it had taken Chris to run from there to Abingdon. Before joining us, Chris had discovered that Day’s lock was the site of the World ‘Poohsticks’ Championships, held in March. This unique event was the brainchild of a former Lockkeeper, Lynn David, who introduced it as a means to raise funds for the R.N.L.I.  

After lunch, Jo put Hollie into the buggy and we set off to explore the roman town of Dorchester. If we thought Hollie would sleep we were wrong. She was more interested in her new surroundings to want to miss anything.

Bank Holiday Monday

Before leaving us, Chris and Jo had expressed a wish to see the Wittenham Clumps, a site of an ancient hill fort and even though it was threatening to rain, Jo put Hollie into the baby carrier which she strapped to her front while we donned rain jackets and we set off. The ground was very wet after recent rain and the sky was heavy and brooding but that didn’t deter us. Hollie tried valiantly to stay awake but all too soon she succumbed to sleep.
Views from the clumps are well worth seeing and we were not disappointed
Dodging rain showers and cold weather, Ian and I made our way down the Thames from Day’s lock to Maidenhead where, a week later, we were to meet Jo and Chris again in an entirely different venue as we all watched the rowing events of the Paralympics at Eaton Dorney.

Monday 3rd September and the weather is much improved. Is this the summer we have all been waiting for? I certainly hope so.

Ian and I are once again on our own and enjoying the tranquillity of the river. The school holidays are at an end and the traffic on the river reflects that. The beauty of the River Thames is not to be matched anywhere – in my opinion. It was at Cookham Lock that we passed David Walliams while he swam the Thames last year. Was it really a year ago? The tranquillity of the river certainly makes it hard to believe.