Monthly Archives: June 2017
All good things must come to an end and for us that meant us ending our stay in Marlow on Tuesday morning. We untied just before ten and pushed the bow out into the stream before executing a U-turn and continuing our journey downstream. A few minutes later and we reached Marlow lock where there was already a large cruiser descending. Three more cruisers were waiting to come up and by the time we were ready to go in, we had been joined by two more narrowboats. Once clear of the lock, we led the procession until we reached Cookham a little over an hour later. We were surprised to find rings on the bank when we tied up between two wide beam boats.
A few minutes later and Sue spotted this vessel passing, no photos because as it passed us, a cruiser stopped to ask about the mooring fees and completely blocked the view.
We of course wanted to explore the village but I also wanted to buy a new power supply for our mobile broadband router which had failed earlier in the morning. It’s a bit frustrating really because I have two or three at home that would have done the job but no spares on board. After checking train times we walked to Cookham and then on through to the station and caught a train to Maidenhead where there is a branch of Maplin.
Cookham is very picturesque and there seems to be an abundance of pubs but on this occasion, we did no research and passed them all by. Maidenhead was less inspiring, nothing really bad but after spending time in places like Abingdon and Marlow, the bar has been set pretty high! Anyway, our mission was successful and Maplin provided us with the necessary bit of kit. We did take time to wander around the town centre but other than a clock tower near the railway station, there wasn’t much to hold our interest. On returning to the station, we could see that the platforms were full of schoolchildren making their way home. We shared the carriage with about a dozen of them and what a racket they made! We were so glad when the eight minute journey back to Cookham was over and we got back to some peace and quiet. There were a few raindrops in the air as we walked back and we knew that rain had been forecast so we didn’t dally in the village except for a few minutes in the church. Our timing was good because we had only been back on board a few minutes when the light drizzle became heavier and heavier.
Our next target destination was the town of Marlow but first of all we had to get through Henley on Thames. As we have done on recent days, we got up and got going by eight o’clock, this time hoping to get through Henley when the level of river traffic would be low. Expecting the worst, with the regatta only four days away, we made our way into the town and under the bridge. Once through the middle arch of the bridge, we followed the sign which directed us to the left hand side of the river and then we kept to the left hand side of the channel allowing the rowing teams plenty of space between us and the main racing area. It was quite hectic despite the early hour but it all went smoothly and we were glad to reach temple island, knowing that we had reached the end of the racing area and had run the gauntlet successfully.
There had been the odd light rain shower in the first hour of our trip but they hadn’t amounted to much so overall our journey to Marlow was a pleasant one. Finding a good mooring on the Thames is not as easy as on the canals so we couldn’t believe our luck as we passed the park above the bridge. A cruiser pulled away and left a space that looked as if it might just be long enough for us. We turned midstream and attempted to make land in the space between a narrowboat and a small motorboat sitting behind a large cruiser. As in Wallingford, there was little room to spare but we got in although Sue had to move and then re-tie the motorboat before we could finally secure our mooring.
Marlow is another of those places that neither of us have been to before. In fact, I don’t think that we would know anything about it if I hadn’t accidentally driven through it a couple of years ago and thought that it looked like a lovely town.
Our mooring was adjacent to a park and we could see that there was some sort of event going on. Upon further investigation we discovered that there was going to be a triathlon taking place the following day with proceedings beginning with competitor registration between 5.30 and 7.00am! After exploring the town’s main shopping streets, we returned to Caxton and had lunch on the front deck. Our parkside mooring meant that we were part of the scenery and also a tourist attraction so once again we found ourselves being observed by and commented on by visitors to the waterside.
Sure enough, on Sunday morning at the prescribed hour, we were awoken by a tannoy announcement letting us know that we could register for the triathlon event. Within minutes, Sue jumped out of bed and was getting herself ready, determined to be among the early starters. Her bike was sitting gleaming on the bankside ready for the cycling section, she had already pulled on her wetsuit ready for the swim in the Thames when suddenly something didn’t seem quite right. I opened my eyes, and realised that after the initial tannoy announcement I had fallen back asleep and Sue lay still slumbering next to me, completely oblivious to the dream sequence that I had just experienced.
We got up at seven and watched the swimmers who passed between our boat and a couple of floating markers in the water. One swimmer passing by asked Sue if there was any chance that she had a bacon sandwich for him!
We pottered about indoors until just after eleven when we set off into town and found our way to The Coach. This restaurant is owned by the TV chef, Tom Kerridge and has a slightly unusual approach to serving food. There were very few customers when we arrived at 11.30, lunch service doesn’t start until noon so we had our pick of places to sit. We chose a couple of bar stools in front of the kitchen and had a chat with the head chef who had studied at the University of Leicester. The dishes are varied and are ‘starter’ size and we were told that most people would order two or three dishes each. We had difficulty in choosing from the menu, the dishes all looked appetising but you can’t have them all so we decided to order five of them and share. The dishes were brought to us one at a time and in no particular order. Sitting where we were, we could see the food being prepared before being hand delivered to us by whichever chef had put it all together – very intimate indeed!
After lunch we returned to Caxton and just took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and evening. The structures that had housed the organisation of the triathlon were being pulled down and the crowds were dwindling as we reflected on our couple of days in the wonderful town of Marlow.
On Monday morning we decided to stay for another day and explore the town more fully when there were fewer people around. We wandered over the bridge and visited the Compleat Angler hotel and spent a bit of time on their terrace overlooking the river. At lunchtime we visited the Marlow Bar & Grill and had another lovely meal in lovely surroundings.
We eventually returned to our mooring and sat in the sunshine just watching the world go by.
As predicted, the weather changed in the early hours of Thursday morning and we awoke to a much fresher feel to the air. At eight o’clock we were treated to a thunderstorm directly overhead with half an hour of heavy rain thrown in for good measure. It didn’t last and by nine o’clock we were able to untie and continue with our journey.
It was an enjoyable cruise and although the weather had changed somewhat, it was still sunny and warm with the temperature eventually settling in the mid twenties. We passed through between Reading and Caversham but there were very few boats on the move so we really only noticed a few around the locks.
We eventually tied up above Sonning lock and then took a walk into the village of Sonning which is mainly on the Berkshire side of the river. On the other side of the river is The Mill at Sonning which is a hotel / theatre / waterside bar and we had a little nosey around there too. There’s not much to the village but we did visit the local church and of course the village pub.
There is a tea room, well tea garden really, at Sonning lock so we stopped by and had some afternoon tea.
Sonning is home to the current Prime Minister, Theresa May but there are a number of other local celebrities to potentially bump into including George Clooney, Uri Geller and Jimmy Page – not that we saw any of them on our travels.
On Friday, we were up and on our way again by eight o’clock, this time aiming to visit Wargrave and Henley on Thames. Again, we saw very few boats on the move as we travelled along and since we were uncertain of gaining a mooring in Henley itself, we were happy when we saw a Caxton sized space on the Wargrave Lashford moorings. As I showered and got changed, Sue went off and investigated the surrounding area and when she returned, she had worked out the best way to get to Wargrave. We started our walk just after eleven and headed off towards the village. The first part of our journey was fine, an easy walk along a tarmac covered road, Willow Lane. Once on the main road however, we faced a narrow pavement overgrown with stinging nettles. Eventually we reached the village itself having successfully dodged both traffic and the stinging vegetation. There are shops and pubs in Wargrave but it is not a very big place to spend much time in so we carried on walking and found the church. We didn’t spend too much time there as the village flower show was on and exhibits filled the church itself.
Again we carried on further down the lane and got to the railway station where we waited for a train to Henley. The station has a single platform and the train just seems to shuttle back and forward between Henley and Twyford.
The train duly arrived and we made the eight minute trip to Henley on Thames. With the regatta due to start in a few days time, we were keen to see the river and how we would find our way through the area.
The river front was already transformed into a sporting venue but it all seemed clearly marked out so having seen that we should have very little to worry about, we stopped at the Angel on the Bridge and had some lunch.
The service was quick and the food was good, so suitably fortified we went off to explore the town centre and very good it was too with many small shops to take our interest. The local butcher, Gabriel Machin and Waitrose provided us with a top up to the larder and after all of that we caught a bus back to the end of the Willow Lane.
Like Sonning before it, Henley is also home to a number of celebrities. We are currently moored near the singer, Vince Hill’s house and a few hundred yards away from the home of the late Paul Daniels.
Ah, Monday morning! The best morning of the week now that I have retired. We decided to move on, Wallingford was nice but we didn’t think that there would be too much to hold our interest for another day. It was again around eight o’clock when we set off and after taking on water at Cleeve lock, we dropped down through that and Goring lock and tied up on the visitor moorings there. Goring also turned out to be a beautiful village so we decided to spend a few days there, apart from anything else we wanted to try out the NHS electronic prescription service. We explored the village and had lunch in the John Barleycorn pub; my Steak & Ale pie was an amazing home made affair and well worth the money. After visiting the local pharmacy and getting their details, Sue called our surgery at home and ordered the precriptions. On Wednesday morning we were able to collect them without a hitch so no complaints about that service at all.
There are a selection of small shops, pubs and cafes in Goring but we decided on Tuesday that we would catch the train into Reading because we weren’t planning to stop on our way through. The village station is only a ten minute walk from the river and the trip to town is a short one.
We had a look around the town centre and spent a bit of time in the museum, there’s an interesting collection there including a copy of the Bayeux tapestry. Our favourite part was a section dedicated to Huntley & Palmer, the biscuit making company. By one o’clock, the temperature was baking and there was no respite from the heat of the sun whether directly shining or radiating from the masonry.
We wandered through “The Oracle”, a bright modern shopping mall and ended up next to the river Kennet. There are a number of bars and restaurants lining the waterside including a beach bar. It’s difficult to know how well it does normally but on days like this, it really looked the part.
We passed it by and took cover in an air conditioned restaurant where we had a long, leisurely lunch.
When we eventually returned to our mooring, the sun was beating down directly on the cratch making it unbearable to sit out there. The coolest place turned out to be inside with the slight breeze blowing through the boat. We went for another walk later on when the heat was starting to subside and discovered George Michael’s house which is adorned with tributes from fans from all around the world.
Our second discovery was the Swan at Streatley, a hotel which is undergoing a major refurbishment but which also has an air conditioned bar. Too late to be of much benefit that day but with Wednesday forecast to be even hotter, Sue was forming a cunning plan.
Wednesday dawned much as the forecasters had predicted so after getting ready, we walked up to the village and collected the prescriptions. Next stop was the Swan for lunch. They are now at a point in the refurbishment that means that they can’t actually serve food but they are selling sandwiches and salads prepared in the cafe on the Goring side of the bridge. We weren’t really bothered about lunch, we just wanted somewhere to escape for the three or four hours that would bring the most heat – 33 C as it turned out!
After malingering in there for most of the afternoon we returned to Caxton and sweated out the rest of the evening, the only comfort being the knowledge that the following day would bring fresher weather and lower temperatures.
Sunday promised more fine weather with rising temperatures so we got on our way just after eight o’clock. After passing under Abingdon bridge, I could see a small boat near the bank and as I approached, the person on it advised me that there were rowers heading upstream and asked me to keep over to the right, which I duly did. A few minutes later and the rowers came into view, no problem as there was plenty of room. Suddenly, the boat in the centre of the channel started to veer off course and was in danger of crossing our path. He was very soon at an angle of about thirty degrees to the bank and the line of the other boat. I changed course and being still concerned at his wayward path, slowed down and sounded my horn. At this point a girl in another motorised boat which should have been advising the rowers, decided to wake up and shout a warning to the crew. Disaster averted but of course their stroke had been interrupted so one of the crew decided that he should unleash a string of obscenities as they passed by. We didn’t retaliate, there didn’t seem any point. These guys are pumped up with adrenaline, testosterone and probably steroids too but the main issue other than them believing that they own the water is that where normal people have a brain, their skull cavities are stuffed with sausage meat.
Anyway, after that bit of excitement we had a peaceful trip down river until we reached Wallingford and as we approached the visitor moorings, a narrowboat pulled out and left a Caxton sized gap. I didn’t think that there was enough space but Sue thought otherwise so we gave it a go and we just squeezed in between two cruisers.
The bank was filled with people sitting enjoying the beautiful Sunday sunshine and a few were swimming either side of the bridge.
We locked up the boat and walked into town and what a lovely place it turned out to be. Wallingford is one of the original locations used in the filming of TV’s Midsomer Murders, Causton as a matter of fact.
After a wander around, we returned to the riverside and sat in the cratch while watching the activities in and out of the water.
Our fifth and final day in Abingdon coincided with the annual election for the post of “Mayor of Ock Street”. This event has taken place for centuries in the town, more details here.
While waiting for the result we took a final walk around the town and also spent a little time watching the local cricket team in action.
We made our way to the Brewery Tap in Ock street and waited for the count to take place, once ready everyone made their way to the car park for the announcement.
Now after all the elections and referendums of the last few years, I’ve become conditioned to the aftermath so I wasn’t quite expecting what happened next. The result was announced by the runner up and he graciously admitted defeat, congratulating the winner and telling the assembled crowd that they had made an excellent choice.
Contrast that with Clinton bleating that Trump’s win was a mistake and possibly illegal, Corbyn claiming that he had somehow won the election with less seats and fewer votes than May, Remainers thinking that the slight “leave” majority wasn’t enough so Brexit should be cancelled and Sturgeon losing the independence vote and asking for another on the “best out of three” principle.
The Mayoral election was, therefore, a breath of fresh air and after watching the ceremony reach completion we left the Morris men to dance on into the evening while we returned to our mooring.
On Tuesday morning we untied from our East Street mooring and moved down to Osney lock. The lock keeper was busy painting out graffiti on the nearby footbridge but within a few minutes he was back at the controls and helping us lock down. As we chugged our way around the edge of the city we saw hardly anyone, it was all very quiet around Folly bridge, no doubt due to the fact that it was only ten o’clock on a Tuesday morning and outside the school holidays. All of the punts were safely tied up outside the Head of the river pub and Salter’s trip boats were moored on Folly Island. Once free of the city we realised just how much the open spaces and deep, wide waters of the Thames are in stark contrast to the features of the Oxford canal. We took our time and yet we still made good progress through the next two locks before eventually reaching Abingdon.
We took on water before dropping down through Abingdon lock and taking the first available mooring there. We wanted to have a few days in the town and had been told that the moorings there would be busy with only the first day being free. Where we had tied was a five day mooring so we were happy enough with where we were.
We later found out that in fact all of the moorings allow a stay of five days and although there were a lot of boats around, many were coming and going so we needn’t have worried about finding a space. We were happy enough though with two routes into town, and since both walks only take ten minutes, we thought that we were in a good spot. What we hadn’t appreciated was that marker buoys in the river made the approach to the lock relatively narrow with the result that every large boat that passed, particularly Salter’s Steamers, pulled hard on our mooring lines.
On Wednesday evening I had to reposition the pins as well as re-tighten the ropes so on Sue’s suggestion we walked downstream and found a space opposite the park where the river is much wider. Fifteen minutes later we were on our new mooring and as the following days proved, passing boats had very little effect on us.
Abingdon is a lovely town and one that I have never visited before, despite having passed by on the A34 on countless occasions over the last twenty years. There are lots of shops, pubs and historical buildings to see and explore, which we did during our stay. The following photographs should give a little flavour of the place but for better information click here
On Saturday morning we left our mooring near Aristotle bridge, moved down to Isis lock and dropped down on to the river Thames. Once clear of the lock, the route to the river ‘proper’ is a tricky one but we pushed around the 180 degree bend, slid through the narrow channel created by the now redundant railway swing bridge and under the mainline railway bridge before turning left on to the main channel. As Osney Bridge came into view a few minutes later, we could see that there were spaces available on the East Street moorings so we pulled in and tied up. Hardly the longest of cruises but it would give us a few more days in Oxford. The Environment Agency (EA) are responsible for the Thames and they also manage the popular mooring areas including East Street where the first 24 hours are free and then the next two nights cost £5 each. The payments can be done online so we paid our £10 using paypal and settled down until Tuesday.
We used our three days to wander around the city centre as we have done on a number of occasions before. It’s a lovely place even though it is very busy with tourists who are exploring the historic university town. It would be near to impossible to write a comprehensive travel guide to Oxford so I am not even going to attempt it here.
The boat moored behind us had been let on airbnb to half a dozen young people, a nice little earner for the boatowner at £120 a night. Accommodation probably is expensive in the city but visitors should take a look at the Youth Hostel Association (YHA). Their building in Oxford is a modern one and is next to the railway station and whilst their cheapest rooms are small dormitories, they also have family rooms and en-suite doubles.
Boats came and went during our stay on East Street but one local inhabitant, a heron, could be seen every day patiently waiting on the weir under the bridge for a tasty meal.
After a peaceful night below Kidlington Green lock, we decided to press on and complete our journey to Oxford. It was straightforward enough, a couple of lift bridges to raise and two locks to pass through before we reached our destination, the visitor moorings near Aristotle bridge. After we had showered and changed we took a walk into the centre via the Oxford yarn store which coincidentally was (almost) on our route. Our circular route brought us back to our mooring by walking the towpath from the end of the canal.
We decided to go the opposite way the following morning as we had a few bits of shopping to do and we were back on board for lunch by noon. The sun came out in the early afternoon so we decided to go for a walk, this time heading away from the busy streets of the city centre. A few hundred yards away, the road crosses the railway line and as we approached we saw an incredible sight in the distance, a steam train was approaching, as it came closer it was clear to see that this was a bit of a superstar, it was the Flying Scotsman.
The train was gone in a few moments but luckily enough, Sue had her phone to hand and got a couple of shots. We then carried on to Port Meadow and continued our walk to Fiddler’s Island and then on to The Perch at Binsey.
A wedding reception was being held in a marquee in the garden of the pub and the guests arrived in a vintage double decker bus.
Once we had refreshed ourselves at the Perch, we decided to visit a nearby farm which was selling fresh strawberries and asparagus. We had just been talking about how lovely it was to be away from the crowded streets and how good it was to walk down a traffic free country lane knowing that the nearby A34 would be its usual Friday afternoon self. No sooner had we said this than three fire engines passed us, blue lights flashing, heading in the direction of the pub. This puzzled us because we had left the small hamlet of Binsey just minutes before and nothing seemed out of place. We decided that perhaps this was some sort of back route avoiding the mayhem of the A34. Once we had bought our farm produce, we retraced our steps and found that the fire engines were parked near the river and were in the process of launching a rigid inflatable boat.
It turned out that there had been reports of a cow in the river and the firemen were out to rescue it. They didn’t find it, presumably it had climbed back out again. We took a slightly different way back across the meadow and eventually found ourselves near the railway station, by the time we got back we had walked a total of ten miles during the very eventful day!
After the high winds and rain on Tuesday, we figured that there could be a lot of boats on the move on Wednesday. We decided to get up early and move to the water point which is just beyond the main road bridge on the edge of Kidlington. We got up at 6am, the first time for me since April, and started our journey. Despite the fact that the water tank was almost empty we were on our way again just after seven. Originally, we had expected to complete our journey to Oxford in two stages but having got off to such an early start we decided that we may as well do it all in one hit. The canal is very green and rural as it skirts Kidlington and there are only a few areas that are suitable for mooring. This means that there aren’t too many moored boats to pass and at this time of the year it also means that the canal is lined with green walls of trees and hedgerows. Soon enough we had passed through the second of the Kidlington locks and were heading for Dukes lock, just over a mile away. A tree, presumably a casualty of Tuesday’s high winds, had fallen across the towpath and was partially blocking the canal, creating a sort of watery chicane but it presented little problem to us. After a while, I became somewhat confused because I couldn’t quite work out which way the canal was turning up ahead. I could see the green hedgerow but the water seemed to have disappeared. Suddenly I realised that I wasn’t looking at a hedge but a tree which had fallen across the canal and was completely blocking it about 400 yards ahead. After calling to Sue who was working inside, I brought Caxton to a halt and we weighed up the situation. It was obvious that we could not continue and it was equally obvious that we wouldn’t be able to moor easily either because of the rough and overgrown banks. We knew that there was a stretch of Armco below the last lock and we reckoned that since the blockage could take some time to be cleared, that stretch was probably our best option. It was still only just after eight o’clock so we knew that were wouldn’t be much traffic heading south and there was definitely none heading north so while Sue rang CaRT (Canal and River Trust), I reversed Caxton the half mile back to the lock. The half mile, mainly in a cross wind, through a narrow lift bridge and of course through the chicane created by the other fallen tree went without incident, no doubt because there were no witnesses! CaRT called back and told us that they had instructed a contractor to attend and that they hoped that the blockage would be cleared later in the day. A couple of other boats had arrived at the lock so we passed the message on before walking back to the tree to look at the damage. Once there we could see that the tree was pretty large and we could also see that there were four boats tied up on the other side of it.
This helped us make the decision to remain on the mooring for at least another day and in effect revert to our original plan by making the journey to Oxford in two stages. By eleven o’clock we had showered, changed and were ready to walk the mile back into Kidlington where we did a bit of grocery shopping and then had lunch at the Black Horse.
It was two o’clock when we got back to our mooring and the first of the trapped northbound boats was nearing the lock, the blockage was seemingly cleared. I was quite impressed that the work had been done so quickly but even more so when I walked back to the scene and saw that there was very little evidence of the tree left on site.
We didn’t do much for the rest of the day, the early start and the seven or eight miles walking that we had done left us feeling that we deserved a bit of a lazy afternoon.