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Friday, 11 July 2008

The Thames plus the K & A to Newbury

29th June:- We were up early on the Sunday morning, I fetched my copy of the Sunday Times to which I have been addicted for nearly 50 years, and we set off for Osney Lock. The cross current nearly caught Carol out but fortunately the lock keeper just got the gates open in time for us to cruise in. I had to buy a licence and as we expected to need 2 days to cruise to Reading, I was delighted to find that the Environment Agency gave us two days licence for just one day's payment, but at over £30 for the day it is expensive.

It was a day of reasonable weather, though a bit breezy, and we cruised steadily downstream after leaving Osney Lock at 9.20. There were other boats cruising along, but far fewer than we expected and lock-keepers said there seemed to have been a significant reduction in boats this year, possibly reflecting the terrible flooding experienced on the river last year. At 17.40 in lovely sunshine we tied up at Beale Park near Goring. We could have made Reading in the day, and this without cruising above 1200 rpm. We did 29 miles and 10 locks in the day, and all locks were worked for us. We were delighted to see a pair of Kingfishers flying, the first we have seen on the cruise!

I have to confess to idiocy on the cruise. We were in a long stretch between locks & Carol was down below preparing something. As we reached Shillingford, the river turns sharp left and I noticed two narrowboats ahead, one towing the other off some obstruction. I was busy making sure I didn't get involved when I got hard aground. I must have been 15 feet from the bank but there was an enormous shoal, and no marker buoy as seen elsewhere. It took a lot of pushing with the pole to get free.

We shared a couple of locks with a very interesting river launch. Beautifully varnished but I felt a rather odd shape, the cabin looked a bit like some very old railway carriages. We also passed a chap enjoying his lager whilst being towed upstream, and we also had to negotiate a set of dingies that was racing on a reach, made more interesting by a lad overturning just as we approached.

Our mooring was far from ideal as you can see from the photo. We had the bows tight in to the bank and there was a good stake to tie to, but we had to keep the stern about 6 feet out because of a pretty significant shrub/tree. We must get a mud weight, though I was able to fix the stern by pushing our pole into the river bed fixed against the hull.

Beale Park has a very significant part in our lives. We attended the IWA National Festival at Beale Park in 2006. All was going well, the weather was good, our mooring great, Carol was enjoying various demonstrations & I had attended a couple of talks on boat maintenance. On the Saturday afternoon Carol set ff to a cookery talk/demo & I was about to set off to view the overall site, but I remembered I had not put up our bunting so I hopped onto the roof to fix it up. I then tripped over myself and crashed off the boat and into the edge of the boat moored alongside, shattering the ball at the top of my right arm ( yes I am very right handed) and ended up in the river. Being the quiet mouse I am my shout was heard by others, I apologised to the members of the Boaters Christian Fellowship alongside, and was helped out. A night in Reading Hospital ( excellent ) and this was followed by us experiencing tremendous help from our friends and fellow boaters. I now have restricted movement in the arm, and have Carol shouting at me whenever she sees me going near the roof! In fairness to her she had a terrible shock that day & didn't know if I was dead or alive for over half an hour.

Monday morning was bright and sunny with patch clouds as we set off at 9.30. We had two locks to pass through on the way to Reading and I had decided it would be a good idea to fill up with fuel. I rang up Caversham Boats to check their price and found it was 85p a litre, so not bad for round the area. The boatyard is situated on Fry's Island in the middle of the river and all access is by boat. There is even a bowls club on the island! I asked how they fill up their fuel tanks and was amazed to hear that they get the filling hose carried over the river from the opposite bank, after stopping boats from passing down that side of the island. We had used 113 litres since leaving Debdale.

On from there through Caversham Lock and we turned right into The Kennet & Avon Canal at 13.30 in bright sunshine. We expected the first lock to be manned, but thought it wasn't as it was lunchtime, it seems now that it is no longer manned. It was actually "birded" with a heron sitting contentedly on the top gates, and unusually reluctant to move, herons usually are very nervous and fly off as you look at them. The lock was pretty and we then turned right into a side loop and moored up alongside "Chocolate Island" opposite new flats where I understand Huntley & Palmers factory used to be.

We decided to stay there that night & set off into Reading plus a bit of Wimbledon watching. The following day, 1st July dawned bright and sunny and with a good forecast and we set off fairly early and were a little concerned about the rate of flow through the town, reading of the Nicholson Guide warned of some potential difficulties ahead. The first was to get through the narrow centre past the Oracle centre. This is controlled by traffic lights...........on red of course. Our wait was enlivened by watching a chap cleaning windows with a veeeery long pole.

It was interesting passing right through the centre of Reading & then we approached the next lock. It only had a rise of just over a foot and I only opened one gate for Carol to get through. MISTAKE. There was a very strong cross flow from the weir and she did not enjoy the trip. Flows on the Kennet are strong.

Later on this day we met Lady Eleanor from Debdale at Garson Lock. At Theale swing bridge on a fairly busy road we had a car rush across as the barrier was almost down, I wish I'd had the nerve to carry on lowering it & swinging it with him on it!!! We stopped the night at Aldermaston Lock. The bottom gate was very heavy and I was overhanging the water as I stretched out to try to pull it closed. The river/canal is beautiful but care is needed with the flows. The bottom gates so far and some of the top gates have a walkway across on boards at lock height. Where there is nothing there is a toe iron to put your foot in and in many cases quite a height to go up to get onto the gates to walk across. Many of these irons were quite narrow for my foot and were not easily seen to get down from the gate, not my favourite design.

We ate out at a nearby pub. Pretty expensive & not very good. At Woolhampton Lock & swingbridge Carol starred. The cross flow was horrendous and a largish tree was in the water flowing out of the side flow, further restricting maneuvering. She made it in one and her skills were appreciated by the skipper of a trip boat moored above the lock.Much to our delight we shared several locks with another couple on the way to Newbury on Tuesday. We were delighted to see and actually photograph more kingfishers.

We had arranged to stay in Newbury Boat Co for the next week and entry was just above Ham Lock. We went to look at getting in. There was a pretty fast flow past the narrowish entry and we were very unsure how to tackle it. Fortunately Olive & Colin from the marina came & gave advice which was to take the bow rope to a bollard in the entry and then power the stern round against the flow. It seemed to take about 10 minutes to make progress against the flow, but we made it eventually and tied up. It is a pleasant little marina with pretty good facilities and about a mile from the town centre.

We stopped here for a week to look after our 3yr old grand daughter Annabel, and collected our car to facilitate entertaining her. We survived but are now enjoying a day of rest!

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