Saturday, 2 June 2018

River Wey. Basingstoke Canal. Weybridge to Mytchett.

Before we turned off the Thames and started our exploration of the River Wey and the Basinkstoke canal we had to recover our car from Henley, where Lesley & Pete had kindly been looking after it for us. Mum, Dad and Auntie Wendy came along to our mooring at Weybridge, and while the boys went off to Henley, the girls stayed on board and prepared lunch.
After all the majestic extravagance of the Thames, the entrance to the Wey is a rather modest affair.

With our passengers safely on board we waved goodbye to Weybridge and quietly slipped up the inconspicuous channel to Thames Lock - the first on the Wey - where we tied up and were greeted by the friendly Lock keeper.
Thames Lock is now technically a staircase, although it doesn’t look like one. After Shepperton lock was built on the Thames, the water level below it, which is where the Wey comes in, was about 4’ lower than it had been previously, making it impossible for laden boats to get over the cill into Thames lock. The simplest solution was to add another pair of bottom gates, creating a holding pound where any vessel with more than 2’ draught (including Legend) is lifted up to clear the cill.
When Legend was safely up the lock, we went into the office and collected our National Trust welcome pack, our Wey windlass, and paid our £7.20 for a transit licence to the Basingstoke.
The difference between the two rivers was striking. After all the traffic on the Thames and all the huge houses lining the banks, the secret tranquillity of the gentle little Wey was a very welcome change.
Mature oaks and beeches lined the banks and as we worked our way up the next three locks the only boats we saw were on private moorings on the off-side. The locks were hard work and slow going, but they all behaved the same, pulling the boat forward as we filled them. Tying the back rope to the pin at the back of the lock is sound advice. Mum, Dad and Auntie Wendy had a lovely trip, seeing bits of their home ground from a different perspective. In his younger days, Dad had canoed up from Weybridge to Brookwood, and he remembered a few bits of it.
At Woodham junction we turned onto the Basingstoke canal.

As we chugged our way up the first half mile to the bottom of the Woodham flight, we were followed by a very clever Cormorant who had clearly learnt that the best place to catch fish is behind a moving boat as they swim away in a panic. He kept a steady pace with us and caught two, the second one was as big as he was, but he still managed to swallow it in the end.
As we weren't going up the locks till the following day we tied up on the lock landing.

Our passengers disembarked and we walked up to Scotland Road with them then, while the boys were getting the car back, Ann-Marie and her mum had a rather emotional walk round Birchwood where her Great Grandparents used to live.
In the morning we had a 9.30 booking to start up the flight and bang on time Mark arrived to give us our Basingstoke Canal Licence and information pack and unlock the gates.
It was the 9th of May and we had licence number 11, so it was no surprise that as we worked our way up the flight there were plenty of walkers and cyclists who were very interested in seeing a moving boat.
Between the first three locks there is a whole community of residential houseboats which first appeared when the canal was derelict and now have a historic legal right to be there. Apparently they very occasionally change hands for quite large sums of money.
We stopped at the services in Woking to do an empty and fill and had our lunch, then carried on to St John’s locks where Mark caught up with us. His job, after we’d gone up, was to calk the gates; in other words, stir up the silt above the top gates so that it gets drawn into all the gaps and seals them. It’s a very effective method and must reduce water loss by a considerable amount. He was very helpful and knowledgeable and gave us lots of advice about mooring and bridge heights. (More on this subject later!). He also told us that we were the only boat using the locks for the next three days, so it would be ok for us to moor on the lock landing at St John’s, which we did.
We found the Basingstoke as different from the rest of the canal network as we’d found the Gloucester and Sharpness was last year, but for completely opposite reasons. The G&S was big and wide and commercial looking, whereas the Basingstoke was small and calm and somehow, despite the many people who use the very good towing path, feels rather private.  
Woking is home to the first purpose built Mosque in England, so we thought we’d go and have a look.
It’s also the town that gets destroyed in HG Wells’ War of The Worlds, and where he lived when he wrote it so, not unexpectedly, there is a Martian tripod in the high street and a meteor embedded in the pedestrian precinct.
From St John’s we went about a mile to the beautiful remote Hermitage Woods for a night round our little bar-b-que campfire...

...followed by an early start to get to Brookwood Bottom for breakfast while we waited for BCA Lock Keeper Carl to unlock the gates and let us start our way up. Brookwood and Deepcut are stunningly beautiful, although a little hard going in places.
Carl made it a lot easier by opening all the bottom gates for us, which got us up a lot quicker and saved Ann-Marie a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. We cleared Deepcut top at about 2pm and were soon moored up at Frimley Lodge Park, then combined a car move with a trip to a garden centre for potting compost and some new troughs.
Yes it’s that time of year again, clearing out the spring bulbs and choosing colours for our summer flower display. Ann-Marie started by repotting the strawberries; we now have six troughs and they all look very fruity. As the plants were all off the roof we gave it a bit of a clean; summer was definitely in the air.
Our next move took us to Mytchett Lake, about 300 yards from Karen’s house.
As we use Karen’s for our correspondence, Legend was as close to home as it is possible to get. Ann-Marie was very pleased to be living so close to her sister and it was fabulous to have Karen “just popping in” on her way to work.
We picked Mytchett Lake as the best mooring for a visit by Frankie, Harry and 10 week old Thibault. They came for a 6 day visit, every minute of which was a joy and it was wonderful to have such chilled people on board.
We took them back to Frimley Park and invited loads of rellies to come and join us and to meet the newest member of the family. The Surrey Heath Show was on the same day, so it was even more special; a proper English picnic with classic cars, brass bands, a tea tent run by Karen’s Brownie pack and a baby to cuddle as well.
The weather for their visit was fantastic - blue skies and sunshine every day – which meant that when Harry fell out of the dinghy the water wasn’t too cold. That afternoon we went shopping via Karen’s washing machine, with Harry in a pair of Dave’s shoes and with all his wet money spread out on the settee. Sadly his IPhone didn’t survive the experience.
As we were local, Karen asked us to give a little talk to her Brownie pack about boating and our nomadic life aboard Legend. It took us out of our comfort zone but we quite enjoyed it in the end and the Brownies did too. Karen had got a pile of paper plates and punched holes round the edges which they laced with ribbons, and then Dave showed them how to paint 3 canal roses in the middle. All very good wholesome stuff.
That evening Ken and Annie on Nb Ceilidh moored up behind us, and while we were chatting we invited them to join us for breakfast at Deepcut Café, the virtues of which Dad had been extoling ever since he’d found out we were coming this way. So, the next morning we, along with Ken, Annie, Frankie, Harry and Thibault walked back along the towpath to Deepcut to meet Dad for the Best Breakfast Ever.
We were glad of the walk; it meant that when we got back to the boats we were able to bend over far enough to get in.
This is the only photo we got of our morning in Deepcut Café. Sadly the camera wasn't big enough to get the food in focus.
On F&H’s last day with us, Frankie’s Auntie Sue came over to see Thibault and have lunch. We don’t get to see Sue very often and she’d never been to the boat before so it was all very lovely. After lunch it was time for everyone to say goodbye; not too traumatic as we were going to see F&H the next weekend.
After they left we began the task of reducing our air draught as we had 3 very low bridges to get through before mooring up in fleet that evening. According to the BCA the lowest - at Reading Road South in Fleet - is 5’9”. We’d measured from the waterline to the top of our front pigeon box - the highest immovable thing on the boat - and we’d made it 5’8”. That didn’t leave a lot of room for error which, when you’re working with a wobbly boat and fluctuating water levels, could be significant. We emptied the new solar box into the dinghy, collapsed the big black box and put the contents into the car, put all the plant pots and troughs inside and spread the log collection between the handrails before setting off, hoping that when we got to Wharf Bridge (5’10”) we’d fit under it and not have to go backwards for over a mile to Ash lock.
Find out how we got on next time.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

River Thames. Oxford to Weybridge.

In Oxford we moored up on the very nice East Street visitor moorings just below Osney bridge.
This is the lowest bridge on the Thames and we’d had to reduce Legend’s air draught in order to get through it.
It doesn’t have an official height because it depends on the vagaries of Father Thames, but if you have less than 6’ you should be ok. As soon as we moored up we started to put all our tat back on the roof, which was when Tony Robinson walked past. We exchanged pleasantries, then a couple of minutes later he walked past again. Then we spotted the film crew a bit further down the towpath. It turned out he was filming an episode of “Coast to Coast” and was walking the Thames Path. Well bits of it anyway. After he’d walked past a few more times, and we’d exchanged pleasantries a few more times, a young lady came over to us and asked us to sign a form for permission to use any footage that we were in. Fame at Last! The series is being screened in the Autumn of 2018, so keep an eye out and you might see Legend, or maybe just the back of our heads. Here’s the back of Tony’s.
We had two nights at Osney; partly because of the weather forecast, and partly to give us time for a proper look round Oxford.
On the second day we were about to walk into the city when we noticed that Nb Gloriana was moored just behind us. Nic was on board so we had a little chat then he went off to the station to collect Jackie who was coming to the boat for a few days. When we got back they’d left to moor at Sandford for the night, which was where we caught up with them the next morning after chugging our way through all the Saturday morning rowers at Oxford.
We shared Sandford lock with Gloriana...

...and the rest of the journey to Abingdon...
...where we moored up next to them. Later on, Nb Polako (Jan & Colin) and Nb Magnus Mirificus (Simon & Wendy), turned up and moored in front of us. Simon and Wendy got caught by a gust as they were turning round to moor and were blown into an overhanging chestnut tree which, with a resounding crack, flattened their cratch. Once they’d got tied up they assessed the damage, luckily the cover wasn’t torn and the glass wasn’t broken; the screws that had held the king plank to the roof had sheered off, but Colin soon had them replaced and after half an hour’s tinkering you would never know anything had happened.
Later on we went for a walk round the town and to the Abbey Gardens on the other side of the river.
We walked down the the bank to get a photo of the boats and were slightly concerned to see that Legend was now pointing the opposite way round.
We hurried back over the bridge to find out what had happened. Apparently a wide beam boat had come up the river really fast and pulled everyone’s pins out of the soft ground. Our very kind and quick thinking neighbours had managed to catch our boat and re pin it before it disappeared down stream to the next bridge. The thoughts of what might have been were too hideous to contemplate, so instead we had a very pleasant crib night on Gloriana, and planned our two boat trip for the next four days.
Nic and Jackie live in Hungerford on the K&A. They’ve been boating for years and know the Thames very well, so we were grateful of their knowledge about where all the best moorings were.
Our plan had been to stop at Days lock and go and visit Dorchester the following day, but the weather forecast promised a big storm so we carried on with Gloriana to Wallingford instead.

Walking round the town that afternoon we noticed that the corn exchange was showing “The Darkest Hour” the following evening so, as we expected to have our hatches firmly battoned for the next twenty-four hours, we booked four tickets.
In the morning, the storm which the previous day the met office had been so certain would envelope and devastate the whole of the country, carelessly missed our half of it, so we could have gone boating after all. However it was worth staying to explore the castle...

and to go to the pictures with Nic and Jackie.

 On May morning, Dave was just making the wake up pot of tea when Gloriana set off, but we caught up with them just before Cleeve Lock where we moored behind them for breakfast on the bank with our little speaker playing Molly Dancing Music.

After a lunch stop at Goring...

we carried on to moor up at Pangbourne Meadow.
In the afternoon we walked up beside the little river Pang to Tidmarsh, then across the flint-strew fields to Sulham wood with its beech trees and bluebells...

...and back to the boats just in time for Aperos on board Gloriana. Possibly a mistake; Nic is extremely generous with the gin, which is lovely, but when we got back to Legend, Ann-Marie was nearly too drunk to cook tea, and Dave was definitely too drunk to care.
 After four short days of boating together we had to say goodbye to the lovely crew from Gloriana. (However they live in Hungerford on the Kennet and Avon, and we have an invitation to go and see them when we get there later on this year - something we are really looking forward to.) So after a quick walk round Whitchurch and Pangbourne, we set off on our own for Sonning. On the way we had a fortuitous stop on the Mapledurham lock landing while a short sharp shower passed over us, then carried on through Reading and past the entrance to the K&A before mooring up on the Thames Visitor Mooring (TVM) outside the Bluecoat’s School just before Sonning lock.

TVMs are a relatively new thing and they work really well. As soon as you arrive at one, you use the app to register your arrival which gives you your first twenty-four hours free, or you can book in for up to another two nights as well at £5 per night. It’s really easy; the app gives the precise location and a description, and it even tells you if there are rings or bollards or if you need pins. And, as we were rapidly discovering, compared to a lot of other places on the Thames it is very good value.
Just as we were getting ready to set off the next morning Jan and Colin on Nb Polako came past so we shared Sonning lock with them. It was a short collaboration; they moored up on the TVMs just below the lock, but we had chance to compare notes and wish each other well. We carried on to another TVM at Lashbrooke opposite the very posh river frontage at Shiplake.
Rather spookily, the next morning, just as we were about to set off, Polako came along again! With lots of banter about who was stalking who, we shared Marsh lock with them after which it was our turn to wave them off as we stopped and moored up under the wishing tree in Henley.

Lesley and Pete had invited us for a bar-b-que at theirs so that evening we had a lovely walk up the hill, over the golf course and through the beautiful bluebell woods to their house.

By happy coincidence Anne, Jen and Greg were there as well, so we had a terrific evening. When it was time to go, their son Jacob very kindly walked us home in the dark, which was just as well because after all the wine we’d never have managed it on our own.
In the morning we all met up again in Wetherspoon’s for breakfast, after which Anne, Lesley and Pete did a three-car shuffle to Marlow and we all went for a fabulous boat trip down the river.

It was brilliant to have local guides on board as we went under the town bridge and down the Regatta course. Predictably for a bank holiday Saturday, we had quite a bit of queuing to do at the locks but, just as predictably, Ann-Marie set too in the kitchen and kept everyone’s spirits up with a super lunch spread followed by delicious cream teas.
There is a TVM just below Marlow lock and we’d all had our fingers crossed that on such a perfect day for messing about on the river there would be space for us to get in. Someone must have been looking after us, when we came out of the lock there was the mooring with just one GRP cruiser on the far end.
On Bank Holiday Sunday we met up with Jan and Colin on Polako for what turned out to be the final time. We were boating through Madenhead when we spotted them moored up on the other side.
 Under the A404.
 Breakfast on the tiller
Dave put us in reverse and we hovered in the stream for ages waiting for an endless procession of rowing boats and cruisers to go the other way. At last there was a gap in the traffic and we made a dash across the channel to breast up alongside them for a cuppa and a chat. We were glad we’d stopped as they’d decided not to go down the Wey and were heading back up the Thames, so it was good to be able to say goodbye properly and exchange contact details.

We’d got our sights set on the TVM at Boveney lock, but as it was only short and very popular we weren’t particularly hopeful. However, luck was once more on our side; we came round the corner just as a cruiser pulled out, so we turned round, stuck our nose into the gap and hovered while the crew of another cruiser - under the hypnotic charm of one of Ann-Marie’s most beguiling smiles – moved up to let us squeeze in.

Karen, Andrew, River and Nick all came over for lunch, then River and Nick left and Coops, Autumn and Tristan turned up for a second lunch sitting. We all had a beautiful sunny walk into Windsor and back for sight-seeing and ice-cream...
...then Coops and Co left and Karen, Andrew and ourselves had a small, but beautifully formed bar-b-que on the river bank.
Bank Holiday Monday dawned bright and sunny with temperatures predicted to be soaring to 26˚C. As we chugged under the railway bridge and made our way downstream in the shadow of the magnificent Windsor Castle, it seemed that from far and wide, anyone who owned anything that could be vaguely described as a boat had rushed to the river to join the dozens of hired motor boats, rowing boats, paddle boards, canoes and swans that were happily messing about on the river.

We’ve never seen so many boats in one place and couldn’t stop laughing. The only lock that was manned was Boveney just after we set off, all the rest were self-service which slowed the whole operation down considerably, with all the hirers not really knowing what they were doing and all the gin palace boaters getting twitchy about sharing a lock with a 17 tonne steel brick.
We tied up on a one-boat long mooring at Runnymede, just below the American Memorial...

then had a walk up to it, and the Kennedy Memorial. In the morning we had an early morning climb up the hill for a very emotional visit to the RAF Memorial.

Back at the boat, Ann-Marie went for a dip in the river before breakfast...

...then we set off for our last day on the Thames for a couple of months. We saw our first cygnets and ducklings of the year before dropping down Shepperton lock and turning off the Thames onto the River Wey and tying up on the TVM moorings at Weybridge.

Ann-Marie’s Aunty Wendy and Uncle Dave came over from Shepperton for a cuppa, bringing home to us just how close we were to her home ground.

River Wey. Basingstoke Canal. Weybridge to Mytchett.

Before we turned off the Thames and started our exploration of the River Wey and the Basinkstoke canal we had to recover our car fr...