Thursday, 12 December 2019

Kennet and Avon Canal. River Thames. Theale to Wallingford.

There really isn’t a lot of River Thames between the K&A and the Oxford canals; Oxford to Reading is easily achieved in about half an hour in a car. However, boating is a whole other world. Legend left Theale six weeks ago and so far we’ve only got as far as Wallingford. The first three days weren’t too bad; a little damp but otherwise fair progress was made through the various locks and bendy river bits from Theale to Reading...





...where we moored outside Tesco and went to the cinema in the evening. Then Reading to Pangbourne through a bit of a shower, but not too bad and we tied up on the lovely Pangbourne meadows.
From there we moved on to Goring...
...and moored on the big bollards just below the lock. After all the recent rain the river was becoming quite lively which made mooring tricky; at Goring there’s a big weir stream that comes across from the far bank, and rather than pinning you to the bank it goes round the boat and pulls the back end out into the river. It’s the complete opposite of what you’re expecting when you pull in and there was a certain amount of running about and heated opinion before we managed to get Legend tied up securely.
Anne and the Lawes came for the evening and we had a lovely curry in our cosy little home and tried to ignore the maelstrom that was chucking the boat around and battering the trees.
In the morning the clocks went back so we had our extra hour in bed, then worked our way up Goring lock, helping three hire cruisers and a narrowboat down as we went.

It was a beautiful day; blue skies and sunshine all the way to Wallingford, but the stream was getting faster by the hour and by the time we got to Wallingford bridge it was a very slow crawl with the Lister turned up to 11 to get through. Just as we popped out the other side, Nb Albion pulled out so we hovered in the stream until he was out of the way, then drifted sideways to a very nice town-side mooring.
There are really good cleats and sliders that you can tie up to here, there are nice south facing benches along the towpath and the town is just a short walk away via two excellent pubs on the corner of the bridge. All in all we can thoroughly recommend Walingford as a good place to stop on your journey along the Thames. When we stopped, we didn’t realise just how lucky we were to be there. For the next six days the warning boards went back up to red and we stayed tied up while the river went whizzing by. Dave got the remaining firewood cut up and stashed under the tarp and we had a walk up to Day’s lock and Dorchester via Shillingford bridge.



As our car was going to be a lot more use in Wallingford than it was in Fleet, Dad kindly gave us a lift over there to retrieve it and we took them out for dinner in return.
We had booked to go the the WRG bonfire bash on the Uttoxeter canal, but the warning boards were changing every day; dropping from red to yellow above and below us, and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity. On Friday we had a few hours of “shall we, shan’t we”, we packed and unpacked and in the end decided to stay and hope for a window. There were bonfire fireworks in Walingford, which was some consolation, but we missed our WRG mates.
Saturday was really stormy with waves outside the window, but Sunday was better and our hoped for window looked like it might have opened. It was grey and cold, but the wind had dropped and the river looked to be going slower. There were two yellow boards above us so we set off and powered our way up stream, hoping to make it to Abingdon.

There was still a red board between Clifton and Culham locks but we were gambling on it dropping to yellow by the time we got there.
That did not happen.
In fact after four and a half hours boating all we’d managed to do was get through Benson lock, empty the loo at the services just below Day’s lock and get ourselves into the lock chamber.
We were met by Mark the lock keeper, who told us that the river situation, rather than decreasing as we’d hoped, was in fact getting worse and he was in the process of opening more sluices. The red board was still in place between Culham and Clifton and the Day’s to Benson section was just about to go into the red as well. Although the lock keepers don’t have the authority to prevent anyone from navigating if they insist on going, we’re not actually that daft and, as you know, we haven’t got a very powerful engine. So we turned round and retraced our steps back to Wallingford. Four and a half hours there, forty minutes back. Fifteen of which were spent clawing our way back through Wallingford bridge because there was no way on earth we were going to attempt to turn upstream of it.
On the way back we stopped at Benson Lock for water. There is a tap there, but it is for containers only and you can’t put a hose on it. Not perfect but better than nothing. We were about to start the long process of filling our camping water bottle a few thousand times, when the very nice locky turned up and, upon hearing of our plight, let us use the hosepipe from her house. She was really lovely and even offered us a shower!
So, it wasn't an entirely fruitless journey, we'd emptied the loo and filled the water tank, but about six hours after setting off we were moored up twenty yards ahead of where we’d started that morning. We lit the fire and had an early night.
And Legend has been here ever since.
On the up side, moored in front of that wide beam and sheltered from the worst of the flow by that big willow tree in the river turned out to be a very good place to be when the flow got going, and Nb Merchant, the only coal boat with a big enough engine to tackle the Thames, ploughed its way through the bridge a couple of days later and sold us four bags of coal. 
Since then there have been red boards from one end of the navigable Thames to the other, and with good reason. The river has been rushing by our boat at an unbelievable rate and over the first two weeks the water rose from 2.8 to 4.5 meters, which put it 35cm above the bank and flooded all the surrounding fields. For the highest three days it was over the tops of our wellies so we resorted to rolling our trousers up, putting sandals on and wading along the towpath.
We deployed the gang planks and the sliding poles which stop the boat drifting onto the bank if the water gets that high...
...and we kept a careful eye on our ropes, making sure they didn’t get too tight as we went up. We also found a handy source of water in the shape of a tap in the camp site on the far bank.
Dave trundled the sack truck back and forth across the bridge with eight two litre bottles until the water got too deep, by which time he’d filled the tank again, giving us two weeks worth. Three if were frugal, which we have been.
Ironically, amid all this watery fun and games, and just when we’d managed to fill our tank, our water pump packed up meaning we couldn’t actually get to any of it. Thankfully it turned out to just be a corroded connection which was easily fixed.

Luckily, through all the trauma, we haven’t been confined to the boat; if we hadn’t been somewhere so safe then it would have been a different story, but we managed to get away several times. We had a weekend with Martin and Yvonne in their amazing new house in Colchester. They are such dear friends and it’s always lovely spending time with them; we visited Colchester Castle in the glorious sunshine...

...and had an afternoon walk around Ardleigh Reservoir. Sadly we had to come back a day earlier than planned because we were getting concerned about how fast the numbers were going up on the EA web site.
With perfect timing, Sam came for the night just before the river burst its bank on our side, so she didn’t need to paddle. (it had been over the moorings on the far side for a week by then)
She was doing a tour of friends to say goodbye before going back to Oz, and we had a smashing evening with brownies, wine and cards. After we waved Sam off in the morning we walked up to Benson to look at the weir...
...and for a wander round the village, then by the time we got back the water was over the bank.

We’d hung our go-cart tyre fenders from the mooring cleats; they don’t float so they stay between the boat and the bank as the water rises.
We’ve been carting all this “just in case” stuff around for years, so in a way it was good to be able to finally justify the space it takes up. (Actually, the slidey poles are also the pole-bunk poles and the go-cart fenders are the next step if the fat fenders aren’t fat enough, so it all has a use and a home anyway.)
While wading through the puddles, Ann-Marie discovered that her wellies had a leak,
so the next day Dave gave her a piggy-back through the flood to the bridge and we went on a welly hunt. Miraculously, we found the perfect pair in the first charity shop we went in. After that we drove up to Abingdon to look at the river levels and moorings there, which turned out to be slightly better than at Wallingford, but still flooded.
Back home, Ken and Annie gaily waded to our boat bearing fish and chips and we had one of our good old games nights. Brilliant fun!
In the morning, the river was well and truly all around us and flowing quite fast.
Dave got the inflatable dinghy out, thinking we could use it to get to the bridge and back, but it turned out to have a puncture and, with hindsight, the risk of being swept out into the river was quite real, so he put it away again, which is why we had three days of wading in sandals while the water levels peaked.
It only took two days for the river to be back in its banks, but it left a lot of water in the surrounding fields and the carpark on the far bank.
As soon as he was able, Dave took our water bottles over to the campsite, but found that the tap had been turned off. We don’t know if it was a flood precaution or just because the campsite is officially closed for the winter, but either way it meant we had to find another water supply. Keeping our tank full suddenly became our number one priority. We put our two litre water bottles in our rucksacks and every day we either walked up to Benson lock and filled them or we put them in the car and filled them while we were out.
We were becoming used to the way the river behaved, so we had no worries about going away for four days to Skegness for the Great British Folk Festival. On the way up we stopped in Milton Keynes to have a look at the village hall that we’ve booked for Ann-Marie’s 50th birthday party. It’s very good and has a lovely atmosphere, but only a normal domestic cooker and there’s nearly sixty people coming, so we might have to restrict the menu a bit.
It’s the second time we’ve been to Skeg and we were once again sharing an apartment with Bob and Mandy. As before, and as we knew it would, it turned out to be a fabulous weekend.

It was made all the better for having Bob’s birthday on the Sunday, and Dave’s on the Monday. Unfortunately Dave had a tooth abscess which forced an impromptu visit to see an emergency dentist on the Saturday morning and a course of antibiotics so he couldn’t drink, but he put a brave face on it and hopefully didn’t spoil anyone’s weekend.
On the Monday morning we got packed up, said our goodbyes then, rather than sitting in the queue to get out, had a walk round the chalets, then threw all our spare change at the tuppenny falls. By then the queue had gone down considerably, but we were still ages getting through Skegness itself, and it seemed like hours before we got to the A1 and could finally get moving.
On the way home we stopped off in Henley-on-Thames to open one of their Advent doors. That evening it was in the Angel on the Bridge, where we joined Lesley and Pete and were treated to a turkey and stuffing roll and a glass of mulled wine, while listening to - and joining in with - a beautiful barber-shop quartet, singing a mixture of traditional and Christmas songs.
A wonderfully magical way to get into the Christmas spirit.
We got back in the dark to a very cold, but perfectly safe Legend. We’d been watching the EA website like hawks all weekend so we knew it should have been OK, but it was a tremendous relief to find that it actually was.
The next day we were out again, this time over to Fleet. We took Mum to the Farnborough Christmas Market which, apart from being inside the beautiful frame of the old balloon hanger, was a bit of a disappointment.
However, we had a very nice coffee and a bun in the Aviators Café, then went out for lunch with Mum and Dad at the New Inn. So it all ended very well.
That evening, on our way home, we opened another of the Henley advent doors. This time we were in the Rowing Museum being treated to the Henley Children’s Theatre, performing a medley of carols and Christmas songs.
Unbelievably cute!
The following day - on our way home from the dentist - our week of late nights continued with a brilliantly serendipitous evening at the Banbury Folk Club in the Church House pub. Gerry Colvin and Marion Fleetwood - two of our most favoritest people - are patrons of the club and, along with cake and a raffle, were performing that evening to a very small audience which we felt very privileged to be part of.  
Christmas kicked in properly the next day. We cleared the boat of all our normal ornaments and paraphernalia and swapped it for the Christmas decoration overkill that lives under the bed for the other eleven months of the year.Then, once it was all sparkly and yuleish, we went to open yet another door in Henley with Lesley and Pete. Our surprise treat that evening was mince pies, mulled wine and the Henley Rock Choir at the Leander Club.
Anne came along on her way home from working in Milton Keynes, and we all went round to L&P’s for pizza afterwards. A brilliant end to a ridiculously social week for a couple who are supposedly traumatised because their boat is stuck on a fast flowing river.
You can tell by now, Dear Reader, that we were getting a bit blazé about all this “Strong Stream” and flooding malarkey. The red boards started to turn yellow during this week, but we’ve been there before, so didn’t get our hopes up or even consider changing our plans “just in case” and carried on with life as usual.
Next weekend is Ann-Marie’s birthday party, so all our time is getting sucked into planning for that and we have lists and bags and boxes and ingredients in piles all round the boat. The kids are coming over from France and Ireland and it will be the first time that all three grandchildren have been together, so we’re extremely excited about that.
This will probably be the last blog this year Dear Reader, so we’ll take the opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas and the happiest New Year.  

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