Tuesday 2 July 2024

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with the humidity - as we were treated to a mini heat wave. After waiting so long for it to happen no-one complained, well not on the first day anyway, but we’re British after all and after two days of sweltering heat, the cracks began to show.

On the first morning, while Dave started work on the skip-dived flooring boards, converting them into plinth covers...

The doors to our larders.

It's amazing how much extra storage there is behind the kitchen plinths.

...Ann-Marie went out for a run up the Thames path towards Mapledurham lock. She only got about half way before the heat got too much and she had to walk back.

The Thames Path on the way back from Mapledurham lock.

After a big breakfast, we carried on the process of clearing, cleaning and packing our belongings. Preparing for such a huge life change is so emotional - exciting and sad at the same time - this little tin box has been our life for longer than anywhere else and we are so going to miss it. But more than that, we’re going to miss this amazing Voyage of Adventure that it has given us. You know, Dear Reader. You’ve been here with us.

The next morning Dave tried to cheat the heat, and went off running just after dawn. It was indeed cooler, but with that came a heavy dew and before long the soggy socks and trainers from the knee-high grass got the better of him and he had to give up as well.

With sunhats, water bottles and plenty of factor 50 on the back deck, we pulled the pins from our little hidey hole and continued upstream...

Leaving our perfectly Legend sized mooring at Pangbourne. 

...through Whitchurch lock and on up to Goring where we moored up in a nice shady spot under the trees.

Dave got out onto the front of the boat, undercoating the bottom of the cratch board and putting a coat of Aquasteel primer on the top of the bow. 

Meanwhile, Ann-Marie re-potted our prodigal tomato plants into our round tubs. They are the great great grandchildren of the original cherry bush plant that we got in Wallingford during Covid. There are ten of them this year and if they’re anything like their parents they will be prolific. Goodness knows what we’re going to do with all the little toms when they ripen.

In the evening we had a lovely walk across Goring bridge and up through Streatly to Lardon Chase. It was a steep climb, but totally worth it. The plateau at the top was glorious with so many butterflies and wild flowers, including Pyramid Orchids, which we’d not seen before.

Goring lock and weir from the bridge.

Lardon Chase, a National Trust nature reserve on the top of the hill opposite Goring.

There's a beautiful wild flower meadow up there.

And fabulous views out over South Oxfordshire.

Google lens told us that this beautiful little wild orchid is a Pyramid Orchid.

The next morning we had another early kick off, partly to avoid the the heat, but mainly because we wanted to get to Wallingford during the 11am - 2pm sweet spot when there would be somewhere to moor. When we got to Cleeve lock we found it empty, but with only one bottom gate open; a sure sign that the power had failed. When that happens you have to use the big wheel to manually wind the gates and paddles, which is really tiring and makes your arms ache. Happily, we only had to wind the bottom gates and paddles; by the time we’d got Legend in and up, the lock keeper had arrived and restored the power, so Ann-Marie could go back to pushing buttons.

When we got to Wallingford Colin and Julia were waiting for us on the quayside and we moored up in exactly the same place as we were in the floods and the ensuing lockdown in 2019/20.

Approaching Wallingford Bridge.

It's like we never left.

A very familiar view of the mighty Thames, although the last time we were here it was going past our poor little boat in a raging torrent.

After having Mv Smith’s Lady moored behind Legend for months back then, C&J finally came aboard our little boat for the first time. We sat under the shade of the willows and had coffee before walking up to their beautiful house for lunch. On our way back to the boat across the meadows we noticed a pair of glasses that someone had left on a kissing gate post. Julia had told us that she’d lost hers on the meadow a few days earlier, and despite looking for hours had failed to find them. We knew straight away that these were them, they were purple and Julia-shaped.

They walked Rosie down to the boat that evening to collect them, and we sat on the river back drinking wine and celebrating not only our return to Wonderful, Wonderful Wallingford, but also Julia being able to see again.

We set off the next morning along the bit of waterway that we probably know better than anywhere else in the country. When we were moored there - first during the floods and then during lockdown - we’d walked up to Benson lock for water nearly every day for seven months, so it was all very familiar and we  felt like we’d come home.

Not a lot had changed in six years, but the painting on this pill box was new.

At Benson there was a lot of work going on. The floods had not only created a big shoal below the lock, but also filled the sluice gates on the weir with all manor of debris, including what looked like a small bridge! 

We said hello to Kate, the lock keeper who’d looked after us while we were stranded, and - sad muppets that we are - waved goodbye to ‘our’ tap.

The tap we brought our water bottles up to every day.

Even the next bit through Shillingford and up to Day’s lock was very much part of our old stomping ground, and we got all that mixed emotion stuff going on again; lovely to be there reminiscing, but also saying goodbye.

Goodbye Benson Marina and very nice café.

Quick stop for services just before Day's Lock

Next up were Clifton and Culham locks. The stretch between these two is nearly always the last to come down from red boards. We’re not sure why that is; it might be the reduced headroom at the bridge over Clifton cut, it could be that the river is noticeably narrower up here so the flow is stronger, or maybe it’s something to do with the very posh houses that line the river at Burcot, below Clifton lock. Whatever the reason, there had been no proper rain or stream warnings on the whole of the Thames for weeks and we had a very nice - if somewhat breezy - cruise up to Culham.

Diverting into the lock channel at Clifton

Photographs don't often show the wind, but this willow tree gives you a good idea.

Penning up at Culham, our last lock for a while.

 At the end of the lock channel above Culham we turned left, off the main navigation, past the big ‘DANGER’ sign and onto the bottom end of Culham Reach.

Culham lock channel.

There were several rowing boats and a fisherman in a little rib milling around the junction, but after all the regattas we’d got tangled up in, we took all that with a pinch of salt and pootled down to Steve and Annemarie’s little piece of paradise on the riverbank. As we drew close we saw that there was half a big ash tree that had come down in the middle of their campsite.
Culham reach, heading for our mooring.

Luckily, that big Ash just missed a tent.

Steve and Annemarie's little piece of paradise.

After we’d tied up on the outside of one of their hire boats and had a lovely re-union with lots of hugs we sat down with a celebratory glass of wine and they told us that the tree had come down in the night a couple of days previously, luckily missing the nearest bell tent. There were concerns about the remaining half which was leaning a bit and was hollow at the bottom just like the fallen one; another victim of Ash Die-back disease.

We’re going to be here for - we reckon at the moment - about seven weeks. During that time, we’ll do all the outstanding jobs on Legend and get it ready to sell. We’ll also pack as much of our stuff that we can possibly live without into the van, ready to ship out to Ireland. The car is due an MOT while were here, and there’s a few things that Steve and Annemarie need our help with; processing and clearing up the fallen bough, building rafts and safely dropping the other half of the tree for a start, so it’s going to be a busy summer.

Legend's home for the summer.

Friday 28 June 2024

Boveney to Pangbourne. River Thames.

 We drove from Boveney to Maidenhead for parkrun on Saturday morning, missed the turning into the park, then couldn’t find the start and very nearly turned up late, with soggy socks from short-cutting across the long grass.

Maidenhead parkrun nearly started without us.

We finally joined everyone else at the start line just as they were giving the run director a cheer, then it was Three, Two, One, GO, and off we went, with no idea about where we were going or how many laps. To be perfectly honest, not knowing doesn’t make a lot of difference. Even when we have been in time for the first timer’s briefing, the instructions don’t always make a lot of sense. We just followed everyone else as usual. The rain more or less held off and we had a really good run, with lots of mixed terrain and a couple of short hills to make it interesting.

Missing the park entrance turned out to be quite fortuitous because we got parked on an unrestricted cul-de-sac that - as we found out when we got back - lead to a footpath to the river, so without trying we had somewhere in Maidenhead to leave the car till we brought the boat along. Well done Karma, although you can keep the soggy socks, thanks.

In the afternoon it was still quite windy but we were on a 24hr mooring, so despite not really feeling the love, we braced ourselves and set off up the river. We’d not gone round the next bend before we spotted a nice looking unrestricted mooring, exchanged glances, and without further ado called it a day and dived into the bank, less than quarter of a mile from where we set off.

After our usual volunteering stint for junior parkrun on the Sunday, we drove down to Mum and Dad’s for Father’s day card & pressie delivery in exchange for tea and cake, then came home and planned our moves up the river to Steve and Annmarie’s campsite on Culham Reach.

In the morning the sun finally came out and we had a beautiful run along the Thames path, followed by some equally beautiful boating up through Bray Lock and past all the really posh houses to Maidenhead...

...where we found a very nice gap on the public moorings just before the ‘Sounding Arch’  of the magnificent IK Brunell railway bridge.

The sign at Maidenhead said that moorings were £8 a night, but they were clearly out of date and nobody came to collect any money.

After lunch we got a phone call from Keith & Kate on Nb Donela Too who we met in Wakefield on the Calder and Hebble navigation last year. They had just come onto the Thames in Oxford and were putting in long boating days to get down towards London for work. They’d read Ann-Marie’s moving e-mail, so they knew where we were and suggested we could meet up somewhere. As moorings were in short supply, we decided to stay in Maidenhead for two nights so that they could breast up against Legend when they got there, and have our mooring when we left.

Staying put also gave us time to stop and be tourists. It was two days before the summer solstice and the day was made even longer by the geese pecking at the algae on the side of the boat at dawn, so we had an early start and took a picnic to Cliveden House (NT). The grounds are spectacular and we had a short walk around before going into the House for a guided tour.

Unlike other National Trust houses Clivedon is run as a very posh hotel, so it was a bit strange being guided on our tour of the various state rooms while hotel guests wandered about. And made all the more bizarre by the fact that it was Royal Ascot week and most of them were dressed up in their finery for the racing. We ate our picnic on a bench outside the restaurant, feeling very much like the scruffy commoners that we are, then had a walk round the gardens and got lost in the maze, before wending our way through all the Bentleys and Porsches in the Guests Only car-park and scuttling back to our hovel.

Seriously though, Cliveden really is a jewel in the NT crown, and although we are members primarily so that things like the coastal paths, open spaces and nature reserves can be continually cared for in Trust hands, it’s really good to know that such a fabulous, and historically important place remains accessible to Joe public.

We decided to use our free afternoon to get the car ahead, so Dave took it to Henley with the intention of using his bus pass to get back. He should, however, have looked a bit more closely at the timetable, that way he wouldn’t have missed the last bus. It was only £6 on the train though, and a lot quicker. By the time he got back, Donela Too was moored up in front of Legend...

...so he joined Keith, Kate and Ann-Marie for the rest of the afternoon, sitting in the sunshine on the river bank.

 After waving Keith & Kate off the next morning...

...we had a look at our itinerary and decided to have yet another night before we set off for Marlow and Henley, where we knew we’d get charged to moor. Ann-Marie set about sorting the plants out, while Dave got a scraper and sandpaper on the top of the bow locker to prepare that bit for repainting.

That night, Dave got up for his usual nocturnal wandering, and discovered that Legend was on a bit of a lean. The recent lack of rainfall had lowered the river levels and we were sitting on the bottom, so he went out, slackened the ropes and pushed us out till we were floating again. When we got up he repeated the process and added a gangplank.

Got a slight list to port.

None of the other boats seemed to have a problem, but for two boat lengths below the railway bridge the river bed was turning into a beach. After Ann-Marie had been for a run up the Thames path (and after we’d done a spot of skip diving for a couple of flooring planks to make plinth covers out of) we set off for Marlow.
Keith and Kate had told us about a fire that they'd passed at Bourne End marina on the way down the river. We saw the remains of two of the three boats that had been damaged, the third had been lifted out but it was too upsetting to photograph.

It's so sad seeing things like that, the owners must be devastated.

Lunch stop at Cookham.

A mutant strawberry. It still tasted delicious! 

Happily, the rest of the crop look like this.

We talked to another boater at one of the locks on the way who told us that the visitor moorings below Marlow, where we’d stopped before, had been closed for two years awaiting renovation, so we thought we’d be going straight through and finding somewhere further on. However, as we passed the moorings we reckoned we could just about fit in on the end beyond the Herras fencing. So, instead of going up Marlow lock we did a twelve point turn in the breeze, went back and did a big doughnut at the end of the lock channel, then came back and gently wriggled Legend into the bank. It was clear why the moorings had been closed; some planks were missing, and those that were left were a bit on the wobbly side, but we’ve tied Legend to far more rickety things in the past and survived. There was a handy tree to put a rope round as well, and it was free, so there we are.

After a peaceful summer solstice we set off early for Henley.

It was also the Friday before the Henley regatta week so the women’s racing was well underway when we got there.

The organisation at Henley was superb and it only took about 45 minutes to pootle down the navigation lane. After that we were soon under the bridge and through the town...

 ...and, to our amazement, found a mooring spot on the park just where we wanted to be. After tidying the boat up, we drove up to Pete & Lesley’s house and spent a lovely evening with them, catching up on the last two years.

We were in two minds about parkrun in the morning. Henley was a walk away, but was described as an “undulating, narrow trail run through the woods”. Marlow, on the other hand, was flat tarmac and possibly fast, but involved a drive to get there. In the end the environmentally friendly option won and we had a half hour walk through Henley and up the hill to the rugby club, for a very enjoyable run round the woods behind it.

The description was indeed correct, there was a quite steep hill, immediately followed by a hairpin bend and another hill, and some single file bits, but there was also a flying downhill bit and a kissing gate, which made it really good fun. With fewer than 70 runners it was really friendly and tempting to stay for a chat, but unfortunately we couldn’t hang around as we needed to get back for our visitors.

Pete & Lesley were the first to arrive, bearing gifts of freshly ground coffee and a warm sourdough loaf, (so, so good!)

 They were soon joined by Anne & Andy, who brought wine and reunited us with our tomato plants that we gave them to look after in April, then forgot to take home.

Ann-Marie performed her usual magic in Legend’s tiny galley and produced a magnificent spread then, just before our £12 mooring ran our at three o’clock, we set off up Marsh and Shiplake locks and on up the beautiful Thames towards Sonning.

We got to Sonning Lock just before the lock keeper went home at five. The visitor moorings just after the lock were being renovated and all the space below and beyond there was full, so we thought we’d lucked out. However, the very nice lockie said if we didn’t mind being inside the building site barrier, we were welcome to moor between the work barges. Any alternative would have meant going a lot further on, so that’s where we stopped.

He also told us why the lock café - which we’d been looking forward to visiting - was no longer open. We’d thought it was a Covid victim, but apparently it failed a hygiene inspection and although EA originally agreed to pay for the necessary improvements, they have yet to do so. There have been bids from third parties to take it over, but the lockie and his wife really want to carry on running it themselves, so for the time being it remains closed.

As it turned out, despite not being the most salubrious of places, mooring in a building site meant we could spread out on the towpath for a Moroccan/Mediterranean fusion dinner - another of Ann-Marie’s delicious tiny galley miracles - and not upset the hoards of walkers and cyclists going past on the other side of the fence. Jacob joined us and did a car shuffle with Anne’s car, and we all sat around chatting till home time.

A&A stayed overnight, then in the morning we all went up into Sonning for a walk around the pretty village and ended up in the Village Hamper shop-cum-café, which was lovely and had guinea pigs in the garden.

After lots of goodbye hugs and promises, Anne & Andy went back home to Bristol and we set off once more up the river. 

Above Sonning lock there was yet another regatta on Sonning Reach just before Reading, a junior one this time with lots of wild meandering. The poor woman in the safety boat was tearing up and down the course trying to keep them all in some sort of order while we, and the wide beam in front of us, crawled down the navigation lane trying to keep as close to the edge as possible without running aground.

We boated through Reading, passing the entrance to the Kennet & Avon canal and all the weird and wonderful boats that surround it.

Under all the Reading bridges...

...and up Caversham lock.

After Tilehurst and Mapledurham we started looking out for a suitable spot to moor on the meadows at Pangbourne, and were delighted to find a perfect Legend size gap in the trees.

 We tucked ourselves in, nose to tail in the bushes and almost invisible from the bank.

That evening and the following morning we were treated to the most amazing views over a beautiful, peaceful river.


Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...