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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

River Thames: Part 2

Friday 12th September
(7L 1670.6H 1346.72M)
Days Lock, Dorchester

A short stretch remains of no-mans land as we leave the K&A behind and rejoin the Thames. Back to Tescos again for a top-up and then into top gear to progress up the river. I do have an affection for the Thames which I am sure is shared by many Englishmen (particularly southerners). It is our river, it flows through our capital, it has a power and a mystery – and I suspect I did a school project on it about 50 years ago!

There is a lot more of Reading to pass through – it obviously straddles the Kennet and the Thames – and then we are out into open countryside. The banks are often thickly lined with trees, the river is broad and deep, and the current is slight, certainly gentler than the Kennet. It is a delight to travel along in the sunshine, admiring the occasional mansion, shooting the odd bridge and passing the odd boat.

Row BargeThere were very few other craft on the river at first but this one not surprisingly caught the eye. Another different form of propulsion for a narrow boat.

Opposite Beale ParkHeading for lunchtime Glyn spotted a place called Beale Park marked on our map. It turned out to have good moorings outside that were free for 24 hours so we stopped. Immediately opposite was a charming cottage set in the trees – that’s one that I could live in! We didn’t visit the park with all its attractions for a family fun day.

Thames Property Rural Thames Lock view

Goring is another posh Thames side town. The Environment Agency locks all seemed to be kept immaculately and have well cared for keepers’ cottages. As we progress into the higher reaches we are finding the lock keepers more relaxed and friendly and it is quite pleasant to have the locks operated for us as we move along. More often than not the gates are already open by the time we arrive or very shortly afterwards and it is rare for passing through a lock to take more than a few minutes. With the gates and paddles operated for us we are free to handle bow and stern ropes to hold the boat safely against the side. Also the locks are reducing in size and Glyn has gloves, so she is not struggling as she did at first.

After passing through Wallingford and Benson, and past numerous rowing clubs, it was after 5pm and we found ourselves hunting for a mooring yet again. This has been a real struggle for us on the Thames. Each mooring marked on the map turned out to be illusory and we were getting quite desperate when we arrived at Days Lock. The keeper told us that normally he could tell us where to stop just past the lock but he knew that the moorings were already occupied. I could see some gaps and said what’s wrong with those. He shrugged and said it was too shallow. Thinking we would be alright I headed slowly in – only to go aground with the boat visibly tipped over. I pushed the stern off but couldn’t get the bow to move, it was well and truly stuck. I couldn’t get ashore so had to push from the boat. Eventually, with Glyn hard astern and me shoving we managed to back off. A bit shaken and panicked we set off towards the next lock – worried that night would catch up with us. We saw a gap in the trees and tried once more to get in. This time successfully.

It actually turned out to be a lovely mooring and after dinner we watched a beautiful sunset across the river.

Saturday 13th September
(5L 1362.24M)
Oxford

Clifton HampdenWe set off around a huge loop of the Thames to the lock at Clifton – adjacent to Clifton Hampden village. It’s Saturday – again! – and we have to find our weekly paper (the Saturday Times). At the lock I mentioned to the keeper that we were hoping to find a mooring in Abingdon so that we could pick up the paper and he said there was a shop in the village and we could walk from here. Seemed like a good idea so we stopped on a mooring at the lock and walked back along the river. The village is very attractive with lots of thatched cottages, and there is a really nice Post Office and Store by the church. As usual we took the last Times, but we found we couldn’t resist picking up some fresh baked bread and a pastry too.

AbingdonBack at the boat Glyn picked some excellent blackberries, which have been in short supply recently, while I made drinks which we took with our pastry sitting in the sun. Back on the road we passed through Culham Lock before rolling into Abingdon. There was plenty of mooring so we stopped for lunch. There was a chandlers just over the river and Glyn wanted a new Nicholson’s Guide so we walked across and I proceeded to incorrectly convince her that we already had the necessary guide and she forced me to buy new fenders and hooks. Abingdon is quite a large town, again with a busy rowing club, and a very attractive older area around the town bridge.

Lock ViewCarrying on north we passed Radley College (more rowers), and on through Sandford and Iffley Locks. At the latter we were joined by another narrow boat with whom we had a typical lock conversation – where have you come from, where are you headed? This woman was another extolling the virtues of the upper reaches of the Thames as far as the end of the navigation at Lechlade. I have wanted to do this stretch but Glyn hasn’t been keen. Also it is complicated for us as we are trying to find a marina where I can leave Glyn with the boat while I go off to do the Welsh 3000’s challenge next weekend. The nearest suitable place seems to be at Copredy which is north of Oxford on the Oxford Canal. We’d be more certain if we had a guide! If we go towards Lechlade we will have to return in time to get to the marina on Friday – and it doesn’t work.

Our companion also asked where we were mooring tonight and recommended a spot opposite Christ Church meadows, ideally located for access to the city. They were planning to stop there. We set off together, us ahead and looking over our shoulders to see if they were still behind us. We found the spot she was referring to but it looked full. They pulled in at the end but we had already gone past. A tantalising gap appeared – was it long enough for us? It is a strange thing but gaps always look too small, even when we come alongside. This time Glyn went up in the bow and we called to each other as I edged the boat along. Fortunately I was able to drift the boat sideways, very slowly and assisted by a crosswind, until we just slotted in – a real stroke of luck. A 58′ boat isn’t the easiest vehicle to parallel park but after 5 months we are starting to get proficient!

We had a good wi-fi connection and we talked to Anton and the boys on FaceTime. Julie is in Dubai on a girlie trip and the lads are having a lad holiday. No washing up and nothing allowed to interfere with their activities until just before Mum returns. We then took the 10 minute walk into the heart of the historic university area. Amazingly this is the first time we have really taken a walk through Oxford and although we were only an hour we got a good taste of the place. On the way back to the boat Glyn remembered that Phil had suggested we could meet up in Oxford if we were there Saturday evening. We contacted him and soon we had arranged to meet at our local – the Head of the River – for a meal with Sam, Hebe and himself. They had just delivered Henry to his digs across town, ready for his new term at Oxford Brookes.

On our return to the boat we were settling down for the night when suddenly the sky lit up and we found ourselves with VIP seats to a spectacular firework display just across the river. A very nice end to the day.

Sunday 14th September
(5L 1678.1H 1370.88M)
Pinkhill Lock

Glyn decided she would like to go to church – it being Sunday and all – so we Googled it and found a sung Matins service at Christ Church Cathedral at 10am. While we were sorting ourselves out we got a FaceTime call from Mitch and we spoke to him, Hazel, Kayleigh and Charlie for half an hour before we took the short walk to church. We have now FaceTime’d all the boys (having spoken to Mat on Friday) using up my monthly wi-fi allowance before the month ends.

The church service was not well attended but the choir were good and it was a nice peaceful way to start the day.

We have decided to go towards Lechlade as far as we can go and leave enough time to get to Copredy – a bit of a compromise. We are also talking to a boatyard at Eynsham about a more permanent repair to our transmission, and they are in the same direction. The river where we are moored is clearly the end of the rowing course and boat after boat was arriving alongside, stopping belatedly and then turning to row back along the course. This made it all rather chaotic and I had to grab an opportunity to get out and across the river without sinking anyone. “Fortunately” one of the down and outs occupying the park bench next to the boat jumped up to offer his help pushing me off. I had to turn him down – we think he would probably have ended up wet!

Oxford Canal junctionLeaving Oxford we can either go north up the Oxford Canal or stay on the river and head first north then west. Today we followed on the river. We made our way along Port Meadow – apparently a regular location for Inspector Morse and a popular recreational area for boaters and picnickers. A strong crosswind was a feature of this stretch. We stopped for lunch just above Godstow Lock.

Pinkhill LockAfter King’s Lock the river swings west and south. There are long straight reaches punctuated by short tight meanders. We arrived at Eynsham Lock at 3.40pm. Oxford Cruisers, the boatyard, is located just below Pinkhill Lock which we ascended before mooring adjacent to Farmoor Reservoir.

Monday 15th September
(4L 1683.7H 1388.93M)
West of King’s Lock

We couldn’t raise the boatyard on the phone this morning so we decided to walk back to it. After wandering around the place for a while I finally located Andy. I had hoped that having spoken to him last Thursday that he might have sourced the part we needed but he told me that he couldn’t get one before Thursday. This doesn’t work for us, so we decided to dispense with his services. While we were there we watched them craning a boat out of the water to put on a lowloader ready for transportation to Tewkesbury. We spoke to the owner and discovered that because their boat was wider than 7′ this was the only way to get there apart from travelling the length of the K&A and taking a pilot up the Severn Estuary. It is much easier and more direct for us.

Our plan for today was to travel west for half a day before returning and heading for Copredy. As we travelled, the river became more narrow and the meandering sections more contorted. We entered an increasingly remote and rural area. Open sections through pasture land alternated with closed in and overgrown wooded sections. After Northmoor Lock we arrived at Newbridge featuring a pointed arched bridge by two pubs. As it was a little early for lunch we continued another couple of miles before stopping for lunch after which we turned around and headed back.

It is a little disappointing to have not gone on to the end but hopefully we have seen something of what it is all about and we can see the attraction, particularly when the sun comes out which it did periodically through the day. We have moored now just short of Duke’s Cut which will connect us to the Oxford Canal.

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