Sunday, 29 April 2012

Marooned at Wallingford

Well after a hard day fighting the current from Reading we reached Wallingford yesterday evening.  The locks are all now displaying red boards warning of a “Strong Stream” which means we have to sit tight until the river calms down.  It is now a fair torrent rather than a placid river.  Our present concern is that we have 18 inches for the river to rise before it tops the bank where we are moored and then another couple of feet before our boats float out of the river and onto the towpath.  We are considering if we should take additional precautions against this happening.  And the rain has just started again.  So much for a drought in the South East.

As we’ve travelled we have seen some interesting wildlife. 

Here are some Canada Goslings

And here are some “Loddon Lillies” which are apparently quite rare but seem pretty common on islands in the Thames near Sonning where the river Loddon flows into the Thames presumably because people cannot pick them there.

As mentioned before we have had to fight the flow of water from the weirs in order to get into the locks and this picture gives an idea of what is involved, though the actual experience is much more exciting than the picture suggests.
Marsh Lock, Henley on Thames
So now we are stuck and we’re not sure how long it will be before we can move on.  Fortunately Wallingford is a pretty town with all necessary facilities so we could certainly have been stuck in a worse place for a few days.  Today we had the pleasure of welcoming our friend Miriam to Leo and then went for a couple of damp but pleasant walks in the Chilterns with lunch at the William IV at Hailey which itself did not have electricity because of damage to power lines.  Even driving was a problem with many trees down across the road.  We had to stop and clear one in order to pass.

Finally here is a picture of David and Victoria paddling on the riverside by some mooring stanchions.  This is certainly not meant to be under water.

 Please may we now have a few days dry weather to enable us to continue.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Over half way up the Thames to Oxford

Since the last posting we have been steadily making progress up the Thames.  Apart from the weather being mostly fairly foul, the main difficulty has been the strength of the flow of the river against us because of the amount of rain that has fallen.  Today we met "Strong Stream" notices for the first time and navigating into the locks past the tremendous flow of water down the adjoining weirs has been a cause for some nail biting and gritting of teeth.

Here are a few highlights:
Windsor Castle from the river
Coming into Henley
 We ate out in Cookham last night which is a lovely village with an amazing number of eating places ranging from Thai to Chinese to English and an assortment of pubs.  The inhabitants must never eat at home!

We stayed one night near Dorney Lakes where the Olympic rowing events are to take place.  Security is clearly tightening up with new fencing and a police boat going up and down the river surveying the bottom (perhaps to ensure there are no terrorist mines in the river bed).  We've seen lots of baby water birds including Cootlets, Canada Geeselets and a swan on a nest lifted itself so that I could clearly see the 4 or 5 huge eggs within.

And today we passed the half way point to Oxford:

Temple lock above Marlow
So tonight it's Henley, tomorrow we should go through Reading and then on towards Oxford. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Riding the Thames through London

It has been a few days since our last posting.  We have been distracted by visitors and for a few days my connection to the internet was not working properly.

We enjoyed our stay of two nights on the Slough Arm of the Grand Union and one afternoon we took the Bromptons out and rode to the Thames at Eton.  Here we are on the bridge over the Thames looking at where we will be in a few days time:

On the bridge between Windsor and Eton
We enjoyed a quiet return trip using part of the Jubilee River bike trail and just caught the end of one of the many April showers we've had lately.

The following day we met up with David and Victoria when their boat Pas Mèche finally came down the Grand Union Canal towards us.  We had walked up the canal expecting to see them very soon, but had walked around 3 miles before we saw them coming towards us just on the edge of Uxbridge.  Since then we have been travelling together first along the Paddington Arm spending two nights in Paddington Basin just behind the station of the same name.  Lucy came to join us for a few days and we enjoyed a walk in Hyde Park and then a meal with another welcome visitor, Angela, our niece.  Working the two boats through the locks together makes life much easier and we had an enjoyable day following the Regent's Canal down through Camden and Islington to Limehouse Basin meeting Ian's sister, Ruth and husband Peter on the way.  The canal at one point goes right through the middle of London Zoo passing the Snowdon aviary.  It also goes through two tunnels - the first we have been through with Leo.

From Limehouse Basin we had booked our passage out through Limehouse Lock onto the tidal Thames about a mile and a half downstream of Tower Bridge.  This was the scary bit of the journey that we had been both fearing and looking forward to.  The first part was really choppy and, after first wondering if the boats were going to be swamped and sink we became more confident of how they were riding the waves, largely created by passing Clippers and other fast steamers.  Here is a shot of us approaching Tower Bridge and one of the waves washing over the bow of Leo.

Tower Bridge
Look at the waves!

I'm pleased to say that things calmed down after this and we really began to enjoy the ride travelling at speeds unheard of in a narrowboat by virtue of the strength of the tide.  Tonight we are moored just above Kingston Bridge safely onto non-tidal waters once more.

Our plans from here are to carry on up the Thames for the next week or more.  We'll keep you posted.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tackling the Tidal Thames for the first time

Well we've done it.  After all the nervous anticipation we ventured onto the tidal Thames at Teddington and motored down to Brentford on Sunday.  Leaving Kingston we managed the two or three miles to Teddington quicker than expected and arrived soon after 10.00 and were called into the lock by the lock keeper together with a river steamer.  He was kind enough to suggest we moored on the other side of the lock to avoid the steamer's fumes when its engines restarted and then he phoned the Brentford lock keeper to tell him we were on our way.

Down onto the tidal river around the time of high tide so the flow was negligible.  The river down here is pretty wide with yet more rowers but there seemed to be few other vessels.  We carried on fairly fast (well fast for a narrow boat - perhaps 6 or 7 mph) passing through Richmond and then passing the half tide weir below.  This closes as a weir apart from 2 hours either side of high tide when it is completely open.  Again timing is crucial.
Crossing the weir at Richmond
As we approached Brentford looking at the shore showed how fast the ebb tide was flowing out with us on it.  This was fine until we had to make the turn into the channel leading onto the Grand Union Canal opposite Kew Gardens.  Then you realise that you are being impelled downstream at quite a speed.  Fortunately Leo had plenty of spare power to fight the current and take us safely where we needed to go.

The lock keeper at Thames Lock at Brentford was as friendly and helpful as we have come to expect and welcomed us onto the canal raising us a modest foot from the tidal Thames to the bottom of the Grand Union Canal heading to Birmingham.  Above the Gauging Locks (where loads were measured for determining tolls) we moored for a welcome coffee and then lunch to recover from the tidal experience.  After lunch we explored a rather attractive part of Brentford (the Butts) and bought a Sunday paper.

Back on board we climbed a couple more locks to Hanwell aided by a couple of young girls with their Dutch grandfather and then moored for the night.

On Monday 16th we climbed the eight locks of the Hanwell flight with another boat "Flying Kipper" crewed by a father and his son.  We crossed the "Three Bridges" one of the final works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  Here a road crosses over the canal while the canal simultaneously crosses a railway.
"Three Bridges"
We then turned down the Slough Arm and are now moored for the night in an idyllic spot - peaceful and quiet with wonderfully clear water with water lilies beginning to grow up towards the water surface.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

We've finally set off

After all the build up and planning over the last few months and after spending the last few days packing the boat we are finally on our way.  On Friday 13 April (not the most auspicious date you might well say) we moved the remaining luggage and the food from our fridge onto Leo and then we both drove over to Pyrford in the car.  Ian then left Helen on the boat while he returned home to leave the car and then come back on one of the two Bromptons that will accompany us on Leo.

Rather later than we had intended we pulled back from our mooring at Pyrford Marina and set off about 15.20:
Pulling back from our mooring at Pyrford
Setting off downstream along familiar waters we tried to arrange to see Kathryn who owns our sister ship, Leo 2.  Sadly we had left it too late and Kathryn was no longer available.  Down through Weybridge Town Lock we moored opposite some very expensive houses above Thames Lock.

On Saturday morning we made a leisurely start, walking the short distance into Weybridge town to do some shopping, chiefly for some bits we thought would be useful on Leo.  Armed with some storage boxes, drill bits, a shower tidy and a plastic step for the stern deck, we returned and set off around 10.30.  All too soon we were through Thames Lock and saying goodbye to the friendly lock keeper there.  Out onto the huge Thames we turned our bow downstream.  Below Sunbury lock we joined a cavalcade of glassfibre cruisers all nose to tail around a circular course.  The crews were dressed immaculately in suits and ties with handy glasses of wine and champagne at the ready.  This was an annual event for the boat club concerned but we were perplexed at the fascination of travelling one behind the other on a short circular course.  We were invited to join but declined on the basis we were improperly dressed for the occasion.

Helen's cousin, Nina, joined us from her house nearby as we stopped for lunch at East Molesey.  This is the second time Nina has been aboard Leo with her dog Rastus.  We always enjoy her visits and have promised to call her in a week or so when we plan to return this way with Pas Mèche.

More entertainment came with the passage through Molesey Lock.  One light cruiser became stranded on the lock side as the level dropped.  No-one on board seemed to notice but the lock keeper did and raised the level again as he walked over to talk to them.  Another small cruiser had on board 9 young and fairly drunk men.  One jumped on board demolishing the small cross trees.  The lock keeper was phoning ahead as we came out of the lock to warn colleagues of this crowd.

We moored for the night on the Kingston side of the river half a mile or so upstream of the bridge.
View from our overnight mooring - do you like the flowers?

We have now done our preparations for tackling the tidal waters below Teddington including extracting from the bow locker the huge and heavy anchor and tying this on ready for action.  Let's hope we don't need to use it.