In this blog I will take you from Oxford to our planned destination of Limehouse which is as far as one can travel on a narrowboat down the Thames. Beyond Limehouse lies Greenwich and the Thames Barrier and lumpy water.
Leaving the Oxford via Isis lock.
To maximise our chances of finding a mooring we have decided that wherever possible we will have early starts on this leg of our trip with a view to tying up early in afternoon. So with that in mind we are cast off by 8:30 heading for our first Thames lock 'Osney'. Here we are relieved of £183 for a 31 day EA license, our license to cruise Environment Agency waters, and here's me thinking water was all H2O. Still £183 for 31 days is better than the day rate of £44, or for reasons unbeknownst £194 for 3 weeks!
Mooring above Osney lock. Landerette and Waitrose close by. Also good pub, The Punter.
The river here is quite fast flowing and worried us slightly as we have to come back up the Thames in two weeks and weren't relishing the prospect of 100 miles into a fast current! Not to worry though as once the river broadens out a bit the flow reduces to a meander that wouldn't trouble you greatly. We learn that the protocol in EA locks is bow and stern ropes and turn your engine off, very strange to us canal dwellers who never turn our engines off in a lock lest we crash the gate. The same applies when waiting for a lock, I have to say it is more peaceful and since we are often mixed in with bigger boats and kayakers I can see the logic. EA staff seem to like to wear their uniform which is a very smart white shirt with eppaullets and black trousers and gives them a naval look, and to be fair many are have a sailing background.
So quite a steep learning curve on day one, we are concerned about finding places to refill our water tanks and empty our Elsan toilets as we've read that they are few and far between. However Abingdon lock should have both so we tie up and look around. It seems no water is available by hose, Anne says look in the green box but I say don't be silly it's not there! Toilet emptied we head through the lock. Anne asks the lock keeper where the next water hose point is, he points out we've just passed it - in the green box. So after 5 minutes of 'I told you so, you never listen to me etc' we turn around and go back up the lock much to the amusement of the very affable old guy who's volunteering on the lock. Of course whilst we've been buggering about t a queue has formed waiting for water. Hey ho we're on holiday, no rush.
An hour later we're back in the lock receiving much ribald comment from aforementioned lockie. I tell him we just keep coming back for the jovial conversation.
We moor in Abingdon for a completely uneventful night on an EA free mooring before an early start the next day. We discovered these EA moorings from the Thames Visitor Moorings website (go and sign up if you're following us it's really useful); they offer 72h moorings at £5/night free for the first night, so our plan is to use these wherever possible.
However, wouldn't you know it, on the second night we find ourselves in Wallingford - no EA mooring. But wait, there's space over there! Turn around, it's a river you know so moor facing upstream, crab across the current, cast a line, jump ashore, tie up breathe out... Bugger it's £10 a night! There's space on the other side - look! Cast off, drift across the current (very elegantly done even though I say so myself), cast a line, jump ashore, tie up, sod it, it's £10 here too, I wish they'd make the signs bigger! Give up, resign to paying £10, break out the chairs, crack a beer.
Set off to look at Wallingford, Anne will post pictures below but it is quite an attractive small town with about three stones left of an old castle that can be walked around prior to visiting the pub next the river next the bridge. I've developed a penchant for IPA since my visit to BrewDog in Leicester which studious readers will remember was a pre-cursor to the curry house. I am not let down here, an enjoyable pint was had. Venturing back to the boat for tea I chat to our new neighbour on his little cruiser (yes I know size doesn't matter etc.) and ask how the mooring fee is collected. He tells me that the lady comes around at 9am in the morning.
Ahah! A plan!
So 8:30 sharp the morning sees us cast off our unexpectedly free mooring heading for pastures new. By now we've spotted a few water points and so on so we're starting to relax a bit about that. The water points are like an old style fire reel with, by canal standards, a huge diameter hose pre-attached. The hose is so big it only just fits in our water filler orifice but boy are they quick. 500 litres in about 15 minutes flat.
As we travel down river it noticeably broadens out as you go and as it does so the size of the boats seems to mimic this growth, the ubiquitous cruisers are ever bigger and are slowly joined by trip boats of ever increasing size.
Todays travels leaves us in Marlow where we plan to do some re-provisioning, Mr Sainsbury hosts an establishment a modest 1/2 mile walk from our EA mooring today. Bags in hand we start off in his direction only to find some (flood alleviation/development/community improvement work/general disbuggeration * delete as appropriate) work in the way and are forced to take an additional 1/2 mile detour around the works. A quick Google reveals the 'Best pub in Marlow' is on our route so we call in for a refresher before onwards to the supermarket. Marlow promises much but, in my opinion, delivers little. The eateries are many but seem run of the mill so we decide on dining Chez Nous, again. We retire back to the boat severely fatigued by out 1 mile plus trip, 50% of which carrying heavy bags. (Did I mention we got a Tesco delivery whilst in Shipton on Cherwell? No? Oh, well, Tesco it seems are happy to deliver to boats so we did a BIG re-provision there getting all the big stuff delivered boat-side, very efficient 10/10 to Mr Tesco)
We've had a change of plan regarding our Teddington to Limehouse segment, it seems, rather counter intuitively to me at first, that it is easier to reverse that leg and do Limehouse to Teddington, I see the logic so a quick call to Limehouse lock has our plans revised and we will now go down the canal from Brentford to Limehouse basin then out on the 22nd at 6:15am to miss the river traffic rush and head for Teddington with the rising tide behind us. We now have to carefully plan our days so that we don't spend too much time in 'the smoke' as mooring can be hellish (or not depending who you believe), so plan for the worst, hope for the best! Just had a call from the London Canal Museum who have one mooring space they let out at night to say we can go there on the 20th so that's one mooring safe at least.
Moored next to Eton boating 'pond' opposite Windsor racecourse, very nice peaceful mooring as both our neighbours left us late afternoon. Had a walk around to see how the other half live and spent the night alone, whoda thought it.
Passed through Windsor and Old Windsor the next day passing the Castle to our right right under the flight path for Heathrow. After a few days I'm learning to keep an eye over my shoulder now, which is just as well as... Remember the Trent incident? Well, a skull boat I believe it's called with 5 OAP men in all but rowed into the back of us again, if Anne hadn't spotted them they'd have sunk without trace. I swear I'm getting one of those air horn things to scare the bejesus out of them if they don't look where they're going.
These were watching where they were going.
A shorter day today as we're a bit ahead of time finds us at Egham on another very nice EA visitor mooring on the right as you go downstream. I decide to take advantage of the peace and quite and start to write this blog, as I do so a largish boat type boat hauls up followed by a narrowboat, so much for peace! The skipper of boaty boat apologises for sharing my mooring ring (no need really) and then starts chatting and we can't get rid of him, he's mates with the boss guy of the locks and blah blah blah! However, he does inform us that very close by is an Italian restaurant of note, now SWMBO and I did say yesterday that the next nice Italian we saw....... So the steaks are back in the fridge and we're booked in for 6:30. Result!
Ended up sharing a table at the Italian with our new friends off the boaty boat. Mike and Linda Parish. Mike turns out to be an actor and knows lots of famous people including Timothy West. They are a lovely couple and were really good company. They invited us back to their boat afterwards so it was a late night. (For us)
The next day finds us at Weybridge, unremarkable in of itself but reasonably handy for the supermarket, then onwards to Hampton Court Palace. The visitor moorings here are administered by a company called Parkonomy, send what to me but then I'm uber suspicious. You have to go through a registration process to moor for the free 24hrs, I'd rather it wasn't like that but it seemed to work out. Spent the afternoon traipsing round, sorry exploring HCP, of you wish to file suit it will cost you 25 of your British pounds per adult, they have the audacity to ask for contributions to the upkeep once you enter, funny I though that's what the admission price was for.
Next day we face the tidal stretch. I ring the Environment Agency lock keepers at Teddington for advice, be says leave at 5pm but book in at Brentford. I try to ring Brentford but Canal River Trust only publish their 9-5 M-F number so I ring that. CRT muppet says we shut at 6 you'll have to leave by 4 so we take this as Gospel.
The next day we rock up at Teddington at about 2pm to wait for our 4pm departure, EA man says this is crazy you'll be against the tide, CRT couldn't find their arses with both hands and a map,if you've booked it inadvance CRT have to wait until 8pm for you... Ok so another call to Brentford now having the direct number courtesy EA has us booked out at 5! Left to CRT we'd have been on the tidal river on a Sunday with no working phone number to ring and the lock keeper home having his tea.
Just before departure two young men approach us, the kind of men whom your normally cross the street to avoid, however they turn out to be nice chaps asking advice, so we pass on our wisdom. Apparently their engine overheats after two hours so ask if we would chaperone them down, which we do. It turns out to be a very leisurely trip down with our little duckling behind us, despite terrible warnings the turn into Brentford lock was easy enough if you've ever turned in a tidal river before. Veterans of the Ribble Crossing need fear nought!
We overnighted just through the river lock where it is "semi tidal", code for "leave your lines slack the level goes up and down two feet over night."
I have to say that the next stretch, really as far as Camden Lock is pretty awful. The locks are a nightmare and the canal weedy. After a brief overnight stay near Greenford we head on to our first pre-booked mooring at the grandly named St Pancras Cruising Club. This is worth booking if you plan to tread in our footsteps, for a tenner a night you have a secure mooring, water and electricity next to the eponymous station and Kings Cross.