River Thames, Kennet and Avon Canal
30 miles, 10 locks
In which the Duck and its crew clean the boat, receive an unexpected and generous present, and head off towards Reading; they practice lassoing Thames lock bollards, race a trip boat, and tangle with some Tupperware, before searching for the elusive safe mooring in Reading, and end up in a secure spot on the K&A- next to Reading Gaol!
We got up worryingly late, having caroused with Maffi and Bones until a reasonable hour the previous night, and then blogged. The boat was in a bit of a state, and so we had a quick clean and phoned up the lock-keeper at Culham to find out the state of the stream; yellow boards still, but "stream decreasing" boards. Not that any of the locks actually said that, because most of them had lost the little plate saying "De-" that bolts onto the front of the sign to change the meaning!
We got a text from Maffi- "There's a gift on the towpath from me and Bones"- and it turned out that the present was a sack of coal! We had, the previous night, discussed the stove and the chimney; it turns out that as wood creates a lot of soot, the chimney was quite covered on the inside. Bones had given us advice on how best to clean it- amongst other suggestions, having a good blaze with some coal would soon shift the accumulated deposits- hence the appropriateness of the gift! We really are superbly lucky to have met them, and the other members of the community, who've made the transition to life afloat a whole lot easier, through answering questions, offering help and advice, convivial company, and mooring spots.
The mooring pins were pulled at about 11, and we headed off. Maffi had previously made Reading in 9 hours from Abingdon, showing that it was possible; we planned, however, to stop a bit before, in Goring or Mapledurham, perhaps, so as to catch up on the blog, and to simplify mooring- we weren't massively keen on the idea of leaving the Duck unattended in the conurbation of Reading.
We set off in fine style, waving goodbye to Maffi, and headed off with the stream. There were a few other boats out and about, but the river was mostly empty and we made good time- and had a good time, too, because of the sunshine. In driving rain and high winds, not to mention big waves and wakes, we felt like the trawlermen in the Fishermens' Friend advert, storm-lashed and enduring the elements- whereas, in the sun, I felt distinctly under-dressed without a blazer and G&T in hand.
The chimneys and cooling towers of Didcot power station- we passed very close to the offices of RoyScot Larch, which we visited in the second week of July to sign the mortgage paperwork.
There were a number of shallow-arched brick railway bridges- Nicholson's saying that they were built by Brunel, unsurprisingly- and several nice Dutch barges and other narrowboats that we passed.
A momentous occasion was seeing our first rower! The Duck will encounter far more in Cambridge, but the first- a sculler from Wallingford RC- was a bit of a watershed.
The houses on the bank increased in size and opulence; the moored boats from small plastic launches to proper, slipper-stern varnished mahogany Thames Blazermobiles, some even powered by steam:
Oxford University Boat Club row at Wallingford, on a wide stretch of Thames, from an extremely imposing new-looking boathouse; CUBC have a tin shed in Ely. I felt like we were distinct underdogs going past this complex that reeked of filthy lucre.
Coming into Whitchurch lock, we were joined by the humongous form of the Devon Belle, a large trip-boat with decks full of tourists. It was captained by a young-looking chap, going for the Maverick-from-"Top Gun" look with aviator shades, and an even younger chap working the mooring ropes- the job Amy's dad used to do.
We left the lock first, with them on our tail. Clearly going past so many rowing clubs had reawakened the coxing spirit within me- and I thought that we wouldn't let them overtake without a fight. Fruitless, of course, because they had two large burbling Diesels and we had one smaller coughing one which intermitently sucks in carrier bags. It was good fun, however, and gave the engine a bit of a workout. Urging it on with coxing calls, however, had no effect- although we caught up at the next lock. A game of cat-and-mouse commenced; we were slower than them, but could take the odd short-cut, including the inside shorter channel around an eyot (island) and nearly popping out ahead of them. It was good fun.
Coming towards Reading, we had an encounter with a few large cruisers; one, Taifun, had the daughters of the owner running around in the little inflatable dinghy tender, and they got in the way and overtook on the wrong side; the driver of the mothership seemed to like dramatic powerful bursts from his engines, as he enveloped locks, lock landing stages, and random points along the journey in clouds of blue smoke.
It was, however, extremely fun going into the lock that we shared. We slid in carefully and precisely, with the minimum of fuss, and managed to get ropes around bollards at the front and back simultaneously on the first throw- it seemed to impress the gongoozlers, and the chap on the bows of the looming gin palace behind who took 8 attempts to get his bollard. Not that I'm smug or anything..... we mustn't get too big for our boats, however!
A pair of hotel boats- also spotted by nb Debdale today.
We were now in Reading, and the problem came in finding somewhere to moor. It was six o'clock, and we had a few hours of daylight left; and, having seen some vulnerable-looking moorings on the banks of the Thames, we decided to head up the Kennet and Avon and see what was available, and also to go through the centre of Reading and the Oracle centre on the canal.
We'd seen this stretch recently, when last in Reading, and I'd seen boats on it when visiting in the past; it was an ambition, really, of mine to pass through. A notable feature of this stretch is the traffic light control! A set of "Pedestrians push button and wait for signal" pelican crossing equipment guarded against collisions in this narrow, twisting stretch.
We passed through, and there was a "beach" event in progress- sandpits, fun-looking bouncy castles, and a lot of waving children, who appreciated the name of the boat! It was fun being the centre of attention- and, luckily, I didn't crash or make a fool of myself.
We moved through the lock after the centre, having heard that there were liveaboard boaters moored down here- and, if there's liveaboards, it must be a safe area. We'd also seen a few other possibilities, including a restaurant with free 24-hour moorings for customers- we debated whether buying a cup of tea between two of us would make us legitimate customers, and decided to use this as a last resort.
The moorings above that lock weren't fantastic, and so we winded and headed back through town. There were a few other areas we hadn't explored, including a semi-circular side arm of the canal, with the restaurant moorings at the end. The engine picked up something in the intake, and so stopping soon to clear it was a priority, so we pulled down the side arm- and found an oasis of calm within the town centre, with a number of other boaters moored up on the free BW 24 hour moorings, which we hadn't known were there. I managed some reversing into a space and impressed the owner of a widebeam boat at one end- and, having chatted to him, we found that he had a high opinion of the moorings here, never having had any trouble- perhaps the fact that it was in the shadow of Reading Gaol had something to do with this! Moreover (moor-over?) he was fitting out his boat, and would be around all day on Saturday, when we were heading into London- and he promised to keep an eye on the boat, which was very much appreciated.
We fell asleep to the sound of deep "clonk"s- conkers dropping onto the roof from the tree above. Perhaps we should keep some, to keep the spiders out of the boat.