Sunday 29th May to Sunday 12th June
Flotillas of canoes are common…
I’m so behind with the blog I’m going to have to abandon a daily record of cruising in favour of some general musings. This is a shame, as the River Medway deserves fulsome praise – it is a really beautiful waterway with lots of historic interest.
Ah well, now that we’ve proved (again!) that narrowboats can make the journey safely, you’ll just have to visit it for yourselves – Indigo Dream will surely go back there.
We spent a fortnight on the Medway – it’s the closest waterway to our home in Surrey so we were able to just pop down for the odd evening on board. Sadly the weather was against us, but we had some good bimbles nonetheless.
Moorings and services:
After our epic 11 hour trip from Bow to Allington, we weren’t interested in moving the boat any further, so we spent our first night at Allington Lock, of course we did not go anywhere near the pub at any point in the mid afternoon, late afternoon, early evening or even late evening by just one member of the crew. There are two main stretches of mooring – on the lock you can book/buy a mooring from the lock-keeper for a reasonable fee (£12.50 per night). There are also free moorings outside the pub, a short distance upstream from the lock.
Allington Lock has good services – here’s a tip – if you’re stopping for water, use the tap on the upstream end of the service pontoon – it has very good water pressure; the tap in the service building (with an EA hose) has barely a trickle.
Watch out for these signs – there are overnight moorings below a few of the locks…
There are free 48-hour moorings at several of the locks, as well as sturdy mid-river mooring posts – neither suited us with the hounds; the mid-river ones are too far from the bank and the lock moorings tend to be below the locks and linked to shore by open mesh steel steps. It seems to be ok to have short stops (say lunchtime) on the moorings above the locks – most of these offered great access to the magnificent fields and woodlands nearby – perfect!
There are also some meadow moorings – many e.g. Teston, East Farleigh are owned by boat clubs and are crowded, however the narrowboat convoy found a very nice meadowside spot below East lock.
We also moored at Yalding, on the delightfully named “teapot island”; Tonbridge Town Centre also has great moorings – above Town Lock. There was a small charge (£5 per night) in Yalding, but the signage was a bit unclear as to where the fees started on the town
Meadow moorings below East Lock
moorings in Tonbridge. The council is busy putting in services at Tonbridge – the pump-out wasn’t working yet, but there was a useful water point and a rubbish disposal facility (currently an empty shed but there will be skips there eventually) – these are accessed using an EA key.
On our way back, we stopped at the ample town centre moorings in Maidstone. They had good access to the train station (Maidstone West) and felt very safe.
We were made welcome on the river, with an especially keen welcome from
Looking towards Tonbridge town moorings from Town Lock…
the few resident narrowboaters, many of whom had had their boats lifted onto the water and viewed our trip down the estuary as heroic! There were ample moorings once we worked out what to look for and our convoy glided into river life with barely a ripple.
There were very few motorised boats on the move on the river and we largely had the locks to ourselves. However there were hundreds of kayaks and canoes – luckily these have canoe races to transport them down the locks and they are advised to portage back up. Flows at the locks are fierce!
The river is beautiful – it’s hard to compare it with anything as it has it’s own character – it was so green and fecund you could be in no doubt that you were in the garden of England. It has a frontier feel, and a sense of faded grandeur – all remnants of when Kent was both gateway to international trade and barrier to invasion. The ancient bridges are as fine as any on the upper Thames and the locks have the massive solidity of an infrastructure that has, at times, to deal with a serious amount of water.
View from the Teapot Island moorings in Yalding…
On the more populated areas of the river, the narrowboats became a tourist attraction in their own right. At Allington and Tonbridge, in particular, we were beset by compliments and questions – it was flattering, as Indigo Dream is due to go for repainting in September and we think she’s looking well-travelled; but the people of Tonbridge thought she was “beautiful” – we’ll take that
We did have an asbo moment in Tonbridge – four young lads throwing things into the river and jumping on a disreputable, derelict cruiser as if trying to sink it; then they set fire to an accelerant, maybe an aerosol, which made a tall plume of flame. When we, and the other narrowboaters, remonstrated with them, they hurled really foul verbal abuse then scarpered to an adjacent car park where they felt brave enough to throw things at us through the railings. We pointed out that they were doing this in front of CCTV cameras and that we had taken their photograph. Eventually, in the presence of a mob of boaters, they cycled off with threats to return – we called the police. They sent out a constable who was both concerned and sympathetic; the town is working hard to attract boaters and they genuinely wanted us to feel safe and welcome. We showed him the photos – unsurprisingly he knew who they were and there will be some “friendly” chats with parents in the offing! We were anxious after that – it was low level crime but just enough to make us feel uncomfortable;
Creeping under the Town Bridge in Tonbridge – plenty of room!
however we didn’t have any other trouble apart from one incident of someone running along the boat roof in the middle of the night – we got up really quickly to check but we couldn’t see anyone running away – weird, but no harm done.
This tainted my view of Tonbridge; though the tough East London boaters felt that anything less than a gang fight with long knives was pretty small fry and thought the town was pretty civilised
Pubs & Supermarkets:
I’m sure that there are many fine pubs to be had along the waterway, but we didn’t really visit them, often opting for eating on board. Tonbridge has a good range of pubs, restaurants and shops – it says a lot for the town that it can sustain a Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and a Lidl – all tastes and pockets catered for! We ate at a fine Chinese buffet in the high street and admired the food at the local Weatherspoons, which has a spacious and airy interior as well as gargantuan portions. We stopped briefly at the Anchor in Yalding, but there was a mix-up in the
But the next bridge defeated us – if we had taken the horn off we might have squeaked through…
kitchen and they stopped serving food around four hours before the time they advertised on their website – we were not impressed.
When we had the car, we went into Yalding Village and had a very good meal and a friendly welcome at the dog-friendly Walnut Tree pub.
However, the good pub award has to go to the breakfast at the Malta Inn at Allington Lock – it is the restaurant for the hotel next door and offers a massive breakfast buffet (cooked and continental) – a meal that would last a whole day for less than £10 – can’t ask for better but be warned you will probably need to have a snooze afterwards.
The end of the navigation
We don’t know when we’ll be back, so we had to make the best of our time on the Medway. This included exploring the end of the navigation in Tonbridge; but the “end” of the navigation has many locations, depending on the water levels!
The first “end” is the stretch above Town Lock – if there is any fresh water coming down the river then there simply isn’t enough headroom to get a narrowboat under the Town Bridge. However, when we got there, river levels had
It is well worth exploring the right-hand branch that flows in the shadow of Tonbridge Castle – it’s so beautiful…
dropped enough for us to get Indigo Dream (with full water tank and human ballast on the bow) under the bridge to the next “end” – the tranquil stretch in the very shadow of the remains of Tonbridge Castle.
We though this really was the end as the next bridge, a short distance upstream to the left, was too low for us by around half an inch, so we turned back. We did try to get under at different times when the river had gone down and we could load ballast i.e. guests, onto the front deck – to no avail.
We were a bit sad, as the second bridge gives access to a loop which would give an elegant end to the navigation. We considered going round the loop in the other direction i.e. turning right after Town Bridge, but we didn’t think there was anywhere to turn and we didn’t fancy reversing back.
Luckily we were wrong – a local trip boat advised us that we could take the right-hand branch and that there was ample turning space by the railway bridge.
Predictably, we went for it and this end of the navigation is a little gem. The river is winding and vibrantly green; it is barely wide enough for a narrowboat in places, yet the basin under the railway bridge is unexpectedly expansive as the navigation loops back to the left towards the low bridge and the main river carries on upstream to the flood barriers. Although it was only a short section, I’m so glad that we cruised it.
The end of the navigation (for us) – plenty of room to turn at the railway bridge…
We haven’t had the boat in the Southeast for several years, so it was a golden opportunity to catch up with friends old and new. Of course, there were lots of people, but I’ll just mention the greyhounds – Ollie and Herbie became the only resident hounds to cruise the Medway; Kentish lass Peggy-Sue showed us the sights; Tara greyhound proved to her doting parents that she was a natural boater and that they should buy a narrowboat immediately! Old friends Stiggy and Poppy greyhounds became new Indigo Dreamers and took our tally of greyhound Indigo Dreamers over the 50 mark
Was it worth it?
Yes! This is a river where the destination justifies the journey to get there. Of course, the journey is fab too so we really couldn’t lose.
We can see ourselves going back there; we might even moor there for a winter one year – it was such a joy to be less than an hour’s drive from home and to be able to share our Medway experience with local friends. Of course, we’ll need some company for the next estuary trip, if anyone’s interested and has been certified ……
Cruising companions: Peggy-Sue is a natural boater
Resident hound Herbie doing some Olympic lookin’ – he doesn’t normally leave his sofa but he did like to show off to the girl hounds we had on board
Poppy in the classic “Indigo Dream” pose – she loved boating….
Old man Stiggy living the dream…
Tara took to life on the water straight away – now her hu-mum can buy a boat😀
Sometimes the canoeists turned into narrowboaters and operated the heavy locks…
And sometimes narrowboaters (in this case the skipper of nb Gertrude) turn into canoeists and give the race a go…