Reading to Marlow
The boat had enjoyed a perfectly lovely week in the Thames and Kennet Marina. This is my favourite marina – they’re so friendly and the visitor moorings are very reasonable. £10 per night gets you a secure marina with all services, a pump-out for £5 (a £5 discount) and a discount on diesel which brought it down to 80p per litre. There was even a hefty credit on the electricity meter so we got free power as well!
We had a horrendous journey down by car on Friday night. Richard left Croydon at 3pm and we got to the boat at 8.15pm – for heaven’s sake, it’s less than 60 miles. We got snarled up in a closure on the M4 – it was interesting to see the air ambulance coming down to land right on the motorway but horrible to think how serious the accident must have been to warrant it. We had a unique experience as Richard did a 3-point turn on the M4 and drove down the
motorway the wrong way to get back to the junction onto the M25 (with the police’s blessing, you’ll be relieved to hear).
It was a joy to get to the boat – a chinese takeaway made the world a better place and we had a sound night’s sleep in the marina.
The following day we could barely see the other boats in the marina for the thick fog. Not that it mattered to us – we spent the most leisurely morning mooching round the chandlery, getting a pump-out, diesel and generally chatting with other boaters. Blue and Lou got a lot of fuss and while all this was going on, the bright sunshine burnt off the fog and we were ready to go. Except we didn’t go very far – out of the marina then right onto the Thames then up to the left bank just past the entrance to the K & A to get to the mega-Tesco by the canal.
This a popular spot – no wonder – it’s got to be the most convenient superstore mooring on the Thames. It was an obligatory stop – we’d run out of dog food again! I stocked up while Richard took the dogs for a walk. Along with dog food I was also seduced by the krispy cremes and by a hot chicken which the four of us shared for lunch. The hot chickens are so cheap – I couldn’t cook one for that money. It’s probably morally corrupt to buy one but they are convenient. Richard was musing whether it
would be cheaper to feed the dogs on hot chicken rather than on premium dry dog food at £3 plus per kilo. Blue pricked up his ears at this – his life was looking up! But I vetoed the idea – premium dog food sits in their bowls until they’re too hungry to ignore it, whereas a hot chicken would disappear so fast it would be as if it had never existed.
After lunch we finally got going properly – it was a stunning afternoon on a stunning river. The River Thames is my absolute favourite waterway – there’s nowhere quite like it. If a river was food then the Thames would be a bowl of thick double cream with all the towns and estates arranged like chocolate-covered strawberries around it. It’s so opulent here – the river carries it’s wealth with arrogant ease. Cruising down here exposes my hidden Viking – I wonder at the richness of the plunder to be had if a marauding pirate came along here. 🙂
I will run out of descriptors for the river – there are great views everywhere – ranging from richly wooded slopes to soft green lawns and eccentric mansions. In all fairness, there are lovely views along the Severn, but where the Thames wins out is having a lots more interest (and mooring spots) along its banks.
It was such a lovely day that the walkers and picnickers were out in force. The first bit of interest was spotting potential dog-walking spots for future visits. Just downstream of the marina there’s extensive dog-walking on the right bank – sadly there are no moorings here (too shallow) but you could walk back to it from the Tesco moorings. There are moorings a little further down just above Sonning bridge – we’ve stayed here before
and found it to be quiet and secure.
Sonning bridge adds a bit of a frisson to the trip – there’s a very lively flow from the weir just below the bridge – it’s not so bad going downstream. But if you’re going upstream then hang on to your tiller – the weir flow will try to sweep you into the bridge pier! We’ve never noticed them before, but there are good looking moorings below Sonning bridge – £10 a night and lots of dog-walking potential.
Mooring on the Thames is plentiful but, unlike canals, very few are free of charge. Most of the land seems to be privately owned and, given the value of land here, I can’t blame the owners for trying to make a bit of money. Charges seem to vary from a reasonable £6 to £10 a night but whether anyone will come and collect the fee from you is another story!
As we approached Henley we noticed that the lock moorings were full. They’re particularly short with only room for maybe three cruisers, so we ended up hovering midstream for quite some time. The only problem is that there’s a fierce flow which tends to pull the boat towards the weir. Richard’s top navigation tip here is that if you can’t get to the lock moorings then stay upstream of the boathose to avoid the weir flow. Somewhat to the indignation of the cruisers, the lock-keeper let us into the lock first. I was relieved – if we’d sayed in the stream much longer we’d have taken the short-cut over the weir 🙂
Ok, ok, not really, the Thames weirs have big barriers to stop that from happening so I don’t think you’ll ever see a narrowboat surfing over one (unless there’s a serious flood) but it is disconcerting to be caught in their flow.
Henley is Clapham Junction on the water – particularly on a sunny saturday. There are plenty of moorings on the left below the lock – £6 a night and very convenient for the park so safe for dogs. We hadn’t realised that there was also mooring on the right between Henley Bridge and Temple Island – looked to be really excellent dog walking and a reasonable £6 a night again. We were tempted to moor here but we wanted to cruise a little longer – partly to enjoy the river in the sunshine and partly to get away from the random flotilla of canoes, skiffs, launches, cruisers and bathtubs that litter the river in Henley. One paricularly erratic bucket, carrying four children and two adults, was lurching haphazardly all over the river. We soon spotted why – the two adults seemed to be playing ‘pass the parcel’ with a small baby and neither was attending to the steering wheel!
We were glad to leave Henley behind us – much as we love the town and its celebration of river life, it was a bit too much today.
On we went through some tremendous countryside – the water and shore were packed with people – as if they only had one day to catch the sun before going hibernation – maybe they were right!
We got to Marlow and were contemplating gong on to Cookham when we spotted a vacant space at the end of the moorings on the right, upstream of the bridge. There’s a £10 fee payable a few boat-lengths down but it seemed to be free right at the end of the line where we were. A cruiser obligingly moved up a bit for us and we settled in for an early-evening (5pm) rest.
When I say rest, what I really meant was a long dog-walk for me and a boat-polishing session for Richard. I set off with Blue and Lou for their first half-hour rummage and we met two other greyhounds – Dottie and, ah, the name’s gone. We walked back to the boat together genially chatting about our respective hounds and the joy of owning greyhounds. In the meantime, mine were unusually good and walked sedately with Dottie and her mate (who are 9 – 10 years old).
When we got back to the boat I was surprised to see a little crowd of onlookers. But they weren’t admiring the Indigo Dream, they were entranced by a shrew who was dancing along the edge of the path by the boat. He seems oblivious to the audience and was totally unaware of the the two great greyhounds looking down at him interestedly from a great height!
When the shrew darted across the path and started a repeat performance in the undergrowth I decided to take the dogs out for another walk. This time we went via the park which allowed Blue and Lou to have a splosh in the stream. Blue lost me briefly and the kids at the skateboard park just stopped to watch him racing back to me at top speed. They seemed to be gobsmacked by his speed and grace. But this wasn’t the end of the walk, oh no, we had a way to go yet. Just past the park there’s a quiet lane, we turned left and followed it for a while – its a good place for rummaging. But then we met some walkers who informed that “if you follow the lane right to the end then it gets back to the river”. Aha, a circular walk, my favourite. Looking back, it probably would have been sensible for me to ask how far the ‘end’
was. We walked and walked, the lane becoming progressively narrower until it ended up as an overgrown footpath adjacent to an excellent open field. But by this time even the dogs were a bit worn out – Blue kept stopping and looking back at me incredulously – he obviously didn’t believe I knew what I was doing. Lou was trailing behind me disconsolately, the little bells on her collar a mournful refrain to the rapidly setting sun. But I was determined to find the path back to the river so I drove them on mercilessly. Then there was the sound of loud shotguns in a nearby field – Blue ran back towards me but I caught him on the lead and on we went. By now they were both looking at me as if I was mad – dragging them through unknown territory full of homicidal farmers with shotguns. We finally found the river – we’d inadvertently walked back as far as the lock! We turned back towards the boat but although they were now off the lead they trailed quietly behind me – it had been a rummage too far (though Lou’s curiosity was sparked by some sheep in an adjacent and very well-fenced field).
We got back to the boat at 7.15pm – between our first and second walks we’d been out for almost 2 hours! As we approached, the last of the daylight gleamed from Indigo Dream’s polished paintwork. She looked marvellous – a deep burnished blue – Richard had done a great job with the polish. We really must try to polish her at least once a year …
Blue and Lou didn’t stop to admire the finish – they were beyond of weary and couldn’t wait to get to their duvets. They barely noticed us leaving for the town.
I was also a little footsore (the paths here are unforgivingly stony) so we walked across the park towards town and settled on the first pub we came to. It was a great choice – the George and Dragon had very efficiently and firendly service and truly excellent food. We truly understood where we were when we overhead the denizens of the table behind us having a conversation about the comparative merits of the Economist and Telegraph. We were definitly in the stockbroker belt now…..
just a few more of our favourite views….