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Archive for April 6th, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 3

Posted by indigodream on 6 April, 2009

Friday 3rd April Brentford Gauging locks to Chertsey Meads

An early start – what a horrible shock to the system! But today time and tide literally wouldn’t wait and Richard needed to be at Thames lock by 8am-ish.

Putting on Life Jackets

Putting on Life Jackets

We swapped roles roles today – Richard drove the boat into the Brentford gauging lock and I operated the controls. I just needed a strong finger rather than a strong arm as it’s all electrically operated (you need a BW key). I was a bit sad to say goodbye to Richard, Blue and Lou as they cruised towards the tideway- as always my over-vivid imagination played a film in my head akin to Titanic meets the Poseidon Adventure! I don’t think that Richard is troubled by such apprehensions – just as well, as I was probably at much greater risk in the car! He was more impressed by the new, decidedly wonky landing platform BW are erecting at Brentford.

After a few pints it will look straight

After a few pints it will look straight

I drove to the Thames and Kennet Marina in Reading, sorted out a visitor mooring for next week then caught a taxi to the station then a train back to Teddington. I can honestly say that of all the modes of transport I’ve used today, the boat is definitely the best! As an aside, the people at the marina are the friendliest and most helpful you could hope to meet – there’s a great atmosphere there.

That left Richard with a solo cruise up the tideway. He took all the appropriate precautions – life-jackets for all on board, boat checked and in good order, water tank filled to optimise the boat’s trim, hair combed in case he met any babes in bikinis.

River Thames appearing out of the morning mist

River Thames appearing out of the morning mist

Maybe it wasn’t surprising that his verdict on a solo cruise on the tideway was “piece of cake” only seeing ONE other boat on the water! He even had time to take lots of photos – he’ll caption those for you in the tidal photoblog below. We did ring to book Thames lock but they’re now on their summer opening hours so you can just turn up and be locked onto the river. Richard was amused because nether the lock keeper at Brentford or Teddington were expecting any traffic – he had to moor the boat in Teddington lock (the bottom gates were helpfully open) and go off in search of the duty lock-keeper. He was amused rather than annoyed – we think that the Thames lock-keepers are a great bunch and Richard might have been less keen to do this solo cruise if they hadn’t been there to help.

Teddington Lock

Teddington Lock

I finally joined with the crew in Teddington High Street at around 12.30pm after a weary morning of just missed train connections (sorry, make that lack of connections). Richard and the dogs walked up from the boat and we had lunch in one of the abundant independent coffee bars in the High Street. I love mooring in Teddington – the lock moorings (which act as visitor moorings as well) are next to a safe park for the dogs and are very quiet apart from the constant such of water over the weir. The views are lovely and just within comfortable walking distance you have the genteel delights of Teddington High Street.

Misty sight of fifteen thousand million gallons of water per day

Misty sight of fifteen thousand million gallons of water per day

It’s well worth a visit, with many small shops and cafes that you won’t find anywhere else. Of course, you can’t actually buy anything there, they charge more for one button than I’d spend on an entire dress, but the ambience is great.

One of the reasons for meeting in Teddington was the large M & S food store – we stocked up on goodies for the weekend and finally got underway in the early afternoon. It was still quite cool on the water – the sun was trying, unsuccessfully, to break through the haze and there was a chilly breeze on the water. I didn’t care – it was great to be on helm after a couple of hours in stuffy trains, though I did have to don a fleece hoodie and scarf to block the drafts! Can’t imagine why Richard thought he would encounter babes in bikinis on his solo cruise.

How I love the Thames. It really is a magnificent sight. The last time we were here it was raining heavily and the river

Lovely riverside gardens

Lovely riverside gardens

was swollen with water and fallen leaves. Today it was flat calm and lined with cherry blossom and the newborn green of weeping willows. The riverside gardens looked spectacular, radiant with the candle glow of magnolias.

We made good time upriver but even in the flat calm you can really feel the drive of the current against you. With 1600 revs on we were just moving along nicely – on the canals that speed would have washed the towpath!  With this in mind we decided to check the fuel gauge – Indigo Dream’s big prop and engine makes short work of rivers but at a price – 90p per litre in this case! We had a quarter tank so we were hardly running dry but we decided to top her up anyway then we wouldn’t have to be thinking about it. We contemplated stopping at Thames Ditton Marina where we’ve filled up before but decided instead to head for Shepperton Marina. That gave us our second target of the day as the marina shuts at 5.30pm.

There was plenty of interest before the marina though. Kingston’s great from the water and we did a thorough recce of

John Lewis in Kingston

John Lewis in Kingston

the John Lewis moorings, turning the boat twice in the current before deciding that the moorings really were full and that a quick shopping trip wasn’t on. Just as well – I don’t really need any more posh frocks and though we were only going in for some batteries and a data stick I’m not sure if we’d have stuck to that modest list.

It was very quiet on the river – the odd trip boat, the odd dutch barge and NO sailing boats or canoes. Not that I object to them, it’s just that I worry about collisions, especially when the sailors make a game of tacking as close to our bow as possible!

One of our all-time favourite Thames pubs, The Albany at Hampton Court, was wafting the most delectable smell of steaks and other fine food food across the water. Their moorings were empty and I was sorely tempted to end the day’s cruise there and haunt the pub for the rest of the afternoon. But it was such a fine day, there was diesel to buy and the considerable bribe of a lie-in the following morning if we put in some miles today.

Hampton Court

Hampton Court

We carried on past Hampton Court Palace with its gaudy gates and decorative chimneys. There are visitor moorings just downriver from the palace – we must stop there and explore the adjacent park some time. I often think that Hampton Court Palace has an unreal quality about it, like theme park palace – it doesn’t carry its history on the outside, apart from one thing, the ancient and magnificent trees draped with great balls of mistletoe – part of a historic landscape long lost.

One of the great benefits of a large and characterful river is the large and characterful selection of boats and boathouses you find along the way. I don’t know why, but the broad vistas of the Thames seem to encourage people to broaden their imaginations and maybe the vast flow of the river releases the dammed up eccentricities of its dwellers. Either way, the colorful assortment of craft tied up along the banks is as much part of the scenery as the wildlife.

Hampton Wick House Boats

Hampton Wick House Boats

There aren’t many locks on this stretch so it made a nice change to share Sunbury Lock with a dutch barge which looked a little worn at the edges. No wonder, the young couple on board had just bought it in Amsterdam and sailed back to London themselves. They clearly had a tale to tell but sadly the lock filled before we could hear it all. Our next stop was the marina so we didn’t share any other locks with them – I wonder if we’ll see them further upriver somewhere?

As I mentioned earlier, we decided to stop at Shepperton Marina for fuel. There were many reasons for this – their diesel seemed reasonable at 90p on a 60/40 split (but they do allow you to self declare). We’ve also flirted with the idea of mooring here and have been offered a berth though we didn’t take it up as it was just after we’d agreed to move into our previous home at Engineers Wharf. The entrance to the marina is so narrow compared to the broad sweep of the river that it’s practically concealed! That lent a quiet air to the place as it’s tucked away unseen. It’s mainly inhabited by large cruisers but with a few narrowboats here and there. There’s not much room for manouever if you’re 60ft and don’t have bow thrusters but we threaded our way through a king’s ransom worth of boats to the fuel pontoon. I was on the helm and cried ‘doom’ when I realised that I’d have to reverse in to get to the fuel. I invited Richard to take the helm but he gallantly refused saying he’d be the manual bow thruster (man and barge pole) at the front. Huh, some bow thruster, the marina’s too deep for our pole so I was on my own. No drama, the boat handled beautifully and there was no wind. The main difficulty was that I came it an interesting angle because there wasn’t enough room to straighten the boat out. Thank heavens for centre ropes!

Shepperton Marina felt very much like a working boatyard – the place was alive with activity and it has an aladdin’s cave of a chandlers. I was interested to see that the block of buildings also housed a firm of accountants and other sundry non-boating industries. You could do worse than have an office here! By chance, the young lad who filled us with fuel also has two ex-racing greyhounds – Moley and Laura, so Blue and Lou got a big fuss and we chatted dogs for ages. Richard spent that time totting up cruising hours and negotiating a 40/60 split which worked out at 78p/litre. So the overall verdict is that Shepperton Marina is definitely a potential home for Indigo Dream; the only thing we have to work out is whether we’d be happy on a river mooring where we might be stranded for weeks when the red boards are up.

Walton on Thames

Walton on Thames

With the fuel tank full, we pressed on joyfully, re-living our youthful memories of taking an inflatable boat out on the Thames at Walton. I also relived memories of walking our first dog, Honey, along this stretch. She was my first dog and considerably better trained than Blue and Lou, but I’m still a bit shocked that I let her run off the lead here so close to a road. It never was a problem, not least because she was always too busy hurling herself into the water and swimming after ducks in Desborough Cut.

Our first potential mooring spot was the pub above Shepperton Lock, where we’ve moored before. But it was a fine evening so we decided to move on to Cherstey Meads, which has the best dog-walking area. If you get your Nicholson’s out, there are 24-hour free visitor moorings on the right (going upstream) opposite Dumsey Eyot. If you have a dog, then go as far upstream on the moorings as you can, as further back the towpath leads to a cut-through onto a busy road. From the moorings, follow the towpath upstream and you’ll get to a kissing gate leading to Dumsey Meadow. This is a site of special scientific interest as it’s one of the few remaining meadows that’s entirely maintained by grazing. The cattle are away at the moment, a blessing for us as Blue considers cattle dung to be the absolute top grooming product. Of course the attraction for us, and for the rest of the area’s dog-walkers, is that it’s a large, well-fenced piece of grassland with great river ‘beaches’ and lots of rabbits.

I took the dogs for a run while Richard did some more painting.They ran around like mad things and Lou won the award for the funniest trick of the day when she charged down a genial little dog and at the last moment, leapt right over him. Steady on Lou, you’re not in the Grand National!

Top Tip. If your paint’s a bit thick or if you’re worried about brushmarks then dilute the paint with a cellulose thinner – works a treat. Richard’s using around 1 part of thinner to nine parts of paint (a slurp in a jam jar to use what I’m sure will become SI units in the fullness of time!).

I thought that a long run would finish the dogs off, and Lou seemed perfectly happy to settle down. But Blue carried on complaining so we decided to take them to the pub with us. There are two pubs flanking Chertsey Bridge. On the right, looking upstream, is the Kingfisher. We’ve eaten there before in 2007 and all we remember is the hassle (it’s not dog-friendly at all) and not the food. So this time we tried the pub on the left – The Boat House.

Top tip. Take the footpath under Chertsey Bridge rather than trying to cross over the busy road!

We’d rung the Boat House earlier and found that they did allow dogs in the garden so off we went, via another monster

Last Orders?

Last Orders?

run in Dumsey Meadow. The food was very good but we got very cold outside. The dogs attracted a lot of attention as the warm diners within peered out of the window at the dogs lying on their sheepskin rugs. The pub did have patio heaters but no gas – I guess that there’s no point in having heaters on when it’s cold, let’s wait for summer when it’s warm. I shouldn’t grumble, who on earth sits outside after dark on 3rd April (apart from one other man with a dog and a pack of ciggies!)? Having said that, if we’d have been inside we’d have missed the sight of a tiny vole running across the pub garden towards it’s home in the riverbank. Luckily the dogs were transfixed on a plate of sausages that were cooling rapidly in the night air.

We warmed ourselves up on the walk back across the meadow. Blue ran around madly but Lou had had enough. She was a little cold and a little stiff, having already had about three times as much exercise as she’d normally get at home. I knew that Blue was just faking it though. He really does have a toddler’s mentality – he was tired but he’d never admit it and was very stubborn about coming back on board to bed. But once he was there he fell into the deepest sleep, practically a coma and I knew that we’d worn him out at last!

Photoblog:

Brentford's new lock landing platform

Brentford's new lock landing platform

Brentford House Boats

Brentford House Boats

Gloriously wide tidal Thames in the mist

Gloriously wide tidal Thames in the mist

Richmond Lock

Richmond Lock

Unusually quiet Richmond

Unusually quiet Richmond

The Hermits's Boat

The Hermit's Boat

Tough being a dog

Tough being a dog

Yes, Blue is thinking it is not far to jump up and out of the lock ....

Yes, Blue is thinking it is not far to jump up and out of the lock ....

Approaching Kingston

Approaching Kingston

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