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Boat Blog: A bit of fresh air…

Posted by indigodream on 14 December, 2011

Note: Republishing this post to get things into the right order – WordPress sometimes gets very confused about the dates!

Saturday 10th December

Limehouse to Teddington

It was a fine morning at Limehouse...

After Thursday’s apocalyptic winds it was hard to believe that we could contemplate a tideway cruise today, but the day dawned coldly calm with a blue sky so crisp and bright it hurt to look at it – perfect conditions for a jolly up the Thames.

We’d booked our passage through Limehouse Lock at 10am – plenty of time for us to drive up from Surrey and for Greygal to join us from Suffolk. We’d decided to leave our hounds at home – they’ve been in the wars this week with a variety of ailments, so we thought it best to let them rest in the warmth and comfort of their memory foam beds. Of course, as soon as she heard we were cruising without our hounds, Sarah (aka Greygal) and Andy stepped into the breach with greyhounds Ranger, Monty and Susie – the senior members of their extended pack.

We got to the boat at 9am-ish – it was colder inside the boat than outside (we have internal and external sensors to our weather clock), so the first job was turn on the Webasto! It is a very efficient heating system and the boat seemed to heat up quickly. It’s all relative though – by the time we got to Victoria Rail Bridge the outside temperature was 8°C but the inside of the boat felt toastie warm at just 11°C! We filled with water – both to help the boat’s trim and to see us through a stay in Teddington; Richard did the engine checks, including making sure that the bilge pump was working! I had been wondering about our fuel levels and was relieved to see a fuel boat (well, boat and butty) moored on the Limehouse wall – fuel services are few and far between down here. As it happens our tank was almost three-quarters full so we didn’t need any diesel today but we may well fill up if the working pair is still in Limehouse when we get back.

And we're off - but heading upstream and leaving the Isle of Dogs behind us....

Sarah, Andy and the hounds turned up at just the right time. Andy, an electronics whizz-kid, rigged up our winter tiller – fitted with electric hand-heaters, while Sarah and I went to the local dog park to make sure that the hounds were empty – no stopping on the tideway! In the meantime Richard kept in touch with the Limehouse Lockies via the VHF – they gave us a call when they were ready for us so we were able to cruise straight from our berth into the lock – sweet!

We reversed roles today, with me at the helm with Sarah while the menfolk went to the front to hold the bow against the surge when the lockies opened the gates to let the water out. We were soon coasting through the rubbish that tends to accumulate in the cut, before pushing on the revs and heading upriver. I enjoy steering onto the tideway – the feel of the tiller resisting the restless river, with its accumulated weight of tides and time, is thrilling.

I took the first shift at the helm, taking us through the pool of London and its famous landmarks – I don’t think we’ll ever tire of this trip. I was listening to “In our time” on Radio 4 on Thursday when they were discussing Greek philosopher Heraclitus who, in the 5th Century BC, came up with the famous saying “No man ever steps into the same river twice.” That’s how I feel about the Thames – the cruising conditions, traffic and moods are different each time and there’s the ever-changing panorama – the landmarks which have been there for centuries but which we haven’t noticed, as well as the cycle of demolition and rebuilding that marks London’s restless and evolving history.

Wow - just as well there were very few people on this walkway when it collapsed...

One thing we did notice today was the dramatic sight of the collapsed walkway that used to connect HMS Belfast to the shore – apparently it collapsed at the end of November but we’d missed the news item. We also noticed a City Cruisers trip boat coming downstream towards us – they were moving at a snail’s pace (or should that be a narrowboat’s pace?!) but, as we’ve observed before, this sometimes creates a deeper, though less turbulent, wash. I turned Indigo Dream into the deep waves and she dived into the troughs and rode the peaks as if designed for it! It’s a shame that we were boating alone – I think we might have had a photograph worthy of nb Leo (below) as the spray leapt over the roof!

That was the only excitement though – the pool of London is always a bit choppy, as are the areas shaded by the big bridges – a combination of geography, breeze and centuries of being carved up by passing boats – but nothing that Indigo Dream couldn’t handle with ease.

The sun was shining low in the sky – enough for us all to need sunglasses, even though we were wrapped up head to toe against the icy breeze of our passing. All three hounds decided to lie on deck (on sheepskins of course) – they huddled together but even their coats and lifejackets couldn’t keep them warm enough, so they ended up swaddled in fluffy blankets. Sarah was speculating on what the passengers on the very low-flying airliners coming into Heathrow would make of our cargo – if anything, the soft blanket swathed heaps looked like illegal aliens – good job we were well past the police wharf by then 🙂

There was wonderful quality to the light today – the clock tower at Westminster Palace glowed as its gold-leafed facade caught the sun’s winter-waning radiance. Further along, old and new buildings were softly illuminated and a calm settled over the river as we left the pool of London and approached the seaside-resort frontages of Barnes and Putney with their eccentric mix of old terraces and modern apartment blocks.

The figure of Agriculture on Vauxhall Bridge...

Richard took the next turn on the helm just past Lambeth Bridge, while I warmed up and enjoyed the view. It’s a good idea to take turns on the helm – the tideway is tiring – a combination of fresh air and constant vigilance take their toll, as does the more physical effort of working the heavy tiller in the tidal flow. There’s also the cold to contend with and the endless distractions from all the interesting things to be seen along the way. The bridges are quite incredible – there are details on the piers and parapets that only boaters will be able to appreciate – they can’t be seen from the bridge decks and the river is too wide for promenaders to see any detail from the shore. Vauxhall Bridge is maybe the best example with its larger than life statues representing various arts and sciences. To settle an on-board debate, the figure holding a scythe represents agriculture rather than death and/or war! I was surprised to find that the current Vauxhall Bridge was only opened in 1906 – its classical decoration makes it look much older.

There was very little commercial, or other, traffic on the river today – until we got to Putney that is – the rowers were out in force all along the river as far as Richmond. I know that rowing is physical work but the crews looked underdressed to us – most in singlets and shorts! Mind you, I imagine they generate a bit of heat when toiling downstream against the force of the incoming tide then rowing double time back up with the tide. Still, I know in which boat I’d rather be 🙂

Susie making the train her own.........

We enjoyed the opulence of Richmond’s riverfront, though we were a little disappointed to have missed the raising of the half-tide barriers – they were well up by the time we got there, allowing unimpeded passage upriver. This section is so luxurious – the river is now a more affable width and surrounded by parklands graced with tall trees, planted by people who would never live to see them reach their magnificent maturity. Even in its winter clothes the landscape seems affluent – it’s a sign of great wealth that this open land has been preserved rather than turned into real estate – the fate of many a country park and manor as the industrial and social revolution marched across the country.

All too soon we had travelled 21 miles and arrived at Teddington Lock – the lock was ready for us and we were soon ascending the substantial rise – the tide had a way to go yet. There were plenty of spaces on the lock moorings and we arranged a week’s stay with the lock-keeper. It costs £8 a night now, but we don’t begrudge it as these are superior visitor moorings – there’s a fine view over the weir and upriver, generous parkland for the hounds and the delights of Teddington High Street are a short walk away. We haven’t been here for a while and I’d forgotten how nice it was – possibly my favourite visitor moorings of all time!

We walked the hounds then retreated indoors to warm up and eat lunch before we reluctantly packed the boat up and headed off to Teddington train station – about 15 minutes walk away at the far end of Teddington High Street. The day’s adventures weren’t over – I was taking the train to Clapham Junction then home to liberate our hounds. In the meantime, Sarah, Andy, Richard and the three hounds travelled by train, tube and bus back to the cars at Limehouse. The hounds were very good and attracted an extravagant amount of attention (as always). Susie, being a Lou-type top girl, enjoyed every minute of it, especially when she purloined two seats on the train and imperiously scrutinised the other passengers from her new throne. If you’re horrified by the sight of a dog on a train seat well, I reckon I’ve suffered enough overcrowding, delays, cancellations and poor service on public transport that I feel I’ve earned the right to some misbehaviour (no human was deprived of a seat!). Susie then strutted her stuff through Waterloo, all 3 greyhounds attracted loads of attention but it was Susie who really seemed to enjoy it.

The hounds then had their first ever ride in a lift (this after their first ever ride on a train) down to the Jubilee Line platform. Richard glanced up the platform and saw everybody looking at the hounds, he looked down the platform and yes, everybody was staring at the hounds. Even timid Monty did well on the tube and we were soon in Canary Wharf where the hounds attracted even more attention before their first ever bus ride back to Limehouse. Today was an extreme number of experiences for greyhounds Susie, Ranger & Monty – bet they slept well that night!

We’ve done some epic cruising with Greygal this year – today was another magical journey to add to the fund of memories that will keep us smiling when winter gales keep us from the water….

Next Tidal Adventure…..

The grand plan, weather permitting, is to take Indigo Dream back down to Limehouse on Sunday 18th December – it’s a cruel early start – we’ll need to get through Teddington Lock at 7am! If you’re up for an early start, have an up to date will and a few euros in your pocket in case we miss the turn then experienced boaters are welcome to join us (and the hounds, all being well) – just leave a comment and we’ll get in touch with arrangements.


Regular readers will have seen it all before but we’re hooked – we love the river views….

What a view - the stretch between Limehouse and Tower Bridge - replete with riverside warehouses - all converted to other uses now...

The Shard dominates the landscape around Tower Bridge...

'New' London is being built of glass and steel - Richard has remarked that most of these buildings have a design life of less than 100 years so what will the next generation see on the skyline?

I don't mind having my photos taken in the winter because I'm so wrapped up that I could be any fleece-wrapped yeti - Andy is still recognizable though 🙂

The London Eye looked particularly fine today - you get a good view of the 'drive' mechanism from the river. Are the pods heated? Would be a bit chilly at the top if not...

You can't beat the light at this time of year...

The bright, low sunshine made the best of the lights and shade of Westminster's gothic facade...

Sarah though this might be a nice pied a terre for the hounds - with convenient access to the foreshore at low tide...

They could have been snug indoors but Sarah's hounds love the back deck....

The boys....

The waterfront is full of surprises - these houses provide a welcome splash of colour...

Sarah looks happy on the helm...

This Starbucks needs a mooring pontoon or maybe a cruise thru' window for passing boaters - that's if you don't have your own espresso machine on board of course!

Those platforms are interesting - we're a long way from high tide here but they look a bit high for mooring....

Great riverfront....

More colourful houses in Kew...

The Thames islands are havens for wildlife - what I thought were crow's nests high in the trees might be heronries...

Sculpture (or windbreak) at Brentford - this is a useful landmark near the entrance to the Lock onto the canal - the big BW sign seems to have vanished!

The planes really are low over the water as they approach Heathrow...

Popular ferry service - well, bridges are a lot further apart here...

Richmond - from the left - the lock (1st arch), lowered half-tide barrier (2nd arch), open navigation (3rd arch)....

Richmond is wonderfully opulent....

The hermit's 'boat' - now ashore - it looked as if it might be being dismantled.....

5 Responses to “Boat Blog: A bit of fresh air…”

  1. Kevin said

    Hi Sue & Richard,
    Excellent photos, they bring back many memories of my trip up the Thames many many years ago.

    Re “The waterfront is full of surprises – these houses provide a welcome splash of colour…” photo

    The house on the left, the white one next to the ‘Worlds End Tower’, used to belong to the novelist Ken Follett and his wife Barbara who used to be the MP for Stevenage until 2010. I used to drive along Cheyne Walk twice a day for many years when I worked in London. It was great to see the houseboats rising and falling on the tide, alarming angles some of them end up at at low tide though!

  2. Anne Winwood said

    Lovely pics and of course great description. I was very tempted to ask if I could come along for the ride (and of course contribute to Greyhoundhomer), but too many committments were in my way. I was walking my two little rat dogs by Chiswick Boat House/Chiswick Bridge around 12 noon and looked out for you. I was going to yell very loudly and wave, and hope you’d hear and see me – and probably wonder who the mad woman was;-) It’s been ages since I have been on a NB and I miss it very much. I enjoy your blogs so much, and of course Lynx’s blogs too.

    I hope I will be able to get a group together in the New Year for a charity cruise, if that would be okay?

    With best regards


  3. indigodream said

    Anne – it’s totally brilliant to hear from you – you are very welcome on board and a charity cruise would be fab. You’ll know from the blog that we’re in London in 2012 so plenty of opportunities for cruising. As for the tideway – well, I anticipate that we will be doing a few trips on the river so we’ll keep you posted.

    Kevin – thanks for the great information – we were wondering whether the boats moored there settled on the level when the tide went out – now we know!

  4. Greygal said

    Another epic day in so many ways – there can’t be many hounds who have gone by car, boat, train, lift, tube, and bus, all on the same day. We were tempted to call in at City Airport and get the full set! Thanks so much for a truly wonderful year’s cruising…difficult to beat, I reckon, but we can have a damn good try!

  5. Capt Ahab said

    You are winners:

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