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There are three sections to our Journeys pages

  1. Northern England
  2. Southern England
  3. France and Belgium
 
       
 
Southern England  

On the 2nd December, 2008, we took Endellion by lorry south to Shepperton Marina and gradually began to make our way east down the River Thames to Limehouse Marina, where family and friends joined us for Christmas and New Year celebrations.

To help us prepare for a leg of our journey in the UK, we use Canal Route Planner and PC Navigo, however nothing compares with the local knowledge we are picking up from other helpful bargees along the way.

We have created a "shortish" description of our journeys as the weeks unfold and will continue to update this section when we have a moment. A map can found further down.

 

Week One

Week Three

Week Five

Shepperton to Teddington

Dec. 4, 9 & 10

Teddington to Limehouse

Dec. 11, 12 & 18

Limehouse to Lee Nav & return

Dec. 28 & 29

 

January-February

March-April

Limehouse Marina

Up the Thames


Week One in the South: Commencing 3rd December, 2008: Shepperton to Teddington

Our aim was to reach the beginning of the tidal section of the Thames

Total distance is 15.5 km and 3 locks.

En route

Thursday 4th December, 2008.

The first step in getting onto the Thames, was to get out of Shepperton Marina without destroying too many of their great ”clutch” of white plastic vessels. This we did successfully without too much help or guidance from the people from the marina – why were we surprised?  Once under Penny Lane Bridge (true) we were yet again in a totally new and fresh world.  The river here was about 40 metres wide, while not tidal but certainly on the move, following rain up-river. 

 
 
Moored for her first night on The Thames
Swans on their way home for the night
 

Rather than head too far down stream, we decided to pull in as soon as practicable to start to get to know our new surroundings.  So, less than a kilometre down the river from Shepperton Marina, we did a 180 degree turn and moored up for what turned out to be 4 nights in Walton-on-Thames.  Not that we had ever heard of it before.

On land, one of the most attractive places was the pub The Swan.  Jerome Kerne we later discovered, had also discovered the pub and liked the publican’s daughter so much he had married her and moved in.   Julie Anthony was also a Walton–on –Thames local, so music was definitely in the air. 

Sculling was also big here and kids as young as 10 or 12 expertly rowed past – with or against the current, while great numbers of swans, paddled about waiting to be fed.

 

 
Rowers
 
Rowing up The Thames
And down again
 
 
Tiny houses the size or are they boat sheds?
A weir, Thames style
  Tuesday 9th of December
  We finally decided to begin our journey down to London and to experience the continual transformation of the Thames.  Two locks today  Sunbury and then Molesey. 
   
  In between the houses began to get a little grander and even the house boats were double storied.
  On the way to Hampton Court  Boathouse at Taggs Island
  Rather than moor just below Molesey Lock, Steve the lock keeper suggested we should continue on a little further and tie up below Hampton Court Palace.  He thought we might even be able to get off and have a look around the Palace. 
  Approaching Hampton Court Palace Mistletoe Tree
 
Approaching Hampton Court Palace
Mistletoe must be an evergreen
  We had never considered that we would be able to explore this favourite home of Henry VIII, but sure enough before too long we were in his kitchens with cavernous spits so huge they must have been able to roast whole bullocks and all the other fair which was put on his table each day.  The Royals up until George III spent time at Hampton Court Palace – even Cromwell.  It was a place which breathed history.
  Hampton Court main gates Hampton Court characters
  The main gates   No, they're not ghosts, although there are plenty here
   
  Wednesday 10th of December
  Off a few kilometres further down the river today. After we leave Hampton Court, the river gets wider and the bridges more frequent as we pass through Kingston and on to Teddington.
  Endellion at the Palace Boatshed near Richmond
  Tied up outside the palace A boat shed with pavilion upstairs near Richmond
 
 
Bridge coming up
Kingston railway bridge
 

Week Three in the South of England

Our aim: to navigate the Tidal Thames through London to Limehouse Basin for Christmas

Total distance is 34.5 km and 1 lock.

 

En route

Thursday 11th December, 2008.

Teddington to Brentford Dock Marina

  Below Teddington, where the small ships armada had headed off to rescue the troops from Dunkirk, we were back on the tidal Thames though it was a very gentle run.  We tied up on the river outside Brentford Dock Marina a little ahead of time and waited around an hour for high tide. Then after some very tight turning, we were in and tied up.  But just for one night as it was very difficult to get off and on shore here on a wheelchair.
 
 
Richmond
Christmas decorations, Brentford Dock
 

Friday 12th December 2008

Brentford to Chiswick Pier

  Chiswick Pier was not much further on, but it was easy to access dry land, to explore the historical heritage of the neighbourhood and to enjoy the hospitality in old, old pubs like The Dove, with the smallest public bar in the country.  This is in the heart of rowing mania, and wet or dry, night or day, eights, fours, doubles an singles zoomed past on the tide, or laboured slowly the other way against it.  Some had crude head lamps fitted but many not.
  Rowers return Endellion at Chiswick Pier
 
Rowers prepare
Moored in Chiswick alongside RNLI vessels
 

Thursday 18th December, 2008

Chiswick to Limehouse Basin

  No trip thus far had been as highly anticipated or tightly planned than today's 21k trip.  We couldn't depart Chiswick until after 7:00 when we had enough light to see the rowers or other potential hazards, yet on a falling tide, we had to be in the Limehouse lock by 10:30 at the latest.  We knew from our earlier experiences on the Trent that with the tide behind us it would be easy to do 8 or 10kph, but would we be able to safely navigate through 16 or so bridges some amongst the most famous in the world and amongst all the other boats and ferries at that pace?  Any slower we knew, could mean we we might not be able to effectively steer straight, so there would be little choice. So soon after 7 we set off.
  Hammersmith Bridge at dawn
Hammersmith Bridge at dawn
New amongst the old
  As it turned out, for most of the trip we were travelling at 12kph, the bridges were spectacular, but wide, and the traffic amazingly light. 
  Church at Battersea
 
Battersea church
Blackfriars and the gherkin ahead
  Two unforgettable hours after we set off into the strong current at Chiswick, we were beginning a 180 degree turn to put the current on our nose to head into the safety of Limehouse's lock.  Our steering system gave us one final surprise for the trip. locking on full starboard which turned 180 degrees into a 440 degree pirouette, but once back under control we made it.  A lead had come loose again. Perhaps we need some chewing gum to secure it for the future!  A huge thanks to Lesley and her mum, Joan for the moral support and the navigational help on this epic leg of our journey!
 
 
Vauxhall Bridge
Putney Bridge
 
 
St. Paul's approaching
Tower of London
 
 
This HAS to be London!
Tower Bridge
 
 
City Hall
Limehouse Lock on port beam
   
 

Week Five in the South of England

Our aim: to navigate part of the Regent Canal, the Hertford Union canal and a section of the Lee Navigation, returning to Limehouse Basin the following day.

Total distance is 17.4ks, 14 locks.

  Monday, the 29th of December
 

To clear any Christmas cobwebs and continue our "explorations" we decided to take a short trip up the Regent - which after-all runs into Limehouse Basin, then to go up the tiny Hertford Union canal and onto the Lee River, to be the site of the Olympics in 2012.  Navigo tells us the Hertford is just 1.5ks long and also warns of low bridges on the Lee  -  2.36m, which Endellion should just get under with the canvas awning on the stern down.  So after removing it, off we head, with Lesley's brother Dean and his wife Gerry both very experienced narrow boat bargees on board to help and guide us, along with her mother Joan.  D and G's dog Monty is also on board - our first canine passenger. The Regent - named after George IV, Prince Regent at the time of the commencement of construction.  Suddenly, despite being in very urban surrounds, with small manual locks, it was almost as if we were on the Aire and Calder Navigation in West Yorkshire back in October.  The over-hanging walkways on top of the lock gates made entering and exiting even tighter, and before we had time to respond, a mounting for the awning had been removed.  A little re-riveting will be needed, but no other damage.

 
 
Dean and Gerry's Polveithan as we depart
London's Tower Hamlet flats along the Regent Canal
  After less than 2ks we came to the entrance to the Hertford Union canal, under a towpath bridge.  It looked dauntingly low and opinions of the "experts" who watched our approach from the bridge, was that we would never make it. Standing on the stern deck looking over the wheelhouse roof, Dean disagreed, so we completed our 90 degree turn and slowly nudged under.  With about 4" or 100mms to spare we made it, to the amazement of many there and along the way who often commented that they had never seen a larger barge go past.  We weren't too surprised!  At least one bridge was even lower but we got through and onto the Lee Navigation.
 
 
How will we get through this?
One of the higher ones!
  The Lee - sometimes spelt "Lea" will be considerably more well known as London's Olympics approach.  We passed a long section of the construction site.  Behind it we were informed, the Press Centre is being built and hand ball will be played in a new stadium.
 
 
2012 Olympics hoardings
Longhorn cow looking on
  The Navigation is really a canalised river with locks at various point below and above the section we were cruising. PC Navigo warned of even lower bridges, but we experienced nothing as low as those on the Hertford Union.  We moored up for the night at the beginning of Waltham Marsh, with about the oddest looking collection of cattle we had ever seen as our neighbours, part of another initiative to preserve rare breeds.
  Tuesday, the 30th of December
 

The outside thermometers announced it was minus 5 degrees when we woke, but we did not realise the implications of this cold until further down the Lee. Monty's water bowl had frozen.  Dean poured in hot water - then it was too hot, but it soon cooled down again. 

 
 
Minus 5 degrees at Walthamstow Marsh
Monty waits for breakfast, the bowl frozen!
  Birds were walking about on top of the water on the navigation as we headed off and suddenly a sound very new to us; the sound of breaking ice.  It was only a couple of centimetres thick but a totally new experience for us and for the barge.
 
 
Ice on the water, Lee Navigation Hertford Union
More ice!
 

For some reason the low bridges of yesterday were no longer quite as low.  A passing barge must have lowered the canal's water levels - by a hundred mls or more. 

 
 
Graffiti art in the making
Lesley on a lock beam, inside a Dad and baby are watching
 

Four hours after we had started off, we were back again in Limehouse Basin.  The main evidence of our ice-breaking was that at the water line on our bow and around the sides is now shiny silver.  The ice had shaved off the blacking at the waterline as well as any angle grinder.  

 

  NEW YEAR'S EVE
  I realised that Stewart hasn't written about NYE .. he has never been a big fan of this major event so he retired before the hour of mid-night. And mum decided that scooting all the way to the chosen venue of the Tower Bridge was a bit too much on this extremely chilly night, so it was the three of us: Dean, Gerry and me.. Lesley. A nice brisk walk was very sensible given how cold it was .. and once we arrived at the bridge there were plenty of warm bodies around us so we didn't feel the cold at all.
  Crowd at Tower Bridge New Year's Eve crowds
 
Dean and Gerry at Tower Bridge .. squashed and happy!
It must be New Year .. difficult to tell from here.
  January-February: Limehouse
 

Since our last waterway journey (above) we have been moored at Limehouse with the occasional trip around the marina for fuel when Liz visits in her commercial barge or for pumping out (our black water tank). We always planned this spell at Limehouse knowing the winter could be tricky on the canals and rivers during this period .. but we didn't anticipate just how severe it would be!

  Endellion with blanket of snow Limehouse Marina in the snow
 
Endellion with her blanket of snow
Limehouse marina boats looking pretty
  The Grapes Snowman
 
The Grapes with hanging flower snow baskets!
Snowman at Limehouse Lock
 

We finally made our trip to France, after the repair of our power chair, by EuroRail to visit Lille where we hope to stay for a few days later in the year with Endellion. The trip by very fast train was excellent and we just about fell in love with Lille.

  EuroStar train Flemish style in Lille
 
EuroStar fast train for Lille
Flemish style Vieille Bourse, Lille centre
 

We inspected the canals around the area and spent a fair bit of time trying to track down the right 'authorities' to discuss mooring and costs - all to no avail. But we went away with the right contacts and an e-mail address - perfect.

  Canal in Lille Stewart with visa
 
Canal and Lock near the Citadelle, Lille
Stewart on board the train, renewed visa in hand!
  We planned this trip some time ago to make sure we could leave Britain and come back safely within Stewart's visa period - and with only a day or so to spare we can celebrate a six month's extension.. he won't be deported!
 

March-April 2009

Back up the Thames

 

The Aim:

In the remaining few weeks before we must go to Belgium - the truck is booked - we want to see as much of the Thames River as we can.  So we want to get as far up the river as we can before we have to turn back to go in to Reading and the Thames and Kennet Marina where the crane awaits.

The Stats.

Distance:                               250.2kms

Number of locks:                    46

Projected engine hours:          73hrs

 

March 23

Limehouse Basin to Chiswick Pier

 

We have had a pretty amazing day today.  Headed off on Endellion from Limehouse Basin at 10:30 with our friend Graham Taylor, an East-Ender with a great passion for the river and its history joining us for the morning.

  Tower Bridge Traffic
 
A final glimpse of Canary Wharf
The river traffic out on the Thames - Pitt Street!
 

  The tide was running in behind us but the water was choppy as we had a strong breeze on our nose.  So there was the occasional wave breaking over the bow.  And quite a number of ferries and tugs on the river just to keep us on our toes.
 
  The ABC filmed a bit of our journey for a story they are planning for later in the year for 7.30 Report.  So we had to make doubly sure we at least looked like we knew what we were doing!  
  We were doing 10kph and successfully navigated under the 21 bridges.  Just over 2 hours after setting off we were pulling up at Chiswick Peer having covered around 21 ks all up ..... and headed for the pub!
 
 
Graham at the bar at The Dove
Thanks for sharing the trip Graham!
 

A great journey, though probably the roughest waters we will experience for a very long time.   We moored up and went a kilometre on shore to revisit a wonderful old pub The Dove, where we had lunch and a pint in front of the fire, just making it back on board before a heavy shower bucketed down for a few minutes.  The sun was soon out again and the rowers are  yet again out training.  The Head of the River races are on, on this very part of the river at this time of year. 

 

March 26 and 27

Teddington to Windsor

 
 
A training run on the way down ....
And the "escort" on the way back
  Chiswick Pier is one of the few places you can moor up on the 20-odd ks of the tidal Thames. The famous University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge  was on the next weekend and the Oxford University Boat Club seemed to be in training 24/7.  First the eight pursued by their coach in a little runabout blaring his instructions through his megaphone,  and following them at a safe distance a sleek Edwardian style open launch full of we know not whom.  Parents? Supporters?  Or were they spies for the other team?  (postscript - Oxford won!)
  It costs ₤25.00 a day including electricity to moor at Chiswick.  Not cheap but an amazing location – onshore and on the water. Others had booked it for race day, so after two nights there we headed off up to Teddington.
 
 
Kew Palace.  Used as a schoolhouse for George III's sons and also his home when ill - or "mad".
Pink and green.  Why not!
  A place along the way we would have loved to visit was Kew Palace, a favourite of King George III.  Unfortunately it’s not open to the public until April, and going past it was hard to see an easy place to moor up to visit anyway, though apparently tour boats do come from Westminster in the summer. 
 
 
Eel Pie Island - 'cos apparently it looked like one from above!
"Dorothy" an Eel Pie Island owner's boat
 

A little further up the river is the marvelously name Eel Pie Island.  We ate Jellied Eel bought from an ancient Eel Pie shop in Broadway recently and frankly we did not immediately fall in love with the flavour or the texture of eels jellied.  It was hard to believe it now as we passed, that for many years a hotel on the tiny island was a mecca for music lovers – originally jazz and swing and then rock in the sixties and early seventies. 

 

The Eel Pie Island web site  reports people who played on Eel Pie included The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Genesis and The Who.  Almost impossible to believe today as the dance hall finally closed down in the early 1970s and burnt to the ground in a “mysterious fire”.

Before we knew it we were back in Teddington, where we forked out ₤270 to the EA for the privilege of spending 4 weeks cruising the non-Tidal Thames and ₤8.70 to tie up there.  Most EA moorings without power or water are free, but not for some reason, at Teddington.

 
 
Astoria on the bow?
Astoria - extraordinary and still making music and history after nearly 100 years
 

 

The river experience playing must have had a lasting impact on David Gilmour, the lead singer of Pink Floyd.  A couple of kilometres further up the Thames sits his amazing floating recording studio Astoria,  which he bought in 1986.  As Dave told Griff Rees Jones and his mates in the TV show reliving Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, he’d spent “half of [his] life in recording studios with no windows, no light" but on the boat there are many windows, with beautiful scenery on the outside".  Apparently the boat was built in 1911 for impresario Fred Karno, who wanted to have the best houseboat on the river. He designed it so that there could be an entire 90-piece orchestra playing on the deck of the ship.

Wikipedia told me: “Parts of the two most recent Pink Floyd albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were recorded on the boat, as well as parts of the latest David Gilmour solo album On an Island.

We couldn't hear any sounds coming from Astoria as we passed so we moved steadily on.

 

 

We had been this way just 3 months earlier and lots of things were familiar – bridges, the locks, boat sheds and some of the many boats tied up along the way. 

 
 
Another houseboat a little similar to Astoria
Tied up in Staines
  Then suddenly, above Walton on Thames we were into new territory again as we wound on up through Shepperton and finally to Staines, where we tied up on a wharf which seemed specially designed for us.  The jetty was level with our aft deck and sturdy cement ramp led to the town.. 
 
 
Runnymede Pleasure Grounds approaching - little "pleasure" to be had!
Tight, but Stewart got through - good luck or good planning from the park management we wondered.
 

Next morning, we stocked up at the massive Sainsbury emporium and headed off up-river.  The Magnacarta had been signed here abouts and we were on the look out for Runnymede.  A riverside park, Runnymede Pleasure Grounds promised to be a good stopping point for a trip to see the museum.  However looks can be deceiving and after heading off onshore to explore, we soon turned back and moved up river on to Old Windsor.  The Bells of Ouseley pub looked inviting but the river bank proved a bit too shallow for comfort, so it was on up towards Windsor.

 
 
Albert Bridge
Royal Estate sheep
 
 
Castle approaching
Royal Boathouse (?)
 

Suddenly on the left through the trees the unmistakable profile of Windsor Castle emerged through the trees.  The largest and oldest occupied castle in the world.  The bank on our left was plastered with signs warning us not to moor as this was part of the Royal Estate.  Flocks of the Queen’s sheep grazed under the trees. We passed the royal boathouse, built of brick and stone and looking like an illustration in a children’s book.  Just superb. It was easy to imagine royal boating parties heading out through the stone arch for a day on the river.  Then we went under Albert Bridge and then the Victoria Bridge, complete with the Royal Standard painted on the uprights.

 
 
 
 
 
The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world
Victoria Bridge
 
 
Into Romney Lock - one of the wider ones
The water rises in Romney Lock
  Romney Lock posted some challenges as we approached it around a long curve directly into the lowering sun.  Once through, we were in the heart of Windsor, the castle towering on our left.  It took a while to find a place to tie up, but a good spot was finally found.  The weather threatens to return to the chills of winter, but with 53ks covered over the past two days, and now 73 ks on from Limehouse, we are ahead of schedule.  So time to see out the weather and hopefully have a good look around Windsor and Eton before we set off again.
 

Windsor

We were determined to make the best use of our opportunity to explore Windsor Castle as we knew it would be a very long time if ever, before would be back on the Thames.  So bright and early on Sunday morning – the first day of daylight saving here, we headed off up the hill to the castle to begin.  We were not to be disappointed. 

 
 
 
 

 
The Keep, the original part of the castle
The way in
 
 
A "royal" street light.
All wonderfully accessible
 
 
The private living quarters
On guard duty
 
 
The appropriately names Long Walk.  3 miles
The Guild Hall.  Charles and Camilla were married here.
 

As age-worn and craggy as the castle might look from the outside, the interior was a total contrast of sheer splendour and richness; the walls in some chambers covered cheek by jowl with portraits by famous masters such as van Dyke and Rembrandt,   the ceilings hand painted or carved, to say nothing of silk carpeted floors and even some solid silver furniture. It was all simply extraordinary.  The royal standard flying from the tower meant that Queen Elizabeth was in residence and riding up and down in the lifts available for people in wheelchairs and through the kitchens and halls we had to use, we were half expecting we might (literally) bump into her!

 

     
     
 

We also spent another afternoon on the other side of the river at Eton College. The main buildings had a very medieval sense about them. Not surprising as the guide told us it was founded in the 1400s.  Then there were just the 90 Kings Scholars; poor but gifted boys.  Today more than 1100 students attend, most living in large houses of 50 or so students around the little town. 

The main street boasted almost as many tailors as Saville Row; selling outfits steeped in history for teachers – the “Beaks” and for students, as well as less formal the regalia of clubs, the different houses and the many sporting teams.  Apparently there are well over a 100 different extraordinary colour socks, ties and jackets all in mad colour combinations

  On through Cookham, Henley and Sonning, towards Reading
  On Tuesday March the 31st we finally decided that in spite of all the highly accessible English history we had best be off, so headed up river again for Cookham, 11ks and 4 locks away. 
 

Lots of elegant looking houses fronting the river, then long stretches of bushland preserved from development because this area was apparently owned by the mega-rich Astor family who build the colossal Cliveden mansion which stands on top of a hill lording it over the Thames below.

 

 

The few smaller houses associated with Cliveden down along the river seemed in poor repair – the National Trust owns the whole estate today.  But three friendly chaps outside one place were admiring an historic speedboat all waved as we passed by, making it feel as if some things had changed little about the place.

The lock keepers along the way are mostly a mine of great information about where to pull up and which are the best places.  While a couple mentioned Cookham, none could have prepared us for just what a wonderful little village it was. 

 
Tied up in Cookham - few pass by.
Even the dead have great views here
Cookham main street
Springtime bursting out
The neighbour's house
Photographer's self portrait
Dog walking, the "national sport" of Cookham!
Dutch Barge Caberfeldh approaches
The Ferry Inn - in modern dress
Stanley Spencer Gallery
Sir Stanley Spencer's grave
Sarah Tubbs
Cookham was also where we learnt all about local artist Sir Stanley Spencer, who grew up and lived nearly all his life there and is buried in the churchyard near where we were moored up.  Spencer must have been a very religious man as many of his paintings are of religious themes but he put them in the “Cookham context”.   So if Christ is delivering a sermon, he is made to look like a local addressing a crowd of Cookham villagers on the banks of the river.  Wonderful pictures, which we were able to see in a gallery there dedicated to his work.  It’s in the old Methodist chapel where he used to worship when not attending the C of E church across the street.  As we went past it trying to see if it was open, the door swung open beckoning us in.  The volunteer on duty could not have been nicer or more helpful.  There was even a lift to take me up to the upper floor to see the rest of the wonderful exhibition of Spencer’s marvelous work.  Just wonderful and typical of what a precious little place Cookham is.
 

After two nights tied up in Cookham it was on again on in the sun to Marlow. 

 
 
Dutch Barge "Esme"  DBA Headquarters
Harleyford Manor approaching
 
 
Marlow looking glorious
Marlow Bridge gets an accessibility check - 5 stars!
 
 
The sign said - as many do -"staff wanted".  Stewart did not apply but struck up a conversation.
The mansion of the game developer.
 

While having a (half!) pint in the Two Brewers a chap working on the restoration of a mighty Victorian mansion came over to ask why there were always so many people about taking pictures of the river … like that woman over there.  I explained that that particular woman was my wife Lesley and that we were here for the first time. I asked him what was going on with the house.  He explained that it was being renovated from top to bottom for an old school chum of his who had done well in computer games for kids, the Lego series.  Google subsequently told me the company must have been TTGames which had recently been sold to Warner Bros.  The house, the biggest in Marlow is 4 stories high, with a lift and an indoor swimming pool I think.   A contemporary success story giving new life to an old one.

That night two wonderful people, John and Veronica Whipp came to visit.  They are the uncle and aunt of a friend of our in Australia, Neil Robertson.  Neil’s mother, Veronica’s sister died due to having MS.  Neil now lives in Australia and is 110% committed to raising funds for MS research through the F5m Foundation and MS Research Australia.  John and “Ron” as everyone calls her, are the kind of people you feel you have known for years in a very short time and after sharing the bottle of champers they had brought we went across to a local pub for dinner.  Neil was delighted we had met them as they meant so much to him.  We were delighted to have met them too.  See their pic on our Guests page.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

On again, no with Henley on the “radar”

 

 
     
 
 
Bisham Abbey
 

We approached Henley around a corner in the Thames and past a tiny, superbly manicured island, Temple Island, built as a summerhouse and fishing lodge in 1771.  Now it’s the starting point for annual the Henley Regatta – a long dead straight section of the river which shimmered in the sun as we traveled down it – hardly at rowing pace, to Henley.

 

 
 
Henley approaching
Through Henley Bridge - great sculpture
 
 
Waterside "pads" in Henley - great for race viewing!
Downtown Henley
 
 
A busy time in the lock
But always time for a top-up!
 
 
Time standing still
Another timber classic boat
 
 
Enjoying the view on a sunny afternoon
 

Henley on Thames is a place we had at least heard of, but were not really prepared for.

It turned out to be a charming combination of an old and quaint English market town of old given new energies and “vibe” through becoming and still being the birthplace of competitive rowing.  So today its very much a tourist town, but packed to the rafters with quaint old buildings and charm.

   
 

 

 

Henley to Oxford

75klms, 15 locks

 

Henley to Sonning

9.7 klms, 2 locks

A short trip today brought us to Sonning, a beautiful village on the eastern edge of Reading.  We tied up on the towpath just beyond the Lock and headed off to explore.  Just up the hill beside us according to the signs was the Reading Bluecoat School, founded in the 1600s and still growing today, as indicated  by the cranes and other signs of all building works.

We found our way to a lovely old pub, The Bull and enjoyed a sandwich and a couple of half pints out in the sunny front yard.  Lots of very old buildings in Sonning and Lesley discovered The Mill on the other side of the river operates as a theatre-restaurant.  A show on Doris Day was advertised.  Now we are not really Doris Day fans, but it sounded as if it was “sort of” accessible and we could go the following evening.  So, why not? 

We spent a day exploring the towpath up to Reading.  The riverside trail through woods and by playing fields soon gave way to bleak housing an even bleaker modern shopping development on both sides of the Kennet and Avon. We don’t think we will be spending too much time in Reading any time soon. 

Our Doris Day night at The Mill was much more memorable.  18th Century bridges present several challenges.  The arches are tight so skippering “Endellion” through them requires full concentration.  However they are also quite narrow to cross, one-way affairs. So Sonning, like others encountered is equipped with traffic lights.  With no footpaths to mention and a line of cars waiting their turn, getting across in a wheelchair was a matter of very, very careful timing.  

With my “foot” flat to the floor, so to speak, but we made it. 

The next challenge was transferring from the wheelchair to an inclinator; an “interesting” experience to put it mildly.  The Mill was apparently the last to grind flour in the country, only closing in the 60s.  After decaying for the next twenty years, it was then very extensively refurbished. The old beams and low ceilings were everywhere, but these days apparently the mill wheel powers an electric generating unit for green power to light the building. After a dinner which could well have been prepared by a moon-lighting cook from the neighbouring boarding school, we were shown into the surprisingly well set up theatre.  The lights dimmed and we spent the next three hours learning all about the low and highs of the life (so far) of America’s darling of the 50s.  But in an environment as far removed from Hollywood or Cincinnati as could be imagined!

Sonning to Pangbourne     

16klms, 4 locks

After a call in at the Thames and Kennet Marina where we are due to have Endellion lifted onto the CPL lorry again in a couple of weeks we headed on around the eastern fringes of Reading – dull and run down, and on to Pangbourne. A very beautiful section of the river, claimed to be the area Kenneth Green is claimed to have had in mind when writing Wind in the Willows.  That’s a little bit confusing as others say he was thinking of a river in Cornwall – more research needed on this one! 

Lesley went off to explore while I tried to find a marine electrician who might be able to finally get the problems with the steering system sorted once and for all.  I found a chap who arrived an hour or so later for a preliminary inspection and time will tell how this all goes.

We stayed the night in Pangbourne and headed off the next day, hoping to find somewhere not too far further on where I would be able to get on shore.

Pangbourne to Clifton Hampden

28klms, 4 locks

For the first time on our travels, there were not places where it was possible to get off Endellion if we had moored up, so despite the charms the guidebooks talked of in places like Wallingham or Goring we had to push on, finally pulling up for the night by a grassy bank at Clifton Hampden. 

 
 
A bridge as a work of art
A house getting a haircut
 
 
Clifton Hampden - a charming village
 
A narrow cut
     
 

Clifton Hampden to Oxford

21klms, 5 locks

After a less than happy interface with an overhanging branch in a very narrow cut – and damage done to our lovely stern canvas, we pulled up for lunch in amazing Abingdon.  In Henry VIII’s time it had the biggest abbey in England.  However following Henry’s split with the church in Rome, he had this and may other abbeys pulled down.  Apparently a lot of the old building materials were floated off on boats down the river to be reused in his other building projects.  There are still some very interesting and unique old buildings in the town, which we loved.

 
  Folly Bridge - the end of the "Thames Road" for us
Moored by the college boat sheds
 
 
Christchurch College
 
 

We had been given the impression that it might be a bit rough along the tow path in Oxford.  It seemed it would be safe, but we were still geographically and atmospherically some way from the ancient halls and academia you normally associate with Oxford.  Even the stretch of river we were tied up on seemed a bit grubby and polluted, though lined with the modern-styled clubhouses of many of the oldest and most “venerable” academic institutions in the world. 

Undeterred by immediate appearances, on Easter Sunday we headed off in search of the “real” Oxford.  And not too far away, we were suddenly in the strange hybrid of modern commercial city and ancient university which Oxford is.  The university is not separate or apart from the city but side by side with it along each street, and in at least one case – the vast main library is literally under the street.

Reaching Oxford means we have in effect ticked off another target on our journey and since leaving Limehouse Basin have covered 184klms and passed through 34 locks.  The weather has generally been warm and sunny, the views spectacular and the lock keepers along the way friendly and helpful, with only one or two exceptions. 

 

 

Return trip, Oxford to Reading, in various stages.

Oxford to Abingdon

13klms, 3 locks

  Off back down the Thames aiming to have a better look at Abingdon - claimed to be the oldest town in England
 
 
Abingdon town
Tied up in Abingdon
 
   
A very unique guild hall, with market space underneath and a walk-way on the roof
 
 
The ancient Thistle and Crown pub
Not much traffic on the streets!
 
 
We were not sure if this chap was practicing for a new Olympic sport or was about to run away to join a circus.  Very amazing!
Neighbours at Abingdon
 
 
Some of the remaining parts of the old abbey, now a theatre
A house on watery foundations
 

Abingdon to Cleeve Lock

28.5klms, 4 locks

  We always enjoy our return trips on now familiar waterways.  It’s a chance to have a second look at some of the most interesting sights; vast old houses by the water, beautiful strips of farming country or bushland.  It generally means you are now also prepared for the unexpected possible dangers along the route – the narrow cuts and the tight bridges with unexpected currents. 
 
 
 
Rowers ahead under a Brunel bridge - it would help if they could see where they were going!
A quiet stretch of the river
 

However we were not prepared to run aground as we did just up river from Shillingford.  We were about a third of the way out from the right bank at the time, when suddenly we slowed and then came to an abrupt halt.  No amount of revving or pushing with the barge pole could shift us.  A lady working in her garden nearby shouted that boats were frequently getting stuck there.  Though there was no buoy or marker to warn of the danger.  Then a couple who we later learnt were Mo and Terry on the narrow boat “MoTex” came along and seeing we were in difficulty, patiently waited while we made one last effort to work ourselves free –but to no avail.  So Mo and Terry, offered to try and pull us off.  They backed up tied on and with both engines roaring we finally came free – to everyone’s relief.

It was time to find somewhere we could stop to celebrate!

 
 
Thumbs up from Mo
Terry and Mo joined us for a well deserved drink
 

We’d noticed a place where we could moor up and get off, the Leatherne Bottel on our way up so made for there to tie up and say a proper thank you to Mo and Terry.  They were delightful people who had actually been tied up on the other side of the river back at Abingdon, but as Lesley had suspected, she had spoken with them way back in Doncaster – which today seems a lifetime away.  Such lovely and friendly people!

 
 

The Leatherne Bottel turned out to be a whole lot more than your average riverside pub.  We were not able to see a menu for the night until around 7:00 as the chef was still planning what to put on it.  And when we did get it we saw they had received several awards as one of the country’s very best restaurants.  The food was delicious! 

Who ever said one day on the waterways is going to be just like the next!

 

 

Cleeve Lock to Pangbourne

7klms, 2 locks

 

 
 
Pangbourne approaching
Pangbourne Meadows where we tied up for the weekend
  The Thames and Kennet Marina near Reading is now all but in sight and after a couple of overnight visits from friends along the way, we shall be pulling in there for a few repairs and alterations and preparations for “Endellion” to begin the next great stage of the journey – the trip over the “ditch” on a lorry to explore Belgium and then France.
   
   

Inland Waterways map of the area

The map image below is linked to Waterscape.com where you can zoom in for a more detailed view. We started our journey south on the thick red line, the River Thames, above the town of Esher, at Walton-on-Thames.

Map of Southern England waterways

Our boat was built at Mirfield, about 25 kilometres (16 miles) south of Leeds in West Yorkshire, and the first five weeks of life aboard Endellion were spent in this town. Our main goal in England was to travel from Mirfield to Newark-on-Trent (Nottinghamshire) where we lifted the boat onto a lorry and trailer to transport her (Endellion is too wide to fit into narrow canals connecting north and south) to Shepperton, near London, for a Hawkey family Christmas. From there we travelled as far west as Oxford and back to Reading to be lifted again and this time taken across the Channel by ferry (on a lorry/trailer again of course) to Nieuwpoort in Belgium to then travel into France.

 

 

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