Racing towards the Regatta

After a few days watching the world go by at Lower Shiplake, we were ready to cruise the 2 miles downstream to what is probably one of the most prestigious places to be seen on the Thames, Henley. First we had to cruise past a house featured on Grand Designs,

Definitely a des res

Then after we had passed through Marsh lock, we passed the Henley Rowing club, just one of many multi story carparks for rowing boats, no wonder the river is so busy, and this is just a tiny fraction of what we saw. We’re convinced they deliberately all go out for spin at exactly the same time of the day just to confuse the nervous narrowboats

Henley rowing club

We cruised around the Rod Eyot, (an Eyot being a small river island, commonly seen on (in?) the Thames.) Rod Eyot is populated with about 10 chalets, fancy living somewhere surrounded by water.

Rod Eyot and friends

And for £10 a night (£55 a week) we finally moored up on Marsh Meadows. One of the necessary flood planes, a few minutes walk into the town.

Marsh meadow mooring

Of course what Henley is world famous for now is the annual 5 day Henley Royal Regatta, HRR, which takes place at the end of June/beginning of July, but the race course is set up and used for several other regattas during June and July. We were able to stand on the bridge and see the end of the course and the start of the hospitality.

The fun starts here

Not only is the rowing highly competitive, but I think the social scene is too. And looking back upstream we could see boats and people as far as the eye could see. (We were moored beyond the treeline)

We thought it was time to do some entertaining of our own and Eric’s brother and his wife came to see us. We had a lovely lunch on board, sipping something chilled, as one does in this part of the world,

before we went for a stroll around the town.

The market place

And to see the bridge

Henley bridge

The river and rowing museum was closed the 2 days we stayed in Henley, but one of the riverside info boards showed this painting, an 17thC version of street view looking towards Henley Bridge, when the river was just as much a focal point for the towns economy, albeit in a much more laborious way. It shows the “Flash Lock” designed stem the flow of water downstream whilst the cargo barges queued up behind it, the resulting whoosh of water as it was opened sent the barges hurtling downstream ‘riding the wave’. It sounds quite fun, but it was physically a very hard and dangerous job, and many lost their lives working on the river.
Jan Siberechts (1627–c.1703), 1698

Henley on Thames from Wargrave Road

Nowadays the river is just as essential to the towns economy, just in a more gentle fashion

Ships at Shiplake

Ok, the knowledgeable will know they’re boats not ships, but oh boy, or oh buoy, we have certainly seen a wide variety of craft floating past Firecrest whilst moored at Lower Shiplake.
The most impressive was The New Orleans, a replica paddle steamer, flagship of the Hobbs of Henley fleet.

Now thats the way to go for a paddle

But perhaps one of the most prestigious was the Alaska, another steamer, but this time genuinely part of the national historic fleet, built in 1883, and has been used for the Queen’s Royal Barge.

The steam boat Alaska

Of course not all the boats are quite so elegant but on a sunny sunday afternoon the occupants are still having just as much fun

Some are having to work harder than others

I havent quite worked out the pleasure of travelling backwards yet

Some boats seem very high tech, these rowers were too serious to stop for a chat, we wondered if they are training for some sort of ocean rowing challenge as it had a stabilizer, its the only boat of this style that we’ve seen.

This is some high tec kit

This one seems like its cheating, but I suppose if you can have an E-bike, why not an an E-canoe, it certainly looked a lovely boat.

Youve gotta love an electric boat

Of course we’ve lost count of the cruisers whizzing up and down,

Noisy and fast. Not for me.

but its the Dutch barge style boats that prompt the “… our next boat ….” conversations

I think the biggest argument would be the colour, I love it….

That’s when were not suffering from house envy

Our mooring with a view

Of course for some life on the water is a breeze

But I’m afraid we had a bit of a chuckle here, its not much of a breeze when your boat breaks down and you have to be towed home

The boat that one aspires to is a beautiful Gentleman’s launch.

but for those that don’t have a property with a boat house in which to keep such luxury we saw this concept boat whose owner and inventor stopped to chat

Stopping for a chat

We were seeing it on its launch day, so much so that it doesn’t even have an advertising website yet. But the name on the side is Pubboat. Its a collapsible inflatable design using the modern paddleboard materials that hold the sides rigid like this unlike traditional inflatable dinghies. It folds up small enough to put into the boot of his VW golf. And I think he said it would retail for around £1500. I’m sure this is one for the Dragons Den

Good luck guys

And I haven’t even begun to mention the rowers, paddleboarders, kayaks, swimmers or dogs that we saw in the water. It certainly makes a change from the canals

Mysteries, murders and movies

After a week at Beale Park watching the jubilee celebrations, we took the opportunity for a night on Pangbourne Meadow (so I could restock the fridge without having to carry the shopping down the towpath). I would have called a water taxi but the standard of boat building in these parts leaves a lot to be desired.

Lessons on how not to build a raft

Despite the dodgy rafts, the prestigious Pangbourne college, has historic naval links, but in 1939 it was the Royal engineers took advantage of the meadow and used the area to train in bridge building. However the Whitchurch bridge is still standing (Whitchurch being on the Oxfordshire side, Pangbourne is in Berkshire) has stood on the site since 1792. When it was first built the ferryman received £350 in compensation for loss of trade. Its one of only 2 remaining private toll bridges over the Thames. (Swinford being the other)

Whithurch Bridge

But with the sun shining we set off -our destination, Shiplake lock charging point.

Sometimes its well worth waking up at 6am

Our first chuckle of the day came when we saw two heads popping up out of the water, we realised they were divers, I duly called out what are you looking for?…. “Bodies” came the reply. It turns out they were filming for Midsomer Murders. I suspect Firecrest’s photobombing shot will end up on the cutting room floor.

Hope they didnt find any bodies

Filming was obviously the order of the day, because we saw these two capturing the moment

They were probably estate agents

and this swimmer who was either being chased by a submarine, or was well prepared to sue any boat that cut the corner too close for comfort.

Swim cam

Or perhaps just keeping a look out for anyone going the wrong way.

Sentry duty

but the two things that puzzled us the most, was seeing a letter box built into the railway embankment wall below Mapledurham. Who was going to use it to post letters and who was going to collect them.

Thats an odd place for a letter box

Then we saw another built into the Sonning bridge arch which caused me to ask Mr Google for some answers. The Sonning post box was is an art installation, just the front of a box, put up by the artist, Impro, in 2013, the Mapledurham post box appeared in 2016 but is probably a copycat prank with no one claiming responsibility.

Sonning Bridge

but as I’m posting about bridges, we couldnt pass through this area without mentioning Christchurch footbridge in Reading.

Christchurch bridge

Completed in 2015 linking Reading and Caversham, and if like us you like a few facts and figures,
it is 123 metres long, the mast is 39m tall. Is made up from more than 455 tonnes of steel,
A 68 m river span weighing approximately 200 tonnes and supported by 14 pairs of cables,
1,100 metres of reinforced cable attached to the main bridge mast, supporting eight separate steel sections
A 50 tonne mast sitting 39m above river level, supported on nine piles 750mm in diameter and 19 metres in length.
On a hot day, a mast that expands 3cm as it warms up.
A bridge deck which expands up approximately 6cm at the middle of its river span on a hot day.
A bridge deck is only 380mm deep – about the size of a car steering wheel
234 LED lights – 39 of which are colour changing – alongside its white LED walkway illuminating lighting.

I wonder if it will last as long and look as good as the brick bridges in a few hundred years.
We had been warned that there was absolutely no mooring to be had in Reading, however we spotted this gap, which leads directly to the entrance of tesco. I took advantage and restocked the ballast, eg, if theres a shortage of tinned tomatoes or other heavy bulky goods, we’ll be ok

Reading continual moorers

Weve got used to seeing some pretty prestigeous boats but obviously not all boats in Reading wanted to be seen

Spot the boat

We made it to Shiplake Lock to recharge our batteries. And our final mystery of the day….

Basildon Park

Basildon park

It was a treat to find ourselves within walking distance of a NT property, so after the forecast rain turned into a beautiful sunny day we walked the 1.5 miles up the hill to discover Basildon Park. What a gem, but at the grand entrance gate we were advised to take the back route up to the house, huh we know our place, but so glad we did, the formal gardens were magnificent, I could have spent a whole hour just inhaling the heady scent of the roses, if Eric’s sneezes hadn’t disturbed the peace.

As is often the case with NT properties the volunteer guides were welcoming and rushed to share information about great house,

The octagon room

We’re not that fussed about knowing it was built circa 1776 by Sir Francis Sykes in the Palladian style, but suffice to say that even wealthy Georgians, fall prey to the odd financial crisis and and social scandal. In the 1830’s it is said that Charles Dickens based his character Bill Sykes on Sir Francis’ grandson. The resulting humiliation and lack of funds meant the family pad had to be sold for £97000.

If you have to contemplate your mistakes you might as well sit in style

Skipping on to the 20th century the house was requisitioned during the war years and sadly fell into a terrible state of repairs, made worse when its owner attempted to transport and relocate the entire house stone by stone to America. Fortunately that venture failed, but by then the house was deemed fit only for demolition. In the 1950s it was bought and lovingly renovated and restored by the Iliffe family. Lady Iliffe had a knack of finding appropriate items at auction, including the bamboo bedroom, which she got for just £1,

The bamboo bedroom

She was both practical and very creative and did a lot of the decorating herself including creating a shell room

Just a small piece of a very ornate room

But not all the rooms were quite so fancy.

I like that kitchen

Inheritance tax demands would have made it impractical for the house to remain in the family so it was bequeathed to the NT in 1978 for everyone to enjoy. I thought id return the following day to take advantage but the forecast sunshine was overshadowed by some big black clouds so ill save that treat for another year.

Hurricanes and Typhoons overhead

One of the things we’re enjoying about being on the Thames is the excitement of wild mooring. Can we find a bank where we can get the stern in close enough for me to clamber off with my dignity intact, and long enough that we can get the bow tied off securely?

We’ve mastered the art of tying up now

And preferably one that we wont be charged for. One of the things we’re not so keen on is the uncertainty of not being sure we will be able to moor roughly where we want.

Yes, that’ll do nicely

Beale Park hit the spot, and with a 4 day weekend approaching the river was suddenly coming alive with craft of all shapes and sizes, so we happily tied off to the convenient overhanging trees and settled down to watch the world go by, even if the weather was a bit dodgy, we even had a kingfisher family living directly opposite which provided a lot of entertainment

Thankfully Thursday dawned with clear sky and mist rising.

But alas although it remained clear over Buckingham Palace by the time the fly past was dispersing over Oxfordshire it had clouded over, we’d also got a few storm clouds above. But we still got to see quite a few of the planes that had saluted Her Majesty.

Some formations were better than others

We were able to take a very pleasant walk along the river and down Shooters Hill into Pangbourne village. We couldn’t help but notice a series of very interesting looking houses. It turns out they are known locally as “the seven deadly sins” of Pangbourne. They were built in 1896 to house the seven “lady friends” of the then Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII

4 of the seven deadly sins

Pangbourne has a regal past with Bertwulf, King of Mercia being granted lands here in AD 844, Athough nowadays his allotted spot is on the village sign, underneath a Viking longboat, (frequently referred to as narrowboats by saxon gongoozlers)

The sign also pays homage to local resident, Kenneth Graeme, who wrote Wind in the Willows (although the book had already been written before he moved here) but its thought that E H Shepard based his drawings for the book from sketches done around this section of the river. It is a very pretty village.

St James church

Theres a brilliant butchers Greens of Pangbourne who boast having the best pies. I think we have been spoilt with good butchers recently, because we both agreed it was excellent so much so that we bought a second for our onward journey

Sadly prices are no longer in shillings and pence

On Saturday, whilst we watched Rod Stewart massacring Sweet Caroline at the platinum concert, I kept noticing the sky over London, and sure enough that same sky was all aglow over Firecrest.

But despite the red sky at night Sundays weather wasn’t condusive to us sitting outside for a “river party” so we ended our jubilee celebrations with a hint of a rainbow.

now, how long can I keep my bunting flapping for. Will we be celebrating Her Majesty’s century in 2026 or even her 75th Jubilee in 2027. Part of me hopes so, but by then I will try to devise a way to stop the pennants flapping onto the roof.

Mind the Gap

Talk about spring showers, we’ve had some really dodgy weather recently. So we have only been travelling in short hops, taking in pretty moorings when we see them.

Somewhere between n
North and South Stoke

It’s the not all overgrown wild mooring, some people have some rather nice spots with manicured homes and gardens below Wallingford.

This one surpasses all my previous awards for most sumptuous boat house

Having heard that the footpath at Goring was being resurfaced meant the visitor moorings were closed, we set out for Pangbourne. But just as we landed on the lock, the biggest raindrops ever started to land on us. I had the foresight to ask the lockie if there was anywhere close to shelter, there was, we got tucked in around the corner by the weir.

Look at that raging torrent

not that we could see the weir initially, but it didn’t take too long for the clouds to run dry and we could see the weir and a little hydro electric generator

Looking down on from the bridge

and for the Egyptian geese to come and say hello

Not the prettiest goose but a nice change from the canada geese

Goring-on-Thames is another chocolate box village, pop phenomenon George Michael sadly died here at his home, Mill Cottage. Its also where Oscar Wilde lived when he wrote his play “An Ideal Husband” however I dont think his character Lord Goring was ideal. But we shall choose to remember that Goring Village Butchers sells the best Cumberland sausages we’ve had in a long time.

That’s Mill cottage and St Thomas of Canterbury church

I took an opportunity to walk across the bridge,

A bit of oak mellowed to blend with the concrete structure

into Streatley on the southbank. I was about to start walking up the onto the North Wessex downs ( why are hills called downs not ups?), but the storm clouds put in an appearance so I only made it into the meadow.

Streatley meadow

Goring and Streatley are also known as the Goring Gap, where the Chilterns on the north of the river come close the the North Wessex Downs on the south of the river. (Although at this point as the river is running north to south, the hills are on the east and the west)

Whilst we were moored at Goring lock, I realised the cover picture on our paper Heron map is Goring Lock.

That looks familiar

The weather dictated we stayed 2 nights in Goring

These locks make us feel quite small

before we continued our journey towards Pangbourne.

Looking towards the Chilterns

Whilst we were

From Morse to Murders and a night in Wallingford

We waved goodbye to Abingdon to meander downstream through the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside.

Heading towards Days lock with the Wittenham Clumps iron age fort on the hill

Past some very desirable boat houses

And the house that came with it wasn’t too shabby either

And the best decorated pill box that we had ever seen

We didnt even realise it was a pill box at first

We’d heard from friends that Wallingford was a lovely place to visit, although as it features prominently in Midsomer Murders we weren’t entirely sure how safe we would be. But sure enough although we didn’t stumble over any famous dead bodies we did see a film crew.

Could this be the site of the next Midsomer Murder…..

There’s plenty of mooring on both sides of the river looking towards the medieval stone bridge

Looking towards Wallingford Bridge

although the banks are quite high, so a bit of an undignified climb out of the boat for me. But the nice edge made it very easy for us to attach the jubilee bunting that I had made, and cause we were able to simply turn the boat around to do the other side.

The best dressed boat, ready to celebrate the jubilee

But lovely as Wallingford was to wander around,

That unusal spire belongs to St Peter’s church, not the Town Arms pub

the powers that be have decided that they will charge £12 per night to moor. The lady comes around between 8 and 9 each morning, so of course the boats that know had all disappeared by then, we however paid our fee and left later. Its an odd concept, the council surely can’t make much money, but it meant that we only stayed one night.

Looking from the bridge

Still, its a fascinating little town, old and quirky and we will look forward to a return visit.

Stats for May 2022

This has been an interesting month because we have spent the past 4 weeks cruising the Thames going both up-stream and down-stream. 

The boat is more efficient on a river because of the greater depth and width of water, so we use less power and go faster.

An added bonus on the Thames is that there are moorings with charging points. So we’ve been able to charge from shore power, topped up each day from our solar panels, so have not used our on board generator all month.

We charged the battery at St. Johns lock ( Lechlade) at their electric charging point and then went for three weeks before charging again at Sandford lock (south of Oxford). We could have gone another 4 or 5 days before charging, but we had heard that the moorings at Goring lock were closed for resurfacing work, so we charged when we could.

Distance travelled – 73 miles
Hours cruising – 35 hours 12 minutes
Electricity used for propulsion – 40.46 KWhrs
Electricity from Solar panels – 150.97 KWhrs
Electricity used for cooking etc. 187.12 KWhrs

This means for May our average electricity used for propulsion was
0.55 KWhrs per mile
1.14 KWs per hour

We are often asked how far we can travel on one charge – over 3 weeks in May we travelled for 35 hours, covering 73 miles and did all our cooking from a single charge topped up daily from our solar panels.

Cuter than batteries and solar panels

A few days in Abingdon

Or to be correct, I should say Abingdon-On-Thames, historically the county town of Berkshire but now part of the ceremonial county of Oxfordshire, and home to the MG sports car from 1929 to 1932.

One of the original MGs

The town council in Abingdon has, in our opinion, made the very sensible decision to welcome boaters to their town. It permits 3 days mooring without charge, There’s lots of it, and it’s all within an easy and pleasant stroll into town.

The walk into town, looking towards Abingdon Bridge

So of course we stopped, strolled, shopped, ate out, visited places and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and because we explored, we proportionally spent far more than if we had only stayed the one night. So thankyou Abingdon, we felt welcome, and will come back. The river below the lock is wide, with a firm bank. the meadow has between path and river has been mown to make mooring easy, trouble is it also appeals to the geese.

Abingdon is a old town, there’s a Jurassic Ichthyosar skelington in the museum, but it was also full of school children so we couldn’t see clearly, and Eric was more impressed that it was home to the Old Speckled Hen, (the beer is actually named after the MG) and although neither is made in Abingdon anymore, the Morland Brewery played a prominent role in the towns history. The museum is housed in the old county hall which is famous for the Abingdon bun throwing event which sees the local dignitaries stand on the roof and throw celebratory buns down to the crowds gathered in the square below. It only happens on high days and holidays such as royal jubilees. So a pity we wont be around on June 5th this year.

The town is fully dressed for the up coming jubilee, including the royal mail box

And the streets are hung with bunting

Looking up Ock street towards St Helens

And although of a different age and intention to the beauty of Oxford, walking around Abingdon, was just as lovely an experience. We followed Ock Street up to the St Helens church which, because of increasing need, it simply added an extra aisle making it unusually wider than it is long.

Just one of the doors

We did get to go inside St Helens church, but the actual abbey at Abingdon which dates back to Saxon times and had a turbulent history, was dismembered by Henry VIII. Various buildings were repurposed throughout the town but the ruins in the Abbey gardens are actually a Victorian folly

Trendell’s Folly in the Abbey Gardens

And some times geese are cute.