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.

On towards Abingdon

Its only about 10 miles from Oxford to Abingdon, but we took a few days to enjoy the scenery and to wind down from the grandeur we’d been in awe of over the past week. However we still found ourselves suffering from some serious house envy,

Its even got mooring, although we hate to think of the flood risk

And boat envy

A Thames Galleon

We moored up at Sandford lock to use the electric charging point.

Plugging in for some serious juice

We’d done over three weeks since our last charge at St John’s and from Eric’s calculations we might have made four if the dramatic grey clouds hadn’t been quite so dramatic.

We’ve seen some gorgeous clouds this month

But the sun shone at Sandford and fully charged we continued downstream, and having enjoyed some peace and quiet we decided to moor up within sight and sound of Culham park motocross track the day the quad bikes had come out to play. For someone who gets excited watching the BMX races at the olympics this is just as ludicrous and 100 times noisier and dustier. And I sat engrossed watching these noisey beasts flying through the air trying to out do each other.

Culham motocross track

But it was the swans that really won me over

Bringing the family to say hello

The following day we meekly approached Abingdon. Only to find ourselves in a lock with a sense of humour. Needless to say we kept our bacon butties well out of sight incase they were confiscated

Not sure if CRT could get away with this.

Time to move on from Oxford

We had found ourselves moored below Medley bridge for almost a week, thoroughly enjoying being tucked away peacefully, yet close enough to enjoy the best of Oxford’s lively atmosphere. We had even been lucky enough to realise that a pair of kingfishers had a nest right opposite us.

A kingfisher treat

We suspect the young had hatched, but they stay in the nest for 3 to 4 weeks, it would have been pushing our luck to stay on the off chance of seeing the brood emerge. We were also running low on water so needed to move on. It was only as we were pulling away that we saw the nice post we had tied to actually had a notice on it…. 2 days only

A very well camouflaged sign

Ah well, we will show them the photo to prove our ignorance if anyone pursues us for a mooring fee. We actually feel quite strongly about respecting mooring restrictions, otherwise it would be hypocritical for us to complain about the continual moorers who belligerently believe it’s their right to moor wherever they want for as long as they want. Being continual cruisers we haven’t set out to do any of the recognised cruising rings promoted by the hire companies, however we set off to do the Oxford ring.

Screen shot from AC canal planner

We left the river at Sheepwash channel,

Sheepwash channel

Where the Rewley Road swing bridge is being restored as a scheduled ancient monument. I’m very glad it will remain open, as it takes 2 men to operate it, allowing passage into Oxford,

Rewley road swing bridge

Through Isis lock

Isis Lock

which is effectively the end of navigation on the canal for most boats as the short branch that continues only has a 35 foot winding hole.

Looking down past the residential moorings towards the terminus of the Oxford canal

So we cruised north up the Oxford canal

Past some houses with lovely gardens

And returned to the river via Dukes Cut

Entering Dukes Cut

before continuing our journey downstream past Medley bridge and onward.

Its approximately 8 miles and a 4 hour journey, but the environment agency that looks after the river has some frustrating rules about the water points, only using a rigid 7m hose with no fittings, in theory to prevent contamination and back flow, however as we have a 20m flexible hose with brass fittings we are going to have to make some compromises. And so this time we opted to return to the canal to fill our tank. But it wasn’t just a maintenance cruise, we did also see some lovely canal, and some very nice homes.

We made the mistake of cruising past all the rowing clubs on Saturday morning.

It was very busy, although if the bridge grafiti is to be believed not everyone is taking the strain.

“Perfectly Legal” -someones got a sense of humour,

We’ve enjoyed Oxford far more than we expected. Its been fun to explore and theres still plenty left for the next time.

Oxford part 3, expanding ourselves, museums and markets

As usual when faced with an overflowing abundance of choice, I never know where to start. Oxford is an affluent city centre that attracts the curious, both academic and tourist, and a curious mix of both. Oxford is where Charles Dodgson, aka CS Lewis studied and taught so a lot of the curious tales of Alice in Wonderland were set in and around Oxford and particularly Christ Church college.

Christ Church

So we resorted to simply exploring on foot, searching out independent retailers, and avoiding anything that herded us like sheep. Whilst we were wandering around we discovered the Covered market which first opened in 1774, now it is home to some fabulous little independant retailers and celebrates Alice’s adventures with a collection of paper lantern sculptures hung from the rafters

We also had a very tasty, and affordable Thai meal from Sasi’s and the best icecream from the Wicked Chocolate store.

The wicked chocolate shop and gelateria

Not everything in the market was edible, or should I say desirable because the notice claims it is edible, Fellers butcher’s proudly displays the worlds oldest Ham

The world’s oldest ham

Following on from our market musings, it was time to take in some museums, and again so many to choose from that we had to prioritise. We chose the History of Science museum which celebrated over 1000 years of beautiful and intricate instruments, some collected by the eminent scholars of Oxford and some celebrating the work of more recent times, in particular the Oxford Astazenica covid vacine

And having done the science, I chose the botanical gardens, the rose garden planted in honour of the researchers who discovered the clinical importance of penicillin

And the alliums because we cant all go to Chelsea

We barely scratched the surface of all the things we could do and see in Oxford, but we have to save some for next time

Oxford part 2 time to play

I’m sure all those new graduates that we saw on Saturday worked hard for their degrees but I suspect they had also played hard during their time in Oxford. Port Meadow appeared to be a favourite place to let off steam.

Its not just fish swimming in the river

There were swimmers and frolickers in the water most days regardless of the weather. The temptation to join them proved too much although there was no way I was brave play Tarzan and swing off the tree.

The clear river water was too tempting to ignor

Of course some preferred getting up a bit of speed on the river and most mornings we saw the rowers being put through their paces

This team looks like champions

But in the evenings it seemed to be the paddle boarders came out to play

Thought we were under attack with this lot headed straight for us

We were very impressed by how clean the water was, very little litter, save for the occassional champagne cork bobbing along.

No plastic here

We didn’t run to champagne, but just across Medley Bridge was a lovely riverside bar that did woodfired pizza with wild garlic which hit the spot on more than one evening, even when it rained.