Lechlade at Last


By mid morning our batteries were fully charged, (we don’t charge overnight) After a chat with Matt the lockie, to pay our dues, we were escorted by a swan towards Lechlade. It wouldn’t be a long trip, we could see the spire of St Lawrence church under a mile away.

Leaving St John’s for the final leg into Lechlade

Although we were a bit worried as we approached Lechlade, the swans were getting dangerously large.

Beware, of the wildlife in Lechlade

Lechlade is known to boaters for its offside mooring, which is shared by a herd of cattle. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a steak dinner, but I don’t particularly fancy becoming the steak’s dinner. And there’s many tales of the cows chewing ropes and licking paintwork and occasionally even stepping onto the deck. This herd isn’t aggressive, just inquisitive, but the canny boaters come armed with an electric fence to give a bit of space. However we saw a space at the bottom of The New Inn’s pub garden, and preferring a pint of beer to a pint of milk, we opted to moor as patrons, and enjoy the antics of the cows from a safe distance.

Perhaps its not just the cows we need to watch out for

We were well rewarded with antics when one of the cows got too close to the edge and had fallen in. The combination of the current and the steep bank meant that the cow was struggling to climb out. Some well meaning walkers called the firebrigade who dutifully turned up to assess the situation only to discover that she had climbed out unaided further downstream. They didn’t seem to mind, there wasn’t a lot else going on on a chilly grey bank holiday.

Thats a lot of cows

We left them to it and went to explore the village, stopping at the Fish and Chip shop

The fish and chips were worth stopping for

It had been a goal to reach Lechlade for some years now, as it holds fond childhood memories. I think I was about 7 when I helped my dad build a Canadian canoe. We then drove from our home in Liverpool to Trewsbury Mead, near Cirencester to see the spring which is hailed to be the source of this great River, in those days Old Father Thame’s statue still marked the spot until he was moved to St Johns lock in 1974. Its actually one of several springs in the area, but its unusual to see water flowing from it.

Photo taken from Thames Head Wiki page

We continued our homage in our VW combi, following the growing river for about 15 miles through pretty Cotswold villages until we reached Lechlade, the first navigable section, where we set off as a family of four, mum, dad me and my younger brother paddling our way down to Windsor, pitching our tent to camp along the way. (We’d actually launched, ie tested it was water tight, the canoe in the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Lydiate.) Such a pity I don’t have any photos of this transformative holiday. However I do have some lovely memories. Eric and I walked up to the Round House which marks the joining point of the Thames and Severn canal with the river, which is probably the spot where we launched our canoe.

The roundhouse (former lock keepers cottage) at Lechlade

Sadly the weather, and being on patrons only mooring didn’t motivate us to stay more than one night in Lechlade, and depending upon how our Thames adventure pans out we might well come back to explore this pretty place.

Looking down from the bridge to us moored at the New Inn

Duke’s Cut and Beyond

Back in January we declared our intentions to cruise 110miles south to reach the River Thames in Oxford. 4 months later we have made it. That’s near enough 120 miles 120 days (we added a few miles on doing some of the Birmingham loops)

Highlights January to April

Believe it or not, we didn’t actually cruise a mile every day, but despite a few rough moments, storm Dudley, loosing my phone, loosing all the water in a canal, and recently loosing David, its been a good few months of a new adventure. And about a month later than we thought, we are finally here, leaving the Oxford Canal and going through Dukes Cut onto the River Thames.

Stop lock on Dukes Cut

Duke’s cut was built by George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, to enable him to take advantage of Warwickshire coal, by joining the canal to the river. Today it’s home to a small group of permanent moorers, which could make two way traffic tricky, but we were lucky and didn’t meet anyone.

Think we wil turn right

We hadn’t got the nicest of travelling days to move onto the Thames, but it didn’t take us long to reach Eynsham Lock and a lovely warm welcome from a lock keeper to show us the ropes. We’ve attached our long ropes for locking, got our anchor and mud weights ready to deploy if necessary and rescued the life savers from bottom of the cupboard just in case we fall overboard, so we are river ready. There’s plenty of quirky things to see and as we left the lock, she pointed out the Swinford toll bridge.

Leaving Eynsham Lock


Its one of two toll bridge that remain over the Thames. Motorists have to pay the owner the pricely fee of 5p and endure the privilege of long queues to do so, and regularly campaign to abolish the toll. But with 10000 vehicles using it daily, it doesn’t take a calculator to work out why the owners don’t want to forfeit this tax free golden goose. George III also decreed that no other bridge was allowed to be built within 3 miles of Swinford Bridge.

No Toll, but we do have a Gold Licence


Our next lock Pinkhill, was self service, which gave us a better opportunity to look around and see the wheel wind, so much easier than using a windlass. Raised Red equals paddles open, raised white equal paddles closed.


The weather really wasn’t inspiring for cruising, so we moored up for lunch at the Pinkhill picnic mooring . Another new treat for us knocking pins into a field.

Pinkhill Picnic Mooring

And as soon as we decided to call it a day the sun came out

Evening sun

and we enjoyed a lovely sunset

Still still waters (psalm 23:2)

Being Seen and Heard

Having gone to the effort of doing our short range radio operator’s training back in May, now was the time to put our skills into use. Unfortunately that meant that Eric had to spend several frustrating hours cobbling together the wiring and an aerial. Although we had asked for it to be fitted during the build, we were told that narrowboaters wouldn’t need such extravengances. It was one of the items we mistakenly compromised on knowing we could add it later. Braidbar boats were not designed to have items retro fitted. Luckily wiring is something that Eric understands and his temporary fixes still tick all the safety boxes and some. And oh boy, were we glad we made the effort. Not only were we able to contact the lock keepers easily to ascertain if we were able “pen down”. But we were also able to hear what other boats were doing and plan accordingly. And ok, all this isn’t essential for the Trent and we could have made our contact by mobile phone, but for us, having that  reliability and extra source of information has made river cruising less stressful and more interesting. There’s a bit of a misconception that VHF radios are just for calling for help in an emergency, they’re not. They are an easy way to communicate, and once we’d got over our initial nervousness at following the protocols we quickly relaxed when we realised everyone spoke the same language, not everyone followed the prescribed protocols and most of all, no one minded.

River cruising is different to canal cruising. There are sandbanks and shallows lurking beneath the surface which mean the cruising channel can meander from bank to bank. The outer curve is usually deeper than the inner curve because of the natural erosion. The Boating Association publishes the Trent Cruising guides, an absolute must, for safe navigation. The cruising line is overlaid in red and useful information is highlighted.  River locks are operated by lock keepers and known as pens. So we ask to “pen” up or down. These locks are huge, hold a whole marinas worth of boats. This was Stoke Lock and besides us on the left, there were 2 wide beams 2 cruisers and another 2 narrowboats.

Having sorted our radio out. Eric also had to connect an appropriate navigation light. Boats travelling on tidal waters, including tidal sections of rivers, boats need to be seen in all conditions to avoid collision. The COLREG rules state that for a boat our length means having a mast headlight visable for 3 nautical miles, red port and green starboard side lights and white stern light visable for 2 nautical miles. (Disclaimer, there are more regulations and criteria than I have listed here) The logic being that although we might not choose to travel at night, tide times might make it necessary to be on the water at dawn, dusk or in poor conditions. A lot of narrowboaters simply choose not to venture into this territory, we’ve decided to explore as much of the system as practical so we’ve done our best to rig up a temporary mast. One day it will be sturdier and taller, but as we know we’re only going to be doing the very first section of tidal water between Cromwell and Torksey in very calm conditions it will surfice for now. Added to which, the river has so many bends chances are we can’t be seen in full daylight beyond half a mile so we’re happy.

Where the power goes – Part 2

In my last post I looked at the power usage on the canal.  This got me thinking about the data I collected while we were on the river Avon near Evesham last July.  It’s clear we used a lot less power to travel at the same speed.  This surprised me because we were travelling upstream against the flow.

I measured the flow on the river by timing flotsam floating down stream.  It was about ½ a mile per hour which is not a lot, but on the canals that much increase in speed requires a lot of extra power, so for us to use less power was initially a surprise.

Here is a chart that shows the difference between the two sets of measurements.  I have included a corrected line to show the effect of allowing for the river’s flow, which makes the result even more startling.

Chart showing the power required to cruise a Narrowboat on a |River ccompared with on a Canal
Power required for Canal vs River cruising

The difference is so stark I was left pondering.

A boat travelling forwards pushes the water out of the way, both to the sides and underneath.  This can be seen as a bow wave.  On a river there is width and depth to accommodate this.  On a narrower shallower canal this water creates more of a barrier because there is less space around the boat for the water to go.  The gap between the base of a narrowboat and the canal bed is sometimes only a few inches.  Whereas it can be a lot deeper on a river.

The effect was very obvious on the Macclesfield canal where the boat almost stops as it struggles to go under some of the very narrow shallow bridges.  It in effect acts as a piston pushing water through the bridge and raising the water level in front of the boat requiring a lot of energy.

As we go faster the size of this bowwave bulge increases, and the water rises further, so requiring more energy to lift it and push it out of the way.  The effect of this for the canal can be seen on the chart by how steeply the power demand goes up above 3 mph.  There is quite a noticeable “knee” at 2.5-3mph, which is why trying to travel faster than 3 mph increases the power and hence the fuel required out of proportion to the increase in speed.

Rivers are much wider and deep and so allow the water to flow round the boat easily instead of creating a bowwave bulge in front, and so requires a lot less energy.  The lack of what I call the piston effect, is seen on the power curve for the river because it is much smoother and lacks the knee where the power starts to rise rapidly.

The usual rule of thumb is that bottom effects can be ignored when the water depth is more than 10 times the draft of the boat.  So for us that is in water that is about 6m deep.  The same rule of 10 applies to river or canal width.  So on canals we are hit by both bottom and bank effects that we can ignore for on the Thames in London.

This is comforting because I was worried that going all electric propulsion might mean we were under powered on rivers, and a few naysayers told me as much.  We need so much less power to travel in deep water, that I am confident the boat is not underpowered.  The Avon is not as deep as the Thames in London, the river Tent, or the Ribble Estuary, all of which we hope to crusie.