Wallingford to Henley (via Mapledurham)
Just in case you think we have really picked up the pace and covered about 25 miles in one day, fear not! This post covers two days travel with a stop at Mapledurham in the middle.
We seem to have settled into a rhythm of about 12 miles per day and 5.5 hours cruising, about half of our usual distance and time. But we have time on our side and are in no hurry, so why rush?
Sunday was frenetic on the water, with shiny plastics everywhere. Then, like mist on a sunny morning, they all evaporated and, by Monday, we had the Thames to ourselves again.
Challenging post box in Tilehurst
Several things have struck me about the EA's management of the Thames, compared to previous visits. First and foremost the number of times I have come to a lock and found it to be on blue Self Serve boards with no lock keeper on duty. Probably 25% have been self serve which for main daytime hours is surprising, especially on places like Cleeve. That said, every keeper we have encountered has been both friendly and helpful.
Furthermore, the frequency of taps and elsan points is low and its possible to cruise all day and not find one. But again, when we have found then the water pipes have been large and fast filling and the elsan points clean.
As far as navigation goes Sunday was a bit of a challenge with high winds making things tricky for us narrowboats and the lighter plastics alike. The only real issue I had was at Goring where there is limited landing area and the hire boat in front of me hooked onto the tail end bollard and had no interest in moving forward. This is all very well till I find myself approaching on a strong stream with 25 tons of steel and iron bearing down on either the hire boat or the plastics moored on the lee bank. On this occasion safety came before politeness and I hollered that I was coming in if they decided to move or not. Much to my surprise they dropped all their lines, swung round in the wind and ended up facing away from the lock! They were in good humour and we soon had them winded back in the right direction.
Stephen and Cracker
For the night we moored on the field next to Mapledurham House. Oddly, we were the only boat moored there and usually its rammed. The next morning the guy came round for his £5.00 and I asked about the lack of boats. It seems that there has been a lot of bank erosion which has creates an underwater shelf which is a problem for the big boats. Narrowboats, he told me, are used to being on the bottom so don't mind so much. We went looking for Elderflower and found some big plastic boxes in the trees marked Elsan emptying point. They were probably put there when the field is used as a camp site, but as they had "contents" we thought why not?
On Monday we agreed to meet our friend Stephen and his dog Cracker and the meeting point turned out to be on the Thames Path below Tilehurst Station.
The grey skies were something of a relief after getting a bit of sunburn yesterday. Whilst Stephen and I put the world to rights at the back Helen was busy making 18 jars of Goosberry and Elderflower Jam.
Lunchtime was spent passing through Reading, a soulless place from a boaters perspective. As I looked up at all those corporate office I felt I was playing hooky from school, but I have no desire to be back in the corporate world!
Stephen and Cracker left us at Wargrave and we continued to Henley. We passed through the town and discovered that the moorings beside the rowing course are £10 per night so turned back and moored next to the rowing museum where the moorings are - also £10 per night! Henley is a pricey place. The main men's regatta is not for a couple of weeks but this weekend its the ladies event so the town was full of muscular american girls.