Dry days – a pause outside Oxford

We finally got off the Chartered Thames yesterday – I kept calling it that, from a William Blake poem I remembered – ‘London’. I couldn’t remember the whole thing, but certainly that the tone was not an overly positive one – and I had mixed feelings about the Thames, with all its fancy weekender boats and fancier-still houses on the banks (with extra houses in the grounds, as well as a boathouse). What the hey, let’s hear that poem:

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

OK, so our experience of the Thames really wasn’t as extreme as – apparently – Blake’s experience of London (and its ‘chartered Thames’) was. Although you get the feeling from this he might have been a bit of a before-his-time class warrior, as well as a mad religious visionary. Whatever he was: it’s brilliant.

Anyway – we took a few days to cruise along the Thames: the first day was just after all the heavy rain and in the very high winds that came just after. That rain is now, of course, back with us – and my thoughts go to those people in West Wales being hit by it at the moment.

The water was fairly choppy for the first day, but then brightened up for us – and for a time was quite pleasant. As we were headed upstream, Reenie was having to fight the current; rather than on the Kennet, where we had all its force behind us. So even though we were giving it all the oomph she has, we still only travelled at walking pace.

Moving from the Thames to the Oxford Canal either involves going through Isis Lock, or through the Duke’s Cut – which we’d gathered was rather friendlier a turning. And with current, we opted for the latter – which took us a while longer, with a couple more Thames locks to do. But we finally got to the Duke’s Cut last and night, where you go from the enormous Thames locks, through to the tiny single-boat Oxford ones. They’re quick, though – you practically pop up, like one of those arcade games where you hit moles (Whack-a-mole?). Well, not quite.

Having been moving for about 11 days solidly, we’ve taken a couple of days near Oxford to dry out and recuperate – nerves were beginning to fray a little. So on this balmy June day, we’ve got the fire going (!) and are avoiding being outside. It’s nice to be reminded that Reenie is also a warm and cosy home, as well as a vessel travelling against currents, wind and rain.

Current Affairs or, Matching Regatta Cagools – Theale to Pangbourne

There have been a couple of slalom hairy moments over the last few days. Reenie’s not really cut out for water flowing faster than – well, flowing at all, really.

Having had about three days of tropical-except-without-the-warmth rain, yesterday we had a day of what turned out to be national news-level high winds. So navigating the last stretch of the Kennet bit of the Kennet & Avon turned out to be quite alarming: it’s a proper meandering river, with all the S-bends that implies. It seemed as though a lot of other boaters – although ones heading up stream, rather than down, as we were – found it all quite a fun little frollick. It’s probably something to do with this being both our home and containing pretty much everything we now own – which adds quite a large level of onerousness to navigating swollen rivers with strong currents, in high winds. And whoever designed in the slalom at Reading – through some new development of chain restaurants and nation-sized multiplexes – including a low arc bridge directly after a 90-degree turn: thanks so much. I won’t be coming back to Reading in a hurry (in a boat, or otherwise).

We had a couple of locks where the wind caught the side of the boat and we got sort of…wedged, against the lock gate. It took all the might of whichever of us was pulling the centre line and poor Reenie’s engine (she’s doing very well, bless her) to get into a position to enter the lock. So jangled was I by the boat assault course, I was forced into becoming a Salty Sea Dog Lush by lunchtime yesterday and found myself an ale. Then a gin.

Finally, we got through the slaloms, white-water rapids and so forth – no giant rolling boulders, Indiana Jones-style, though – and made it on to the Thames. (This was, after all supposed to be an Adventure.) We’d done the whole Kennet and Avon and the 104 locks therein, from Hanham lock in Bristol, to the very last K&A lock before the big River T. The locks along the illustrious river are all manned, which feels a bit of a luxury – and is also why you have to pay about £30 a day to be on here. Well, the Queen has to keep the swans in caviar and her own new barge spick and span somehow, eh?

We shared a couple of locks with a nice couple in a very smart (retiree) boat yesterday. The lady (Gill/Jill, I believe) and I confided that we’d found the Thames a little like being on the high seas in the winds, even though – rationally speaking – the wind would have to be quite something to blow over a boat with a base plate of steel weighing several tonnes. Nonetheless, logic isn’t always at its fullest after a very long day cruising. We moored alongside Jill and Peter at Pangbourne, as there was no space – their very-smart boat is about the same length as Reenie. It’s funny being bunked up right next to another narrow, but at least our windows weren’t exactly aligned – it might have been too tempting to peek across, in the absence of television.

I’m writing this as I flit back and forth from the twin-tub and its 9-minute energy-saving cycle (old school technology for the 21st century), as we really needed to do at least some washing. (While some might cringe at the funny colour the water goes, it’s pretty darn efficient). There’s still quite a curious disconnect between the outside space, which – as with yesterday – can be quite wild and fast-flowing, with strong currents and high winds; then there’s the inside space, which is cosy and domestic (and rather nice after we’ve home-ified it, if I may say so myself).

Thankfully, outside is a little less rugged today – although the Thames is a little wider then Reenie’s really comfortable with (read: that we’re comfortable with). So I’m looking forward to getting on to the Oxford Canal tomorrow, which is meant to be very scenic. And suitable narrow, for a narrowboat.