Friday, 16 October 2009
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Free Apples for Boaters, Wild Parakeets, the Fuel Filter Fiasco & Adventure Moorings near the Hell Fire Club!
What a mad few weeks! Wils and I are now back on the Grand Union, having completed not far off one hundred miles of the Thames in about a week. Covering as much ground as possible has been the priority recently, and I've averaged about 17 miles a day! Which is fine for the Thames, but of course I couldn't think of going that far in a day on the Grand Union, particularly as I'm single-handing through those lock flights...
Below: A welcome sight!
I can't now recall the name of the lock but there was a lock on the Thames, not far from Goring I think, that are giving away all the apples you can carry, the trees in the small orchard beside the lock keepers cottage are still laden, and the boxes outside the office were full when we came through, so I helped myself to a few choice eaters and we were on our way. Mooring at Goring was easy, the moorings near the bridge/lock are very well maintained, and free, which makes a change for the Thames. I was feeling brave so it was here that I attempted to change the fuel filter. Note to self; even if you follow what's written in books, things go wrong! And they did. But I have a far better idea of what to do next time, and with the help of a man who knows how to do these things, I was back on track, new filter and all. This man also knew more than I did about impending winter stoppages on the Thames and southern Grand Union, which is something that, with everything else that was on my mind, I hadn't even thought about yet. He warned that severe stoppages were due very soon and encouraged me to get a move on if I didn't want to be faced with the prospect of having to turn around and come all the way back the way I'd come. As this was clearly not an option, it was at Goring that I decided to get the Thames over and done with ASAP! And so it was that a few days, and an awful number of hours cruising later, Wils and I appeared at Teddington lock at the beginning of the Tidal Thames.
Now I'd done my reading and timed my arrival at Teddington to coincide with high tide, which it did. At 8.50am. I had got up at 5am to get there for that time and when I did - I was told that, as from October 1st, the Thames is on Winter Timetables now, so passage MUST be booked 24 hours in advance. The Collins map book makes no mention of these pesky Winter Timetables! I could've chanced it, but the moorings at Teddington (although costing £7 per night) were very solid and inviting... So it was an early morning in vain, but I got to have a day off to mooch around Teddington, where I found a copy of Cormac McCarthy's novel Suttree; about a man living on his own in a disintegrating houseboat on the Tennessee River - had to be done! It's reads extremely well so far, if a little heavy on the dense and slightly abstract poetics sometimes, like his other one, Blood Meridian. But you couldn't have it without the poetics, it's like reading Tom Waits lyrics sometimes, which can only be a very. very good thing! If a little exhausting after twenty pages...
Below: A night at Teddington.
It was after Goring that I ended up near Henley, where I wasn't prepared to pay £8 to moor up beside a park with no services provided. It was at this point that, with myself craned over the side of the stern trying to read the sign regarding moorings that Wils decided on a bit of a makeover for himself (a photo of the streamlined cratch that Wils styled for himself coming soon)!
In truth I was planning to remove it anyway but the work was done for me by an obliging tree at Henley. We had no forward movement at the time that I could judge, and the tree came out of the engagement without a scratch, so the cratch clearly wasn't going to be standing all that much longer anyway! Most of it was rotten wood.
I carried on through the town, it was getting a little dark by this point so I pulled over to read a sign advertising moorings for £6 a night. (Again, photos of the bizarre "Adventure Moorings" at Henley coming soon!)
It said it was payable on demand, and given that nobody demanded it from me I saw fit not to pay. I imagine in summer it is packed with boats along there and well worth the farmer's time to walk alongside and collect £6 per boat - but I was the only person moored there for miles... I imagine there are a good number of accidents at this spot too, getting on and off the boat, tying up and the reverse was more than a little daunting, even for a lithe, young athlete of a man such as myself. HA!
The summer crowds seem to be long gone on the river now, which is one wood stove away from being blissful! Although, saying that, the number of people still pushing cameras almost right up to the windows is as alarming as ever! I got talking to the owners of Thomas H, a stunning Dutch Barge that moored up in front of me at Teddington, who said they'd just come down from Kent, where a man had come halfway onto their gangplank to photograph the boat and was irritated that they should have the nerve to question what he was doing!
I didn't realise until I was within half a mile of Medmenham that the Abbey there was the site of the original Hell Fire Club; "The club formally styled itself the Monks of Medmenham, and originally occupied the caves beneath the ancient Abbey. Its members could reach the Abbey by boat from the river at night and thus not be bothered by `paparazzi'.
The abbey was well located in a grove of trees which nearly concealed it from view. The nearest road was some distance away, but members would be able to approach it easily in private boats... and ... could return to their homes in complete privacy. ... Workmen were sent in and the abbey was rebuilt and the grounds landscaped ... to make them into a `garden of lust.'
Marble pillars were erected on which were carved pornographic inscriptions in bastard, or `macaroni' Latin. Small Grecian-styled temples were put up here and there. The groves were filled with statuary in indecent poses. ... Hollowed from a hill was the Cave of Trophonius. A fresco within it pictured sexually robust animals, a crowing cock, and a laughing nun..."Ahhh the good old days. From Henley it was a hotstep to Windsor, the centre of which was extremely depressing for such a historic town. Its bland, corporate frontage could have been anywhere, and that's precisely the problem. From there I hammered through Staines to Hampton and onto the tiny, tiny section of wall that passes for moorings there.
Sunrise over the High Rise; a night at Hampton:
It was from here that I made the extremely early start, and it's a strange experience untying moorings lines and heaving the pins out of the ground when it's still almost too dark to see and the moon is high... Also it was here that a large, fluffy white cat decided to befriend Wils and I. I had gone outside to check the pins in the soft mud on the bank late in the evening, and he appeared out of the tall grass behind me. When I asked him whether he thought the bow pin would hold, he sat beside it and curled a paw around it as if he was holding it in place for me! That was before he made a mad dash through the length of the boat! Cats can be hard to catch... And only yesterday on the Grand Union I passed an RSPCA Cat Shelter... Somebody is trying to tell me something...
I wasn't expecting all the parakeets either! Along the final 20 miles or so of the Thames there are whole flocks of the things, all brightly coloured and noisy and - well, parakeety. Apparently this is what happens when you let a couple of them into the wild! I was impressed!
I think this goes some considerable way to explaining the loss of speed I was experiencing yesterday! Pulled out of the weedhatch at the time:
Wils at sunny Brentford:
Below, a very poor photo of one of the few boats I've seen that I would call my Dream Boat!! I spoke to the owners, a couple who had lived for 5 years on a narrowboat previously, and had only taken charge of this beauty two days before I met them. Imagine the amount of space in something like that compared to a narrowboat! Although this photo doesn't come close to doing it justice, it was a stunning boat. Look at all that room for a veg garden on top!
It's a very difficult thing to take a good self-portrait when you're cruising at top speed; but as you can see I succeeded admirably:
More photos to arrive soon, once I figure out all the relevant technogubbins...