Wey hey and off for an Autumn cruise we shall go!
Four boats managed to sync their diaries enough to start planning a 10 day cruise along the River Wey in Surrey and then out on to the Thames. Aiming, river flows permitting, for three boats to pull out at Oxford, whilst the Thames based boat was to return to her mooring at Osney marina.
The plan was to launch three boats Bobbles, Sloe and Tophyl of Taunton at the scenic Stoke Lock, located adjacent to the not so scenic Guildford sewage works and for Arwyn to cruise down from Oxford to meet us there.
As the time to depart got closer, Arwyn departed on schedule travelling on a Thames, which had surprisingly for the time of year, low water flows and levels. Having missed the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia we thought the weather was set fair until the newspapers, and one in particular, started to threaten all kinds of nasty stormy weather, if not an actual “Weather Bomb”, over our first weekend, bringing with it torrential rain, trees down, locusts etc etc.
As we prepared our boats and trailers for departure we heard the sad news that a member of Arwyn’s crew was having to leave for home due to a family illness and Arwyn was going to have to tun around and head back to her home mooring at Oxford.
Thursday 19th October
The day for departure arrived and after synchronising watches or at least GPS’s, we left from our respective homes with an aim of getting to Stoke Lock for late morning. Bobbles arrived first, even after an accidental visit to the local recycling centre. They had mistakenly taken the wrong turning, which are very close together. They were closely followed by Tophyl and Sloe, who had happened to meet up in Fleet services.
We were welcomed by National Trust staff who were most helpful and accommodating. The slipway was easy to use, if just a little tight at the top end of the site as we turned the rigs around. With water on site, we were soon launched and ready for the off.
As we departed we heard that the incoming storm was now called “Brian” but that it was heading for Ireland, almost on the same track as Ophelia but was still due to affect us Friday night and Saturday.
We headed upstream for Guildford and Godalming, the head of navigation. On the way, we stopped of at Dapdune Wharf, the NT exhibition space for the waterway, which also has boater facilities.
As we arrived at Godalming, we thought it was only right that we visited the head of navigation before finding a place to moor. The town bridge, centre arch, looked at first like we could perhaps get that bit further, but on closer examination by Bobbles, they found a tree the other side, which made fo a very awkward exit so Bobbles returned the way they had gone in.
We didn’t want to block the winding corner or sanitary station so moored on the meadow side opposite, two boats breasting up. Then later in the evening we used the outside one as a taxi to visit the town for some meals. We visited the Red Lion, which probably was recently done up, but we thought whilst the beers was good, the food was reasonable in quality and we had attentive service, the prices probably reflected the closeness to London, and the town’s commuter status.
As we headed for the boat taxi, the heavens opened and it rained off and on all night.
Friday 20th October
Working out our itinerary and how to ensure we limited the cost of Thames licences, we had a quietish day. So it was time to visit the very convenient Sainsbury’s store for food for the evening’s communal meal on board. Followed by a unhurried cruise down to Guildford, passing the junction with the Wey & Arun canal, and in the golden sunshine, the trees just glowed. We noticed as we approached the low headroom Broadford bridge that the headroom gauge had decreased from 2.1M to 1.8M overnight and whilst we all got through, it was a bit more of a squeeze than when we came up.
We moored above Millmead lock and went our separate ways to explore the town. This has apparently become more affluent since our last visit with many upmarket shops, and fewer closed or charity shops than at home, with another new shopping mall well on the way to being opened. A sign of affluence perhaps could be seen in one of the few charity shop’s windows, a pair of men’s shoes for £119.99!
On return to the boats, Tophyl’s crew saw a whole party of school children visiting Millmead lock whose operation was being explained by the teachers. They had apparently come from Camberly, and had just visited Dapdune Wharf. We asked if they would like to see the lock filled and then to see a boat drop down in it. They would! So we enjoyed giving them a demonstration and answering the children’s questions.
We all got together for a meal on Bobbles, with the main course of cottage pie cooked on there with the vegetables on Tophyl, and the pudding supplied by Sloe.
Our final arrangements for the next day’s cruise down to Send was finalised after consulting the weather forecast to see when storm “Brian” was to make himself known. Why do I keep thinking of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s the “Life of Brian” whenever I type that name.
As we got on our boats the first band of rain arrived.
Saturday 21st October
Up early as we wanted to complete the run down to Send before the Brian gales arrived at the beginning of the afternoon. The sun was out as we descended through Millmead lock at 8.30am and headed to Dapdune Wharf to top up water tanks etc. Then back down out through Guildford trading estate country, passing the paddle driven Jethro Tull narrowboat to Stoke Lock, with a quick glance to see that our cars and trailers were all safe and secure. Down stream of Bower’s lock, we had to slow as there was a tree across the cut. Our shallow draught boats cleared the trunk but the two boats with Yamaha engines, had to lift them to clear the 1ft deep obstruction. A narrowboat could have problems here. At Triggs Lock we were asked about it by a moored narrowboat, so the towpath telegraph had obviously been working. We told him where it was and he said he’d phone it in.
We soon arrived at Send, where we have a table booked for the evening meal. At around 2pm some of us went for a walk out past Worsfold gates, and we were suddenly struck by the force of the wind that had suddenly got up since our arrival. Our mooring was sheltered so hopefully it would be a relatively quiet night.
This location was a homecoming of sorts for the boat Tophyl, as it was 24 years and 1 month ago that the present owners first saw her for a test drive and then within a month had bought her from Mr Stapley, who had bought her as a shell and had fitted her out in his garden near Hastings before launching her and mooring her on the Wey.
Sunday 22nd October
So the itinerary for today was to complete our river Wey cruise and be ready to drop down into the Thames tomorrow. This would be around 4 hours cruising so we planned for a late morning start. Late being around a 10am. But at just after 9am we were visited by a local member, whose boat Shieling is kept on the River Wey at New Haw. It was good to put a face to the name and he told us where to stop at high bridge, to be closer to the local shops.
The wind had dropped a bit as we set out and the sun was out but it was still a bit chilly. After s stop for shopping, we continued down Broadmead cut, where Tophyl ran over a large log, which changed the noise the engine made. In Papercourt lock, the engine was raised and some swift reprofiling of the propeller was carried out using claw and lump hammers. The countryside around here opens out and it was quite breezy. Above and below Newark lock there was a considerable amount of invasive floating weed, in some places this stretched almost from bank to bank, just leaving a 7ft gap for narrow boats to get through.
When we arrived at Pyrford lock, we made use of the facilities as well as watching the cars slowly negotiate the curved, narrow and humpbacked bridge over the lock tail outside the Anchor pub. This is notorious in WBOC circles as being the one bridge to NEVER try and take a Wilderness trailer over, when heading for Pyrford marina slipway. You will never make it!!!
We continued for another 20 minutes or so and then stopped for lunch just after Dodds bridge. At around 2.30pm, we continued on to the junction with the Basingstoke canal and where we were joined by Shieling, who then cruised on with us, down two locks until they left us and turned back at Weybridge town lock. It was good to see and spend time with fellow members, enjoying their Wilderness boat.
After cruising past some very large and expensive houses and gardens, we final pulled in and moored just above Thames lock for the night with the Thames beckoning in the morning.
Monday 23rd October
Up and ready to leave at 9am as the National Trust lock keeper unlocks and prepares the lock for us. He warns us that due to the low Thames water levels, depth over both the lock cill and the pound cill is much reduced and we could use the flood lock as well if required. We decided not to. It also turned out that he was a relative of someone Tophyl’s crew have known for many years. It’s a small world! As Tophyl left the lock, it’s engine did touch the pound cill.
Out on to the Thames we turned to moor up at Shepperton locks waiting area for a couple of boats to come down. Once up in the lock, it was time to sort out licenses, two one week £31.50 licenses for the boats from the south west and a reciprocal one for Bobbles, whose home waters are managed by EA East Anglian waterways. At the top end of the lock we made use of the facilities.
We headed upstream aiming for Windsor about four hours away. We were warned that the next lock was self service. We went up through Chertsey and Penton Hook locks. At Egham Hythe, opposite Truss’s Island, we pulled over by a car park with a short, curved slipway occupied by many swans, so that Sloe could get some petrol from a convenient Asda 24 hour petrol station, which was only a short walk away.
We didn’t stop at Staines, even though there were plenty of moorings available, except Bobbles saw a child loose their tennis ball in the water and went over to collect and return it before we all headed for Bell Weir lock next to Runnymede bridge and hotel. This was emptied quickly to allow 4 cruisers to depart and filled quickly with us inside by the resident lock keeper.
A little further on past the boat yard, we pulled in on the left hand side for a lunch break at Egham Towpath Moorings that, according to the signs were now controlled by Thames Visitor Moorings, which had a website to register your mooring (www.moortvm.co.uk). This we did and it appears they control a number of moorings up and down the Thames. It appeared to be a good move.
After our hour’s lunch break we departed and cruised up past the RAF memorial and the Magna Carta memorial, paid for, as we found out the last time we passed this way, by Americans. We continued up past Old Windsor lock and Albert bridge, and enjoyed the run past Windsor Home Park and its views of Windsor Castle. There seemed to be a lot of CCTV on the opposite bank to the park. We wondered it it was being used to ensure no one broke the “No Landing/ No Mooring” Windsor Home Park rules and got prosecuted as a criminal if you did! Some of us became suddenly very conscious of the engine note, in case it spluttered as you ran out of fuel, along here. No one did!
We were soon passed Datchet and up through Romney lock. Another self service one. We are starting to miss the banter we used to have with the lock keepers, as you passed through and their pretty lock gardens.
As we left the lock, Boobles headed for a small and little known free mooring in front of apartments on the right hand Eton bank, before the bridge, that separates Eton from Windsor. It was empty, so after mooring there, it was off into Windsor to explore and find somewhere for a meal. Instead of our usual Wetherspoons, we opted for the Carpenter’s Arms, close to the castle and very close to a funny wonky house/shop. At first we weren’t sure if it wasn’t the beer that was affecting our eye’s.
We had a pleasent meal with good beer and afterwards explored a earily quiet Eton, where there was just no one around, before heading for our beds.
Tuesday 24th October
After a quiet night, we were awoken at first by the first jets overflying us, those having just taken off from Heathrow airport for destinations across the world. And then by the Canada (or is it Brent) geese taking off by the weir, just downstream and overflying us as they headed for the nearby fields for breakfast. We don’t know who was noisier!
We left Windsor, heading for Marlow. The cloud had lifted a bit and we could now see the planes instead of just hearing them. Leaving Windsor, we passed the leisure centre, which has a free public slipway beside it which we have used in the past, both recovering and launching. We also passed a couple of black swans. I didn’t know they existed outside of Australia or Dawlish!!
We passed Windsor racecourse and just below Boveney lock, filled up with water and dumped loos before passing through the manned lock. We then passed Dorney lake where a lot of the boat races took place in the 2012 Olympic Games. Then passing Monkey Island on the left, we noticed the old hotel appears to be having a significant makeover. Then it was under the noisy M4 before rising up through Bray lock.
Now comes the stretch of river where you can look at he expensive houses and gardens owned by many a TV celebrity, as you approach Maidenhead. For yours truly, more spectacular is Maidenhead Railway “Sounding” arch, at one time the longest and flattest brick arch in the world. Designed by Brunel to carry his Great Western Railway over the river, it is now Grade 1 listed. And today it has been recently modified to carry the overhead electric catenary cables for the new fast trains for Crossrail and the GWR ones to the West Country and Wales.
As we cruised up this stretch, we were joined by a boat called Escape, this is not a Wilderness boat but is owned by two WBOC members whose other boat, is a Wilderness Beaver called Wilderness Wanderer. This has recently returned from extensive cruising in France and now winterised and tucked up on its trailer at home.
We cruised up together through Boulter’s lock and into Cliveden Deep where we moored for a spot of lunch and to catch up with their travels.
After lunch we continued up through Cookham lock, self service today, before passing Bourne End and a long run, passed some large houses on the hill to the left, finally passing a Dragon boat under training, as we approached Marlow lock, again set as self service. This was filled with five boats, as a hire boat managed to squeeze in, in addition to all of us arranged along one lock wall. We then proceeded to find a mooring, known as being free just past a foot path bridge. Here we settled in for the night, but might manage to go for a meal as well.
Once we had moored up we had an opportunity to look around and saw this as shown in the bottom photo above. Is it a: Boat? Super shed? Top half of a cross channel ferry?
We are concious that a number of our members live in this area and wish them well as we pass by.
Wednesday 25th. October
Oh what a beautiful morning! The sun is out and Marlow was stunning in the sunshine. Outside there were a number of rowing eights, fours and sculls being put through their paces by a coach in a little catamaran, which joggled our boats as it went past.
After the crews went into town for provisions and had returned, we heading off upstream towards Henley and ultimately, Sonning. “Escape” had left about an hour before the Wilderness contingent to return for a short while to its home mooring at Harleyford.
As we pulled out, we were passed by two large hire cruisers, which we followed to Temple lock, which was self service operation. They went in and started to rise in the lock under automatic control when all of a sudden the power went off. With us helping them, we used manual hydraulic power to open the gates and they exited. We continued to pump to close the top gates and paddles and then opened the bottom gates and paddles. We then got in and out under manual control and rang the “help” line that seems to answer calls from all of Europe, Ireland as well as the UK. On arrival at Hurley lock, we found the lock keeper, and informed him of the problems. It was here “Escape” rejoined us.
As we exited the lock we passed a slipway at Hurley that we used to use a while ago. We then cruised on through the next lock to Henley upon Thames. As we cruised in, we passed lots of £10 moorings for 24 hour’s mooring or part there of. Having reached the park after the main bridge, we found a “free” mooring at least until 3pm. The crews left for another visit to the shops.
When we left the sun was out and so were many people in the park, all enjoying the unseasonal heat. We cruised past Bisham Abbey to Marsh Lock. The first lock that the crew of Tophyl ever went through when they first hired a Swann Harmony boat from Wargrave in 1976.
We again cruised past many large and expensive houses but what was more spectacular was the evening sunset reflecting in the water.
We arrived at Sonning lock and rose in it, finally to moor on the left hand side a few hundred yards from the lock.
Thursday 26th October
After the spectacular almost summer’s day yesterday, we woke this morning to a dull, grey, misty morning with hardly any wind but the smell of Autumn in the air. Up and ready to depart at 9am, we said our goodbyes to the crew of “Escape” as they were heading back to Harleyford today. It was great to have travelled with them for a couple of days and enjoyed their company.
We passed a few lads from the local school out training in their 8s and sculls. As we went past the Oracle e’business park, the railway made its appearance along with the new overhead electric masts, before we passed the entrance of the Kennet & Avon canal and managed to find a space amongst the liveaboards, occupying much of the mooring space alongside the Tesco supermarket. One of the locals warned us about leaving the boat’s unattended so we didn’t.
Once we had bought our provisions, it was just a short run up to Caversham lock, which had a lock keeper In attendance. Good job too as a large hire boat had managed to swing across the top lock entrance and jam itself there! It took a few minutes before it became free with the aid of the lock keeper altering water levels. After that bit of excitement, we headed off upstream passing Caversham island where they still hire our boats, many like the ones we hired many years ago. On passed the park and Reading Marine, alongside Tilehurst and up to Mapledurham unmanned lock to moor on Pangbourne meadow for lunch.
After lunch we entered the lockeeper attended Whitchurch lock, joining a steel narrowboat, and being joined by a Sea Otter narrowboat. After leaving it, we led a procession passed the big houses in the hill on the left, remembering the illuminated procession of boats that had originated from the IWA Nationals that took place at Beale park. As we passed the park we spotted our Wilderness island where we were moored bow on to the bank, amongst the many other boats attending. Great events.
We continued to Goring, where we moored up on EA controlled moorings below the lock before having a walk around the village, spotting the memorials of flowers, plaques, pictures, flags and candles left outside the singer George Michael’s house by his many fans.
One more full day of cruising tomorrow before we get within striking distance of Oxford.
Friday 27th October
On Wednesday I made reference to a few words from a song from Oklahoma. Today I’ll complete that phrase….Oh what a beautiful day!!
It started early as we had to reach Sandford lock by the end of the day, so it was up and off by 8am. But that chilly early start was rewarded by mists over the calm, mirror like water, and golden reflections as the sun rose over the trees. Both Goring and Cleeve locks were self service, not surprising as it was early, and at Cleeve we took on water.
Then on to Moulsford chandlers for some gas, but unfortunately they were yet to open. Then on through Wallingford. Tophyl’s crew again were looking for the site of Maidboats boatyard but again we failed to spot it…..unless the great grey rowing boathouse now covers the site. There was an offer of a stop at the town, but we refused it. We soon passed Benson lock, which was manned and Benson, then Shillingford. At the lock we were warned that the next two locks were self service and on manual operation due to a fault on the public control system.
At Day’s lock, we again made use of the facilities, which are separate and on their own below the lock. As Tophyl was ready first, she went over to the lock landing stage. It was noted that water was flooding out the bottom, and on walking up to the lock, the top paddles were also open with a boat waiting to come in. The skipper of this vessel, was confused as this lock was on manual operation and he really did not understand how it should be operated. Of course with no electronic controls all the interlocking was disabled.
We set about getting the lock full and ready for him to come in and then got him through it as quickly as we could as we found out he was due to get through Blake’s lock on the K&A in Reading, before it closed for 5 months starting this coming Sunday evening. He was very grateful and we wished him well on his way.
We then passed through along with a narrowboat, and headed for Clifton lock. We passed, just before this, the pretty village of Clifton Hampden, with its ancient brick bridge and church on the hill. We moored here a few years back and visited the village and pub on the other side of the bridge, but no time to do that this time.
Clifton lock was also on manual operation, so we exercised our muscles and got the boats through, along wit the narrowboat from the previous lock. We stopped for lunch in the warm sunshine and were joined by an ABC hire boat. Whilst chatting to them, a lock keeper arrived for his lunch in the lock house (yes some do still live in them!), switched on the power and offered to lock them through as long as they came now. No such luck for us, but I suppose we needed the exercise anyway.
After lunch it was into Abingdon to buy some food for this evenings meal. We had planned to dine out at the King’s Arms next to Sandford lock but they appeared to be fully booked according to their website and would not answer the phone when we tried to ring them. A nice welcoming feature of Abingdon is they offer free 5 day moorings, something not duplicated elsewhere on the river. You also have friendly Geese in the park, so watch where you put your feet! On the return from the town we cruised up to the lock. A winning team here have won the friendliest lock award a number of times. The volunteer there said he worked 7 days a week there and loved it, the relief lock keeper was a bit more stern asking firmly for engines to be switched off and front lines used even at the back of the lock. We think we know who won them their award.
It was getting dark as we approached Sandford lock and was on self service. We rose up in the lock but had problems opening the top gates. Apparently, one of the team, accidentally pressed the wrong button and everything stopped. It had to go through its whole top gate program of opening paddles, even though the lock was already full, before the gates would open.
It was on to tie up as the sun set and the stars came out and mist rose from the river. Hot mulled wine was offered by Bobbles, which was a great way to warm both your hands and your insides. The perfect ending to a perfect day.
Saturday 28th October
All good things must come to an end and so today we have but 2 locks and about an hour’s cruise from Sandford to above Osney lock.
It was a cold, misty morning as we started out at 8.30am to cruise into Oxford. It started out quite quietly, then that was disturbed by the Royal Scot steam excursion heading north on the main line.
Then after self service Iffley lock, it was mayhem with every sort of river craft on the move. 8’s, 4’s, canoes, narrowboats, us, all wanting their own bit of water. You had to eyes in the back of your head as we were overtaken by rowing boats on all sides. Even when we got to self service Osney lock, a girls 8 rowing boat wanted to get in as well but gave that up as they saw how much room we took up. We pulled over to East St Oxford Moorings.
Here the male crew members, gathered up their car keys, GPS’s, trailer keys and something to eat and then walked down to Oxford station. There to buy, at group rate, (£12.17) three tickets to catch a train from Oxford to Reading and Reading back to Guildford. On arrival at Guildford we hired a taxi to take us to Guildford Sewage Works, located at the entrance of Stoke Lock. The was £11.20.
The good news was our cars and trailers were all present and correct and started with no problem. We were all soon hooked up and ready for the off. Two cars went via the A3, M25, M40 and A34, whilst another cur across to the M3, M4, A34. We all arrived at Osney marina and slipway within 10 minutes of each other.
Out for a meal tonight where we have finally been joined by Arwyn’s crew. Tomorrow will be a day of goodbyes, recovering the boats onto their trailers and heading our separate ways, another adventure completed. It’s been great to spend time cruising with you all. Weren’t we lucky with the weather, that showed off the Autumn colours to its best.
Thank you to all who have been reading this account. We hope you have enjoyed it. Till the next time….