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  • clivenmel

April 1st

Normal 0 false false false st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} Well it�s the first day of April � already!  Doesn�t time fly when you are having fun � we certainly are!   We left our mooring at Beale Park and headed off down the Thames, it was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, just gorgeous.  This is a really beautiful stretch of the river and it was here, in this area, where Kenneth Grahame lived as a boy and which inspired him in telling stories to his young son by the river scenery about Ratty, Toad and Mole which culminated in his incomparable children�s classic; Wind in the Willows!  A little further along we arrived on the outskirts of Pangbourne and passed a row of elegant late Victorian houses on the right bank known as the �Seven Deadly Sins�.  Evidently Lady Cunard, the socialite, (of the famous shipping family) was once a resident in one of these.    Here are just three of them - they really are magnificent houses! We soon arrived at the Whitchurch Lock.  Now I have been lulled into a false sense of security and have become fat and lazy over the last couple of weeks whilst we have been on the Thames, for the simple reason that all the locks so far have been electrically powered, requiring nothing more strenuous than pressing buttons.  Added to this most of them have been manned by a lock-keeper who pressed said buttons for me!  Imagine my horror then on arriving at Whitchurch Lock to find that not only was there no lock-keeper but also there was no power and no buttons!  I had to work it manually and it was very hard work I can tell you, these are not small paddles they are huge.  I certainly gave myself a cardiac workout that�s for sure!  In fact after closing the front sluices (which had been left open) then opening the rear sluices I was absolutely shattered and had to ask Clive to come and wind the gates open!  Once Lady Arwen was in the lock I started opening the front sluices only to hear Clive yelling at me � I hadn�t closed the rear sluices!  Oh dear!  Fortunately Clive managed to jump off and go and close them for me.  We finally got through the lock by which time I was wheezing and gasping and ready to expire!  I actually thought I was fitter than that!  Maybe it was just because I haven�t really had any work to do since we arrived in Oxford!   After the lock we had a long reach down to the next lock.  It was really beautiful, with the sun sparkling on the water and the scenery was lovely.  However we suddenly came across a strange sight, not something you would expect to see around these parts � a herd of Alpacas!!!  Now it is not so strange to see one or two of these animals in the UK these days, in fact there was a farm just along the road from our village in Cambridgeshire that had a few, but this place had hundreds and hundreds of them!  There were lots of the animals in several of the fields around the farm, amazing!   A little further on from the Alpacas and we came across Hardwick House, a lovely old Tudor house where evidently Queen Elizabeth I stayed and also Kenneth Grahame is thought to have modelled Toad Hall on it!    It is a beautiful house in idyllic surroundings.  Whilst we were cruising past the grounds of this fabulous old house I spotted something up at the top of a field.  Our daughter Vicki has always said she would like to live in a little cottage surrounded by a wood so I took this photo for her, however when Clive saw it he decided it was none other than Hagrid's cottage from the Harry Potter stories! Then we arrived at Mapledurham Lock and boy was I glad to see that there was a Lock-keeper in residence and I told him so!  It occurred to me that all these Thames locks we have negotiated have nearly all had lock-keepers to do the strenuous job of pressing little buttons � how come when we got to that last lock, which had to be done by hand, there wasn�t a lock-keeper in sight � typical!   As soon as we got through the lock we had our eyes peeled looking for Mapledurham House � however it wasn�t hard to spot, except that it was surrounded by trees and not easy to photograph but I did manage to get a few.  Mapledurham House is of 16th century origin and is widely considered to be one of England�s finest Tudor buildings.  The family that used to call it home in those days were the Blounts and they were Catholics and it evidently has a secret passage leading to the adjoining church!  Later, during the time of the Civil War Royalists used the secret rooms and passages within the house.  Also the author of the famous Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy, evidently wrote the final chapters of his saga whilst staying in the house.   The artist who illustrated Wind in the Willows, E H Shepard is said to have been inspired by this place as well.  Wow, what a history!     After Mapledurham we cruised past Purley � there were some absolutely spectacular houses along this stretch, really gorgeous.  One such house caught our attention because it looked like something off the Grand Designs TV programme.  Whilst ogling this super house we noticed a little boy on the balcony and he was pruning one of the many shrubs growing in tubs on the balcony.    Maybe he is a future Alan Titchmarsh!  It is very nice to see a child taking an interest in growing things, so much more wholesome than glue-sniffing or granny-bashing!!!   Very soon after Purley we were on the outskirts of Reading and not long before we saw Caversham Bridge.  We were rather sad to say goodbye to the lovely wide rolling scenery of the rural River Thames.  We had another lock to negotiate and there was no lock-keeper here either, however it was powered so I gave my finger a work-out on the buttons!  Just as I was opening the rear doors another boat pulled up behind Lady Arwen so we shared the lock with them.  This boat had a lady driver(!) so it was the gentleman who was doing the lock with me and he very kindly said he would press the buttons if I wanted to hop back on board � how nice!    We needed to stop off at a boatyard for diesel, coal and gas and Clive had phoned one earlier to get directions.  It was actually located on an island and they had suggested to Clive that we cruise past the island then turn and come back up the other side of it as it would be easier to moor alongside their jetty whilst facing upstream.  We followed their instructions and managed without any problems and tied up.   We got stocked up on coal; bought a new gas bottle; topped up with water but unfortunately couldn�t fill up with diesel � they only had 70 litres in their tank � about half the amount we required!  Oh well, we took what they had, drained them dry, then set off again!  Next stop Tesco�s!   We had to carry on upstream and round the island again until we were heading back in the direction we wanted to go and after a short distance we could see Tesco�s up ahead.  Fortunately there we visitor moorings right outside the store � fantastic.  That meant we could stock up on heavy things like vegetables, tinned stuff and bottles of wine!!!  It didn�t take us very long, which is as well because we still had quite a way to go.    Once back on board and the shopping stowed away we headed off again and very soon after the supermarket was the right turn onto the River Kennet.  Well what a difference we were soon in amongst houses and businesses � total contrast to the wide reaches of the Thames!     From this! To this! The first lock we came to was a very different affair � paddles unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I had to take a few minutes to puzzle out exactly how they worked.  They were operated by what looked exactly like a ships steering wheel!  There was a red pole and a white pole � I tried moving those by hand but obviously that wasn�t how they worked.  Then I noticed a couple of levers below the wheel � one was for sluices and the other for the gates and each had three positions � OPEN � OFF � CLOSE. So having first checked that the sluices on the front gates were shut I flicked the Sluice lever to open and started turning the wheel � it worked!  The red pole started to rise and I could see the water emptying from the lock � so far so good!  Soon the lock was level with the river and I went to open the nearside gate and then I found the instructions!!!   Having given them a quick scan it turned out I had done everything right � oh good!  It did however giving me some useful info for refilling the lock to ensure that the boat didn�t get swamped, which I wouldn�t have been aware of if I hadn�t read them!   Once through the lock we continued on under lots of bridges and were then confronted with something we have never seen before, well certainly not on a canal or river � traffic lights!   We had seen them marked on the map, but weren�t actually sure what the little symbol meant, because on rivers, or where canals meet rivers, there is a red/amber/green flood warning system.  If its green that means the water levels are fine and you can proceed; if its amber it means that you have to proceed with caution; if red you can�t go through at all because this means the water levels are very high and not navigable.  However, these traffic lights had nothing to do with that whatsoever!   Clive was guiding the boat over to the side in order to press the button, just like at a pedestrian crossing, when a young man walking along the path asked if we would like him to press it for us � how kind, the age of chivalry is alive and kicking in Reading!  When he pressed it the light turned green so we set off.  It was quite obvious after a few minutes why this traffic light system is in place.  This stretch is just all bends and curves and it would be quite difficult for two boats to pass each other, certainly if they were both 57� long!  However we were quite unprepared for the sights that greeted us a little further along.  We had seen The Oracle marked on our map  but it didn�t give any indication what it was � a district of restaurants; bars; nightclubs etc on both sides of the water � it was fantastic!  Yet another example of how well these areas, which were probably once full of warehouses and other such buildings, can be revitalised and turned into lovely waterside places of recreation.  The only sad thing is the boats can�t stop on the way through so you can�t just moor up and pop in for a meal, which is a shame really, however it is just too narrow for that and as the notice by the traffic light said: NO STOPPING UNTIL THE LOCK!   Once through The Oracle we had to find the lock but the next sight that greeted us was rather daunting � a huge weir!  We couldn�t even see which way the boat was supposed to go until that is we got a bit nearer and saw a lock (it looked every so tiny!) over on the left.  The pull of the weir was very strong and it was quite hairy trying to get the boat over to the left to tie up in front of the lock but we made it � phew!  This lock also marks the boundary between the system operators � we had left the auspices of The Environment Agency and were back in the hands of British Waterways!   We realised that it was getting quite late, nearly 7 o�clock!  We had had a very long, hard day really as we had set off in the morning around 9.45am and apart from the short stop at Tesco�s we had been travelling all day.  Time to find a mooring but preferably not in the middle of Reading!  So we cruised along for a bit longer, negotiated one more lock � again a bit hairy for Clive as there was a very powerful sluice just before the lock on the right and a stream coming in from the left and it makes it quite difficult to get the boat to go exactly where you want her to go, but he managed it!  Once through that lock we were out in reasonably open country and we soon saw a couple of boats moored up ahead and decided there was safety in numbers so we pulled in behind them.  There are lots of trees around here and therefore lots of birds who were all signing their hearts out � lovely.      

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