Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Radcot to Lechlade and Inglesham

Apologies - photos yet to come and text is, like all entries so far, hurried and unpolished, trivial rather than truly interesting: a log for the record rather than real  account, which will, I hope, come later, once I've been There and Back Again and can reflect.

Watching the weather like a hawk in search of a favourable slot, I identified Sunday 18 July late afternoon into evening and Monday morning as promising: nearly a week later, but even such a fine seaworthy vessels as Weatherbird had to sit out the storms in Cherbourg. So after a fine house-warming Sunday lunch with friends in Hatford, near Pusey, I drove to Radcot with victuals and pyjamas. Dulcibella was snug and dry, and Triton, the lagoon's owner had found the note I tied to her when I checked her out on Thursday. Blessings on his head. I set off (pic right) at 5.40 pm, while other boaters were tying up, and made excellent progress. There were still a few sharp gusts, but when they passed, it was easy-going. Grafton Lock was not far, and the keeper still on duty. Apparently an otter had been sighted further up: maybe I would see him on a future overnight.

Kelmscott, where I had planned to overnight, turned up at 7.40, sooner than I expected and was crowded with boats: crews tramping to The Plough, just 300 yards up the road. I was tempted, but there was still so much light that I decided to keep going. Passed a bay full of swallows swooping and some fine moorings at Eaton Hastings footbridge: this was where my collapsing mast arrangement on Gipsy collapsed during my Gipsy on the Thames adventure a couple of years ago.

Coots and herons brought to mind the first poem I ever recited: Tennyson's 'The Brook'. I realised that I had never really understood what 'I come from haunts of coot and hern' meant. Encountered a buxom inflatable, almost spinning in circles as one man paddled ineffectually and his companion laughed at him but still making good progress with wind and current. 'I was there an hour and a half ago, I said, which cheered them. My own plan was a jar in the pub I presumed I would find at Buscot, but walkers who told me it was only five minutes on warned that there wasn't one. Lovely weir and backwater as I approached - which would in truth be the last good overnight place, but I was tempted to go through that lock too.

Considered tying up at Buscot and walking to the village, but if it was all closed, it struck me that it would be better to explore on the way down, when a National trust tea-rooms promised light lunches as well as coffees and teas. This attitude rules my upstream progress: my plan is to make lots of diversions on the way down. After Buscot, the river, for the first time since Swinford Bridge, runs in hearing of the road, a great disincentive to stop. Hoping that it would veer away, I went on and on, water still as glass now. A huge hairpin, then one back again, on which I startled two silver-haired love-birds in the cockpit of their little cruiser. Dulcibella is so silent: maybe I should start gondolierish singing as I curl around corners. Quite a few people simply don't notice her passing at all. The flowers are many and various; it is perhaps the best time of year for them. I must identify them from my book: predominantly purple loosestrife, vetches, rosebay willowherb and a splendid fat pink thing a little like a snapdragon on steroids.
Dusk falling, and I began to eye up moorings. Had just decided to go a little further than a welcoming willow cage when I saw the transom of what was evidently the first of many - and the edge of a blue LOCK notice. I poled back to a bay out of sight of them, and tied bow to an ash sapling and stern to a willow bush. A swan hove to hopefully, then veered away.

About to phone Ellie to reassure her that mother was safe and well [how roles reverse] when I saw a message from brother John, who lives near Cirencester: I'd emailed him to ask if he would like to join me for the Conquest of Cricklade, and he was very keen: he also has acquaintances who live on or near the river above Lechlade, where I could perhaps leave Dulcie securely. Put most of the hood up; very cosy, discovered that there was still a little cider to drink a toast to myself, and chomped bread and cheese and fruit until comfortably full. Bats wheeling, a half moon rising, fine cloud effects. Found torch and suspended it from the centre hoop: I have all mod cons, including a useful small bucket, aboard. Slept very well; then saw light through small mousehole in the cover.

Five am. Drank cold tea, rolled up cover, and poled off at 5.30. St John's Lock was just around the corner, Lechlade's lance of a church spire framed in its bridge very beautifully. My way, hurray - as they all have been so far. Somewhere here is the entrance to the Colne: I must see how far up it I can go on the way down. So into the wide waters meandering up to Lechlade. No hurry at all, I realised, so at about 6 I tied up under a dead hawthorn, and fired up the Kelly Kettle with a few pages from my notebook and twigs broken off the tree. Boiled in two minutes; and although tea slightly strange tasting [carbonated water? use of coffee pot for tea?], it was hot and wet. On to the peacefully slumbering town, following a welcoming flotilla of eighteen swans and a very bossy Aylesbury duck that seemed to be in charge. Under bridge, past pub where Gipsy entered the water, past boatyards and up to the Round House, as I had sailed in her. But this time I went under its little wooden bridge, and peeped into the beginning of the long-disused Thames/Severn canal, then on in tranquility [though a small cruiser with fishermen aboard was also up there]. Passed point where Thames Path veers away to the road and Inglesham Church, and found where John's connection lived: no signal for mobiles, but they kindly let me phone him. He was a bit poorly, but so keen to come later that I decided to moor under a vast poplar and start again on Friday, when weather looks once more promising. Had a thorough boat-turnout: a remarkable amount of foliage gets in; I also needed to scoop water from below the bottom boards. She is evidently still taking up slightly, Very satisfying to clean her all up: I left cushions standing at attention to dry damp underneath. Watch over her, river gods.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tadpole to Radcot

Just for the record: left idyllic under willow berth (above) for a very peaceful punt in windless conditions around the innumerable bends between Rushey Lock and Radcot Lock. Excellent lunch of baked potato and coronation chicken at The Swan at Radcot; then a swim and Martin arrived to take me to collect my car. We went on upstream in search of a safe place to leave her, as the next few days inclement and busy, and luckily met a man who offered the hospitality of his lagoon - so she is now tucked up safely there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Up the Stripling Thames: Pinkhill to Tadpole Bridge

On last Monday evening, I punted Dulcibella out of the Oxford Cruisers boatyard basin and back on to her willow-hung mooring, accompanied by the at that moment substantial Nutwood household (nephew Adam Talib, fanatic rower Felicity Hawksley, god-daughter Holly Scutt). Graeme has done a wonderful job: she gleams like a chestnut. The 1.25 inch aluminium tube, sent with great dispatch by metals4UK, and with its ends plugged with short sections of banister posts is a great success: the hand can grip on the curve of the wood tips very satisfactorily, and the extra length (5 metres rather than the usual 14 ft) means you get extra impetus at the end of each stroke. The double-ended racing pole from Collars feels heavy in comparison, although it is infinitely lighter than the usual pole.
 dry; he was just poling over in a tender with a bike and a rucksack.   I made better time than I had expected to, led for almost the entire length of the way to Bablockhythe by a swan. Coffee and a swim, then on again. Friendly Barnaby passed me, but I caught her up at Northmoor Lock; shortly afterwards I caught her up again as she had stopped for lunch - and called out an invitation. Realised I was ravenous after four hours of poling (note to self: always bring more food than you think you will need) and accepted enthusiastically. All very trim below decks with a stove and fire-irons: Karen and Keith Sutcliffe have been living on her for five years now, having expected only to do so for two. I can see the attraction: they seem to have been on every inch of navigable water. Wolfed two large sandwiches, cider and a cup of tea, then off again. Ingeniously, they tracked me down on the web and sent what I rarely get: a photo of Dulcie and her mistress and owner.
After an hour or so, I was feeling rather sleepy, and the wind was rising, so when a passing narrow boat offered me a tow, I accepted gratefully. In no time at all, Newbridge came into sight, and I thanked them and was set free to pole in under my own steam. Barnaby passed me as I did so - I expect they guessed that I had cheated.
Noted the enticing entrance to the Windrush, then moored by the Maybush, much less frantic than the Rose Revived. Ellie had very kindly offered to pick me up, and brought Sam and Olivia with her. Every one is very friendly on the river: caravanners interested, and an ex-Cherwell boathouse man admired her. So back home for Bridge at Abingdon and then an extremely well-earned sleep. Up at 5.30 and had cast off from Newbridge at 6.20, with lots of stores on board. Wind was forecast, and soon the glassy calm of dawn began to ruffle. I saw a kingfisher: heavenly flash of blue. Also brushing close to a huge reed bank found myself nose to beak with a  tiny and very surprised reed warbler. A heron lifted off on lazy wings, two sets of swans and cygnets. July is a lovely time for flowers: yellow water lilies, many different flowering rushes, and banks brazen with purple (loosestrife?), yellow and pink. Am keeping going upstream, noticing places to explore further on the way down. Fred Thacker's The Stripling Thames is a sterling guide. Passed the entrance to the old river course to Duxford, the Roman ford, through Shifford Lock, again self-service, and so on around the huge loop around Chimneys Nature Reserve, punctuated by Martello towers. Wind rising, but the trees were so tall and the banks so hedged that not much was getting through - I remember this being very slow going sailing Gipsy down two years ago. A punt is indeed perfect up here. Noticed a lovely shallow beach for swimming/overnighting just before pylon wires crossed the river. Got to The Trout at Tadpole Bridge at 11 o'clock, and had to wait half an hour for a much needed coffee - even considered begging biscuits from a party of picknickers, but luckily found I'd packed a jar of cashew nuts. Tucked Dulcie up in her cover, and booked in for lunch the next day [mooring is an eye-watering £25 a night unless you eat there]. Back home in time to buy lunch for Daisy James and Fox, which we had in the garden. Fox delightful, wreathed in smiles. Olivia's birthday party in the afternoon and a lovely family evening. After a morning of gardening, off again to the river. After lunch, I punted Daisy James & Fox halfway to Rushey Lock, where we found a fine mooring under a willow, and all swam. Weather said (wrongly) to be about to change, so tucked her up again and so home.

After much discussion and struck by fact that 23 million Brits have signed up to it, I have joined facebook, though unsure of what will be gained from it. I am interested in the secret of its fascination. Company? Distraction? The ultimate global village?