By Greg Nicoll

It was great to get back on Le Boat this past summer, this time on the historic Thames River. Our vessel was the Royal Mystique, a 43 footer with everything we needed for a week’s cruise in style.

John Burns, an English politician and noted London historian from the late 19th century coined the phrase “The Thames is a liquid history” and it only took us 20 minutes from Chertsey to Staines-on-Thames to see the London Stone placed there in 1285 marking the former western limits of the City of London. On the upper deck we always kept notes and travel guides to be prepared for a history lesson that seemed to be around every bend in the river. Note: there is a large Waitrose supermarket in Staines to take on provisions for the first few nights that was apparently built sometime after the London Stone was laid. 

Our crew are old hands at going through locks and Skipper John, armed this time with a bow thruster, lined up entry and exits with great precision. Le Boat has us use one of the larger, beamier boats on this part of the Thames, as many of the canals boats we saw resembled historical river boats, not to be referred to as a barge,  but as a “narrowboat”. These narrowboats are most often replicas of the working boats built in the 18th & 19th centuries used for carrying goods on the narrow canals when the maximum lock width was 7 feet, (2.1m). In the lower Thames where we were ascending, the locks are much more generous giving us a lot of room for our 14 foot beam. Six feet wide and 40 to 52 feet in length, these narrowboats glide smoothly into the locks with usually the husband’s hand steadfast on the rudder and the lady of the house tossing the bowlines with great accuracy over the bollards. We are told that in the north beyond Oxford, the locks are still only seven feet wide and only the narrowboats can navigate into the midlands. I guess in a six foot wide boat you would have a galley kitchen, a galley bed, and a galley head. Sounds just right for a Galley Guy!

Stopping in Windsor we choose the Tingdene Windsor Racetrack Marina, which was a good call.  Our boat was very comfortable with two large staterooms, two heads, full galley, main salon, and did I mention the AC.

For a five quid taxi ride we were right in the middle of Windsor, The Castle, The Queen, (we didn’t have time to drop in to see her on her this trip),and Windsor Royal Shopping - formerly the Victorian Railway Station built in 1851, now home to great shops, restaurants, and some great pubs. Our pub choice was the Duchess of Cambridge located just outside the castle gate. Good food and good beer and a lot of people staring at their smart phones. Hmmmmm? The next morning we came back and played tourist with rented headphones and did the walking tour of Windsor Castle. Stunning displays were everywhere, and if history is on your agenda, plan for a whole day or maybe two.

Well, after that much history we decided to clear our heads with a pint. Soon it became clear that during the night history was made and our little pub, The Duchess of Cambridge, was in full celebration mode with the cells phones put away and patrons raising large jugs of ale in jubilation.  Chris Brown, Town Crier of the Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, after giving his best “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez,” all morning proclaiming the birth of Prince George, was also in a celebratory mood and having a pint.   http://www.windsortowncrier.com/

What struck us most was how everybody in there own way enjoyed the Thames by boating, swimming, rowing, sailing, fishing, or for many just holding hands walking along the tow paths. The early mornings are quiet yet busy on the Thames. Smooth, smooth water and with no wind it is perfect for all of the rowers gliding by our boat as we sipped morning coffee topsides and waved. Be prepared to exchange “good days” and smiles to everyone that you see on the Thames, the local’s friendliness is infectious.

Our next  “planned” stopover was the market town of Marlow, but we had such a grand time in Windsor welcoming the new Prince we arrived late and were unable to find a suitable spot to tie up for the night. We slowly, as our boat only does 8 KM per hour, had to go another 3 kilometres further up to Hurley Lock where we spiked in for the night. In most European countries it seems that one can tie up, or “spike in” anywhere. But on this part of the Thames, there are many signs stating: no moorings or over night stays. Lesson: arrive early in the day, as it can be competitive finding limited mooring spots in prime locations. If you can, stop in at the Two Brewers Pub in Marlow, great food & ale.

We were told that the real estate along the Thames is some of the most expensive in Europe and we were constantly gobsmacked gawking at estate after estate. Fortunately, we pulled into Henley-on-Thames a week after the famous regatta and music festival and saw where the estate owners go for lunch. We did not observe any signs of the financial troubles currently plaguing most European economies in Henley. This is the only time that I will ever use “gobsmacked” in a sentence, promise.

The travel instructions from our trusted yacht broker said that when you get to the village of Sonning on Thames, tie up on the left hand side of the river, put 10 pounds in an envelope marked Uri Geller and place it in the box. Many may remember Uri as magician, television personality, and psychic famous for bending spoons by telepathy in the 60s and 70s. We peeked through his hedge and saw the extent of his mansion and concluded that he really didn’t need the 10 bob, but we were grateful for his generosity and the nice mooring in the village of Sonning.

“We got out at Sonning, and went for a walk around the village. It is the most fairy like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage village than one built of bricks and mortar. Every house is smothered in roses and now in early June they were bursting forth in clouds of dainty splendour. If you stop at Sonning, put up at the “Bull”, behind the church. It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green, square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics.” Jerome K. Jerome 1889. I couldn’t say it much better today except the horses have been replaced by Mercedes and BMWs plus the women are now included in the discussions…………. interesting.

Goring and its neighbouring village of Streatley are very old and stand at the junction of three major prehistoric routes, the Ickneild Way, The Great Ridgeway, and the Thames River and was chosen by the Romans to build a crossing of the river. The villages are located in the southwest corner of the Chiltern Hills in South Oxfordshire. Plan to get off your boat and take one of the many walking and bikes tours in the surrounding country side. We voted Goring “best town” for it’s collection of pubs & eateries.

On the river one could always count on the lock-keepers to be congenial, helpful, and knowledgeable. Always hand your line; never throw it, if a Lockkeeper offers assistance. Each lock has a beautifully maintained “lock house” usually circa about 1913, with lush gardens and over flowing with flora. Our favourite lock house was in Sonning where you can sit amongst colourful hollyhocks whilst enjoying tea in a splendid garden. There, I finally got to use whilst in a sentence.

Get to the town of Wallingford early in the day as it is very popular and there are limited spaces to tie off. Late as usual we had to spike-in along side a farmer’s field just a short walk outside the town. Wallingford is a vibrant market town and we decided that our last night on the river that we would shop and prepare a feast aboard our Royal Mystique. Fresh salads and fresh fish grilled on the outdoor barbeque along with some local spicy cider made for a true Galley Guy feast. Our quiet dinner with the four ship mates was going just fine until a number of uninvited guests crowded in and began to stare at us with their big brown eyes.  Oh the Thames, if it is not Lords and Ladies, its Herefords and Jerseys.

Enjoy Wallingford, the history lessons take you through the bronze and iron age, the Romans, King Alfred The Saxon King, The Vikings, William The Conqueror, The Charter of Liberties, Black Death, The Rise and Fall of the Wallingford Castle, Civil Wars,  Sieges, Oliver Cromwell, The demolition of the Castle, the home of Agatha Christie, the back drop for the Midsomer Murders television series, and a cairn and plaque in memory of two airmen from the 426 Squadron 4 Group of the Royal Canadian Air Force killed 9th September 1944. The Canadian Flag flies over the Wallingford town hall every September 9th in remembrance of Flying Officer J.A Wilding DFC RCAF and Sgt J.F. Andrew RAF.

There is so much more of the Thames to explore and hopefully our mighty crew can get back one day to finish our Bummel. Thanks to all of the smiling people we met along the way that pointed us in the right direction. Thanks to the great people at Le Boat at both ends of our journey and the great boat.

Photo Captions

All photos credited to Greg Nicoll except for 3, which is credited to Joh  Armstrong

1) Some fellow Le Boat cruisers heading into Henley On Thames

2) Town crier, Chris Brown, sharing a pint in honour of Prince George with Greg Nicoll

3) Two ladies of the house securing lines on their narrow boats" 

4) Friendly lockmaster coming out to help us. Always a smile and full of knowledge about the river

5) Everywhere you look people on the river are always waving and smiling

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