Friday, 31 July 2015

Waving our guests goodbye

Going down the Stockton locks
Hotelboat Harry said goodbye to its guests today and reverted back to being quiet Tug Harry. No more overeating, over-drinking and games of Scrabble in the evenings. No more eager lockwheelers during the day. Our guests went home for a rest – and so did we, though we'll certainly miss their company.
Heading off the narrow and onto the wide
We've spent the last couple of days making our way from the Oxford Canal and onto the Birmingham-bound Grand Union.
We've swapped narrow locks for wide ones, a diet of just narrowboats for a medley of narrow and wide beams, Dutch barges and assorted miscellaneous craft, and a narrow, shallow waterway for a wide, deep one.
The wide canal brought a wider variety of boats too
At least we thought we had but it wasn't long before the GU started to look worryingly silty and the going got slow. Even though we had already dropped steeply down from the Oxford summit at Napton we still had more descending to do; a small flight of three, followed not long after by a drop of 13 locks in a mile.
And here we discovered what the trouble was. A sizeable queue of boats had formed to go up the flight – they'd been waiting for two hours because a pound had leaked dry and had to be refilled by C&RT workers. And they had only just got moving.
That was a bonus for us – we just minced from lock to lock as boats coming up from the lock below automatically left it ready for us to go into and head downwards.

You go your way and I'll go mine in Bascote staircase
Our luck held at the next flight of four: the top two are a staircase, meaning water from one goes straight into the other. A boat was coming up the bottom part, so we went into the top and as we went down, they came up and we passed in the middle. Sounds weird but it works.
Three more locks brought our total for the day to twenty and we moored up. Our guests looked a bit shell-shocked but revived quickly after substantial portions of Harrywoman's steak pie.
Partly restored wooden narrowboat now looking for a home
The next morning we meandered gently – there wasn't any option; the water levels were still very low – into Royal Leamington Spa where we moored up so our visitors could get a bus back to Fenny Compton to retrieve their car.
Somewhere in Leamington is a very handsome town, allegedly, but it's not what you see from the canal. Here you're on a disheveled backwater running through a desperately run-down quarter of town.
We moved out to the edge and and found ourselves a perfect little overnight stop – right outside the local Lidl! Our guests arrived back for one last monster meal – a curry – and another bottle or two before settling in for their last night on board.
We waved them off this morning and meandered towards Warwick, via the pair of Cape Locks where finally we began to ascend once more. We are moored tonight in the secretive and delightful Saltisford Arm on the edge of Warwick, enjoying its charms and preparing for some serious climbing – the 21 lock Hatton Flight.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hotelboat Harry

Hotelboat Harry's guests relax on the deck
Tug Harry has become Hotelboat Harry as we have two guests on board, daughter Olivia and her partner Nick.
We try to give all our guests the five-star treatment and we started with an evening meal at The Wharf Inn, Fenny Compton. What a great pub this is. It's a place that really seizes the opportunity of its canalside location to go out of its way to cater for its boating customers needs.
I can't think of many boozers that offer a shop, a hairdressers and a launderette as well as what I'd call 'boater's portions' of good old pub grub. And decent beer. Actually not only are the food portions substantial but the grub is a cut above routine pub fare; well cooked and nicely presented.
So, after an introduction to canal boating our guests spent the night in our traditional back cabin cross-bed before setting out next morning along the picturesque summit of the Oxford Canal. The Oxford summit is probably the most convoluted on the system, taking nine miles to travel less than four as the crow flies.
We meet Nb Dover on one of the summit's tight bends
On a map it looks rather like the toilet roll that the Andrex puppy has unravelled across the floor, twisting, twirling and doubling back on itself. And of course it goes without saying that we should meet a 70ft working boat on the tightest of bends – twice. The first was 'Dover', famed as the boat restored and modernised for a Discovery channel tv series. It had just been bought by new owners who were coping well but slowly with the shallow, twiddly canal – and heading up a queue of three smaller, lighter, shallower boats.
More active pursuits were also available
Our cruise guests were relaxing out on the deck; some enjoying active pursuits – like trimming away at overhanging willows, while others sheltered from the chill wind under a blanket and dozed in deckchairs.
It's hard to fathom how Joseph Brindley and his assistants managed to survey such a tortuous route through the lumpy scenery of south Warwickshire, travelling as they did on horseback through the empty countryside.
It's always been a quiet, rural part of the world; alongside the canal are numerous undulating meadows that are the evidence of medieval ridge and furrow farming, as well as the trenches and mounds that are all that's left of the medieval village of Wormleighton.
Can this one-boat basin possibly be legal?
A more modern piece of digging was the one-boat canal basin excavated in a canalside field. This is a quite extraordinary sight: it appears that someone cut through the offside bank and excavated a short arm into the field, took their boat in then re-filled the bank behind to leave a land-locked boat floating in a corner of a field. In which someone appears to be happily living. Surely that can't be legal?
After nearly three hours of twisting around, we finally reached the nine Marston locks and an opportunity for our guests to stretch their legs – and their arms – with some windlass wielding.
The final short flight of five locks are always a fine sight, with the famous herd of buffaloes grazing in their canalside field and the impressive Napton Hill, topped by its windmill, which the canal must circle round.
Mooring below the hill, our guests dined on board with a traditional English meal of steak pie, mashed potato and vegetables followed by strawberries and cream. After dinner we took them for a guided walk up to the top of the hill where there are spectacular views in all directions.
Finally, after a bottle of wine and a couple of games of Scrabble the guests retired to bed – and so did we!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

After the rain, a little sunshine

Kayakers can go a lot faster than narrowboats
After yesterday, any day would have been a good one and today has been quietly enjoyable as we worked our way steadily up to the summit level of the Oxford Canal.
Yesterday was, in a word, horrible. It rained all day, without ceasing. When we got up it was raining; when we went to bed, it was still raining.
Not surprisingly we stayed hunkered down in Banbury: a few bedraggled boaters arrived during the day but most of us simply stayed put.
However Banbury is the last proper town until – going our way – Leamington, which is several days away so a serious supermarket stock-up was needed. Optimistically we opted for the 20 minute walk to Aldi rather than the ten minute one to Morrisons. Which would have been okay if the heavens hadn't turned on some extra taps just as we started out. We arrived at the shop looking like refugees from Noah's ark and then had a similarly damp trudge home. All part of the fun.
This morning we said goodbye to Banbury and headed north. There were fewer narrowboats around than I expected but no shortage of kayakers who were thrashing along as fast as they could – which was much quicker than we could manage – and they came barreling past. I was nervous about hitting one but I guess they were a lot more anxious about being squashed by a 20 ton steel boat so we managed to keep out of each other's way pretty well.
 The countryside is rather drab for the first few miles until,
out of the blue, pops Cropredy, one of the prettiest villages on the whole canal system, a place whose honey-stone cottages embrace the canal from either side.
Not surprisingly the moorings were full (I'm surprised so many are 14 day ones given the desirability of it as a stop) so we carried on and moored for lunch at the bottom of the little flight of three locks that's the sharpener for the final group of five to the top.
After having barely seen a boat in the morning, three appeared just as we were finishing lunch and suddenly we were at the back of a queue.
The first of these locks – Broadmoor – is followed by an old wharf and moorings where there's a fascinating collection of working boats and butties, ranging from a sunken wooden one to others that look pretty recently built.
The Klaes family, organic farmers and Wharf operators
After the third we came to more moorings and a dock at Clattercote Wharf, which is also home to Forge Farm where the Klaes family has run an organic farm for thirty years.
And so to the five lock Claydon flight and the final short, sharp push to the top. The Oxford is known for its pretty lock cottages and there is one here at Claydon Top Lock.
Little Bourton lock cottage looking sorry for itself
Many – like this one – are land-locked with no road access and some, again like Claydon, have no mains electricity. All the same, they seem to sell when put on the market and the one further back at Somerton Deep Lock has been turned into a delightful little home, even if the owners have to go shopping by small boat!
Others are struggling – the one at Little Bourton is boarded up, even though according to a sign it is 'owned by local boaters'. Claydon too has been for sale off and on for nearly ten years, whether by the same, or successive owners I don't know. Perhaps the romantic appeal of a canal cottage wanes after a spell of wheeling your groceries up the locks or having your generator fail. Or maybe it's just that passing boaters can become tiresome.
Tomorrow more rain is forecast. We have a rendezvous at Fenny Compton Wharf, three miles on, so maybe we will have to get wet.
Hmm – looks like a very hungry boater came through here

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Back home

Surrounded by the shopping mall is historic Tooley's yard
Tonight we are moored outside Tooley's Boatyard in Banbury – but a very different Tooley's it is than the place where Harry was built some twenty years ago.
Tooley's then was in its final years as the yard where Tom Rolt's boat Cressy had been made ready for his honeymoon cruise – the voyage that became the legendary book Narrowboat. Indeed our boat was one of the last built before the whole area was redeveloped to form the bland Castle Quays shopping mall.
Tooley's does survive; and it's still a working boatyard but cramped into a small corner marked 'heritage' between Marks & Spencer and BHS.
We've been back on the Oxford Canal for two days now after a long weekend of family visiting. We left the boat in the care of the friendly Thrupp Canal Cruising Club whose immaculately kept moorings occupy a stretch of the canalside in this picturesque outcrop of Oxford.
North from there we've been travelling through Oxfordshire countryside at its finest on a rural route that barely touches a village let alone a town (Banbury is our first).
Oddly shaped Shipton Weir Lock where canal meets river
The Oxford is an early canal so its engineers did things the easy way and followed the contours of the land to minimise the need for locks or aqueducts. Here it follows the Cherwell valley – and in a couple of places actually cheats and uses short stretches of the river itself. The result is a winding, scenic route. The going is slow, though. The locks, though narrow are heavy, and the canal is relatively shallow. The locks at the river junctions are unusual lozenge shapes, built like that so that even though the level only changes by about a foot, a decent quantity of water is generated to feed the canal below.
Like the K&A of recent memory the Oxford is largely soft-sided with only minimal piled edges. Trouble is that these get eaten away by the wash of passing boats and often eroded further by farmers' cows coming down to get water. Repairing is a never-ending job.
Badly eroded canal edge and, below, a sizable repair

It's hard not to enjoy the prettiness of the surroundings; the honey coloured Cotswold stone houses and bridges are quintessentially English. I bet there are few Labour voters here though: this is the wealthy heart of home counties England. Ironically, though, one of the prettiest spots we passed - a fine farmhouse, ancient stone barn and village church clustered together was for many years right at – and I mean right at – the end of the runway of Upprt Heyford, one of the biggest US airbases in Europe home of nuclear bombers and then fighter jets. It closed after the Cold War ended in 1993 and large parts still lie deserted and decaying.
Last night we moored just below Heyford Common Lock where a leaking side weir had been causing day-long problems with very low water levels in the next pound. Wary of this, we made an unusually early start – for us – this morning to get through the pound before the passage of other boats started the levels dropping again.
Heading into Somerton Deep Lock
Just as well we did; we were stirring up the canal bottom all the way and only just made it into Somerton Deep Lock (called that because it's the deepest narrow lock on the system). And for the rest of the day it was pretty much the same story. As the canal got busier so the levels started to drop and we found ourselves struggling into several of the locks.
But we finally made it to Banbury – a town whose sometimes scruffy canalside is almost masochistically appealing after the endless miles of idyllic Oxfordshire affluence. I think one night will probably be enough though!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Outside the walls of Jericho

Ugly chipboard walls hide the glorious Italianate church
The great and good of the Canal and River Trust convened a meeting on the towpath outside Nb Harry yesterday and Seadog Brian decided they needed a good barracking. So as they listened to a talk from an Oxford historian about the local area of Jericho he set up a chorus of his best yapping from the boat.
Still, it gave us a chance to meet CART Chairman Tony Hales – affable chap that he is – and earwig the talk. So what were the top brass doing here? It seems there's a Board of CART Trustees meeting today. This time round it's in Oxford and wherever they meet they like to have a pre-event tour of the local canal scene. It's possibly the only time some of them get to see a canal, he added unkindly.
The Trustees of CART on their guided visit to Jericho
Well they couldn't have chosen a more interesting – or contentious – spot than here. We are outside the walls of Jericho and, just as in the Old Testament tale, those walls are soon going to be knocked down.
And it won't be a moment too soon. The ugly chipboard walls that run along the canalside, hiding the remarkable St Barnabas Church from full view have been there for ten years now as reminders of the long and acrimonious battle to redevelop the old Jericho Wharf and its surroundings – a battle that included occupation of the boatyard site by protesters, one developer going bust and two plans being rejected by the council.
And when the walls are down, this is what is planned
Finally, a plan by owners SIAHAF, a company that specialises in turning round and developing unusual sites, has been approved. It includes a community centre and community boatyard, houses, an open piazza revealing the church and a new bridge across the canal.
And very nice it all looks too in the artist's impression though quite why a community where tiny terraced houses now sell for half a million quid needs its own boatyard I'm not sure.
So what will boaters see when the church is revealed? A pretty special place, I think. Even half hidden it looks impressive but almost freakish, like something arrived from an Italian city not a parish church on the corner of Canal Street. Its huge tower dominates the local skyline.
The style of the church came about because its founders, Thomas Combe, who was 'printer to the university' and his wife Martha, were both ardent supporters of the Pre-Raphaelites as well as members of the Oxford Movement who wanted the Church of England to return to some of the Catholic traditions (including highly decorative churches).
It was built in the 1870s to serve the workers at Oxford University Press who mostly lived in the developing Jericho streets and able to hold up to 1000 people which gives you some idea of the number of workers there and the popularity – if that's the word – of churchgoing.
The spectacular interior of St Barnabas
Richly decorated pulpit
Exquisite wall tiling
But if the exterior is impressive, the interior is eye-opening. It's a huge, open plan space (all the seating is removeable) and gloriously decorated with extravagantly painted panels, beautiful tiling and a painted, vaulted roof all in a romantic, Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts styles. Not surprisingly, the building is Grade One listed.
As if that wasn't enough culture for the day, I spent the afternoon at the Ashmolean Museum. (Look, I'm a boater and it's free so I'll go there!). The place is huge; five massive floors of art and artefacts, from the ancient world to modern art.
An Egyptian mummy in all its various casings
To be honest, it was really too big; too big to take in on one two-hour visit. After a while After a while Sumerians, Minoans, Cretans, Moguls and Romans start to blur as you gaze at yet another display of pottery fragments, cuniform writing or ceremonial swords. Let alone the case upon case of Worcester porcelain.
A thousand pieces of Worcester porcelain are here

Wall covering belonging to Pocohontas's father
I opted for the 'ten highlights in an hour' route through the floors and managed to see a disparate range of stuff from Lawrence of Arabia's robe to various Egyptian mummies to a wall covering that belonged to Pocohontas's father and the King Alfred Jewel.
Lawrence of Arabia's impressive robe
Oddly enough, the highlights didn't include a very well endowed little fellow called 'Jack of Hilton' who, the caption coyly explained 'performed an important function in an annual ritual involving a goose'.
And this naughty little fellow!

Today we head out of Oxford and a return trip is already in our minds – to see Jericho and its church when the walls have come tumbling down.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

There are communities and communities

Awaiting final finishing but already generating - the Hydro
Separated by less than a mile but by a cultural gulf as big as the Grand Canyon are two very different community projects here in Oxford.
At Osney, the Thames splinters between various streams and both projects are centred around these streams. Back down at Osney Lock, a fancy modern building is in its finishing stages. It houses the Osney Lock Hydro, a hydro-electric scheme based on the Archimedian Screw principle we've seen in similar action elsewhere.
The system uses the Archemedian Screw principle
But the difference is that this one is community funded and developed. It's owned and was financed by 200 members, half of whom live in the local area (which, as you'll recall from yesterday's blog is where a 2-bed terrace house goes for nearly £700k).
It's estimated that the hydro will generate 159,000kWh of electric a year, most being sold to the Environment Agency and the remainder to the Grid. It'll save 83 tonnes of CO2 a year. Over the project's life it will also generate £2m of income which will go to community sustainability projects, as well as paying a projected modest (4%) return on investment for the members.
Which is all very nice and very worthy but, putting my cynic's hat on, isn't this a group of well off, professional people who've probably got pretty high carbon footprints doing a bit of conscience assuaging?
Is it a waste dump? No it's another community project
Over on another side stream of the river, between the main Thames and the canal is a very, very different community scheme. A group of boaters have claimed occupation of a stretch of the stream for which there appears to be no obvious owners.
On it they are, it seems, attempting to create a 'circular economy', circulating and re-using items as far as possible and returning other suitable material to the 'biosphere'.
Stuff goes around and not into the bin
All of which I read off their site notices since what I could see appeared to be a collection of semi-derelict boats and a huge pile of scrap wood beside which 'Ed' had penned a 'sorry for the mess, working to tidy it up' notice.
My head tells me I should be equally cynical about this bunch, trying to justify their occupation with a bit of pseudo-hippy mumbo-jumbo, but after a day wandering round Oxford where the disparity of wealth and poverty is all too obvious, I have a certain sympathy for them.
Just clear the place up a bit, Ed. You don't win friends by living in a tip.
The famous Oxford Swingbridge awaits restoration
On a final note, here's another and totally uncontentious project. Anyone who's crossed between the Thames and Isis Lock will have seen the rusting ruins of the old railway swingbridge mouldering in the nettles.
Well now the nettles have been cleared and the Oxford Preservation Trust is undertaking a feasibility study into restoring the bridge. Hooray!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Almost back in the muddy ditch

Nearing Isis Bridge among rowers, punts and trip boats
Yes, tonight we are within a few hundred yards of being back on the narrow canals. We are in Oxford, moored just after our final Thames lock, Osney. Along the quiet side street behind us stands a row of pretty terraced houses.
And they should be pretty – a two bedroomed one just sold for £695,000! For a step straight onto the pavement mid-terrace. That makes London look cheap. No wonder the young people of Oxford are camped in ramshackle boats up the canal.
It's been a pretty routine couple of days run up river to here. Having left our mooring at the wasp factory we headed for Abingdon, a particularly boater friendly town that offers a couple of miles of proper moorings that are also free.
The pretty riverside village of Clifton Hampden
The river followed a long, long anti-clockwise curve past the straggling village of Burcot, where the long lawns of ever larger houses swept gently down to the river. On the opposite bank a tractor was hay baling and had attracted a flock of at least twenty red kites who were circling waiting for unfortunate little mammals below to make a dash for safety. We've seen these wonderful looking birds everywhere on our trip but the sheer numbers here makes one wonder just what impact they are having on our native shrews, field mice and the like.
A flock of red kites stalked little critters in the field below

At Clifton Hampden we went through a rather handsome brick arched bridge, with the village church and cluster of thatched cottages nestled beside it. Beyond here the river enters the first of several artificial 'cuts' built to straighten out rather meandering stretches. First came Clifton and then Culham cuts with a lock at each, all making for a somewhat bland couple of miles.
At the end of the Culham cut we swung a 90 degree right and connected again with a wide main river that took us pretty much in a straight line to Abingdon, passing the old entrance to the Wilts & Berks Canal on the way.
Passing the old entrance to the Wilts & Berks Canal
We got there by lunchtime but already there was only one, Harry sized space left and we had to squeeze delicately in between two giant (and expensive) plastics while their owners looked on anxiously.
Abingdon is a pretty enough town – and the place where my first car, an MG, was built – but we've been here twice before so this time it was little more than a shopping and overnight stop.
This morning we got out of town before the sunny Saturday rush on the river got seriously under way. All the same, the day boats with their complements of boozing lads were already out and about – which must have scared some of the rowers from Radley College who were also busy on the water.
Nuneham House – now a meditation centre
Along this long, wide and pleasant but unmemorable stretch the stand out feature is Nuneham House, a Palladian mansion built in the 1700s and stayed in by Queen Victoria on her honeymoon. Amusingly it was unexpectedly inherited by Sir William Harcourt some years after he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had introduced death duties. By then it was dilapidated and the estate was short of cash for repairs. "I appear to have inherited a bankrupt estate" he told the agent who replied "well whose fault do you think that is?" It is now a spiritual meditation centre run by the Brahma Kumaris movement.
Sharing a lock with a crowded Salters trip boat
As we neared Oxford the river got even busier with canoes, inflatables, rowing boats, swimmers, small boats and then even punts and gondolas as we came into the city. At the other end of the scale we shared one lock with a huge Salters trip boat taking a couple of hundred passengers on a trip to Oxford.
Yes, everyone and their dog – including Seadog Brian – was out enjoying the sun. The Thames might be a river flowing through some of the most affluent real estate in the land but the river is utterly democratic. Everyone and anyone can mess about on it.

Friday, 10 July 2015

More walking than boating

The view up the picturesque main street of Dorchester
We certainly didn't repeat the previous night's mistake yesterday: we were tied up before lunch on our bankside mooring. It wasn't hard; we only came two miles upriver, went through Day's Lock – home of the World Pooh-sticks Championship – and moored.
It was going to be a walking day. We were going to explore Dorchester, a place we'd managed to miss on previous Thames journeys, and then walk up to the 'Wittenham Clumps', the pair of hills that dominate the otherwise flat local countryside.
The Abbey and the old  River Thame bridge tollhouse
Curiously, Dorchester-on-Thames isn't actually on the Thames at all: it's about half a mile away and sandwiched between the Thames and its tributary, the Thames, which meets its big brother here.
What a delightful little place it is. Since being by-passed in the 1980s, it has become a picturesque sleepy hollow with a rich variety of houses and inns, from medieval up to modern, from tiny cottages to substantial pads.
Sweep the main street clear of modern cars and it immediately becomes the sort of village beloved of English detective story writers since Agatha Christie and her Miss Marple. Indeed fans of Midsomer Murders will certainly recognise it as it was a regular filming location for the tv series.
Dorchester also has a 12th century Abbey, or rather an Abbey church as the rest of the abbey buildings disappered after Henry VIII's dissolution. It is now an oddly cavernous parish church in this modest village.
The spectacular tree of Jesse Abbey window
It has some fine elements, including the remarkable 'Tree of Jesse' window that incorporates stained glass in between the ornate branches of a finely carved stone tree, wall paintings and impressive carved tombs. Our favourite piece, though, was the stone to one Sarah Fletcher who died of 'excessive sensibility'.
Sarah Fletcher died of 'excessive sensibility'
The presence of an Abbey is a clue to Dorchester's importance in history. Situated on a sweeping bend in the Thames and with the Thame on its other side, the Romans saw its strategic value and built a settlement there. Later, in Saxon times, it briefly became the capital of Wessex.
However there were even older settlements outside the village. One of the Wittenham hilltops was an Iron Age fortress while lines of curious ditches and hillocks by the river below it are evidence of an Iron Age township.
The village remained a busy and prosperous place, serving as a major coaching stop on the main road to London (hence the fine coaching inns), but gradually declined until by the 1950s it was a poor and deprived place, the small houses without even proper drainage. Hard to imagine that, when these days a two bedroomed bungalow here will cost the thick end of half a million quid.
We found out all this in the very informative and friendly little village Museum, housed in what was once the local grammar school next to the Abbey. They also do an excellent tea and cakes by the way!
The jogging club overtakes us on the hill climb
After a particularly hot day we left our assault on the Clumps until after dinner. It's a steep, steep climb up from the riverside and as we puffed up it we were overtaken by a pack of local runners out for a training session. Even some of them were struggling by the summit.
I'm afraid the Harry crew weren't quite as fit as them
The rewards were absolutely stunning views all around (blighted only by the monster that is Didcot power station). The hills are a geographical freak; the land in every direction is flat for miles which makes them a spectacular vantage point.
Worth the effort, though, for the stunning vistas
Then it was downhill and back as the sun set a fiery red in the distance and time for a relaxing beer.
This morning we woke up to discover wasps were busy building a nest in a bankside hole beside us so we skidaddled quickly before they decided to remove us themselves!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The one that – nearly – got away

Reeling in a monster from the deep
We had been mooring in Goring and things were somewhat boring – until a sudden gust of wind blew Seadog Brian's bean-bag bed off the deck and into the river. Fortunately he wasn't on it at the time.
All seemed lost as the capricious wind teased it further away from my boathook. Then the fisherman on the boat moored behind us decided to test out his casting skills and after a couple of false starts, had it hooked and reeled to the edge. Brian was very grateful – or would have been but he was already curled up asleep on our bed instead.
That's about as exciting as things get in Goring. It's an odd little spot, undeniably picturesque yet hard to love as it positively reeks of the sort of affluence which ordinary folk can't imagine.
Glass and steel homes are almost commonplace in Goring
You only have to look at the huge Thames-side houses: there are no less than three massive ultra-modern glass and steel creations, several others where ostentation was clearly more important than looks and yet more that are clearly still 'old money'. Oddly, among all this, the huge mansion south of the village that was semi-derelict when we came through two years ago still lies abandoned.
The very sorry for itself mansion outside Goring
If you can't afford a Huf House, get a glass summerhouse
There's even an Italian restaurant on the riverside outside the Goring called 'Rossini at the Leatherne Bottel' which seems to encapsulate pretension in a title. It might be good but you know it's going to be a) pricey and b) full of people you wouldn't want to share a dining room with.
A pretty little classic wooden boat at Goring
There are some nice boats, though, one or two classic wooden ones and, on the visitor moorings, a Piper Dutch barge we were very envious of which the owner took delivery of only last week.
Not our cup of tea, then, though it is a geographically interesting spot. The Thames here passes through the Goring Gap, a glacial valley carved out in the Ice Age that now seperates the Chilterns and the Berkshire Downs. It was the meeting place between the ancient Ridgeway and Icknield tracks and an early crossing point on the river.
A fleet of Freemans at Sheridan's brought back memories
Lured by the Test Match we lingered too long over lunch and moved off a little late in the afternoon. It's six miles of isolated countryside beyond Goring, broken only by the base of Sheridan Marine, the Freeman cruiser specialists. The flotilla of the little cruisers there brought back fond memories of Five Plus Five, the Freeman 23 that was our first boat.
Not such fond thoughts, though, at the Wallingford town moorings we'd hoped to stop which were full and we found ourselves hunting for a space to stop as the evening drew in.
On the Thames you can generally find a mooring – if you're willing to pay for it. The Benson lock-keeper said we could stop there – for eight quid and leave when the lock opened for business at 8a.m. No thanks. We pushed our bows into various edges, all of which were too shallow and moved on to Shillingford where the hotel offered plenty of moorings for a 'modest fee', according to the Nicholsons Guide – which turned out to be £15! Finally at 7.30 we found ourselves a nice little quiet spot on a steep bank just upstream.