Monday, 6 July 2015

Goodbye K&A, hello River Thames

Welcome to the Thames and our first big plastic cruiser
After 100 miles, 104 locks and gawd knows how many swing bridges, today we left the Kennet & Avon at Reading and turned upstream on the Thames.
£61the poorer for a week's Thames licence, we are heading for Oxford and from there it's back onto the narrow canal system.
Last night's quiet mooring seems a long way away
From last night's idyllic middle-of-nowhere mooring we made easy work of the eight miles and as many locks into the town, including one of the two surviving turf sided locks that were originally found all along the canal here.
The Kennet, largely gently winding river and occasionally shallow, straight canal, manages to hide itself completely from the urban sprawl of Reading; water meadows forming an effective buffer to the southward spread of housing from the A4.
The eccentric and awkward old turf lock
Noise briefly intruded as we went under the M4, then it was back to water meadows and nature reserves. Only after Fobney Lock did the town finally reveal itself and then the run in is a pleasant one, along the bottom of small private house gardens, each of whom has made the most of their little piece of waterfront.
Our performance at the Oracle Centre begins
And the back up act is a dinosaur themed crazy golf course
After that the run through the Oracle shopping centre would come as quite a shock if we hadn't done it twice already. Even so, it's still an eye-opener. Go round a bend and, suddenly, we are performers in Reading's little Truman Show, gliding through the middle of the centre past shoppers sipping their Starbucks or chewing on their Zizzi pizzas. There's no stopping for us boaters – we are just the floating version of street theatre. And the show has got even more weird since our last trip: there's a dinosaur enclosure (yes, honestly) with plastic dinos showing their plastic teeth as they lurk between plastic boulders. Only as we whizzed past did we realise it's all a crazy golf course.
I should have mentioned that there's a brief preamble to all this. We have to go through the shallow County Lock, stop at a traffic light, press a button and wait for the Green since the Oracle length is fast flowing, narrow and quite shallow.
Reading doesn't seem to have changed a lot in the last couple of years; it's still a charmless sort of place and grows increasingly shabby as we near Blakes Lock, the exit from the canal and the first official Environment Agency controlled lock.
Working the old Thames lock but where is my uniform?
There was no Thames lock-keeper on duty when we arrived though; it was diy. Not that I minded; I love working these old, manual Thames locks. They are big yet smooth working and as I twirl away on the ship's wheel style paddle control and pull the gate closed with the ingenious hooked pole, I feel that I really ought to be wearing an old style Thames Conservancy peaked cap and blazer.
Out, then, onto the Thames and the section by the riverside Tesco looks even shabbier than ever – more hippy wrecks on the island across the river and few visiting cruisers or narrowboats braving the somewhat ramshackle Tesco moorings.
A new pedestrian bridge takes shape across the river
We plodded on, past a fine new pedestrian and cycling suspension bridge that's being built across the river, and to a stop just upriver in the posh suburb of Caversham where we can look at the big houses and watch the mega-cruisers charge past.

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