Britain has its fair share of waterways, but to my mind, none quite match the Royal Thames.
We picked up the rental cruiser at Thames Ditton, close by Hampton Court Palace and went up river to explore the native habitat. It had changed quite a bit from the days when I used a canoe and tent and we found the banks lined with luxury houses each with it’s own private moorings.
The 'Public Moorings' were marked on the map with most towns and villages providing places to tie up.
We made our first landing at Shepperton film studios and from beyond the trees heard the sound of leather on willow. A cricket match was in progress on the village green. The natives were at play.
That night we were lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat and woke next morning to the sound of a great 'honking ' as a pair of Canada Geese flew round the bend and came into settle on the water feet first.
Their ‘landing’ was not elegant and spray flew in all directions, but they moved off as a great swan advanced towards us.
There was no doubt what was on his mind ‘did we think we were going to eat that bread for breakfast?’ oh no, that was ‘his bread.’ He made sure he got it, charming us first with his beauty, then insistently tapping on the boat with his sizeable yellow beak and then by hypnotic contact, fixing us with an eye that had Svengali like qualities.
Later we passed under Victoria Bridge with it’s heraldic shields and noted the empty river bank.
This was Royal Windsor, and there were notices to the effect that no boats were to be moored in the Queen's back yard.
We stepped ashore at Windsor in the late morning. Half close your eyes and you could imagine the hordes advancing on the Castle, open them and they really are there, following not standard bearers but tour guides brandishing raised umbrellas.
The tourists poured off bus and train and formed a queue four deep. It was time for the changing of the guard and the whole place was buzzing. Cash tills were beeping in cafe, pub and shop. Every language in the world seemed to be spoken and I was left in no doubt as to the value of the monarchy in our tourism economy.
We took to the river again and close to Eton College we found that the scholars were enjoying ‘jolly boating weather.’ The rowing skiffs can be slightly worrying for the inexperienced cruiser skipper particularly when you have about sixteen of them strung across the river.
A fellow in a little motor boat yelled through a megaphone
“ Remember the four C’s, Confidence, Commitment, Concentration and Control”,
It was directed at the oarsmen but I took it to heart and we managed to get by without slicing a rowing 'eight' into a couple of 'fours.'
Going through the locks is made easy by the friendly lock keepers, who most times will obligingly flick your rope round a bollard and and bring the boat to the halt.
Except of course at Boulters Lock where ropes were enthusiastically caught by a Welsh collie dog.
After passing through the beautiful and tranquil Clivedon Reach we moored up at Cookham and took the path under the larch tree through the old churchyard to the village.
The place seemed frozen in time and amid the half timbered houses we found one called ‘Badger’s Cottage.’ At that point I heard the ‘wind rustling in the willows’ and went in to have a pint by a cheery fire at the Royal Exchange.
It was a trouble free and pleasant holiday but there were of course ‘moments to remember.’ Once as I landed the crew, I almost threw her into the water.
She failed to understand the delicacy of the manoeuvre being performed as I alternately reversed the boat and went ahead at full throttle.
As she cast off the rope, I couldn’t quite catch what was called, if it was an apology it was lost on the wind.
This landing almost brought about a mutiny, but having written the post cards she was determined to post them.
Once the boat was securely tethered she hurried off to a red box beyond the riverside park. Later she returned with the cards unposted. The ‘red box’ turned out to be for receiving dog’s poop scoops! (Which reminds me, I must post those cards.)
One of the best views of the Thames is to be had from the hotel on the island at Boulters Lock You can enjoy it sitting out on the terrace over a bar snack. or as we did, by treating yourself to a touch of luxury and ending the river holiday there.
It was all rather pleasant tucking into bacon and eggs and watching the novice boaters play dodgems with the rowing skiffs. Around us the paintings from the Victorian and Edwardian era reminded us that the scene has changed little over the years.
River & Canal Cruisers: http://www.canals.com/hire.htm
Hoseasons Boating in Europe: http://www.hoseasons.co.uk/
Hoseasons BoatingBrochures,01502 50 10 10.
Boulters Lock Hotel, Maidenhead: 01628 21291
Royal Windsor Information: 01753 852910
Near Eton College we found that the scholars
were on the river and enjoying
‘jolly boating weather.’
Rowing skiffs can be slightly worrying
for the inexperienced cruiser skipper,
particularly when you have about
sixteen of them strung across the river,
but we managed to get by without slicing
a rowing 'eight' into a couple of 'fours.'
Allan Rogers goes
on the River'