This morning we heard that it was ‘unlikely’ we would have any rain in the South East. As it turned out it was more unlikely it would stop. Our drive to Lechlade was punctuated by lashing rain and very dark clouds.
Apart from the awful weather, the drive to pick up our floating accommodation for the next five days was slightly bothered by a couple of traffic jams but, basically, went without any hitches. This was fortunate given it was a day of almost endless hitches.
We pulled into the big car park behind the Trout Inn (the first of quite a few of them) and looked around for some indication that the boat hire company was somewhere close. There was nothing to indicate that we were anywhere except parked at the edge of the river. There was a green cargo container and a couple of other cars but that was it. I rang the boat hire company and, as I was told someone called Chris should be near the green container, he emerged from the depths.
He has one of those very weird personalities that dictates he doesn’t talk or look at people he needs to communicate with. He just stands and looks off into the far distance possibly searching for an inspiration that is never found, with a look of completely unwarranted superior bemusement on his face.
Mirinda has called me a terrible teacher. This is true and, as I always reply, I agree and never set out to be one. Chris on the other hand is supposed to be there to set your fears aside so you can leave him behind happy in the knowledge you know what you’re doing as far as floating your boat is concerned. To be fair, he gave us a very detailed lesson in how to turn the radio on and off and the location of the television. For the rest of our short time with him, he sort of just stared in front of the boat while Bob struggled with the steering and Mirinda stood and fumed.
Chris the Psychopath (as Mirinda christened him) left us at Buscot Lock (a mile from the Trout) and waved us on our way. From this point on, we were alone.
I would suggest that our biggest test came as we approached Kelmscott. This was William Morris’ Thameside holiday house and somewhere Mirinda has wanted to visit. It was a definite on this trip so it wasn’t like we could just float by. Pity, really.
Our first attempt at mooring against the bank was disastrous. Overgrown with nettles and not exactly vertical, the bank still looked good as we drifted passed and started heading away. Mirinda was driving at this stage and decided to try and turn around to return to the spot we’d marked out. This meant trimming quite a few low hanging trees, strewing the boat in offcuts, and uprooting a number of reeds unlucky to grow a bit far out into the river. It was fortunate there were no swans around us at the time.
Trying to turn a boat you’ve never driven against a river current is not that easy and it took quite a few goes, punctuated by a number of oaths and some less than polite words. Still, eventually we, sort of, pulled in against the bank. And then our saviour appeared. A chap with the sense of someone who has seen many poor souls wandering at a loss upon the river just down from Lechlade.
He stood above us and asked for us to throw him our ropes. This made such a difference. While he held the boat steady, I stepped into the nettles and knocked the stakes into the ground so we could tie up. I wish I’d asked for his address so I could send him something in eternal gratitude. I also think he should be given Chris’ job.
Happily docked and finally ashore, we headed into Kelmscott around big puddles, slushing through mud and unsuccessfully avoiding the ever-present nettles. This was mainly because we’d eventually docked about a mile away from the normal moorings.
We decided we needed a drink after the trauma of the last hour and headed for the wonderful Plough Inn. The beer was so good we decided to stay for lunch as well.
We then headed for the church where Morris (and his wife) are buried.
The village of Kelmscott is very much mired in Morris with reminders of their favourite resident dotted far and wide…not that it’s particularly far or wide being a small village. The Manor, on the other hand, is quite large.
The earliest parts of Kelmscott Manor date to 1590 when farmer Thomas Turner started building it. At the time he called it Lower House. In 1660 his son (Thomas) added a new wing to the house increasing the size of the place considerably. Morris rented the house from 1871 along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Morris fell in love with it with the same sort of passion as Rossetti fell in love with his wife. The relationship between the two men slowly soured over Jane Morris and Rossetti eventually left in 1874.
We wandered all over the house, nervously glancing at watches because we knew that the next lock would be unattended from 6pm and we needed to get through it for our night stop. As it turned out, we were in plenty of time, floating up to the lock at a little passed 5:30pm. The lock keeper, however, was nowhere to be seen. Mirinda went searching, the fumes slowly starting to seep from her ears.
When she found him she was informed that he was busy putting away his gardening tools and couldn’t work the lock. He had other duties, didn’t she know, and we’d have to do it ourselves. So we did.
At the time, being forced to operate something we’d never operated before was not particularly appealing but, I think, the lock keeper did us a huge favour. After our self taught lessons at Rushey Lock we rapidly became very, very good at lock operation. In fact, we managed to get so good that by the end of our week we started teaching other newbies how to do it. Including two Queensland families on a narrow boat.
Actually, most of the lock keepers we met gave us little snippets of advice which, in the long term, built up a wonderful list of top tips which we then applied as we dropped lower down the river. I’m thinking I should write a short booklet on Handy Lock Tips for the Thames.
Our first lock keeper given advice was to be careful that the lip of the boat didn’t catch on the edge of the lock as the water level dropped. I would have thought this would have been something that Chris the Psychopath should have told us. It would have a direct link to the possible sinking of the boat so I reckon it could be important.
Eventually we managed to get to Tadpole Bridge where we intended to moor up for the night. According to both the books we had with us, there was free public mooring the other side of the bridge. We then spotted a handy little mooring spot before the bridge so we headed for it and tied up. Upon investigation, we were actually tied up at a private river entrance to a holiday let house.
We thought we should move along a bit and Bob clambered over the locked gate, crunched across the gravel, hopped across the road and checked out the situation beyond the bridge before we once more clambered aboard and started untying. Bob turned the ignition key and…nothing happened. He tried again. And again. We were gradually drifting away from land and the engine was doing nothing. At the last moment, Mirinda screamed that we had to grab something or we’d be floating away to the sea. Rather than grabbing her, I reached for the mooring post and hauled us back to the mooring.
After I’d tied up again, Bob went to investigate the house, intending to let them know we had no choice but to park in from of their garden. (Of course, there were nettles.) Meanwhile Mirinda rang the boat company to tell them we were stranded. After a bit of strained chat, it was decided they would come and fix the boat in the morning, meeting us at the pub across the road.
It turned out that no-one was in the house and it looked completely deserted (I assume it hadn’t been let for the night) so we decided to walk through their garden and went to the pub for a few essential drinks.
After calming down (a bit) we managed to ring a taxi to take us into Bampton where Bob was spending the night and we were having dinner. Originally the idea was for Mirinda and Bob to both stay in B&Bs along the way but, unfortunately, nothing was booked soon enough and the entire river had only a handful of empty rooms so, for the first three nights, Bob was given them.
Dinner was delicious. I had haddock and salmon fishcakes and they were perfect. After eating, we recalled the taxi, waved goodbye to Bob and headed back to our poor abandoned Riverdance II.
A while ago I went to the doctor because a strange thing has started happening to my finger joints. She told me I had ‘trigger finger’ which is caused by a swelling of a membrane in the hand which stops the finger releasing immediately. It feels exactly like a dislocation (though not quite so painful) and is not very helpful when you’re trying to haul yourself aboard a boat from a quite low down mooring step.
The middle finger of my right hand suddenly seized up and I yelped before dragging myself upwards trying to ignore the pain, knowing I couldn’t exactly let go. The worst thing, however, was trying to get the beds built and made with one and a half hands. Somehow, however, we managed and were eventually lying, miserable on the bed in the front section.
Obviously, Mirinda was now ready to go home. The day had been a bit of a disaster and she wasn’t happy. She figured her job was so stressful, she didn’t need a holiday that was hardly any different. She was seriously unhappy. She was calling today the worst holiday day ever! I reminded her that our trip to The Lakes was easily worse.
Anyway, we went to sleep, with Mirinda vowing to go home.
Not the best start to our pleasant Thames cruise.