This morning I woke at half past five in Brentford and attached rope and chain to the anchor. I’d booked a passage through Thames Lock at six am and together with narrowboat Isis entered the lock. From now on all the locks are automated and there are lock keepers (so far a friendly bunch) ready to work the locks and dish out helpful advice to newcomers like myself. No more turning the windlass myself – hurrah!
Early in the morning the Thames is in full flood and that makes the journey easier. The water is flowing from behind, not against the boat and the drop is minimal in locks.
What a wonderful feeling it is to turn onto the wide open river, after many months of living on narrow canals. A great expanse of water ahead, with the sun rising behind and mist creeping around the banks’ edges. Syon House on the right and Kew Gardens to the left. Ahead, Isleworth, Richmond and Twickenham, places that I know from walking but am about to see from an entirely different angle.
Very few boats were out and about this early so the trip to Teddington Locks was short and pleasant. Isis and Bristol Fashion went through the right-hand lock together and moored up for a coffee on the pontoon after. We went to the lock keeper’s office to buy passes for the Thames. I already have a British Waterways licence to use the canal system and no licence is needed for the tidal Thames, but from Teddington onwards the Environment Agency requires payment. The cost was higher than I’d been advised on the phone – over a hundred pounds for 31 days – so I’ll be upgrading my British Waterways licence to a gold licence to enable me to stay on the canals and the Thames all year: that’s definitely the cheapest option and I can claim back the cost of buying the temporary EA licence.
From Teddington there seem to be rowers everywhere, accompanied by long, narrow speedy boats with outboard motors and a person with a loudhailer, shouting instructions and support. Sometimes a cyclist with loudhailer chases the rowers along the towpath. One of the highlights of the day was being completely surrounded by rowers in a race when they overtook us on all sides: a fantastic, chaotic commotion. The best course of action while driving seems to be to pretend they’re not there and just maintain a steady course ahead.
The big tour boats start moving from ten am, on trips to Kingston and Hampton Court. When they turn round in the water there’s little room to pass by so I kept as far away as possible from them. I’m trying to memorise the sound signals that boats make on the river: one loud horn blast when they leave their mooring, three blasts for reversing and five blasts apparently mean “I’m confused, what’s going on, I don’t understand, what are you doing, get the hell out of my way”. Maybe that’s the one I shall be using most.
Bristol Fashion reached Hampton Court Palace at 10.30am and, whilst it was tempting to crack on towards Windsor, how could I forego the opportunity to live outside the palace for a few days? Boats moor beneath the big golden gates at the end of a statued garden; the first night is free and the subsequent 48 hours only cost Â£5 a night.
It makes a change to be moored alongside big white river cruisers and, given my slightly haphazard mooring technique, I was nervous about bumping into their delicate grp hulls with my 17 ton steel hull. Or maybe they were the nervous ones.
That evening, sat atop Bristol Fashion’s roof with a glass of whisky, it was relaxing to watch the boats going to and fro, making my boat bump constantly against its moorings. There were fishermen and families having picnics on the other side of the river, some lighting fires and barbecues. After the sun went down the river was still busy with boats. And at the end of the night there were fireworks in the palace grounds.
What a fantastic day. Can’t wait to find out what lies ahead this summer.