2 Pensioners in a Boat ….Again!

After the excitement of Ben and Steph’s wedding on the river bank , followed by the madness that is the Great River race , it was time to finish off our trip down the Thames . 2 years ago we had made a start by rowing from the start of navigation at Lechlade , to Oxford , so this seemed as good a place as any from which to resume our journey.
I had always imagined that the river would take you past Oxfords dreaming spires , but in fact it is the little Cherwell which does this , leaving Old Father Thames to skirt around the suburbs . There is just a hint of the splendid city at Folly Bridge, then the river enters the long straight of Christ Church Meadows with all the college boathouses, thankfully on this occasion devoid of activity as the term had yet to start. Our plan was to do a 16 mile stretch to Days lock , where we could camp on the island , and with a fairly late start and little stream we would have to keep up a steady stroke to get there . In the Great River Race Ben and I keep the boat at just under its maximum hull speed of 5 knots , as judged by the hollow of our wake . Sprinting just increases the hollow with a marginal increase in speed but a massive increase in expended energy. Without the benefit of a young man’s strength, Lynda and I toddle along using less than half the effort and the merest hint of a hollow leaving the transom , but nevertheless managing nearly 4 knots provided we don’t have a headwind or the kind of chop that we encountered in the Pool of London . We have often managed 22 miles in a day, but the race had taken more out of me than I had imagined and it was a very tired crew who pitched their tent in the splendid isolation of Days lock.

From rowing oxford to henley

Lock-side camping is one of the less well known delights of the Thames , open only to man powered boaters, walkers and cyclists – and in our experience one usually has the place to oneself. Once the river traffic has settled it usually seems a million miles from civilisation, and if this is not to taste you usually only have to walk a mile or so across the countryside to get to a riverside pub for food, drink or a warm fire. Not all locks have the facility, and some that do haven’t yet made it on to the Environment Agency website so they are a fairly well kept secret . We normally cook supper by the tent and go off in search of pudding, but on this occasion met a friend in the quaint nearby village of Dorchester and dined royally at the Fleur de Lys.
It was 11 o’clock before we got going the next morning; the race had taken its toll. After 15 miles we were ready to stop and found that we could tie up outside the Swan Inn at Pangbourne ( famous as the place where Jerome K Jerome and his friends abandoned their boat) for the night if we ate there and slept in a B and B over the road. These things are not cheap on the Thames and we subsequently found that the next lock at Mapledurham would have let us camp , but on the positive side , soaking in a hot bath and luxuriating in a real bed was bliss after 2 days on the water! Civilisation also allowed us to discover that the next few days were due to be wet so we decided to break our journey at Henley the next day until the sun reappeared.
Pangbourne to Henley marks the end of the predominantly rural Thames and the ever increasing density of jaw droppingly beautiful riverside houses. They tended to be on one side of the river only so that we rowed along gawping to one side until the crick in our necks got too much or , to our relief , the houses appeared on the other bank. Most had boat houses that would have been big enough for us to live in , and increasingly the boats moored therein became ever more gorgeous. One property , complete with new ultra modern boat house had been reputedly recently sold to a Russian for £130 million , but all appeared completely empty save for an army of contract gardeners!
We drove home that night secure in the knowledge that we probably got more enjoyment out of the Thames from our little skiff than all the millionaires who don’t have the time to appreciate it even if they do own houses worth squillions.

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