Like A Virgin

Travelling along the Kennet from Newbury, we have been remembering previous visits, locks we had previously done with Anne and Richard, or one I rembered being videoed by a fisherman. My memory of most of it is pretty vague, even though we have done it more than once. Shane has a good recall of where we have moored before or places he had noticed before as a potential good spot. Often what I can remember is if we had buddied up with another boater in a particular set. The people are more memorable than the places for me.

Even when buddied up, we can have a different experience as whoever works the locks may talk to the crew member they are working with. The drivers often chat to each other even more while they are in the lock. Mostly we have been doing them alone and it seems we have usually reversed who was driving or locking. We did manage to share a stretch with a man on his own. Usually he isn’t alone, but his wife was away caring for her father with dementia and he had to work locally and lived on the boat. He ended up chatting to both of us and clearly was enjoying having a bit of company both for the socialising and the assistance. It was a stretch with several locks and swing bridges, both manual and electric/hydraulic types, which is very heavy going on your own. It was good to share out the work and we were both aiming for Aldermaston where we both wanted to get water, but then Shane wanted to stop a little early as there was a good spot to moor. We weren’t desperate for the water. We had to disappoint him and not go all the way. As the next lock was tricky with a fast side stream, on exit just before a lift bridge, Shane promised him we would help him through the next lock and bridge anyway. He was pleased of that since I had just been discussing with him what a tricky section it was and how I had wanted Shane to drive it last time and he had been agreeing how he had been thrown around there before and was not keen on it.

When passing before Shane had noticed a well recommended pub, so we went there for a wee beer outside in the sunshine, but then the fish and chips from a nearby table smelt so nice that Shane ordered it himself. The recommendations for The Rowbarge were well deserved.

The next day it seemed like Shane was determined I should face my fears, perhaps since he had had to deal with the spiders and daddy long legs in my absence. He hopped off to work locks he hadn’t done before, leaving me to drive the fast water stretch and do the U-turn to the water point. He continued to let me be tiller girl for much of the time. It wasn’t all to make me gain experience, it was also to operate the bridges he hadn’t got the chance to operate before. However he was foiled by workmen operating it for him as they were working on the mechanism. At another one, there were workers trying to get under it with a dustpan and brush but they did let him operate it.

Dusting under the road furniture

We swooshed through Reading, only stopping for lunch. We were soon at Henley and sat on a bench in the park enjoying the late afternoon sun. We were graced with the low passing of a hot air balloon blasting away to get a little lift.

Hot air balloon over Henley

In the morning it was misty but it soon lifted and my shopping trip in Henley was not marked by heavy showers like last time. I set off into the river, turning into the stream. I wondered if it was the first time I had had to start off on the river but later remembered I had and into some sailing boats.

Sun breaking through the mist on the Thames

The Thames brought a whole lot more variety in boats and on Saturday the rowers were out in force. Still it was much quieter than regatta day.

Mostly the locks are keeper operated but at one it was self service. A tiny boat was already in the lock. I got out and went to the controls and closed the gates and sluices. I could see the driver of the other boat at the controls at the other end. I assumed from his single handling and well tanned torso that he had been out on the river all summer and was accustomed to using Thames locks, but then he hadn’t come to the right end to start the procedure. I called out and asked if he was okay and he replied “Not really!” So I went to help him with it. Of course most times he wouldn’t need to operate them, either because staff are there or, if there are other boats, then the one with spare crew will operate it. This guy was also having a whole new experience today, as his boat was missing its motor and he was paddling in stead. Unlike a canoe, this boat was not designed to be paddled. It was much wider and the faring was in the way so he was having a slow, hot and tiring day of it.

Today we saw lots of rowers again and saw two sets heading into a lock ahead of us. I didn’t expect to go in with them as they are very fragile.We were surprised to be waved in by the lock keeper. It was an exceptionally long lock and he directed the two row boats and coach to the front. Then one asked to go to the toilet and several climbed out to go. By the time they returned the boats were descending the oars were being lifted and the rowers were having difficulty getting in.They went into their coach’ boat in stead while their crewmates rearranged the oars and the last girl to arrive had a slimy descent down the steps to get to the coach’s boa. Their oars were intermeshed making exiting complicated. It seemed they were pretty new to being in locks, or usually went one behind the other. Nobody fell in and they managed to rearrange themselves between the boat out in the river beyond and carry on. At the next lock they went in without any other boats!

Rowers ahead but one one “four” has only one aboard

The boats well down the lock with one crew member still not in and the coach boat fairly full.

We ended Sunday, where we had never explored, Maidenhead. Last time the moorings had been too full. We knew heavy rain was coming so moored and we’re tied up and lunching by the time the rain came. I used the wet afternoon to apply for my National Entitlement Card for free bus travel in Scotland. Poor WiFi meant it took many attempts to complete the stages, but it worked in the end. It was almost as fiddly as the rowers managing in the lock, and took much longer.

The sun had come out by then and Maidenhead beckoned. A late Sunday afternoon did not promise bustling streets but we lucked out with a restaurant with an extremely friendly staff member who was Albanian, brought up in Italy. As I was skimming the drinks menu, he asked my spirit preferences and ventured to make me a gin based drink, not on the menu. He was keen to introduce me to it and the description convinced me I had never seen it on a menu anywhere, a lemon basil gin sour. Shane had the longer drink, a mojito (non virgin). The only mixer with my gin was lemon juice, syrup and egg white. It was certainly refreshing. Shane said he was happy with his choice.

Mojito and Lemon basil gin sour.