Swanning Up The Thames

Last night’s mooring was very peaceful, but the mooring spikes were difficult to hammer in.  Clare thought she might have difficulty extracting them, so opted to drive while I cast off.  I’d looked at the map and noticed that immediately after setting off she had to choose which side of an island to go.  I knew we’d come down on one side, but I’d seen a boat go up the other, so I suggested we should do so too.

As it turned out the spikes pulled out very easily, but Clare was driving now.  She was just asking if I was sure we could go that way when I noticed the Celtic Queen returning the other way – so now I was sure it was possible to go all the way round the island.

It wasn’t far to Chertsey Lock, but I wanted us to stop just before it to get water.  We’d used the water point here before, it is on an awkward knuckle of jetty below the lock.  I pointed Clare to the preferred point, and headed to the front to be ready with a rope.  In the middle of all of this a narrowboat came out of the lock and turned across our path – presumably heading for the same water point.  Several misunderstandings later, the folk on the other narrowboat decided they didn’t need water after all and we moored up almost as originally planned and filled up.

Once we were topped up I suggested that it might make sense if we moved on to the proper jetty for the lock.  We’d just cast off when a flotilla of small boats appeared.  With a little help from the lock keeper we managed to get back on the jetty.  It turned out we had found ourselves in the middle of an ancient annual event: Swan Upping.

Several small wooden rowing boats are manoeuvred into a river lock.  Each boat has three or four men.  Each boat's occupants are dressed similarly, red jackets in one, blue in another and white in the third.
Swan Uppers Taking Our Lock

The lock keeper was apologetic that we were losing our place in the queue – I said that I realised we were giving way to the King’s Swan Uppers, and we knew our place (I’m not a royalist, but in a lock, the lock keeper’s word is law).  We were on our way soon enough, though it was surprisingly late in the morning by now.  We stopped for lunch when we spotted a suitable bit of bank, but then pressed on.  We passed the group of boats again moored appropriately enough outside The Swan in Staines.

Riverside pub "The Swan"  with a collection of swan upping boats moored outside.
Swan Uppers Tied Up at The Swan

Clare was doing a bit more driving today, so for the first time I was trying to get the hang of throwing the front rope over the bollards – sometimes above head height. I was very pleased to get one on target, only to find that we hadn’t stopped yet. I had to pull the (by then, wet and slimy) rope back on board and put it over the bollard three along instead.

Clare was still driving when we saw a tour boat stationary ahead on the river. I recognised the code on the horn, four short blasts followed by two more – I am about to turn about to port. Sure enough the boat started to turn across our path. Just then we saw the crew enthusiastically waving us on, they obviously didn’t want us in their way as they turned either. We saw the same boat, Lady Margaret Anne, a little later in the day.

A large trip boat  Lady Margaret Anne driving towards a lock.
Lady Margaret Anne Entering Romney Lock

I spotted a vacant mooring I had spied when we passed in the other direction at Datchet, so we decided to stop there.  We are opposite the grounds of Windsor Castle – they are very well kept, and we are kept well out.  Late in the afternoon, the swan uppers came by.  Now we learnt the secret they had for looking fresh while coming all the way up the river in rowing boats – they were getting a tow!

Two pairs of wooden rowing boats each with crews of three or four being towed behind a motor boat.
Three or Four Men in a Boat – Not Rowing

I fancied a walk, so we set off along the river in the general direction of Windsor.  When we got as far as Romney Lock we discovered the swan uppers rising in the lock.  Just before the lock gates opened they were all called to their feet for a royal toast – the lock keeper was given a glass too, they know who is really in charge.

A lock full of swan uppers standing in their boats raising a toast to The King.
Swan Uppers Toasting The King