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Matthew Rodliffe

Holiday on the Thames

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Hello,

I have never been on a canal/river holiday but have always been interested in doing so.  Recently I have been looking into the possibility of a group of us doing one possibly next spring/early summer and, for reasons I won't bore you with now, have been wondering about somewhere on the stretch of the Thames between say Oxford and Henley.

 

I notice there's a couple narrowboat/cruiser hire bases along that stretch, but it doesn't seem to be one of the really popular areas (compared with, say, the Oxford Canal) from what I've seen online etc.  Is there a reason for this?  Is it less picturesque than some of the canals, or more difficult for novices, or unreliable because of flow/current etc?

 

Thanks in advance

 

Matthew

 

 

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The Thames is the most picturesque inland waterway of all! It's gorgeous. But there is plenty of great scenery on the canals too, and supposedly ugly urban areas have their own appeal.

Any river can be a bit more difficult for novices, but they're safe enough normally. Most of the year the Thames is on green boards, and then the flow is fairly tame, but you do have to keep away from the weirs and take the flow into account when mooring up; always tie up whichever end of the boat is upstream first, or there's a very real chance that the current will catch that end and swing the boat around.

Finding an overnight mooring spot can be tricky, but no more so really than on the very crowded South Oxford Canal. There are various places you can moor for free along the Thames, and others which might be £5 or £10 a night.

The locks are often manned, but if not they're easy to operate because they're nearly all automated, you just press buttons. Do enter them carefully, because you'll often be sharing a big lock with an assortment of plastic boats, some of them with very inexperienced crew and some of them Very Big and Expensive.

It's best if someone aboard has some boating experience, ideally including a river, but failing that I think that if you're vaguely responsible people and take the trouble to read a bit about boat handling beforehand you should be fine.

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12 minutes ago, Matthew Rodliffe said:

Hello,

I have never been on a canal/river holiday but have always been interested in doing so.  Recently I have been looking into the possibility of a group of us doing one possibly next spring/early summer and, for reasons I won't bore you with now, have been wondering about somewhere on the stretch of the Thames between say Oxford and Henley.

 

I notice there's a couple narrowboat/cruiser hire bases along that stretch, but it doesn't seem to be one of the really popular areas (compared with, say, the Oxford Canal) from what I've seen online etc.  Is there a reason for this?  Is it less picturesque than some of the canals, or more difficult for novices, or unreliable because of flow/current etc?

 

Thanks in advance

 

Matthew

 

 

We were (and still are) inverterate Canalaholics since - well a long time - and have cruised much of the system on hire boats. "So much so" that I built my own boat with the intettion of keeping it somwehere on (say) the Oxford Canal. As we live "darn sarf", the sensible place to launch was and to keep it was on the  river Wey. And (grammar) then we discovered the Thames. Been there ever since.

 

As with any  river there is a flow - that what rivers do - they transfer water from the high ground to the low, usually to the sea.

The "non tidal Thames" - that between Shepperton and Lechlade - has a flow rate of about 1 mph - of which you should be aware and steer accordingly. "Navigating" is quite easy if you take account of this, because it will push you around at the edges of the track. Stay in the main body of water and you'll be fine.

 

There aren't many hire bases for any type of boat - I guess it's because of the cost to run a business and folks are unreasonably fearful of a tidal river which the "Upper Thames" is not - it's just that the water moves...

 

There is only one predominately NB hire base on the River and that's at Eynsham - just above Oxford. It caters mostly for parties of folks, so the accommodation can be a bit basic - getting 10 -12 folks into a NB has some compromises, but they are usually quite busy - indicating mebe that their customers are happy.

 

Your propsed choce of route is through probably the best scenery / "facility rich" (pubs / services/ shopping parts of the River. If you go upriver from Eynsham, it's mostly rural  in aspect and not many pubs. Very pleasant though and you'll learn how to handle a boat.

 

Be aware that it's in The Sarf - so probably more expensive than on the canal system.

 

There's an excellent book  "The River Thames Book" by Chris Cove-Smith, copies of which are avaIlable fro Amazon for around a tenner.

It's a great holiday if you want to see a part of the country that most folks miss and great fun when you learn how to manage the boat.

 

Now somebody else has posted something - I wonder what he said.... 

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47 minutes ago, Matthew Rodliffe said:

Hello,

I have never been on a canal/river holiday but have always been interested in doing so.  Recently I have been looking into the possibility of a group of us doing one possibly next spring/early summer and, for reasons I won't bore you with now, have been wondering about somewhere on the stretch of the Thames between say Oxford and Henley.

 

I notice there's a couple narrowboat/cruiser hire bases along that stretch, but it doesn't seem to be one of the really popular areas (compared with, say, the Oxford Canal) from what I've seen online etc.  Is there a reason for this?  Is it less picturesque than some of the canals, or more difficult for novices, or unreliable because of flow/current etc?

 

Thanks in advance

 

Matthew

 

 

If you holiday on the Thames do not hire a poxy narrowboat!! We have to own narrowboats due to the narrow lock system we have inherited so there is no choice for people like myself who wants a large cruising area. If you intend staying on the thames hire a nice comy boat with sensible dimensions ?

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I agree with Peter X  and Tim Smelly - except the latter perhaps - if you have more than 4-5  people. A "proper boat" has  probably a more suitable shape for cruising, but for ever pushing past the plastic canopies and crawling around the decks to work the lines (ropes), I would find it a pain. 

Cruisers are great for just - umm cruising - but a NB works better in a lock  and picking up a mooring. 

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please don't hire a boat on the Thames - or at least if you do please do not announce to all and sundry on a public forum how pleasant it is. ..........  you'll only spoil it for existing users. ...................  we like to keep it a secret.        :boat:

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Many thanks indeed for the replies... sounding promising so far.

 

The group in question is a team of bellringers; part of the reason I'm looking at this particular stretch is that there's a good number of ringable towers that look like they're within easy walking distance of the bank.  We'd probably be 20 or more in number so I'm guessing would need 2 or 3 boats, I don't know how practical that is?

 

There is a boat hire firm at Caversham whose website I've come across; I was thinking one possibility would be to go from there upstream as far as say Benson, then back downstream to say Henley, and back to Caversham (obviously the distances I've mentioned are just thoughts - I don't even know how many days we'd go for yet and I haven't properly worked out cruising times etc.)

 

The other consideration would be keeping to an itinerary - on ringing trips you book a tower for say 45 mins and usually a local ringer turns up to let you in - obviously we wouldn't want to fall behind and keep people waiting.  Clearly we'd allow ample time to get between towers but is there the possibility of major hold-ups on locks or because of river conditions?  (This is something I can discuss with other ringers who've done boating trips but from threads I've seen on fb groups etc most of them seem to have been on canals - I don't know whether there's any major differences). 

 

As regards cruisers vs narrowboats @mrsmelly that is something I'd thought about - are the former very much more spacious/comfortable then?  I'm thinking some of our gang might want the space/comfort of the former and others might want the traditional/heritage feel of the latter.  Maybe we could go for one of each!

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Narrowboats are no where near as comfy as most other boats of a sensible beam. I have lived aboard narrow and wide and the wide are immeasurably more comfortable. The Thames waterway is not specificaly  designed for narrowboats although of course many have and do utilise it. Probably the comfiest option if there are any at present for rental would be a stupidly named " fat narrowboat " type. Lots of room, stable and easy to manouvre.  Its all personal but a narrowboat would be my last choice for your proposed trip.

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If you do hire a Narrowboat don't get a titchy 57 footer, like someone I know on here has. (MrSmelly you know who you are.!!!). But, what MrSmelly has indicated regarding plastic and steel boats is both sensible and justifiable.

 

Theres at least one church bell ringer on this site. And I am aware he 'does it' at a number of churches. Maybe, you don't have to do the Thames, but some canals pass churches also.

Edited by Nightwatch
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Mr S. may well be correct in absolute terms - sometime he can be abit tongue in cheek...

For your large number of ringers methinks NBs would be the only solution. Thames cruisers can accommodate a maximim of six in comfort, though price in the end may be the clincher.....

The narrow  boats at Reading are somewhat tired - those at Eynsham are more modern and tidier..

 Spring and Summer on the Thames tend not to have strong stream conditions - though with this Island's weather it's difficult to predict. At the moment (and I mean this April) the River has almost been short of water - and the EA is nearly considering sandbagging the weirs to conserve water. My local lock has only one weir gate open - a quite unusual situation.

 

It would be fab to have a team of ringers on the River, there are some great  Peals around - Sonning has one and do any of the University colleges have any?

Indeed what about St. George's in Windsor, or the Garrison Church, or even Eton??  (dear oh dear I'm getting enthusiastic...

 

There's at least one ringer on this forum - I wonder whether he will pitch in with suggestions?

Edited by OldGoat
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30 minutes ago, Nightwatch said:
30 minutes ago, Nightwatch said:

 you don't have to do the Thames, but some canals pass churches also. 

Edited 10 minutes ago by Nightwatch

 

Yes, indeed, there are plenty of options - from memory the South Oxford Canal and the Kennet & Avon are popular for ringing tours.  But we as a team have rung at some of the towers near the latter on normal car-based trips (not that that really matters but its always nice to go somewhere new) and looking at waterway maps and "Dove" (the directory of towers with rings of bells), this bit of the Thames is fairly abundant, as much as any English waterway from what I can see.  Hopefully this link will work - the Dove map around that area https://dove.cccbr.org.uk/googleMap.php?lat=51.46857&lon=-0.98104

 

23 minutes ago, OldGoat said:

would be fab to have a team of ringers on the River, there are some great  Peals around - Sonning has one and do any of the University colleges have any?

Yes there are quite a few in Oxford too - if that link works you can scroll the map around.

Edited by Matthew Rodliffe
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That link is quite interesting. I'm not into bell ringing but find it fascinating to know all this goes on.

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Another question - I recall someone saying "whatever you do, avoid peak holiday season on the canals"

 

I don't know what they were counting as peak season but our trip would probably have to be spring half-term week - end of May - what would the Thames be like then traffic wise?  I notice hire rates are a fair bit higher than say a couple weeks previously but I don't know if we'd have much option.  Would the locks etc be significantly busier?  (Going back to my point about having to stick to a schedule).

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In my experience if you avoid weekends and school holidays you will rarely have to queue for a lock.  The Thames seems to be much quieter than it was many decades ago when my family used to hire a cruiser (in the 60's).  Perhaps the electric locks are much faster than the traditional ones used to be.   I have only been blocked out by one of the big 'Salters' Steamers', when passing through a short lock such as Caversham (Reading) or Marsh (Henley).  You will also find that the locks are very quiet before about 10am.  I regularly start cruising at 7am (operate locks on self-service before 9am) and enjoy the peace and mirror-smooth river disturbed only by rowers who seem to think they own the river within their practice reaches at that time of day.

Edited by Murflynn
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Wow, 20+ people in the group! You're going to need a bigger boat...

 

Seriously, two full length narrow boats may not be enough for that many people, depending on how well they get along and how many people the hire company and their insurers will allow to be aboard. Bearing in mind that the Thames locks are big, you could try asking the hire companies whether they can suggest a combination of boats which will all fit together in each lock. Lock sizes do vary, some won't take three narrow boats side by side, but even the smallest has plenty of room for the pair of Grand Union boats I'm usually on when doing the Thames. You could even ask if there is one ginormous boat you could hire that would have sleeping accommodation for all of you. There are some big passenger vessels operating on the Thames, e.g. Salters and the boats running short trips for tourists at Windsor, but I suspect they're not geared up for lots of people sleeping aboard? If you can hire a really big boat the company would probably expect to supply the skipper as part of the deal.

 

Hire rates probably would be higher for the half term week than the weeks either side of it, it's all about supply and demand.

 

It's always possible for the river to be in flood, but unlikely at that time of year. If it is, you'll be seriously delayed, waiting for days or longer before continuing. Otherwise, just have a bit of slack in your schedule and expect only minor delays at locks; the lock keepers are very good at working out which boats they can cram in together to make best use of space each time they fill the lock. If there's no lock keeper present, there will usually be some boater around who can suggest a good safe arrangement and talk everyone into following it.

 

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34 minutes ago, Murflynn said:

I regularly start cruising at 7am (operate locks on self-service before 9am)

Ah, I'd read somewhere that locks operate between 9am and 6pm or something like that, didn't realise there was a self-service option.  Or is that not for novices?

 

It might be a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, but as a rough guide how long does it usually take to negotiate a lock?

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16 minutes ago, Matthew Rodliffe said:

Ah, I'd read somewhere that locks operate between 9am and 6pm or something like that, didn't realise there was a self-service option.  Or is that not for novices?

 

It might be a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, but as a rough guide how long does it usually take to negotiate a lock?

The locks might be manned between those hours but don’t count on it.  As you get further downstream you will find more manned, but the hit rate for locks being manned can be as low as 50%, so even during the working hours you will work some yourself.  Anyone can do that and hire company should give you some training in lock operation.

 

The transit time can be very variable, and on self service if you need to fill/empty it first it will be slow as the paddles work on a simple timer system that assumes there is a boat in the lock.

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I would estimate that a Thames lock will typically take between 10 and 30 minutes to get through. If you get lucky and arrive at the right time in a cycle you might get waved in through open gates by a lock keeper, have little or no delay for other boats and be on your way in 10 minutes or even less. Or you could find there's a bit of a queue and some waiting about while another lock full of boats goes in front of you. Or you might be doing Culham lock on self service operation; for some reason that one's painfully slow.

As you approach a lock you'll see a board which should be white if a lock keeper is on duty, blue if on self service. If the former, watch for the lock keeper's instructions, they'll decide who goes into the lock in what order and where. If the latter, you should get someone off onto the lock landing to walk up to discuss things with other boaters and/or operate the controls.

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The biggest delay to lock cycles is getting fat white 3-storey gin palaces into the lock - for some reason those pompous assholes wearing gold braid on their peaked caps seem to be totally incapable of guiding their twin-screw vessels into a lock at more than 0.2mph, using their bow and stern thrusters (badly) to position the boat in the very middle of the lock before they look around helplessly, wondering why the butler isn't available to catch a thrown mooring line and pull the boat to the side.    It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. 

 

And these are the same guys who insist on opening up the throttles as they navigate the lock cut, all in an attempt to overtake any boats in front of them before the next lock. 

 

Are they the same assholes who parade around Clifton village in Bristol on Boxing Day in their supercars, with the exhaust note set to 'nasty'?  You would have to see it to believe it.  They probably learned their trade from Saudi teenagers driving their specially air-freighted Lamborghinis around Harrods every summer. 

 

As I said, travel mid-week and avoid this crap to a large extent.

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 Quote Murflynn - for some reason those pompous assholes wearing gold braid on their peaked caps seem to be totally incapable of guiding their twin-screw vessels into a lock at more than 0.2mph

 

Be aware that lockies war whit shirts and some more senior members of EA staff wear shoulder flashes and peaked caps. They are NOT alimental orifices and are to be respected as they have to deal wilt all boaters including Murflynn's target.

 

At ant time of the year weekend can be busy, but it's only the very peak of season (August) and during the Henley weeks - Rowing / Festival /TBR that you might have to wait for a lock.

Most of the 'resident' boats stay tighly in their marina's (like the Gallant Captain of the Pinafore), there are very few hire boats on the Thames, the rest is luck and can't really be predicted.

The Thames is NOT for rushing around - just lie back and think of England.....

Edited by OldGoat
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3 hours ago, Murflynn said:

The biggest delay to lock cycles is getting fat white 3-storey gin palaces into the lock - for some reason those pompous assholes wearing gold braid on their peaked caps seem to be totally incapable of guiding their twin-screw vessels into a lock at more than 0.2mph, using their bow and stern thrusters (badly) to position the boat in the very middle of the lock before they look around helplessly, wondering why the butler isn't available to catch a thrown mooring line and pull the boat to the side.    It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. 

 

And these are the same guys who insist on opening up the throttles as they navigate the lock cut, all in an attempt to overtake any boats in front of them before the next lock. 

 

Are they the same assholes who parade around Clifton village in Bristol on Boxing Day in their supercars, with the exhaust note set to 'nasty'?  You would have to see it to believe it.  They probably learned their trade from Saudi teenagers driving their specially air-freighted Lamborghinis around Harrods every summer. 

 

As I said, travel mid-week and avoid this crap to a large extent.

This is good advice. Over the years we always try to be tied up friday until monday whatever time of years and certainly do shorter cruising days during bratt holidays. Like pubs, restaurants etc going for instance for a meal on a mid week night is way way better than a silly friday or saturday.

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Like other waterways, the Thames gets a lot busier on weekends and holidays. In general I've found that the rich people in their gin palaces are not very competent at boat handling in locks, but they vary. Sometimes they have crew doing the boating for them who know what they're doing, sometimes they've learned themselves. Their attitude is usually quite friendly, but maybe that's because I'm with a pair of loaded coal boats, something of a novelty.

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23 hours ago, Matthew Rodliffe said:

The group in question is a team of bellringers; part of the reason I'm looking at this particular stretch is that there's a good number of ringable towers that look like they're within easy walking distance of the bank.

I once met a team who were ringing every tower from Braunston to Lechlade.  They were on a narrowboat on the Oxford.  Few cruisers can get above Osney Bridge in Oxford.

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I would extend your range a bit downstream to cliveden reach. The river from there to Wallingford is the best scenery IMHO. Above Oxford is very quiet and flat, I like it many don't.  The Nene (where I am now is even prettier. I went past eight churches today,  including Fotheringay, but did not hear any bells.. 

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1 hour ago, Scholar Gypsy said:

I would extend your range a bit downstream to cliveden reach. The river from there to Wallingford is the best scenery IMHO. Above Oxford is very quiet and flat, I like it many don't.  The Nene (where I am now is even prettier. I went past eight churches today,  including Fotheringay, but did not hear any bells.. 

Have you read BB's book?

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