Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A little bit of Thames boating

The relative silence for a few weeks can in part be excused by what we in NABO Council call "always a valid excuse for not...": I've been away boating! Just been with my friend crewing his Dutch Barge from Goring on the Thames back to London. It's good to remember that despite all the blustering here, getting out on the waterways in a boat is ultimately what makes sense of it all.

I am a confirmed "ditch-crawler" as some like to label those of us who predominantly cruise the canal network. My boating on the Thames consists of taking my daughter on a boat trip from Westminster to Hampton Court over fifteen year ago and a few days crewing a boat from Abingdon up to the South Oxford Canal. A week on the Thames was definitely a new world and surprise surprise confirmed a lot of prejudices!

Nowhere on the Thames did I see notice any significant disrepair to the navigation. The boating facilities I encountered were without exception immaculate and a tribute to the front line EA staff and the wider river community.

While the Thames shows conspicuous wealth among some boaters (and many adjacent riparian owners) we also met much more modest folk out in their boats enjoying the river and an amazing range of craft types. Whether aboard a £120 dinghy or a top of the range sea going cruiser, people we met afloat were courteous and welcoming.

The natural environment is almost without exception stunning...

Then we returned to the canal network...
  • Hanwell Flight - badly leaking and poorly hung lock gates, two half empty pounds and us and another boat crew having to run water to prevent grounding.
  • A long term moorrer we approached for info on water levels and which pound was safe to stay on overnight bemoaning the frequency with which his mooring pound lost water. (More running water to make sure.)
  • Huge amount of floating debris including tree logs waiting  on the lower pound where the River Brent joins the canal (though some consolation of sorts in a car tyre taken aboard for fending: once we'd spent ten minutes prising it out from behind a lock gate where it was comfortably nestling.
  • The of the Paddington Pound between Norwood and Bulls bridge with barely enough depth to get a 3 foot draught barge through in tickover.
  • Still significant stretches of the Paddington Arm with overgrown vegetation and little sign of recent tree management.
No wonder that many Thames boaters are hostile to the thought of being amalgamated with a re-branded BW. They are quite right to stand their ground if our welcome back into the canal network is anything to go by!

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