After getting used to life on the River Wey, we were both filled with both excitement and apprehension about going onto the big bold Thames. The Thames has both tidal and non-tidal parts to it and we were intending on going on the non-tidal part this time (we are not equipped with what is needed just now – life ring, jackets etc – and would also like more experience first). Nevertheless, we were ready to leave the River Wey and could only stay on there for 21 days at a time anyway.
The first day moving towards the Thames began at Guildford and we navigated for a gruelling 12 hours that day. In hindsight, it wasn’t ideal as we both became tired and bumped off the side of a couple of locks along the way. The worst instance of this was going back through Pyrford, where we had wanted to make a triumphant return, only to bash into the lock walls in front of a small crowd of onlookers!
Once past Pyrford we ventured onwards towards Addlestone and Weybridge. These were both areas I had travelled through or past at certain times, commuting etc but I knew nothing about them, and neither did Ed. We moored up in Weybridge for a couple of nights as Ed was away again for work. What a pleasant little surprise it was for me! A quaint little riverside area of the town turned into a small high street which was great to wander round with Jemima.
The people of Weybridge were very pleasant and the town had a few nice eateries with outside spaces for us to enjoy the sunshine in (not to mention one of my favourite shops – Space NK!). I had a lovely time and really felt so grateful to be able to move place-to-place and discover new places on our grand adventure.
Sadly, however my new found peace and tranquility was soon to be temporarily shattered. On the Saturday that Ed was away working, the outside temperature soared up to 34 degrees Celsius (around 93 degrees F), and that was outside – so imagine how it was on a metal boat moored up in the blasting sunshine! It was possibly the longest day ever to pass for me, as I had the somewhat mammoth task of keeping myself, Jemima, the dog and the cat cool. It mainly involved occasionally dousing Loki in cool water and wrapping him in a wet tea towel, and covering Jemima in wet flannels all over her little body (Mittens looked after herself by hiding under the bed all day). I could have left the boat and gone out somewhere with Jemima, but I couldn’t in all conscience leave Mittens and Loki on a boat that hot. So I stayed, but wow that day was one I won’t forget in a hurry!
Heading onto the Thames
Following Ed’s return, the time came to move from Weybridge the short distance to the Thames. We set off with excitement and floated past some of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen, and all with little boathouses or jetty’s with boats at the ends of their luxurious gardens. Now that, I thought is the dream. A girl can fantasise…
After perving at all the houses, we came to the Thames Lock, which is where we said goodbye to the Wey Navigation. It was a manned lock which meant we could just relax a little (except from the fact that we had to run after Loki who decided it would be funny to jump off the boat and go and say hi to the staff!) and enjoy it while others did the cranking of the gates.
Coming out of that lock made me quite nervous. We had, for the best part of a month been used to the rural waterways with manual locks that you took your time over, and I knew that Thames was going to be so different and it made me worried. However I couldn’t have been more wrong! As we turned the corner into the huge, what can only be described as a watery junction at Shepperton, I was hit by how awesome the Thames was going to be. It was huge and majestic.
We went into our first lock and oh my, how different. For a start it was electronically operated with a control panel (which meant no cranking!) and it was manned by some very professional, very friendly Londoners in life jackets. We entered with a load of canoers, as the big Thames locks can take multiple boats, and I think the staff could see we were new to it. But they didn’t patronise us, they just took our ropes from us, tied them to the bank and told us to hold the ropes tight so we didn’t float around and bash into the sides when the water entered. We did as we were told and it was exciting and fun, nothing like the scary thing I thought it would be. As we then progressed further down the river we navigated more locks, this time unmanned ones, but still electronic. We got chatting to other boaters in the lock and felt a real sense of community. After all, we had something in common!
As we neared our next stop, Penton Hook Marina in Staines, we passed more beautiful riverside properties with their own little boats. But now we also began seeing the larger more elaborate yacht-type boats that are popular on the Thames and I was filled once again with ‘I want one of these houses/boats one day’.
I have travelled into Greater London more times than I would care to count on my commute and I thought I knew it well. The hustle and bustle, the business, the ‘every man is an island’ feeling that can sometimes take over a person. However I really can’t stress enough how different this place is from the river. Everyone is smiling, happy and friendly and the world just seems more relaxed and carefree, even as you approach our capital city. Ed once told me about a term he coined when living up north, River Disease. This is where you become infected by the peace and soul of the river and the country and now I am really starting to get it. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Thames and I would urge anyone who wants to see another side to Greater London to see it from the river. You won’t regret it.