Cliveden to Magna Carta Island, 12.75 miles, 5 locks
Grey today but dry. The forecast was for rain, but now it seems to have changed its mind. I had considered spending the day here and going to have a look at Cliveden House—or more specifically the gardens, which are apparently magnificent—but if the weather's going to be kind then I don't want to waste it.
The engine needed topping up with water again, but not very much, so I figure that it'll survive another day. It starts easily enough, given enough glowplugs, and I'm soon on my way. A couple of boats have gone down while I've been getting ready, including the man from the water point yesterday and the chap who didn't seem to know what he was doing who'd turned in front of me at Marlow, and I catch up with them at Boulter's Lock which is in Maidenhead. To my surprise the lock lay-by is quite busy, with a few boats waiting. Being curious, I decide to walk up to the lock to see what is going on and at the head of the queue is the chap from Marlow. He and the woman he's with seem to be very jittery and the lock keeper is shouting across to them. After the lock keeper goes to set the lock, I ask the woman what is happening. Turns out that they'd actually moored at Marlow the night before, gone for dinner and then retired early. In the middle of the night they'd been awoken by a 'bump' and when they'd got up, they found that their ropes had been cut and they were adrift in the middle of the river! They'd tried dropping the anchor, although that hadn't done much good and in the end they'd started the engine and got to the shore. The reason there was a delay at the lock was because they only had 'good' ropes on one side and wanted the lock keeper to make sure that they went in on that side. I talked to the woman a bit and suggested that they try tying their remaining bits of rope together and I also pointed out that, at the front at least, the ropes were just looped around cleats on the fore-deck and that as they entered the lock there'd be plenty of time for her to unloop the rope and move it to the other side if necessary. If she did that, she'd be back in control, which would help her to calm down.
Eventually they went into the lock, followed by a couple of other boats that were waiting. A narrowboat had turned up behind me and finding no-one aboard, had jumped in front of me. They were much shorter and could fit in the lock with the others and in the end it was just me and a very large and impressive boat left behind. I got chatting to the three men on the impressive boat, who were on their way to St Katherine's Dock in London. They didn't seem bothered about anything, having "lots of food and drink aboard, but no women." We locked together and they whooshed off while I sorted out my ropes.
I always get a strange feeling when I go through Maidenhead on the Thames because I briefly lived here for a year when I was 20. I remember that I kind of knew that Maidenhead was on the river, but I never actually walked down to see it. I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different if I had seen the river and perhaps been influenced by it. Certainly for someone who was 'in computers', Maidenhead and the Thames Valley generally was the place to be, but I ended up on the Isle of Man instead, which is about as tech-free as you can get.
From Maidenhead it's only a short way and then you're in Bray lock. Bray was a mystical place to me when I lived in Maidenhead because of The Waterside Inn, which was (or is) a Michelin-starred restaurant. My flatmate at the time, who was female, was having an extra-marital affair with one of the salesmen at her work and they'd occasionally go there. I know that girls mature a lot faster than boys, but I really was pretty unsophisticated and naïve—to the extend that I was always a bit shocked if he stayed the night—so I doubt I'd have appreciated it. I still associate Bray with Michelin Stars, though, except now it's Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck, which I'd love to go to some day.
Through Bray and past the famous Bray film studios, and then past the Oakley Court Hotel, which would easily be recognised by any Rocky Horror fan as Frank'n'furter's house in the Rocky Horror Picture Show or perhaps as the St Trinian's schoolhouse for an older generation. Soon afterwards there's Windsor Marina, where the impressive boat was tied up to refuel and then there's a sharp bend and you're going past Windsor racecourse, which means that Windsor itself can't be far away.
Windsor from the river is dominated by two things: the castle (naturally) and a giant Ferris Wheel. Windsor charge you to stop on their side (£4 for 24 hours or part of) so a lot of people moor on the Eton side, which is rougher but free. I was ready for lunch by now, so I turned around and headed for the Eton bank, but every time I got close and was ready to jump onto the land, a huge French Brothers trip boat would go past and I'd get washed away. After a couple of goes at this—and actually making it ashore at one point—I decided that this was much too complicated a landing for one person, so I got back aboard and headed for the next lock, which is Romney lock. I got there a little before 2pm, which meant that the lock keeper was still at lunch, so I took the opportunity to park in the lock lay-by and have my own lunch of a baguette filled with pork and coleslaw.
After Romney lock you're alongside The Home Park, which I think must be the old grounds of Windsor Castle, then you go under Victoria Bridge and suddenly there are "Crown Estates" signs clearly saying that there's no mooring. Since I went past here last year, new signs have been added alongside, indicating that this is protected area as defined by the Prevention of Terrorism Act and that any trespass is a criminal offence. I'm sure that Her Majesty doesn't really want people stopping and tromping around in her garden, but I'd really hate to break down along this stretch if my choices were to drift with the current and hope for the best, or land and get banged up for 28 days without access to a lawyer. At least it's only 28 days!
Eventually you go under Albert Bridge and normality returns. The Thames disappears off to the left, via an impressive weir and the navigation continues to the right along the 'New Cut'. That's 'New' as in 1822. At the end is Old Windsor lock and then you meander through Old Windsor until it all becomes a bit more rural. To the left is Magna Carta Island, where the Magna Carta was (allegedly) signed. To the right is the impressive face of Cooper's Hill, which has an RAF memorial on the top and the Magna Carta monument on the bottom. I'd wanted to see this last time I came past and as it was getting on for 4pm I decided I'd stop. I found a lovely curved National Trust mooring just past the monument and pulled in.
Not long after I'd moored, the impressive boat from earlier today went past and after seeing my mooring, decided to stop in the next 'cove'. It was a bit shallow, but they somehow managed to get in, although with no access to the bank. However, as they had previously said, they had almost everything the needed aboard. They were kind enough to invite me aboard for a drink, however I said I wanted to see the monument so I left them to it. The monument itself was erected by the American Bar Association in affirmation of their upholding of the principles that Magna Carta embodies. Nice of them, I guess. There's also the John F. Kennedy Memorial nearby, but whereas the Magna Carta monument is easy to find and brightly lit at night, the Kennedy monument is in the trees somewhere and as the light was fading, I didn't find it.
Dinner was soup and bread. I wasn't particularly hungry for some reason. but that was fine. I talked to Paul and played Animal Crossing, then had surprise visit from Gary, who lives in Brentford. As Brentford is next to the M4, I'm only about a 35 minute drive away, which really puts this 'boat speed' thing into perspective. We chat and catch up with gossip. Turns out that one of his relatives used to live in The Home Park as an employee of Her Majesty and would occasionally see her. That must be a very strange experience.