Thursday 30 June 2005

Honey - Henley to Windsor

Thursday 30th June 2005
Henley to Windsor
River Thames

21 Miles
8 Locks
8 Hours

The first stop of the day was Henley Lock, where the keeper handed me a photocopied A4 sheet of instructions telling us how to pass the regatta reach. I have, of course, heard a lot about Henley and its regatta but it never occurred to me that we would be passing during regatta week itself.

Up till this point the river had been remarkably quiet, with less boat movements than one experiences on the canals of the Midlands. Henley changed all that. There were gin palaces and slipper launches a plenty , a veritable Cannes on Thames. We arrived just after 10.00am so the crowds had yet to arrive, but the races were well underway. The golden rule seemed to be to keep well to the left and slow to crawling speed. I have always had a certain inverted snobbery when it comes to cars and take a perverse delight in being the boss but having the oldest car in the car park. My approach to boating is similar and I was amused to navigate Honey past all these ultra posh, ultra expensive plastic boats. Honey was decrepit, which large areas of rust, no chimney and trailing a blue haze of exhaust fumes, which set her apart from the rest!

We pressed on down river but now accompanied by more boats moving to and from the regatta. It was funny to exit a lock amid millions of pounds worth of gleaming boats, all of which dashed down to the next lock, only to wait impatiently as the lock keeper held the gates open pending our arrival, having been warned of my progress by the previous locky. Honey became something of a landmark right down the Thames - all the lock keepers knew she was coming and many complimented me on her unique livery.... the times I tried to explain that I was only moving her for a friend....

Perhaps the funniest moment was towards the end of the day as we approached a lock down a canalised cut. A huge gin palace complete with radar and flying bridge was determined to beat me to the lock and came thrashing up behind us. The snag was that the cut also contained one of the lowest bridges on the Thames and the gin palace ground to an ignominious halt alongside us, amid a downpour of expensive looking electronics torn off the flying bridge. I smiled sweetly, waved and continued on to the lock trying very hard not to laugh.

Locking down amid these expensive boats, all festooned with dozens of huge fenders was an interesting experience in itself. As you can imagine, the proud skippers (complete with dorky little captain caps) were very careful with their craft, nudging them this way and that with a myriad of thrusters. Honey, on the other hand, was a 15 ton steel slug, with a bit of forward and not much reverse. Her approach to fenders was also minimal with a small button fore and aft. The skippers were are visibly twitching as Honey lumbered in and slewing to an ungainly stop, her rear end stepping smartly to the right. I never touched another boat, but they weren't to know that.

The day concluded with a run past the Eaton rowing course, soon to become the 2012 Olympic rowing venue, the Windsor racecourse and finally round the bend to the meadow mooring opposite Windsor Castle. The mooring carry a charge but no one asked for money and I didn't try too hard to pay.

We rounded off the day with a wander round the town of Windsor and a trip to a Chinese restaurant. It turned out that it was the first time Matilda had ever eaten a Chinese meal, which she loved. I guess that North Norfolk isn't a hotbed of culinary improvisation.

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