The River Thames – Oxford to Wallingford

riverthames1At Osney Lock at Oxford we paid our £36.50 to the lock keeper for a forty eight hour pass on the Thames, being advised that this would be how long it would take us to reach the mouth of the Kennet and Avon Canal (K&A). The lock was our first ‘electric experience’ and our quiet existence on the canals was temporarily suspended as industrial operations replaced the heave – ho mantra of manual lock keeping.

Electric locks on the Thames are big chasms where the force of the river is ushered in and commanded out by the uniformed keeper of the lock by means of a magical green work station. Bensons LockThe station is powered by the forces of electrical current with manual backup in the form of a huge wheel. Perhaps four big boats could nestle in one of these locks in the form of sea – going cruisers or canal boats, or smaller floaties can scuttle in like university club rowing boats or canoes. These watery pits can harbour quite a surprising melting pot of marine craft.

We arrived in the evening at Benson’s Lock after the lock keeper’s shift (they keep civilised hours and are absent for lunch) and there were no other boats on the horizon. A self service sign was beaming at us. If they let the general public operate these things then how hard can it really be? Thames lock electricsWe decided to go for it as the young people say. (I) opened the lock electronically but then the power failed and (Mark) had to resort to the displayed plan B and close it manually; a tougher task than our usual windlass operated locks due to the sheer size of the operation. On telling our story to a lock keeper after lunch the following day he said that Benson’s Lock had been on manual operation all day with engineers in attendance to fix the fault…

Tired and tea-less we were keen to moor up but the days cruising had taught us that unless you’re riding a gin palace or an ocean-going liner or have a private mooring, places to stop are not aplenty for narrowboats like they are on a canal. Spying one of the more suitable secluded spots where the foliage was kinder we moored for tea with walkers striding out in the distance over the field on the Thames Path.

River Thames mooringWe recommenced our beautiful sunny evening’s cruising with overnight mooring at Wallingford our goal. Squeezing in there between a mini gin palace and fellow narrow boater Andy (who kindly gave us a bottle of pear cider) it was 10pm before we battened down the hatches. The mooring was so low down that using the gangplank was impossible and Inky had to be physically lifted on and off or risk a leg-breaker of a jump onto the boat. We gave up on the idea of any food that wasn’t a crunchy potato snack accompanied by a vino nightcap and left the delights of Wallingford for another day.

Next – Our second day on the Thames, heading for Reading and the Kennet and Avon.

Thanks to new Liveaboards Donna, Mark (and Inky) for writing and giving us permission to publish this.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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