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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Jaq's Looking back from Brentford to Kingston

"Hindsight is the historian's necessary vice." ~Hilary Mantel 

   Sorting through my pictures I realized how many wonderful sights I haven't even posted. Some days I feel like Alice's stand-in. "Right, now if you will just fall down this rabbit hole and act amazed when you hit the bottom..." or " Yes, please just step this way through the mirror and pretend astonishment when you reach the other side."
  Falling into an alternative reality is almost an everyday affair for me quite frankly which is why I take so bloody many pictures. (Yes, I can use the word bloody and it is not a swear word for me, being American!) I don't have to act amazed or astonished; I AM totally gobsmacked by nearly everything, overwhelmed by the lot of it and unable to make credible distinctions about what might be the best or most important item on which to focus for the benefit of our readers. It's all fascinating to me!
   Looking back--I thought when I prepared to move here--"Well really we are cousins after all; America having broken away from Britain in the late 1700's. The only difference is, their money is much more like colorful art paper than a dirty, green linen hanky like ours, and they drive on the other side (notice I did not say the Wrong Side) of the road. Oh! And they have more dialects than we do in the U.S. and a longer sense of history but really--how different can it be?"
   There are two pictures on this post which appear to be duplicates of ones Les included previously. I left them in because although the pictures are of the same place or thing, my perspective differs from Les.'
A Pen and her cygnets in the liquid gold reflection of a sunny afternoon at Brentford.
   Brentford was our final stop on the Grand Union canal, where we waited for the Thames to rise with the tide to the appropriate height allowing us to go through Thames Lock and out onto the mighty river. We were a bit nervous about it. Rivers are an unpredictable lot, with currents sweeping continually to the sea. Rain--as likely over here as tea for breakfast--can cause a river to rise dangerously in a matter of a few hours, trapping boats and playing havoc with mooring depending on the rise and flow of the water. 
   Anchors are a necessary requirement for boating on the river. Les pulled ours up from the bowels of the engine hold and put thick, heavy new rope on it, resting the anchor on a sheet of rubber at the tip of our bow above the gas locker where it is ready to be tipped in the water by either of us on a moment's notice.
   Keith and Jo on Hadar told us the deepest Thames lock was 9 feet in depth and we needed bow and stern mooring ropes that could reach up the 9 foot wall and around the bollard, dropping back down to one of us at each end of the boat. We bought new mooring ropes at a marina near Bulls Bridge. We went for 25 feet to ensure enough rope. 
   On the Thames there are lock keepers to see boats through each lock usually from 9 am to dusk or 6 pm--which ever comes first. One can work the locks one's self by key if there is no lock keeper on duty. With a lock keeper operating the doors and sluices one glides into the lock, throws the mooring lines up to the keeper or over the bollard and grabs hold of the end, holding the boat tight at bow and stern as the locks fill or empty. The doors open and out you glide. But we didn't really know that while waiting at Brentford. All we knew was that we were leaving the comfort of the known--the canals--for the unpredictable vagaries of the River Thames.
   To leave Thames Lock at Brentford one must wait until two hours before high tide at Teddington upstream, then head out. The rising tide carries the boat along to Teddington lock and one is off the tidal Thames, on a part of the river with a different aspect: currents, islands, plastic cruisers of varying sizes from  small, fast, jet-set boats to the very large ocean going vessels (like the one in the movie Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell). Most of the plastic cruisers are oblivious to the power of their wash and the waves they generate can really rock a narrow boat like a cork in a wind blown lake!
   Slicing through the waters all around are boaters in low, sleek rowing shells, kayaks, and canoes. The Thames is awash in boaters of all kinds and one must pay very close attention because some of them think they own the river and our 18,000 ton steel boat should get out of their way! Often the small rowed crafts will pass around our boat on whatever side pleases them. It is unnerving at first to have so many things on which to keep our eyes! There are also an assortment of waterbirds: Mute Swans, Grebes, Merganzers, Goosanders. The Thames pulses with life.
Approaching Thames double Lock at Brentford--the final lock on the southern Grand Union canal!
   As we wait in the golden sunshine at Brentford all of this is yet to be experienced. We worry about waves, powering upstream against the current, and whether or not we will find any decent places to moor without having to pay mooring fees which can be as exorbitant as £11 a night we've heard tell. Les and I waited out nearly two weeks of crappy weather at Kensal Green and finally four days of dry, sunny weather allowed us to feel secure in our new venture.
The huge gates opening.
Wow! Looking back into the double Locks at Brentford. We were followed out by another narrow boat.
Thames River directly ahead!!! Kew gardens is across the river on the far bank. London is to the left.
Turning onto the mighty river! It is huge compared to the canal we just left.
Say goodbye to London! Brilliant blue sky and a calm, warm spring afternoon tide carried us along up river.
   So far so good! Les wore a jolly smile as the engine of NB Valerie easily powered us upstream--of course the rising tide helped. The vastness of the river made us feel small and insignificant--even on a 58 foot boat.
   I could see now why the British built a formidable Navy, traveling the high seas. It's in their blood. Britain may be a smallish island but it is criss-crossed with rivers, streams and canals, cut nearly through from East to West by the mighty Thames, surrounded by sea and ocean. The maritime climate means there is always water in the air--humidity makes itself known in the bones. Water is inescapable here. Such a change from the dry, hot, high desert of Eastern Washington state where I lived for twenty one years.
Crikey! Look at the size of those waves from the plastic boat's wash!
   Our first "wave" experience left us a bit shaken but we soon realized NB Valerie was built to deal with it and one can attempt to steer across the wash for less wave action. Okay! One worry diminished, onward we traveled, or goal to reach Teddington lock and move onto the non-tidal river.
   We negotiated Teddington lock without mishap and the nature of the Thames was immediately different. Now our engine had to work a bit harder to power us upstream against the current. Les knows no strangers and he has learned to ask questions to gain information. The Teddington Lock keeper told him there were good, free moorings just past Kingston bridge on the right.
   As the afternoon sun slanted long, we came under the bridge at Kingston-Upon-Thames, spotted the moorings and before long our pins were set for the night. Signs indicated we could moor for free the first 24 hours, with a £5 charge per day after. We took a walk along the towpath under the flowering Horse Chestnut trees, hand in hand. After dinner we watched the lights come on across the river, and heard the voices of the Saturday night partiers who flocked and overflowed the pubs and restaurants along the shoreline across the way, laughter, music, and the tinkle of glassware crossing to us on the gentle breeze.
   No one told us about the very large hire boats which go out on short cruises carrying passengers for lunch, dinner, and often dancing with live bands or loudly pulsing electronic music. These commercial craft make regular journeys up and down parts of the Thames throughout the day and evening, their wash bouncing a moored up boat up and down. We both feel unsettled--out of our element--and sleep is fitful at best.
NB Valerie in the 5:30 am sunlight. What was that bubbling sound that woke us???
   In the early morning I found myself awakened by...some undefinable sound and my bladder. After using the loo I realized I was hearing a strange bubbling sound! Les heard it too and asked me if it was coming from the bathroom sink. "nope."  
   As Les lay in bed listening, I stood in the hallway, head cocked. Blub-blub-blub sounded against the metallic bottom of NB Valerie. Oh my god we're sinking! Les and I reached the same conclusion at the same moment. Les sprung out of bed and ran up the boat to the bow doors, flinging them open in his pajamas and bare feet. He stepped over the side and I followed him in my PJ's and Crocs.
   Half the length of the boat we spotted large bubbles coming up the side. We looked at each other in a panic and then Les  told me to loosen the bow rope. He pushed our boat away from the riverbank and the bubbles continued to rise from the river bottom up the bank to the surface. It wasn't coming from our boat!! But what was it??? Back inside over tea and coffee we laughed like crazy people, at  our previous panic stricken state, as much from relief as anything else. Since we were--oh so awake we decided to walk over the bridge into Kingston and take the morning air. 
The City of Kingston-Upon-Thames lies across the river from our mooring.
The view under Kingston Bridge at 7:00 a.m.
Colorful billboards for the International Youth Arts Festival.
   Dawn and dusk are my two favorite times of day. The world is hushed and the noise of the masses ebbs away--or hasn't yet begun. I can fool myself into thinking that the world belongs to me alone in those liminal moments. Sidewalks emptied of last night's revelers I could enjoy the beautiful billboards advertising the International Youth Arts Festival which begins this weekend, July 6th, until July 28th in Kingston featuring amongst many venues, a film festival and a video competition. Tickets for all events are £5-£15 or one can buy a pass for £70-£90 and see them all. This is a festival celebrating all aspects of the arts.
   As we walked down the Thames side past the pubs and restaurants we were appalled by the amount of rubbish left behind by last night's party crowd. Beer bottles, half eaten meals in poly styrene carry out boxes, empty crisp bags and ale glasses everywhere. The rubbish bins weren't even full--it appeared most folks were either too pissed or too lazy to walk their trash to a bin or return their empty glasses to the bar.
These seemingly lovely apartments look right out on the Thames....
...except this is what awaits on the sidewalk out front when one opens the front door.
   Local workers were the only other souls out at 6 am, trolleys, brooms, dust pans, and black plastic rubbish bags in hand, cleaning away the stale debris as they moved along the river bank.
..they are vermin and cause damage. Les calls pigeons "winged rats."
   We found a narrow inlet entering the Thames in the midst of Charter Quay shops and out door seating areas. Curiosity getting the better of us, Les and I decided to turn away from the Thames and follow the narrow canal.
Charter Quay fronts the Thames. Where, we wonder, will this delightful arm reaching back towards the city lead us?
Moving away from the mighty Thames...
...we followed this canal because our curiosity impelled us.
It was six am and we were the only ones out on a glorious Sunday morning stroll.
I was captivated by this sculpture of Mallard Ducks by Lloyd Le Blanc. Such intricate details captured in metal.
Our water path led us to a bridge and a gate to the street.
Kingston's Streets were empty at dawn's first blush. This is one of my favorite times to wander--no crowds!!
Across the empty street on the other side of the bridge, swans sheltered in the clean, shallow water.
   It turns out this is the Hogsmill River--a tributary of the Thames which begins in a Surrey chalk spring, flowing seven miles to join the Thames at Kingston. In past centuries the Hogsmill river was a wide, fast flowing waterway supporting twelve gunpowder mills. Named after John Hog--a Kingston citizen of some importance in the 12th century.
   The bridge is the Clattern--the oldest bridge in Surrey, still in use. It is mentioned in a 1293 deed, and takes its name from the sound of horses hooves "clattering" across the surface.  The stone arches are the oldest parts of the bridge which is a scheduled ancient monument.
The fresh waters of the Hogsmill River led us to this incredible monument before meandering off behind the buildings nearby.
   As we turned away from the Clattern bridge I caught site of the matching blue railings surrounding this stone. It is the ancient Coronation Stone, upon which seven Anglo Saxon Kings were supposedly crowned in the 10th century and whose names circle the bottom of the stone: Edward the Elder 899; Aethelstan, 925; Edmund the First 939; Eadred, 946; Eadwig, 955; Edward the Martyr, 975; Aelthered the Unready, 979.
  This sarsen was part of a small church where the coronations took place. St. Mary's chapel fell apart in the 1700's and the stone sat nearby until someone decided it would make a great mounting block for horsemen. In 1850 is was reclaimed and inscribed with the names of these kings and set on a plinth.
One of the seven Saxon Kings crowned here: Eadward (Edward).
An alternative route through Kingston and back to the riverside, brightened with children's art.
   Taking another route back to the Thames, we cut down an alley with bright, colorful children's murals painted on the walls for the apartment dwellers opposite to look upon. As we walked along we passed permanent moorings at Eagle Brewery Wharf. I love this bright, cheerful boat with its Astro-turf grass roof and children's chairs and tables set for tea.
The whimsical NB Whirligig at Brewery Wharf permanent moorings. Look closely and you will see NB Valerie in the background across the Thames, second boat on the left.
Les is sitting in the "hand" of this large tree! See how the branches look like fingers?
The Thames and our mooring from Kingston Bridge as we walk back to NB Valerie, third boat on the right.
   By 8 am the world was wide awake. Time for us to walk back to NB Valerie for breakfast and decide whether to stay another day or up sticks for Hampton Court. As we strolled along the bridge I spotted an imprint of a black bear! I don't know what it means or who put it there but it warmed my heart to find it. 
Kingston Bridge has these half rounds where one can stand and look out on the Thames, where I spied...the stamp of a black bear! It made me think of Alaska and I wondered who put it there and why?


Elly and Mick said...

Goodness Jaq... that brought back memories of our first night on the Thames too! We freaked out because the wash from those huge passing boats jiggled us about so much that what we heard was the water sloshing about in our water tank. A whole new world compared to the sleepy canals isn't it.
Elly x

John Witts said...

What a fabulous post!

Rivers are cool!

Be not afraid of them.... (Just don't try to turn against the current!)

As for plastics with unfeasibly large wakes, a cry of 'Oi, mush! Git yer wash darn!" normally has the desired effect.

The only solution known for the problem of the late-night disco-boat, however, is a well-served brass six-pound cannon......

If nothing else, it'll make their eyes water!


Anonymous said...

A wonderful early morning stroll.
You lucky pair! Now aren't you glad you didn't try to sail Valerie up that
small tributary? The numerous walkings areas that abound amaze me. And yes the dry inlandareas of the state of Washington are very different than the waterways of the UK. Really, your travels should be documented in some form of book
or simialr, along with the colourful

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Actually Elly I thought of you and Mick as I wrote it! I'm not sure if our paths will cross again, but if they do I hope we will a have time to get together for tea or a cold drink and natter. We would love to hear about your experiences.

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi John,
I have to say our Thames experience has been so positive Les is feeling much better about heading up Cambridge way to your neck of the rivers next year! We are both glad we decided to go for it.

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,
I felt you there with us in spirit as I reminisced about walking in the early morning. Britain is a nation of walkers--it is too expensive to drive very far with petrol being the equivalent of $11.00 gallon. this also makes buses and trains expensive too. And though it is a smallish Island, transportation is difficult. I must do a post on this!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs