Category Archives: Aviation

Going Tidal

Venturing onto the tidal Thames below Teddington Lock is not to be taken lightly in a totally unseaworthy narrowboat, even just down the short-ish section to Brentford, where one can re-enter the canal system. It’s almost a 180° turn going down the river and into the cut that reaches Thames Lock and the Grand Union Canal. Get the timing wrong, and the tide can cause the river to be flowing downstream at 15 knots, when the most your narrowboat will do is about 8 knots flat out (a recipe for ending up somewhere entirely different to where you wanted to go, probably pointing in the wrong direction).

So the deal is that you depart Teddington Lock about half an hour before high tide,  and turn into Brentford just over an hour later, before things get too hairy. “High tide’s at 12:45 on Sunday: be at the lock at 12:15” said the lockkeeper. The other advantage of this timing is that they raise the weir gates at Richmond so you can sail straight through, rather than work through Richmond Lock.

Unusually, we were somewhat late departing Hampton Court moorings (quelle surprise), even though an Egyptian Goose family came to wave farewell, and check out our snazzy new lifejackets.

Egyptian Goose & goslings

Then as we puttered down towards Kingston, the engine went into auto-rough. (This is a phenomenon well known to those with risk assessment gene deficiency syndrome who fly single-engine aircraft over large bodies of water: the engine detects the moment one leaves the possibility of a dry landing and sounds as though it’s about to self destruct). Mooring up hurriedly to disappear down the weed hatch only to find nothing didn’t help our arrival time… it was looking less and less likely we were going to make our tidal slot.

And then it started raining (as forecast). So what with putting on wet weather gear, clock watching, pushing the throttle up a bit and so on, the otherwise interesting trip down through our old haunts of Thames Ditton, Kingston and Teddington passed in a bit of blur, without slowing down to take photos, although we did manage to snap this old Dutch Tjalke. And as the river got wider so did the the boats!

Dutch Tjalke

12:15 came and went and we were still a nearly mile short of Teddington Lock. As we approached, there was a large passenger steamer on our tail, and – (there are two parallel locks at Teddington – we were waved into one already occupied by two other narrowboats camping at the bit, and the steamer waved into the other. Again, no time for pictures. Letting down onto the tidal Thames, it was exactly 12:45 high tide when we left the lock… we got the impression from the lockkeeper that had we arrived any later, we’d have been waiting for 24 hours. “Follow the others… you’ll be OK” he said.

So we got ourselves a convoy, and the next hour and a quarter passed quickly enough while the tide started to fall, as did the scenery(!) and with little drama.

Passing Richmond, you realise just what a superb position the old Star and Garter home (now being converted into luxury apartments) occupies. Just so long as you don’t mind aircraft on finals to LHR going right overhead at 1500ft every 90 seconds or so).

We've got ourselves a convoy

The last stretch before Brentford has Syon Park on the left, and Kew Gardens on the right, but you don’t really see either (apart from the mature trees lining the bank). And we were happy to be in convoy with someone who knew where they were going. The turn into Thames Lock is unmarked and not at all obvious and it would be easy to sail right on past. Even with almost “correct timing” tide-wise, and following the boat in front, we were astonished at how far downstream we travelled involuntarily during the turn, and how much power we needed to crawl upstream into the lock cut. Definitely not an exercise to be taken lightly!

Locking up into Brentford, the sun came out again, and the visitor moorings were all full (there’s a quaint old bit of Brentford as well as all the skyscrapers lining the M4 elevated section), so we pottered on into another business park for a well-deserved late lunch. Biggles decided to explore the office blocks before deciding to go somewhere else for the night.

Late lunch in BrentfordLate lunch in Brentford

Late lunch in Brentford

A short potter further along the Grand Union ensued, to moor just before Hanwell Bottom Lock, right near a pub that didn’t serve their much recommended food on a Sunday evening. The irritating Sunday Lunch syndrome strikes again.

Haircut Al-Fresco and Helicopters

And so it proved to be… with the weekend weather forecast looking good, our nice quiet moorings rapidly filled up with other like minded boaters.

Mind you, being on this stretch of the Thames, you soon realise just how many helicopters avail themselves of the H3 low level route into Central London through Heathrow’s Air Traffic Zone (it follows the M3 from Bagshot then the Thames).

The crew’s hairdresser of several decades standing lived nearby (his boys all went to Halliford School a third of mile away), and miraculously he had a spare slot, so he nipped down to look at the boat and trim madam’s locks.

Al Fresco HaircutAl Fresco Haircut

One of Fran’s Badminton-playing pals spent quite a lot of time with a friend who owned a cruiser somewhere in the area. She’d been meaning to call her with a view to possibly meeting up, when who should arrive by water? Dee and friend. They, like us, were mooching around for a day or so…


Then, to round off the day, Fran’s ex-husband plus his wife, still living in Sunbury, came round for a look at the boat and dinner in Shepperton. Unfortunately, Fran’s sister and brother-in-law, who were also coming, cried off because Lynne wasn’t well. Despite that, there was still much discussion of old friends, family etc.

So much for a quiet chill-out spot!

The wildlife were pretty tame too: a pair of mallards demanded food with menaces and ate from the hand.

Tame duckling

A swan had a new clutch of cygnets that were just learning to go solo.

Swan ferrySwan ferry disembarkation

And scruffy Canada Goslings really just don’t have that je ne sais quoi  that cygnets have, do they?

Canada Geese

It’s Aldershot, Jim…

… but not as we know it. When the first mate was a but a lowly computer programmer in short trousers there was an old joke “I thought a dump was a diagnostic core print until I saw Aldershot.” But winding through Aldershot Barracks on the canal, you’d never know: just peace and quiet surrounded by trees and water (and in our case, sunshine).

Aldershot BarracksAldershot Barracks

If you really look hard enough you might catch an occasional distant glimpse of a building or some barbed wire, but that’s it.

Farnborough Airfield

The barbed wire is bit more obvious at the pleasant moorings by Eelmoor Bridge, right at the end of Farnborough Airport’s runway. From the bank there’s a superb view across the airfield and beyond, and not enough jet traffic to disturb dinner or breakfast. Must be a popular spot during the Farnborough Airshow!

21 Swan Salute

Pottering around on the water, it’s easy to get blasé about all the wildlife, even in towns. But things still never fail to surprise. At Abingdon, on sliding back the roof hatch, within that small bit of visible sky, there were overflying – all at once, at different heights – a Red Kite, a Common Tern, a Heron, a Black-Headed Gull and a Wood Pigeon.

Moored at Wallingford, we had low passes by Kingfishers on several occasions, and at one point there were 7 Red Kites performing formation aerobatics as though practicing for the Farnborough Air Show. Didn’t have the heart to tell them that it’s Paris’ turn this year, and anyway the Red Arrows and the Patrouille de France have rather sown up that market.

When Greylag Geese pass closely on short finals with full flaps down, you can hear quite odd loud vibrations from the wing trailing edges – sounds like someone playing a kazoo or comb and paper. Quite different from the whooshing noises from swans in transition from ground to air or vice-versa.

On the subject of swans, they seem to have been taking lessons from London Transport: hadn’t seen one for days, then near in open country near Goring we came across 21 milling around quietly in the middle of the river: they politely saluted and moved apart to let us through. Later, a single swan – probably related to the nutter near Newbury – passed the boat on short finals to the river just ahead of the boat, with a maximum wing-tip clearance from Fran’s head of three inches. Any closer and he’d have had her sunglasses off her head. What is it with swans and her?

And foreigners abound. Apart from Canada Geese (way too many these days) we’ve seen Egyptian Geese (including one pair with five goslings), Mandarin Ducks, and this chap at Wallingford.

Muscovy Duck, it would seem.

He’s seemingly a Muscovy Duck from Central/South America, and was there last October, so he’s obviously made his peace with the locals.

A Llama a Day…

Creeping slowly out of Oxford on a Monday morning, all was quiet if a little overcast and miserable, until we got a bit closer to Kidlington. Then, as well as distant heavies in and out at Brize Norton, there seemed to be a solitary Red Arrow (or at least a red painted Hawk) doing circuits at London Oxford Airport (sic), which brought back memories of a stretch along the Kennet & Avon where some large helicopters were frightening all the boaters practicing “nap of the earth” or more accurately “nap of the canal” operations at no more than 100 feet. Rather them than me.

Mooring in Inspector Morse territory at Thrupp (a very popular and busy boaty canal side village) found us having a splendid meal in The Boat Inn, albeit a quiet one on a Monday night. Always a favourite pub.

The canal had been relatively busy with boats (more so than on the K&A and Thames) – even had to queue for a lock, something that was rare even in the height of summer. Maybe they’re all trying to get back to their winter homes before the winter maintenance programme kicks in and closes large chunks of the network. Certainly there were still plenty of chancers about on the Tuesday braving the strong gusty wind and rain caused by the remains of Hurricane Gonzalo. We chickened out, and spent the day dodging the showers washing and waxing the shore-side of the boat to protect the paintwork in preparation for winter. (Should really have done it ages ago).

Then despite the forecast, Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, and in the garden right next to us munching on yesterday’s crop of fallen apples was a bunch of llamas. Ho hum.

There're llamas at the bottom of my gardenLlama, Thrupp

And the weather stayed pretty fine for a pleasant day’s cruising over territory familiar from the run down in the summer: watching the trainee commercial pilots going round and round struggling in the gusty conditions with single-engined approaches in twin-engined aircraft (BTDTGTTS); mooring up at Pigeon’s Lock for another trek across the fields to the community shop at Tackley so we could get some food for lunch; and calling in at Heyford Wharf mooring four abreast with the hire boats for a pump out. Even Biggles seemed to know we were getting near the home straight (or home wiggle, more like).

Takeoff Performance Calculations–Mute Swan mark 1

While waiting for the last few inches of the aforementioned  turf-sided lock to fill, an adult swan took off “up-hill” from the pound below the lock. Not sure whether he started from the wrong waterway intersection, or attempted a reduced thrust take-off, or lost an engine, or only calculated the requirement to clear the bottom gate, but he only cleared the actual take-off obstacle – Fran’s head – by about 11 inches, and the down draft definitely disturbed her hair. One for the SAIB to investigate perhaps: a few inches lower and it could have been messy – another potentially peculiar epitaph.

Defence of the Realm

The Leaving of LechladeDSCF0908

All along the banks of the Upper Thames, about every half mile, there are old WWII pill boxes. Had visions of the boffins trying to prevent the enemy from staging a sneak raid into the Lechlade megalopolis by storming up the river in fast RIBs, but they’re all on the Eastern side of the river. Apparently this was an attempt to protect the Midlands from an invasion force coming up from the South West, using the reinforced river as a barrier (presumably blowing up the very few road bridges in these parts).

Can’t help thinking that the narrow river wouldn’t have delayed a decent sized force with a Bailey Bridge or two for more than a few hours, but who knows. And the area is still so remote from villages that I guess no one has bothered to dig them up or find a use for them.

And this neck of the woods has remained a military stronghold: RAF Fairford just by Lechlade is active again (big American transport jobs around), while Bampton is very near RAF Brize Norton. Superb  – if you like that sort of thing – views of the RAF’s shiny new (or rather unmarked dull grey) Airbus 330 tankers spending the day doing visual circuits at less than 2000 feet, and the occasional sighting of the Red Arrows coming and going.

Bampton in the BushBampton in the BushBampton Levada

Mooring up again at Rushey Lock (bank holiday – no pile driving!), a visit to Bampton was in order: mind you, a two mile walk across open fields full of sheep and wheat to get milk and a newspaper is pushing it. No wonder they used to call it Bampton in the Bush. They seem to have levadas in Bampton too: thought we were in Madeira for a minute.

Fortunately,  freshly baked croissants, decent coffee, and a complete absence of Morris Dancers provided suitable refreshment for the walk back.

Preparing for a long-haul sector (1.1 miles) down to The Trout at Tadpole Bridge to meet up with some old friends who were travelling out for dinner, we saw the Arrows carry out a formation departure from Brize at 13:40 for a 14:00 display at Dunsfold Wings and Wheels. Obviously doesn’t take long in a Hawk.

And then they returned in Diamond Nine formation at 14:35, doing their version of a run and break arrival (a big smoke-on loop overhead the airfield, splitting up on the way down to separate out downwind), while Song & Dance’s first officer proved comprehensively that you can’t steer the boat down the narrow winding river and watch the Red Arrows doing aerobatics at the same time. Not so much Bampton in the Bush as Boat in the Bushes.

Tadpole Bridge