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February 27, 2012

TAKING THE HELM INTO BRITAIN’S HISTORY


David Ellis


WE'VE a colleague who as a travel writer knows as much about driving a boat as we know about the driving force behind the mating ritual of the Tanzanian Bwango Mango Tsetse Fly.

So when he flew off to London with his lady to take a self-drive boat up the Thames, colleagues foregathered over drinks to speculate on (a) how much damage he would do to the boat, (b) how many injuries he would inflict upon himself, (c) how many injuries he would inflict upon others, and (d) in what mental state his partner would return home.

Remarkably he confounded us on all counts, but rather than us trying to tell you the story of his trip, we've asked him to tell you himself. Here's his account.

"Look," I kept telling Sandra as we rode the train from Heathrow to the village of Benson, "they wouldn't let us do it if it was that difficult for a couple of novices."

She was remarkably unconvinced, but having picked up our boat from the jetty of Le Boat in Benson, easily negotiated our first lock, and found a mooring for the night, she began to relax. Or aybe it was the couple of pints of bitter and the hearty fare at The Boathouse pub that washed away any remaining qualms.

Our boat was a Capri TS, and certainly comfortable enough. A couple of outside seats at the stern, a galley with table and benches, fridge, TV and gas stove, a smallish double-bed up front, and a bathroom that was a bit of a squeeze. But, hey, we'd chosen the smallest in the fleet and had plenty of hot water by running the engine a few hours a day.

We planned on what Le Boat calls it's "Scholars' Cruise," motoring upstream to Oxford and downstream to the rowing course at Henley. But after a couple more pints we decide to ignore the Henley bit and spend more time wending our way to and from Oxford.

Wallingford proved an excellent place to start. County realignments now place it in Oxfordshire but it was once the chief town in Berkshire, and an important part of the fortified defence line against potential Viking invasion.

It also proved a beautiful place to stroll around, to stocking-up on provisions and to sit on deck and admire the cathedral and old bridge – and chat with fellow river travellers moored nearby.

We also ventured by taxi a few kilometres to North Moreton, a time-warped English village with thatched roofs and a superb old pub called the Bear Inn. Not to mention a decaying church and an eccentric vicar almost more interested in our family history, that we'd come mildly in search of, than we were.

And we found the Thames a user-friendly place. The lock keepers patiently understood the learning curves of we first-timers, while the river's regulars, many of whom live on longboats inevitably embellished with rooftop gardens and sun lounges, were only too willing to catch a rope and help us tie-up.

And while there were plenty of mooring places with facilities, it was also just as easy to drive a few pegs into the bank alongside the river's towpath, attach some ropes and, hey presto, tied up for the night to indulge the absolute peace and calm.

Oxford proved as sublime a destination as we had anticipated, and we'd suggest tying up a few hundred metres from Folly Bridge and not far from Christ Church Cathedral and College. It was amongst the best of the city's experiences.

Then it was back down river to Benson, stopping for a night at Abingdon, where William the Conqueror once celebrated Easter, and the remains of its ancient abbey and gardens.

All in all, it was a very different and invigorating way to explore an iconic corner of England. Le Boat's charter rates start from about AU$1400 per week, plus we paid AU$160 for collision-waiver insurance, and fuel for the week's motoring was just over £30. Larger boats, taking up to 10 people, are also available.

Le Boat offers similar arrangements in England's Norfolk Broads, Scotland, Ireland and Europe. You can get details from Le Boat Australia on 1800 118 940, visit www.leboat.com.au or email sales@leboat.com.au

(John Rozentals is publisher of www.OzBabyBoomers.com.au)

 

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] CAPTAIN John… taking the slow lane to Oxford

[] EASY to park: just a couple of pegs, marked for joggers

[] WALLINGFORD…  a beautiful place to wander around

[] NORTH Moreton, time-warped with more than its share of thatched roofs

[] HEAD of the River Inn: right at Oxford's Folly Bridge with Christ Church Cathedral and College nearby

[] ABINGDON … William the Conqueror once celebrated Easter here.


(Photos: Sandra Burn White)

 
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