Lisamarie Lamb of INSIDEKent and INSIDESussex Magazine recently took a trip with us from our Oxford base. Here’s her trip review:
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river…
And that was how the long weekend began. Driving from Kent to Oxford, the car stuffed full of clothes to suit most (but not all, it turns out) weathers, enough food to feed an army for a fortnight, and excitement fluttering in everyone’s stomachs, it was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary that we heard on the radio just as we – my husband, four year-old daughter, and I – pulled into the boatyard belonging to Anglo Welsh.
It was Proud Mary that we were humming as we got out of the car after two and a half hours, and started wondering which boat amongst the plethora of boats was to be ours for the next four days and three nights.
It’s Proud Mary that hasn’t left my head since. It’s a good thing I like the song.
After unloading the car, we were introduced to our boat, the rather pleasingly (for a Kentish Maid such as myself) named Romney. Romney is a narrowboat that has everything anyone could need for a short break away; a fully stocked kitchen that includes a full sized gas oven, a microwave, sink, kettle (very important), pots, pans, plates, mugs, glasses, and even a tablecloth and napkins. Nothing has been forgotten.
There is also a seating area which turns into a bedroom containing two single beds. During the day, however, a small table can be placed in between the beds/benches to create a dining area. There is a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and excellent shower, and another bed at the rear of the boat, although this one is a double.
We fell in love with Romney there and then.
Learning to drive her was something that was left to my husband, Dean, as I settled Alice into her life jacket and unpacked. He had been very keen to get behind the rudder, and, having tried – and failed – to steer boats in the past (two rather unfortunate and almost dangerous occurrences spring to mind, one in a rowing boat in America, the other in a speedboat in Turkey), I was not. I did like the idea of sitting back and letting the Thames drift by though. The thing with a narrowboat, though, as I’ve since learned, is that no one gets to duck out of the work!
Anglo Welsh’s John who drives the boats came with us for our first foray out onto the water, and we – with his expert guidance – were soon chugging along. He said that he would stay with us until the first lock, at which point he could disembark and walk back home, leaving us to continue our journey. We were planning to head to Oxford and moor up there for the night, but time was ticking on, and the locks – locks! – are only manned from 9am until 6pm. After that you can still go through them, but it’s all self-service. The idea did not appeal, at least not on our first night, so we were keen to keep moving.
The lock loomed up at us, and I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous. I had a job to do now, and that job, although it sounded simple, required a steady hand and nerves of steel. I had to throw (lasso) a mooring rope over a metal post from the front of the boat before we reached the lock gate. Dean had to do the same at the back, whilst also cutting the engine and steering to the bank.
It took a bit of practice.
But we did it.
By the end of the four days, we became experts at locks. We passed through four of them on the way to Oxford, and the same four on the way back to Eynsham, where Anglo Welsh is based. Only once did we have to do it all ourselves; the rest of the time the wonderful lock keepers were there to help us, taking the ropes, giving clear instructions, and chatting as the lock filled or emptied of water.
It was the lovely couple at Godstow Lock who suggested that, once in Oxford, we might like to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. It sounded ideal, especially as Alice has a rather macabre streak for a four year old (I blame the parents) and loves mummies, witches, ghosts, and all manner of ghouls. So Pitt Rivers was out first stop once we reached Oxford, which we did on the second day.
By that time we were rather cocky about our narrowboat skills – it really doesn’t take long to get the hang of it all. We pulled up just before Oxney Lock, where mooring is free for 24 hours, and then just £5 per day after that.
Oxford was a fascinating place, full of interesting things to do but, not having that much time before we needed to head back (bear in mind that, although Oxford is only five miles of so from Eynsham, narrowboats move at around one mile an hour). We visited the Ashmolean, the Natural History Museum of Oxford (dinosaurs!), and the Pitt Rivers (twice), the highlight of which was the witch in the bottle. Alice still talks about it.
After a wonderful time in Oxford, it was time to head back. We somewhat reluctantly said goodbye to our moorings – our home for 36 hours – and headed back. But the day was darkening, and we needed dinner so we stopped earlier than intended. And that may have been the best decision we made all weekend.
We had spotted the ruins of an old building just by the river, and had been keen to investigate, so this was where we moored up, right next to it, on a gentle stretch of the Thames. I’ve made it sound so easy. This is where we had issues – the river may have looked gentle, but the current was strong, and although I had leapt nimbly off the boat to tie us up, the back end started to drift off, leaving me holding a rope attached to a few tons of metal and wood, and Dean desperately trying to get Romney back to the bank without dragging me into the water.
Our desperate shouts alerted a couple – we never did get their names in all our panic – who had already moored a little way upriver, and they ran swiftly to our aid, instructing Dean how to get the boat back where it was meant to be, and showing me how to moor up safely.
It was a tense few minutes, but, once done, and once our thanks had been showered on these wonderful strangers (boat people are incredibly friendly – you will always have help when you need it), we sat back to admire the view. And to do some googling.
The ruins were Godstow Abbey and Nunnery, a once grand place that was now just a shell, albeit a beautifully creepy one. We explored, and we wished we had more time. This is where Lewis Carroll had often taken Alice Liddell and her sisters for picnics, and I wondered what incredible stories he had told them here.
After a superb dinner in the pub that could be seen from the boat – The Trout – we settled down for our last night on Romney.
The next day, as we headed back to Eynsham and Anglo Welsh, we were happy, relaxed, and willing to do it all again.