Aiming to avoid the anticipated crowds on the River Thames over the Easter weekend, we headed down the River Wey and Godalming Navigations. Before this though we had another day on the Thames
Tuesday 11th April
Kingston-Upon-Thames to Shepperton
Before we wet sail, we went for a walk around the grounds of Hampton Court to visit another canal. From Kingston you can walk around a large part of the grounds for free and get within a few hundred yards of the house. From there, we joined the water feature known as the Long Water Canal, which runs for several hundred yards. No chance of getting our boat on this canal though.
Returning to Kingston we had a short walk around town and then headed back to the boat. There were lots of student rowers on the river and they seem oblivious to everyone else. With three boats just sitting across our side of the river we had to sound the horn to get them to move and let us pass.
We continued round passing the main entrance to Hampton Court and then headed for Molesey our first lock of the day. At last we would get rid of the rowers. The next stretch or river is littered with islands, each of which is covered with an eclectic array of houses. Passing along one of these islands, 2 more lots of rowers came racing side by side round the bend, on our side of the river. We ended up in the bushes to avoid a head on collision and the teachers in their launch sheepishly apologised.
After Sunbury lock we pulled over for lunch before our final section of the day. Rather than take the man-made channel at Desborough Island we were looking at moorings on the long way round. The first one would have meant us mooring against a high wall so we continued to the moorings at Shepperton. We were delighted to find that these were empty and we had a lovely area of well trimmed grass to moor by.
After about an hour loads of young teenagers appeared but they were a few hundred yards away. Little by little though they spread out and we ended up with some right next to the boat. When two boys got on the back of the boat that was the final straw and we told them to go away in no uncertain terms.
As the afternoon turned to evening 4 guys turned up and had a BBQ, which they then left still smouldering. Further along others had lit a fire and were still there when we went to bed. By the morning the pristine area was a mess with burnt grass and rubbish scattered around, much of it just a few yards from the bin. Sometimes you despair.
Wednesday 12th April to Tuesday 18th April
River Wey and Godalming Navigations
Our cunning plot of avoiding the Easter crowds on the Thames worked a treat, as we enjoyed a week on the beautiful River Wey and Godalming Navigations.
The cost is £80 for a weeks licence (less 10% for National Trust members) and with how well it is all looked after, this didn’t feel overly expensive. It was a price I was happy to pay to avoid being on the Thames for the long weekend.
Pre-dating the canal revolution by around 100 years, The Wey navigation dates back to the 1650’s with the extension to Godalming dating to about 100 years later.
Much of the navigation is deeply rural with barely a house in sight. The only unattractive part being the route through the north of Guildford. The river twists and turns with some very sharp bends to negotiate.
Our trickiest manoeuvre was meeting a widebeam on a narrow and shallow section. We gave as much room as we could but I wasn’t going to go aground for him. If they are going to bring such a big craft on to the waterway, I think they should make room for you. He did go aground but a pole and a bow thruster soon got him free again.
I don’t know how he went on later in the day, as we remembered that there was a tree in the water and he would probably be too wide to get past. This was just after the very tricky turn at Broad Oak Bridge.
In theory you can moor along the length of the river but in practice much of the bank side has too many reeds or is too shallow. With river levels low, on one day we tried at three different locations before we could get right into the side.
We had been in contact with Sue from ‘No Problem’ and she gave us some advice on possible mooring spots not shown on the map. We were further helped, as there were sections of banking that had been recently mowed at suitable locations.
Before our visit we were unsure how easy it would be to find unoccupied mooring spaces but in the end we got in at all the spots we wanted.
The National Trust give specific instructions for using the locks. When going up, there was always a small yellow post to tie the stern rope to. This was to stop the boat lurching forward when filling the lock. You are also supposed to tie a rope at the bow. However we usually used a centre line around a bollard, so I could watch both ropes whilst Angela operated the paddles.
The paddles needed to be opened slowly, as water comes in very quickly and could easily throw the boat around. We found it easier to just open the paddle on the side that the boat was on. It was slower but more controlled.
The balance beams on the locks are somewhat quirky. They were sometimes very low making it hard on the back. Instead of a handle on the top they had a chain and bar on the end. Another quirk on some gates were their location when open. In some cases the balance beam went across the footbridge.
One thing that we did like with the locks though, was having to leave the gates open after you exit.
Our Time on the River
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip on the river. At less than 20 miles in length and with 15 locks we had no need for any long days. Our shortest day being just one and a half hours travelling to the end of the navigation, at the pleasant town of Godalming. As is normal for us, we were usually on our way before 8am (All those years of waking up at 6am, are hard to get out of). This meant we had often reached our destination before noon. This is after the slow starters have left their overnight mooring and before people stop for lunch. We therefore usually get first choice of mooring. The minus is that we don’t usually meet anyone else to share locks with.
At Pyford marina we called in to top up with diesel. I was concentrating on getting the boat through the narrow entrance and in line for the pontoon and Angela was standing on the gunwale waiting to step ashore. She noticed that one of the wooden planks roped to the side to act as a fender, had come unattached at one end and had drifted out. She assumed that the bow of the boat would just nudge it out of the way.
However I must have hit the timber at 90 degrees and it made the boat rock. Angela lost her balance and fell forwards landing in the water a few feet from the side. Luckily it wasn’t very deep and with great presence of mind she climbed out of the water with the rope still in her hand and completed the mooring. What a professional. Angela claimed that she didn’t fall in, she was boffed.
Whilst moored at Godalming we were lucky enough to see the trip boat which is pulled by a shire horse. We were moored on its route and the handlers had to lift the rope over our boat to get past.
We are now back at Pyford for our last night on the river before rejoining the Thames. There has been a steady stream of boats passing on their way home and hopefully by the morning it will all be back to normal.
3 swing bridges