When our friends went off to help the Greek economy and offered us two weeks on their home 'Living the Dream', a wide beamed narrow boat, we leapt at the chance. Leaping was to become part of our daily lives from now on.
Moored in Windsor, 60ft long and 10ft wide boat had space for all creature comforts including shower room, king size bed and well equipped kitchen. The comfy sofa was perfect for TV viewing and cuddling up with the dogs. Part of the deal was to look after the resident dog, Harvey, a very cute Lhasa Apso and best friend of our Wire Fox Terrier Dylan.
We began our journey up river on the day when the entire rainfall of the month of July fell. Undaunted, waterproofed up, we continued the nine miles and four locks to Cookham. We had been giving some training prior to this adventure, mainly on the tiller. One of the those things that looks easy when it's done well .....
I am definitely coming back as a lock keeper. Without exception they are the kindest, friendliest, most helpful people. Even though the locks are automatically controlled, their job is to fit in as many boats as possible at each end change, to help with ropes and exchange banter while waiting for water to fill up or empty.
My job was to go to the front of the boat and secure it on a bollard with the rope, then hold on while the water gushed in, keeping the rope taut. People gather at locks for the entertainment value of seeing a boat upended or even sunk by ropes not held correctly. I admit to saying a little prayer each time we reached a lock.
On arrival at Cookham still in pouring rain, all seemed to be OK until my husband suggested I 'jump off the side of the boat onto a high bank holding on to a rope and then whack in a stake to tie the rope on.' Deep joy! I had no choice however as the next stopping point didn't cater for bigger boats. Hot showers and divine sausage sandwiches followed, masking the smell of wet dog. Listening to rain. Then off to find the nearest local.
Next day the sun came out and from the kitchen window I made eye contact with geese/swans/ducks and fearless dinghy sailors who only swerved at the last minute. I could not believe how quickly I had fallen in love with this lifestyle. Totally connected to the water and wildlife. At night the water is absolutely still and we wake to the ripple of the river.
Probably our busiest mooring was Henley with a constant flow of people on the tow path. Just missed George Clooney as we continued on to Sonning. He has settled there with his wife Amal and apparently drinks in the local.
Star attractions on our boat were the dogs in their life jackets. Countless photo calls by people at locks or on the towpaths.
We continued up the river to our final destination Pangbourne, famous for beautiful pies which we had to sample.
We returned to Windsor mooring overnight at Wargrave and Hurley. Travelling down river is quicker. My husband's turn to take the strain on his rope in the locks at the back of the boat as the water level recedes. Oh well ....
There were rituals apart from opening the wine in the evening. Last thing at night we flicked a switch which closed down and conserved power. Moored in an isolated spot near Wargrave, we were wondering what the light was in the bedroom. And there it was, the most gigantic full moon shining on a misty river. Amazing and blue?
It's lovely to see how well used the river is. Picnickers on the banks, children swimming in shallow areas. This was close to our mooring in Hurley which was just as picture perfect as everyone had said. The craft on the river is so varied, dinghies, canoes, pleasure cruisers, motor boats. My favourite was two older ladies gliding around the small islands which form part of the river, on a colourful open boat with a frilly edged canopy. Beats coffee with the girls any time.
We learned something every day and I became confident stepping off the boat, tying up ropes etc. It was a great feeling. I had more muscles than I knew existed. Instructions like 'just take that rope and pull the boat a bit further along this way' or 'before you let go of that rope, put your foot out and push us off' did not phase me at all.
Once we were safely moored up for the night and dogs had been walked, we settled down on the back of the boat with a glass of wine. We had to keep pinching ourselves, so lucky to experience this freedom. We had seen the grandest houses along the river, but not sure I would have traded them for this.
All good things as they say, and we were very sad to hand the boat back. We're just hoping our friends take another holiday some time soon.