A Beer Bummel on the Thames River
by Greg Nicoll with John Armstrong on 1 Jul 2014
Sail-World North America's Greg Nicoll is one of the Canadian Yachting cruising Galley Guys who have made an art of being where the food and beverage action is.
"Some fellow Le Boat cruisers heading into Henley On Thame" The Galley Guys
Here is one of their reports on cruising the Rivers of England.
In the classic book Three Men on a Bummel, George asks, 'What is a Bummel?' According to the author Jerome K. Jerome, 'It is a journey, long or short without an end, the only thing regulating it being the necessity to get back within a given time to the point from which one started.'
This year’s Galley Guy bummel started at the Toronto International Airport, and then traveled from Chertsey on the Thames River, upstream to Benson, and back to Toronto. Simultaneously. We started a beer bummel, a journey to find the best pubs and finest beer on the Thames River. Our beer bummel definitely had a start with our first malt beverage on the Thames River, but we soon realized that there was no conceivable return to the place from which we had started. The realization was that our sojourn could never be concluded as there was no end in sight, for there is always another fine establishment serving delicious ales around the every bend on the Thames. We found ourselves in a place of no return, a never ending beer bummel, quite a predicament indeed. I have always wanted to use the word 'whilst' in a sentence but couldn’t make in work in this paragraph, maybe later on.
Reading an old and crusty copy of Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, became part of the inspiration for our adventure - bummel, is a humorous account by English writer Jerome K. Jerome, of a boating holiday on the Thames.
The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, as was our intent, with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements in Jerome’s odyssey took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three Men in a Boat is how undated it appears to modern readers — the jokes seem fresh and witty even today, even though this Galley Guy found 19th century English could be taxing to read at times.
The trip is a typical boating holiday of the time on a Thames camping skiff. This was just after commercial boat traffic on the Upper Thames had died out, replaced by the 1880s craze for boating as a leisure activity. Thankfully, the Galley Guys chose Le Boat, complete with an engine for propulsion and no rowing required. Our great friends at Le Boat helped us to organise a beautiful boat cruise up the Thames River from their base in Chertsey up to Benson.
Our first little adventure, and a lesson to pass on to our fellow adventurers, was the hiring of a taxi from Heathrow to Chertsey, and how a £60 fare became a £75 fare as our airport taxi driver knew little of the ways of Chertsey, please be advised to take a map or GPS. It didn’t seem like much until we got home and saw the conversion rate.
It was great to get back on Le Boat. The Le Boat staff was terrific in the orientation meetings and soon we were on our way. Skipper John, Navigator Katie, Food Manager and Wine Expert Linda and Chief Grunt and Raconteur Greg all assumed our roles, a repeat of our last excursion to the Alsace Region in France two years ago. Our vessel was the Royal Mystique, 43 footer with everything we needed for a week’s cruise in style.
John Burns, an English politician and noted London historian from the late 19th century coined the phrase 'The Thames is a liquid history' and it only took us 20 minutes from Chertsey to Staines-on-Thames to see the London Stone placed there in 1285 marking the former western limits of the City of London. On the upper deck we always kept notes and travel guides to be prepared for a history lesson that seemed to be around every bend in the river. Note: there is a large Waitrose supermarket in Staines to take on provisions for the first few nights that was apparently built sometime after the London Stone was laid.
Our crew are old hands at going through locks and Skipper John, armed this time with a bow thruster, lined up entry and exits with great precision. Le Boat has us use one of the larger, beamier boats on this part of the Thames, as many of the canals boats we saw resembled historical river boats, not to be referred to as a barge, but as a 'narrowboat'. These narrowboats are most often replicas of the working boats built in the 18th and 19th centuries used for carrying goods on the narrow canals when the maximum lock width was seven feet, (2.1m). In the lower Thames where we were ascending, the locks are much more generous giving us a lot of room for our 14 foot beam.
Six feet wide and 40 to 52 feet in length, these narrowboats glide smoothly into the locks with usually the husband’s hand steadfast on the rudder and the lady of the house tossing the bowlines with great accuracy over the bollards. Helmsmanship at its finest was on display at every lock. We are told that in the north beyond Oxford, the locks are still only seven feet wide and only the narrowboats can navigate into the midlands. I guess in a six foot wide boat you would have a galley kitchen, a galley bed, and a galley head. Sounds just right for a Galley Guy!
To make up for a lost day in our travels, we pushed a little hard the first day and saluted as we passed Runnymede where the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215. The crew decided that we would toast King John; even though he was a reluctant to be a signatory on the charter, later that night over cocktails.
It has been my experience that everywhere I travel I hear the comment that this is most unusual, or it is not normally like this, and this was the case moving up the Thames. We were blessed with extraordinary clear and hot weather. It was a unanimous vote that we plug in the first night so that AC would give us a refreshing night sleep. We choose the Tingdene Windsor Racetrack Marina, which was a good call. Our boat was very comfortable with two large staterooms, two heads, full galley, main salon, and did I mention the AC.
For a five quid taxi ride we were right in the middle of Windsor, The Castle, The Queen, (we didn’t have time to drop in to see her on her this trip), and Windsor Royal Shopping - formerly the Victorian Railway Station built in 1851, now home to great shops, restaurants, and some great pubs. Our pub choice was the Duchess of Cambridge located just outside the castle gate. Good food and good beer and a lot of people staring at their smart phones. Hmmmmm? The next morning we came back and played tourist with rented headphones and did the walking tour of Windsor Castle. Stunning displays were everywhere, and if history is on your agenda, plan for a whole day or maybe two.
Well, after that much history we decided to clear our heads with a pint. Soon it became clear that during the night history was made and our little pub, The Duchess of Cambridge, was in full celebration mode with the cells phones put away and patrons raising large jugs of ale in jubilation. Chris Brown, Town Crier of the Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, after giving his best 'Oyez, Oyez, Oyez,' all morning proclaiming the birth of Prince George, was also in a celebratory mood and having a pint. Windsor Town Crier
What struck us most was how everybody in there own way enjoyed the Thames by boating, swimming, rowing, sailing, fishing, or for many just holding hands walking along the tow paths. The early mornings are quiet yet busy on the Thames. Smooth, smooth water and with no wind it is perfect for all of the rowers gliding by our boat as we sipped morning coffee topsides and waved. Be prepared to exchange 'good days' and smiles to everyone that you see on the Thames, the local’s friendliness is infectious.
Local knowledge is a very good thing especially when it is delivered by a boater who has spent his whole life cruising up and down the Thames. The Ting Dene yacht brokers Neil carefully laid out our plans for the remainder of our trip with drawings, notes and must dos.
Our next 'planned' stopover was the market town of Marlow, but we had such a grand time in Windsor welcoming the new Prince we arrived late and were unable to find a suitable spot to tie up for the night. We slowly, as our boat only does eight KM per hour, had to go another three kilometres further up to Hurley Lock where we spiked in for the night. In most European countries it seems that one can tie up, or 'spike in' anywhere. But on this part of the Thames, there are many signs stating: no moorings or overnight stays. Lesson: arrive early in the day, as it can be competitive finding limited mooring spots in prime locations.
The Two Brewers Pub in Marlow had come highly recommended and the three kilometer trek back was well rewarded with local Rebellion pale ale. I tried to take a taxi back to the boat but again the driver got lost and we ended back at the pub. I chose to walk back to the boat. Note to self: I need to work on my communication skills when traveling in a foreign country.
We were told that the real estate along the Thames is some of the most expensive in Europe and we were constantly gobsmacked gawking at estate after estate. Fortunately, we pulled into Henley-on-Thames a week after the famous regatta and music festival and saw where the estate owners go for lunch. We did not observe any signs of the financial troubles currently plaguing most European economies in Henley. This is the only time that I will ever use 'gobsmacked' in a sentence, promise.
The travel instructions from our trusted yacht broker said that when you get to the village of Sonning on Thames, tie up on the left hand side of the river, put 10 pounds in an envelope marked Uri Geller and place it in the box. Many may remember Uri as magician, television personality, and psychic famous for bending spoons by telepathy in the 60s and 70s. We peeked through his hedge and saw the extent of his mansion and concluded that he really didn’t need the 10 bob, but we were grateful for his generosity and the nice mooring in the village of Sonning.
'We got out at Sonning, and went for a walk around the village. It is the most fairy like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage village than one built of bricks and mortar. Every house is smothered in roses and now in early June they were bursting forth in clouds of dainty splendour. If you stop at Sonning, put up at the 'Bull', behind the church. It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green, square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics.' Jerome K. Jerome 1889. I couldn’t say it much better today except the horses have been replaced by Mercedes and BMWs plus the women are now included in the discussions…………. interesting.
There is a shortcut to get to the Bull from the mooring. Duck under the bridge and follow the path past the door to the secret garden, keeping to the left and take the walkway through the centuries’ old cemetery. This route also makes for an interesting evening walk on the way home after a few pints.
Our Beer Bummel got challenged when we encountered the Village of Goring, which was named South England’s Village of the Year in 2010. Our crew proclaimed it the best collection of traditional English pubs anywhere! Goring and its neighbouring village of Streatley are very old and stand at the junction of three major prehistoric routes, the Ickneild Way, The Great Ridgeway, and the Thames River and was chosen by the Romans to build a crossing of the river. The villages are located in the southwest corner of the Chiltern Hills in South Oxfordshire. Plan to get off your boat and take one of the many walking and bikes tours in the surrounding country side.
On the river one could always count on the lock-keepers to be congenial, helpful, and knowledgeable. Always hand your line; never throw it, if a Lockkeeper offers assistance. Each lock has a beautifully maintained 'lock house' usually circa about 1913, with lush gardens and over flowing with flora. Our favourite lock house was in Sonning where you can sit amongst colourful hollyhocks whilst enjoying tea in a splendid garden. There, I finally got to use whilst in a sentence.
'Messing about in Boats' is probably the most over worked expression in boating. Author Kenneth Grahame, spent a great deal of his life in the small riverside town of Pangbourne just south of Goring, and it is easy to see how the story of Wind in the Willows came about. The river gently flows through pasture meadows, crooked old trees weep on the banks, and the wildlife is in abundance at the water's edge. Me thinks 'Messing' does not refer to tinkering and sanding, it is just the love of being on a boat and watching the river idle by. The network of paths on either bank of the river is clearly marked and you will be able to avoid Mr. Toad and his motor car for a great deal of your stay.
Get to the town of Wallingford early in the day as it is very popular and there are limited spaces to tie off. Late as usual we had to spike-in alongside a farmer’s field just a short walk outside the town. Wallingford is a vibrant market town and we decided that our last night on the river that we would shop and prepare a feast aboard our Royal Mystique. Fresh salads and fresh fish grilled on the outdoor barbeque along with some local spicy cider made for a true Galley Guy feast. Our quiet dinner with the four ship mates was going just fine until a number of uninvited guests crowded in and began to stare at us with their big brown eyes. Oh the Thames, if it is not Lords and Ladies, its Herefords and Jerseys.
Enjoy Wallingford, the history lessons take you through the bronze and iron age, the Romans, King Alfred The Saxon King, The Vikings, William The Conqueror, The Charter of Liberties, Black Death, The Rise and Fall of the Wallingford Castle, Civil Wars, Sieges, Oliver Cromwell, The demolition of the Castle, the home of Agatha Christie, the back drop for the Midsomer Murders television series, and a cairn and plaque in memory of two airmen from the 426 Squadron 4 Group of the Royal Canadian Air Force killed 9th September 1944. The Canadian Flag flies over the Wallingford town hall every September 9th in remembrance of Flying Officer J.A Wilding DFC RCAF and Sgt J.F. Andrew RAF.
There is so much more of the Thames to explore and hopefully our mighty crew can get back one day to finish our Bummel. Thanks to all of the smiling people we met along the way that pointed us in the right direction. Thanks to the great people at Le Boat at both ends of our journey and the great boat.
Canadian Yachting magazine is Canada's premiere source for compelling boating lifestyle experiences, travel destinations, boat reviews, tips on gear, marine events and breaking news for sailors and power boaters. Enjoyed by readers in digital, online and print formats six times yearly.
If you want to link to this article then please use this URL: www.sail-world.com/123989