FLOODS swept through the Henley area this week, disrupting businesses and sports events and causing gridlock on the roads.
The Environment Agency issued five flood warnings as the River Thames rose following heavy rain at the weekend.
Residents in Henley, Shiplake, Wargrave, Caversham, Sonning, Mapledurham and Goring were all out on alert and some were issued with sandbags.
Drivers were hit by road closures which caused tailbacks and rail commuters suffered long delays in services caused by flooded tracks. However, the flooding didn’t cause the chaos seen in 2003 and 2007.The car park at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley was closed after a poplar tree fell over and large parts of Mill Meadows have been under water since Monday, including the bandstand, the area around the war memorial and almost all the park benches.
Catherine Yoxall, marketing manager at the museum, said: “It took us a bit by surprise but if people have wellies, they should still come in.”
The path outside Hobbs of Henley was swamped in a foot of water and prevented people from walking past or drivers from parking.
Managing director Jonathan Hobbs said the floods had not reached the record levels of five and nine years ago, which are marked with plaques outside his office, but said the peak was expected yesterday morning (Thursday).
“It hasn’t adversely affected our business yet,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of boat trips but hopefully the weather will improve before the majority of our Christmas bookings come round.
“We’ve had to walk a plank to get to the office. We’re so used to flooding that there’s a plan that comes into place once it starts. We know what to do to make everything safe. We’ll check the moorings on our boats as well as other people’s because they can’t get to them.”
Roy Hastings, who co-owns the Chocolate Theatre café in Thames Side, said he was worried about the flooding.
He said the parents of a two-year-old girl who had fallen in the river outside on Sunday had brought her into the café afterwards to dry off. “You can’t see the edge where the river meets the towpath so she slipped into the water and fell,” he said.
Red Lion Lawn was barely visible because of the high water level and Lion Meadow, the car park for Henley Royal Regatta, was almost completely submerged.
Paul Budd, general manager of Leander Club, said: “The flood water was back inside our river gate on Tuesday for the first time in many years and our car park is partly under water.
“Despite these inconveniences, there has been no effect on activity inside the clubhouse, where it’s very much business as usual.”
Rowing crews have been unable to get on the river for several days.
On Saturday, Henley Town’s match at home to Thatcham Town Reserves was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch.
The Angel on the Bridge’s riverside seating area was flooded and the kitchen was closed on Wednesday after water seeped in but the bar remained open.
Landlord Mark Dunlop said: “This is the highest level it has been for three years and there’s nothing we can do about it.
“I’ve seen a lot of trees floating down the river at about 10 to 12 knots. A couple of big ones took down the moorings on the other side of the bridge.
“We’ve got an old lifebelt that says ‘Angel on the Brink’ that we put up the last time it flooded so maybe it will soon be time to get that out again. It gives people a laugh.”
The car park at the Flowing Spring in Playhatch was about 4ft under water but the pub remained open.
Landlord Nick Willson put up signs encouraging customers to “enjoy the stunning waterside views”.
Mr Willson said: “If it gets colder we could have an ice rink. You need a bit of humour with all this going on — we could get depressed about this but you have to smile.
“In theory it shouldn’t affect business because we’ve got Spring Lane to use as a car park and the front entrance is accessible but it does put people off when they see the amount of water.”
On Tuesday, the couple put up “road ahead closed” signs and traffic cones at the entrance to Spring Lane after it flooded but Oxfordshire County Council did not officially close it until the following day.
Playhatch Road in Sonning Eye was also closed on Wednesday, causing rush-hour queues in Henley and Caversham where drivers crossed the river instead of using Sonning Bridge.
Queues of up to an hour built up on the Henley-bound side of Wargrave Road in the morning peak.
Cars were stranded in Remenham Lane, where the towpath was flooded, but the Riverside Barns, which were opened last week, were unaffected.
Andy Jones, office manager at IBS Office Solutions, which is based at the end of Remenham Lane in Aston, said all staff had been able to get into work.
But he added: “We run a small team of engineers and they’ve been severely disrupted in getting to their service calls. They’ve had to take a lot of diversions.” Staff at Mapledurham Watermill had to move stock, equipment and two exhibits upstairs after the ground floor was flooded.
They also had to turn off the Archimedes screw thread turbine, which generates electricity because of the rising river level.
Miller Corry Starling, 45, who works with wife Jane, said: “Between one lock and another, the river level can be very different. Between our lock and Caversham, it’s known to be very volatile and prone to flooding. It’s more than 5ft higher than it should be.
“We had to chock the water wheel with little bits of fence to wedge it. The water was coming up through the floor and trying to turn the wheel.
“The mill has an island next to it but that’s under water. It’s like American swampland.”
In Shiplake, the river spilled on to the flood plains and surrounding footpaths.
Drivers were forced to park in Mill Road because the streets outside their houses were flooded. Peter Skolar, a county councillor who lives in Mill Lane, said the river had flooded his garden.
“We expect flooding but the house is built on stilts so it hasn’t flooded yet,” he said. “We had to move the cars up the hill out of the way.
“The dustbin men picking up garden waste have been down as far as our house but there are six other houses that haven’t had their bins emptied.
“I can’t see the garden — instead, I can just see a nice big lake between the garden and the river. It’s actually quite pretty.”
Sandbags were handed out in King’s Road car park in Henley, at the Catherine Wheel pub in Goring and in Lower Caversham.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “River levels will remain high over the next few days but they are not anticipated to rise any further.
“The Thames is a big river but quite slow to respond so it carries a lot of the rainfall. We’re asking residents to remain vigilant because the ground is still very saturated and any additional rainfall will hit the ground and go straight in the river.”
The Met Office forecasts mostly dry weather until Sunday.
lThe route for the Santa on the Run charity event on Sunday at 10am has been changed to incorporate the station car park rather than the towpath, which is flooded, but it will still start at the River and Rowing Museum.