NEW year floods brought misery to residents, businesses and drivers.
Days of torrential rain and even hail led to some of the highest levels of the Thames seen in recent years, leading to widespread flooding in low-lying areas.
Flood warnings were issued to communities all along the river including Henley, Shiplake, Wargrave, Caversham, Playhatch, Sonning, Mapledurham, Goring, Whitchurch, Hurley and Medmenham.
The Environment Agency said the water was expected to reach its peak on Friday as it continues to flow downstream and rain is still falling.
* The closure of a number of businesses, including the Country Gardens garden centre in Playhatch, as well as the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
* The closure of the B478 Playhatch Road between Sonning and Playhatch on Monday afternoon due to water on the road making it impassable. This led to queues of traffic approaching Henley and Caversham during the morning and evening rush hours for the rest of this week. Remenham Lane in Remenham was also closed and there was also some disruption to rail travel.
* The cancellation of most sports fixtures at the weekend and the likelihood of more disruption this weekend.
There were reports of homes being flooded in both Shiplake and Wargrave but not in Henley, although sandbags were stockpiled in King’s Road car park just in case.
Surface water formed along Thames Side and Riverside and Mill Meadows and Marsh Meadows were both underwater and the adventure playground was out of use.
Meadow Road, which leads to the River and Rowing Museum, was closed before the venue itself was shut on Tuesday.
Marketing manager Catherine Yoxall, who was unable to make it to work all week, said: “It’s very difficult to get to the building and the town council took the very sensible decision to shut the road.
“Although the building itself is dry, it would be asking a lot for staff or members of the public to give it a go.”
The Henley Piazza café in Mill Meadows only narrowly missed being flooded.
Bonphelia Gaggiano, who works there, said: “Mill Meadows has been flooded for more than a week and at the weekend the water reached the tables outside. This seems to happen every year now. I think it has been three years in a row.”
She added: “Not many people came to the café — they just came to see the river.”
The area outside Hobbs of Henley in Station Road was under a foot of water and it was kneedeep at the company’s boatyard on the opposite bank.
Staff used a plank from the decking of the Shaun Dickens at the Boathouse restaurant next door to reach their offices.
Managing director Jonathan Hobbs said the floods were worse than last year’s but had not reached the record levels of 2003, which are marked with a plaque outside his office.
Mr Hobbs said: “I can’t see the water going down for a long time. It could be high for another two weeks. It’s frustrating but it’s manageable at the moment. All our boats are safe and we’ve got sandbags, while we managed to lift everything off the floor in the storage boathouse so there’s no damage.”
He said it would be difficult to carry out boat maintenance, which is usually completed by February.
The mermaid statue was virtually the only visible feature of Red Lion Lawn due to the high water level and Lion Meadow, the car park for Henley Royal Regatta, was almost completely submerged.
A landing stage at Leander Club nearly became detached before being secured by staff.
Some club rowers are training at Dorney Lake after having to train indoors for more than two weeks because of strong river currents.
Rowing coach Mark Banks said: “We’re doing the same amount of sessions but in the gym. We’ve been doing that since December 23 so they are getting a bit tired of seeing the same old equipment because obviously they want to be on the river.
“By the time the water subsides, although they will have lost some technical ability, hopefully they won’t have lost too much fitness.
John and Isobel Morrow, of Greys Road, took their two-year-old grandson Harry, to the children’s playground in Mill Meadows to show him what it looked like.
Mr Morrow said: “He was a bit concerned that he was going to drown!”
Mrs Morrow added: “We didn’t realise that the swings and slides area, which he absolutely adores, was actually going to be underwater.
“We’ve been here for 43 years and this is probably the highest we’ve ever seen it.”
Margie Fuller, 74, of Friday Street, Henley, tried to take her Labradors Alfie and Rufus for a walk from Leander Club to the Flower Pot pub in Aston but could not get very far.
She said: “I have to rethink where I take them. When you meet another dog walker, we just say ‘well, where do we go?’”
The downstream river level at Whitchurch Lock is the highest ever recorded at 3.53m, beating the previous record set 10 years ago by 11cm.
Work on Whitchurch toll bridge, which was scheduled to resume on Monday after the Christmas break, has been delayed because the pontoons and river crafts can’t be used safely.
Bridge company secretary Geoff Weir said: “The compound on the river meadow is almost flooded so it looks like work will be pretty much stopped until next week.”
Elaine Emmanuel, who co-owns the French Horn restaurant in Sonning, said the floods had badly affected custom.
She said: “It’s always quiet at this time of year but it has hit us big time. Sonning Bridge is fine but once you are past the French Horn it’s like a lake.”
Performances at the Mill at Sonning theatre continued despite the car park being flooded. Visitors are able to use the car park at the Great House Hotel.
Staff member Evelyn Fidler said: “A lot of people have phoned up concerned and we’ve had problems with flooding but we’re dealing with it.”
The car park at the Flowing Spring pub in Playhatch, which has been flooded since before Christmas, rose to 3ft.
Nick Willson, who runs the pub with his partner Hazel Lucas, said: “We had four months of this last year but it’s now at an even higher level and not very nice. We’re still open but obviously it has put people off coming. Hopefully everything will be back to normal soon.”
A pensioner was rescued from his flooded home in Loddon Drive, Wargave, on Wednesday.
Firefighters were called by a relative of the man who had run out of his medication but was unable to get out of the house. They used an inflatable dinghy to reach the man, who is in his seventies.
At Wargrave Boating Club there was about 4ft of floodwater, which reached the main boat storage room.
Four members of the club used a Canadian canoe to reach the club in order to move the boats and other equipment.
Staff at the Bushnell Marine Services removed all its boats, other than a tugboat and a barge, out of the water as a precaution.
Director Paul Bushnell said: “We try to avoid having them in the water because you get a flood like this and can’t look after them.”
The offices of Val Wyatt Marine were underwater and staff had to move everything upstairs in advance.
Administrator Sara Galbraith said: “It’s still business is normal. Our offices downstairs are completely flooded but it’s about two-thirds of the way up your wellies so we can park at the top and walk in.
“We knew it was going to be bad and were right on it. The whole of the marina is in the Thames and we’re our own eyot.”
Half of the car park at the St George and Dragon pub in Wargrave was submerged but the building was unaffected.
Assistant manager Jessica Clemett said: “It’s coming right up to our decking but we’re fine. Being winter we’re not that busy anyway and we’ve still got the top car park.”
Gardens of homes in Bolney Road, Shiplake, were underwater and there were reports of properties being flooded.
Lysette Offley said the water rose 14in up the basement window of her riverside home, which was built off the ground.
She said: “The water level has been going up and down for several weeks but it becomes spectacular when the water rises up the glass.”
Mrs Offley, a teacher, trainer and therapist, added: “I’ve advised my clients to wear their wellies when they visit.”
The red boards warning of a strong stream and high river levels remain in place.
The Environment Agency upgraded the stretch of the Thames between Henley, Remenham and Medmenham to a flood warning on Saturday, meaning properties are at risk of flooding.
David Bedlington, regional flood risk manager for the Environment Agency, said staff were working hard to provide information for residents, local authorities and the emergency services.
He added: “We continue to encourage the public in affected areas to remain vigilant and to keep a close eye on media reports and weather forecasts.
“It is important to take extra care in deep or flowing water — do not take risks if you are unsure of the depth of the water or of any hidden hazards.”
The Met Office forecasts the weather will improve at the weekend but there could be heavy rain tonight (Friday) and some light rain on Sunday evening.
* Henley Cricket Club’s annual meeting, which had been due to take place in the pavilion at its Brakspear Ground on Sunday has been moved to Hotel duVin as the ground is flooded.