A BOTTLE of water from the source of the Thames came through Henley this week on a 215-mile journey to the sea.
Members of the Rivertime Boat Trust, Henley Rowing Club and the Henley Whalers joined the Source to Sea river relay, which is part of the Mayor of London’s Thames Festival.
The bottle or “baton” is being carried by different community groups on each leg of its journey.
On Monday, it arrived at Marsh Lock on Rivertime, a cruiser specially adapted to provide river trips for disabled people, which had picked it up at Shiplake Lock from the Thames Vintage Boat Club.
Rivertime skipper Arthur Edmunds said: “This was a wonderful opportunity for us.
“The Thames brings a lot of people together from its source down to the estuary and I think this is an amazing thing to do.
“It raises people’s awareness of the different towns along the river and what is going on in each one.”
Senior skipper Lucy Herbert handed the bottle to lock-keeper Nigel O’Connor, who passed it to Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak.
Cllr Gawrysiak was met by Henley Rowing Club coach David Lister in his 40ft saloon launch Lady Genevieve.
Mr Lister and the Mayor then escorted the bottle downstream accompanied by six rowers from the club’s junior 15, 16 and 17 squads.
The girls, including Mr Lister’s 15-year-old daughter Emma, rowed ahead of them in an arrowhead formation in three double sculls.
Mr Lister said: “The girls are all rowing in highly competitive crews within the club. They are doing this in their free time so they are obviously quite keen.”
Also on board was the relay’s project manager Jon Cooke, who grew up in Cromwell Road, Henley, and attended Gillotts School and The Henley College.
As a teenager, he worked as an assistant lock-keeper at Marsh Lock.
Mr Cooke, 39, came up with the idea of the relay and invited people to get involved.
He said: “I grew up here so this was a very important part of the journey for me to get right. Everybody has been delighted to take part — I was amazed by the number of people who wanted to. They want to do it again next year, which we’re hoping to be able to do.”
Cllr Gawrysiak, a former teacher who taught Mr Cooke, said: “I had an email from Jon about two weeks ago asking if I would be willing to take part in the relay.
“I knew nothing about it so I had a chat with him and thought it was a fantastic idea. As a former pupil of mine, he has done me very proud. Henley has a special relationship with the Thames, what with all the rowing and other recreational activities that happen on the river.
“People come here just to look at the beauty of the Thames and share in it, whether it’s on the water or on the banks. I don’t know whether Jon intended the relay to be every year but I think that might be good.” After dropping Cllr Gawrysiak off at the club’s headquarters in Wargrave Road, Mr Lister and the rowers proceeded to Hambleden Lock.
On Tuesday, the bottle was picked up by 10 members of the Henley Whalers.
The crew, made up of nine rowers and a helmsman, were piloting Molly, a replica of a 19th-century New Bedford whaleboat.
They wore the same uniforms they were wearing for the Queen’s diamond jubilee river pageant last year. They collected the bottle at Hambleden and ferried it to Hurley Lock, where it was handed over to Graham Hubbard in his 1895 rowing gig Sylvia.Geoff Probert, who owns Molly, said: “It was great fun although, as one of our members put it, of all the pointless exercises you could do this was Premier League stuff.
“The water would clearly have made it to the sea anyway but it made for a very nice morning row in the sunshine.Everybody who saw us was very interested and wanted to know what we were doing.”
Last week, the bottle was carried through Benson and Goring locks by members of the Thames Traditional Boat Society and the Racing and River Boat Museum in Lower Basildon.
It left the source of the Thames near Cirencester on September 1 and will arrive at Tower Bridge in London on Sunday.
It will stay overnight on the royal barge Gloriana, which has attended the Henley Royal Regatta for the past two years, before being taken to the Thames estuary by a Dunkirk little ship.
Once its journey is complete, it will be put on display in the Museum of London.