Thursday, 13 December 2018

Kenneth Grahame was right, you can’t beat a day on the water

Kenneth Grahame was right, you can’t beat a day on the water

AS Kenneth Grahame wrote in The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing than simply messing about in boats.”

I love the sentiment but I’m not going to mess about so I put my trust in Ben Pinches, our skipper, and Phil Gorst, another seasoned riverman.

They take me on a trip upstream from Caversham to Mapledurham and back on a chilly but bright late October afternoon on The Caversham Princess.

Leaving Caversham, we pass Caversham Court gardens which have always been lovely.

Mute swans crowd around the boat accompanied by dozens of black-headed gulls.

As we head further up river, greylag geese, coots, a moorhen and a great-crested grebe paddle about.

An old but restored gazebo meets the river at the end of the gardens.

Unfortunately, the old Priory that stood here was demolished by Reading Corporation in 1932, Caversham having been incorporated into Reading (and Berkshire) in 1911.

The idea was to create a wider road along what is now The Warren (to where I do not know) but it did not come to pass. Now we can gaze from the river at a diverse range of properties as we progress and reach St Mary’s Island.

Everything changes here as manicured lawns are replaced by riparine trees and shrubs.

I’d forgotten how in the natural world the riverbank meets vegetation with startling abruptness.

Watchful herons lurk along here looking for all the world like bored, inscrutable clergymen.

There is a brief commotion on the north bank as a mink collides clumsily with a swan, much to the amusement of a party of American tourists.

Passing Tilehurst and Purley to the south, the panorama opens up with clear views of Chazey and Park woods on the Oxfordshire side. They are turning an inviting hue of gold under a bright blue sky.

Mapledurham House now looms into view. Home of the Catholic Blount family since 1502, it is a truly exceptional Tudor building.

Elizabeth I was once a guest here. Unfortunately for my tourist companions, the house is closed at this time of year so we turn around and head back to Caversham.

I am lucky as the sun has shone and the early rain gone.

One thing that always surprises me is the scent of this river. Perhaps I should bottle it and sell it to my new-found acquaintancies?

As we approach Caversham, I spy the brief flash of a kingfisher. Some pied wagtails undulate on the wing.

I take in Caversham Bridge and think of my maternal grandfather Eric Waterman (an apt surname).

As a lad, he would dive into the river to retrieve tools dropped by the men that created the structure that I see now. The bridge was completed in 1926.

I miss my grandfather as he taught me so much but, like my memories and like our River Thames, they just keep rolling along.

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