Thames Region Virtual Cruise Day 5 Sonning to Cleve

The good weather continues to bless the cruise, with long warm, sunny days, the sunlight sparkling on the water and the opportunity for a morning dip beckoning in the early morning light. This is what cruising is all about, and with just two days to go it looks like the weather is going to treat us well for the whole cruise. Today, we’ll leave Sonning and cruise to Cleeve. Its not a particularly famous village, but it will make a good overnight mooring, and we’ll pass through some lovely scenery on the way.

For the water-sport enthusiast, we’ll be passing Marsport, with its rickety jetty, probably only for the brave-hearted, but with a shop full of everything the serious kayaker and canoeist could want. If that’s not quite your thing, then just beyond and to starboard, is the entrance to the Thames and Kennet Marina, part of the Tingdene group and big supporters of the Broom Owners Club. Not only do they sell a lot of Brooms, but they also offer Club members 7 days free mooring in the marina, which has a club-house, a fuelling point and a chandlery. Its a great stop-over point but, this time, too close to our start point to take advantage. Its also on a nice stretch of river, and last year I did take advantage of the offer and managed to take my granddaughter out for a cruise too - start them young and they’ll probably be hooked for life!


To-day though, we take advantage of the next stopping place, just up on the left. This bank-side mooring leads directly to a Tesco Extra Super-store where its possible to buy anything from a salt-cellar to a duvet, and everything in-between, and its a really convenient place to replenish supplies, and lay-in provisions for the following day's party to celebrate the end of the cruise. That’ll be held in Abingdon and if you’d like to join in, in real-time, for 20 minutes or so of fun with other Club members, send me your e-mail and I’ll send you the Zoom joining instructions - that’s Sunday, 14 June, at about 6pm! Can we make it a record Club Zoom meeting? We’ll see.

Having managed to squeeze in to a mooring between all the live-aboard that are taking up most of the available space, and having filled up with all the necessities, we continue up the river, which is as calm as could be, with hardly a ripple on the water, to Caversham Lock.

There’s reference to a flash-lock at Caversham in 1493, and a pound lock was introduced in 1778. The lock-keeper’s cottage is a more recent introduction, being built in about 1819. The village of Caversham lies a little to the north. ‘Caphere’s village’ has recently been praised by the Sunday Times as being one of the best places to live in the UK, in their 2020 review, and some grand houses line the river. Its been popular for centuries, and in the 12th century it was a place of pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady and its sweet water well. Catherine of Aragon visited in 1532, but Henry VIII had it destroyed, and only the well now survives.

This is David Harrison’s old haunt, where he famously suggested that his club members swap boats for a tour around a nearby Island. Not all owners caught on to the idea, but those with smaller boats thought it was great and took advantage of it. Considering the circumstances, David looks quite relaxed as the Helm, never having steered anything quite so large, took control of Bonny Rose.

As we can see, Bonny Rose survived the ordeal, and continued to serve David very well for a good few more years. It was certainly not on that occasion that David heard ominous noises coming from Bonny  Rose’s stern, and felt a judder that tells you all is not well, just below Mapledurham Lock.

With the many boat services available in Reading, it wasn’t long before David was able to have Bonny Rose lifted out, to discover the truth in the saying that, whilst still rivers run deep, often times the Thames is neither very still, nor very deep.

A little further up the river, the Elizabethan mansion, Mapledurham House, comes into view. The site and the Grade I listed house, which has sat on it since 1585, has been in the same family, the Blounts, since 1490. Alexander Pope, a frequent visitor, landscaped the gardens for this Catholic family, who hid priests in its priest holes, some so well hidden that they remained undiscovered until the 21st century. Its not recorded whether any priests were discovered at the same time.


Maple-dre ham - the village by the maple tree - has preserved its old charms, being off the main road with the approaches eventually ending by the river. Its a popular spot though, and was used in the film The Eagle Has Landed, as well as in some of the Midsomer Murder TV series, when they tired of Dorchester, perhaps. There’s also a claim to be the site of the illustrations for the original Wind in the Willows. To improve the house visit experience, helicopter rides were put on, so many, up to 70 a day, that one resident complained that it was like the Vietnam war on a busy day, so flights are now restricted to just 10 days per year. To add even further fame to this ‘quiet’ English back-water, Mapledurham Mill was used for the cover of Black Sabbath’s debut album of the same name. There’s a great track on the album called ‘Sleeping Village’, although playing it at full volume wouldn’t allow the village to sleep for long.

Through the lock, and after the long left hand bend, with Hardwick House just about at the apex, trying to merge into the background to starboard, we come to Whitchurch toll bridge. We can pass under if for free, but vehicles above must pay. Its a very English toll bridge, or at least the storm leading up to the increase in toll charges is, as it resulted in a public enquiry before the toll was raised to 60p per car.

One of only two private toll bridges across the Thames (Swinford is the other), its been raising a toll since 1792, in its various guises, originally charging a halfpenny for sheep and pigs, and tuppence for every wheel of a carriage.

Immediately after the bridge is Whitchurch Lock, the pound lock replacing the flash lock in 1787. The flash lock was 23 foot wide, the standard width for all locks below Abingdon, and it also had a ‘tumbling bay’ which was an overfall weir, normally about 35 foot wide.The weir created by the new lock and the tumbling bay were gradually increased to form just one weir which, in the late 19th century, gave a convenient crossing point for locals to avoid the foot toll, which has since been abandoned.

We’re still in Wind in the Willows territory, as to our left the River Pang enters the Thames. The water voles on this river are thought to have inspired Keneth Grahame’s character, Ratty. Grahame lived in Church Cottage in Pegingaburnan (the ‘ing’ again - or the stream of the people of Paega) as it was first recorded in 844, eventually giving the name to both the river, and the village it runs through, Pangbourne, which is connected to Whitchurch on the opposite bank by  Whitchurch Lock.

Pangbourne College is a long way from the sea for a Merchant Navy cadet training college. It was founded in 1917, at the height of the German WW1 submarine offensive, hence its location far away from the coast. Whilst no longer a training school for naval cadets, it still maintains a close affinity with nautical affairs, the pupils dressing in naval uniform, and the houses being known as Divisions. The school Chapel is a memorial to the 1982 Falklands War, and was opened by HM The Queen, in March, 2000.

The village itself has become famous as a centre for selling prestigious cars such as Aston Martin, Lamborghinis and, through the HR Owen Group, Bentleys, and if you’re tempted this would be a good stopping off point. Rumour has it, according to Karen and Branco Dragovic, that Greens Butchers are another claim to fame, as they bake some of the best pies around although, according to the same source, you need to take out a mortgage to buy some of their roasting joints - probably best to press on then.

That's the intention of Gay and Mike Herlihy, who want at least to stop off for a while at Beale Park. The river ahead is absolutely tranquil and clear, so they won’t have much delay in getting there, although when they do they’ll find the park itself is slightly more crowded than the river.

The Potworowskis, Tad, Ivenka, Dominic and Ala, all like it there too, especially as its easy to moor their Broom 31, Our Escape, in plenty of depth. The fields give cocker spaniel Jack, plenty of room to run in, and if he gets too hot there’s always the nice cool river!

They like the fact that its a good place to moor with children  too, as Beale has an animal park amongst other attractions. It was also the site of the annual Boat and Outdoor Activities show. This was cancelled last year and so far there are no plans for its return. Its a pity because it added to the activities of the Park, and brought lots of different boaters together.

The Park resulted from a gift by Gilbert Beale, made in 1956, of the riverside land, then agricultural and mainly a couple of ponds and tracks. Gilbert’s idea was to form a non-profit making charitable trust for ‘the people’, and the 350 acre riverside site is now home to an aviary of extinction-threatened birds, a small exotic animal sanctuary as well as extensive play areas for children and attractions for adults such as the model boat collection, all connected together by a miniature railway. In fact it would probably be a good mooring for a future BOC get together

The cruise continues on towards our evening stop-over at Cleeve, but first the river takes us through the Goring Gap. Half a million years ago, the Thames flowed through what is now Oxfordshire, before turning left through present day Hertfordshire and flowing into the North Sea, near Ipswich. This course was blocked during the last ice age, the melt waters forming a lake which finally cut a passage through the chalk of the Goring Gap, before flowing through London and finally to the sea.

You’ll have spotted the ‘ing’ in Goring by now, and ‘Gara’s people’s village’ appeared in the Domesday Book as Garinges. Its a pretty river-side town with Streatley lying directly opposite, over a connecting bridge.  It has a 12th century Norman church dedicated to Thomas a Becket, and at least one of its eight bells dates from 1290. It also has an interesting rood screen, carved from wood from HMS Thunderer, a ship of Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nearby are the remains of an Augustinian priory of Nuns, which lasted from its foundation in the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, sometime around the late 1530s.

Goring Free Church is a member of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. Here lies an interesting if convoluted tale, as Selina Hastings, the said Countess, founded the movement and seceded from the Church of England, at a time of evangelical revival, in 1783.


A Black American, John Marrant, settled in London after the American Revolutionary War, was ordained into the Church and went as a missionary to Nova Scotia. Why there? Well, this was the home of the Black Loyalists, slaves given freedom and land for supporting the Crown during the revolution, and fertile ground for finding converts and ministering to their needs. Many of the congregation that Marrant founded later decided to emigrate to the new British founded Province of Freedom in 1792. This became Sierra Leone, now the home to the greatest number, 30, of Connexion Churches. Of the 22 in England, Goring has one of only seven full time pastors. From Goring, through the American War of Revolutions, to Canada and thence the founding of a modern state - the River Thames offers many surprises in the history it provides.

Other Goring folk include Sir Arthur Harris of Bomber Command, who lived in Ferry Cottage from 1953 until his death in 1984, and Hammond Organ player Jon Lord, known for fusing Baroque and Rock, single-handedly introducing the Hammond organ into the lexicon of rock music, and co-founder of Deep Purple. He died there in 2012. For many, the most famous will be George Michael, who also sadly died there in 2016, and whose home Branco and Karen spotted in a tranquil, water setting.

Having sold over 80 million records world-wide, and becoming one of the best selling music artists of all time, there’s nothing further that needs to be said here about his prodigious talent and popular music writing ability, although interestingly, his boy-hood friend and Wham co-founder, Andrew Ridgely, still receives thousands of pounds each year in royalties for his part, when both were aged 17, in the writing of Careless Whisper, Michael’s first solo single, which reached Number One in over 20 countries.

Goring Lock, which replaced a ferry, was built in 1787. The ferry was owned by Goring Priory, together with a weir which later became part of a flash lock. This was the site of a terrible tragedy in 1674, when the ferryman rowed too close to the weir, causing the ferry to overturn, leading to the drowning of over 60 passengers. Today the going is a little easier, and once through the lock we’re on the shortest reach between locks on the Thames, at just 0.62 of a mile. Next stop, Cleeve.

Not only is the reach to Cleeve the shortest, but the fall in Cleeve Lock is the smallest on the river, at two foot, three inches, so it doesn’t take long to lock through. After the lock we’ll be faced with the  longest reach of the river, before the next lock at Benson, six and a half miles away. But we won’t try this today. There’s normally mooring to be had at the lock, but in the case of Sinemora, we’re mooring by Ye Olde Leatherne Bottel, or we thought we were, but its now Don Giovanni’s Italian restaurant.

There’s been an inn this site for over 400 years, providing sustenance to bargees and other passing travellers. In the past is was called the Leather Bottell, and it was referred to by that name at least in 1792, when a certain Mrs Lybbe  travelled by boat to Goring Spring, famous for its waters, and ate a pleasant meal at the adjacent Bottell. I don’t know when the name changed, although it had done by 1966, when a travel book recommends the Trout Cleopatra at Ye Olde Leatherene Bottel (just on ‘l’ you’ll note). It doesn’t matter though, because now its Don Giovanni’s and the mooring is still there, still secure, and its a matter of steps to sit at a riverside table in the warm evening sun and enjoy Italian food, and of course a glass of wine. So, with Sinemora nicely berthed, we settled in for the night.

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