Reading – is it really a “no go” area now?

Chestnut Walk moorings, Reading
Chestnut Walk moorings, Reading

I was introduced to Reading after buying my first narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon.  It was a rather mysterious place down at the Eastern end of the canal which added new challenges of flowing rivers and unusual locks.

I innocently popped down to Reading one February, before I realised that when the water level reached the level of the landing stage at Fobney Lock, the ride down to the Oracle would likely be quite fast.  I discovered a land of the ultra modern, passing through the Oracle and just squeezing through High Bridge, one of the lowest on the navigation, before venturing into the Forbury loop, the wonderfully attractive Chestnut Walk moorings in the shadow of Reading’s newly restored Abbey ruins and the sinister vertical walls of the jail.

I adopted this town centre mooring as a home from home, spending many nights there over the last 6 years, with occasional trips down to the Thames to fill up with water and at Tesco.  Owned by Reading council and falling, just, under the control of the Environment Agency, this was no longer British Waterways territory – adding to the mystery, as whilst I had a Gold Licence entitling me to use the Thames at any time, it was still like crossing the border to some strange new country.

Often the only boat moored at Forbury, apart from the occasional group of “local” boats, I would occasionally meet someone either on the way up the Kennet and Avon, or returning from the canal, usually dreading the horrors of boating through Reading which they had heard on the towpath telegraph.

Highly topical, Reading’s evening papers scored a double whammy  last week, when one reported River Trip Ended in Bloodbath while the other reported Body Pulled From River Kennet, prompting a discussion on Canal World Forums which seems to support the fact that many boaters experience something negative while passing through the town.  I would not however agree that is has become a No Go area, as implied in this article.

I was in Reading at the time these articles were written.  In fact I was first boat on the scene at Blakes Lock shortly after the body was discovered, and was held up about an hour before being let down the lock without being permitted to get off the boat.  It seems the body may have been there for some time, only coming to light when a boat moved off its moorings behind the lock cottages it was then spotted by a canoeist.

However this is exceptional – I really would like to try to redress the balance by saying that I have been through Fobney Lock dozens of times over the last 6 years, moored for countless nights in and around the Reading area and never once been involved in or seen any sort of trouble.  I know I am going to regret saying this, as something is now bound to happen, but if you find this article because you are researching for a trip through Reading please do come and don’t be put off.  Just take a sensible view about passing through Fobney Lock, which I will agree, is the most likely spot for an incident as it is well off the beaten track and forms a natural location for swimming and barbecues, which of course go with drinking.  As long as you pass through in the morning you should encounter nobody other than  dog walkers and fishermen, but on a hot afternoon and evening there may be literally dozens there.  However I do not connect the assembly with the recent incident with the canoeist who seemed to be unlucky enough to attract the attention of a group on the towpath rather than the lockside. 

Good luck with visiting Reading – it really is a town which deserves more visiting boats, and on the positive side is even about to launch a water bus service between Blakes Lock and the Oracle running until 8pm daily.  Maybe this will help to make the canal more approachable for the public, and I wish it well, although I can’t help thinking it may stuggle to attract business at the proposed £5 return fare.  More information about this online at “Catch a boat for day out in town!” 

And if you are unlucky enough to experience an incident between the Oracle and Fobney Lock, I agree that it should be reported to the police, or at least to British Waterways as it is essential that this becomes an officially recognised problem.

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