The Jungles of West Berkshire

We have over the last few years been heading to the Kennet and Avon Canal for a days Safari. It’s been fun to do, paddling upstream to a canal side pub and riding the current back. Some days have been quite long.

Newbury Bridge

This year we were starting from The Teashop by the Canal in Newbury. There is excellent parking there as well. This is where we reached and had long on our last Safari on the Kennet.

Caroline heads west

There were four of us again. I think the West wind had something to do with the low turnout. Eva and Paul were returning from last year and we had Caroline along. She was one of the original Adventure Girls and used to finding waterways that other wouldn’t attempt. More of this later.

Ewa dressed for the conditions

After pumping up and fueling with some excellent coffee from the Teashop we headed West through the centre of the town and the very narrow Newbury Bridge, on passed our first lock and out of the town passed old canalside cottages and into the countryside. This included the only ultra low bridge we had to lie down to get under.

Higgs Lock

We carried on West and noticed the main Kennet River joining the very straight canal at this point. The wind was making it hard going and we were glad of the rest at Guyer’s Lock Under the A34 dual-carriageway and then there was Higgs Lock, hardly a kilometer away. There then followed a series of locks interspersed with short sections of canal. What with the wind and the regular stops this was turning into a challenge.

Looking west towards Benham Lock

This is a very rural part of the world with wooded banks and all sorts of wildlife. Ewa feed a small white duck at one lock. it become very brave and tried out the board. Then there were Red Kites flying over head and quite low at times. The occasional narrow boat, although it was quieter than expected. Near the aptly named Copse Lock there was the site of a very large fallen tree that had been cleared from the canal. It was amazing to see the hole in the woodland around it that it had left. Sometimes we don’t realise how big these trees are until they are gone.

Feeding the Duck

Eventually after the longest “Pound” on our Safari, we came to the Lunch stop at The Dundas Arms, Kintbury. This will also form the start of the next Safari on The Canal. We had booked a table so were able to order lunch, And it was excellent, although the tasty puddings did take a little while to arrive.

Fallen tree

The launch back onto the canal is easy of the concrete wall and we were looking forward to the trip back, with wind and current in our favour. After 3 locks we came to Benham Weir. At Lunch Caroline had mused about heading back via the River Kennet and not the Canal.

Bridge and Narrowboat

There was an straightforward crossing point by the weir and a fast flowing clear stream the other side. We decided to give it a go. The Adventure had begun. we all had Buoyancy Aids were scouting any obstacles before we passed them. We had to negotiate a small sluice and climb over a bank to get back onto the river.

Leaving the pub

It was beautiful hardly paddling as we flowed through water meadows and passed sheep and ducks of all varieties. Over small rapids and under low hanging trees. We then become aware that we were in an area where there is a fishing club, but it was closed for the day. Something to consider as I doubt they would be too happy if they had their lines out.

Over the weir

By the clubhouse there was another low weir to negotiate. The river here splits and gets narrow and fast flowing. The trees were getting lower to the water, so some caution was needed. We also noticed that there were concrete blocks in the water, one of which I hit with by fin causing me to take a dip. The water was deep and cool. quite refreshing.

Waiting for the others

Having put on my windproof jacket to keep the warmth in we continued to the A34 road bridge. This is were the Fun and the Jungle of West Berkshire started. If anyone comes this way again, bring heavy machinery or get out 100 metres before the bridge and rejoin the Canal at Higgs Lock.

There were fallen trees and reeds and weed. Sometimes the board had to be dragged over the trees or we had to slide under. We worked as a team and made sure everyone was safe. Another sluice had to be “shot”, a bit like the canoe slides at some locks. All the time we were waiting for the tranquil backwater we had seen on the way upstream. But No, more trees a metal barrier, a water pipe all had to be negotiated safely.

Then finally through yet another tree and there was a small narrowboat and tranquil water. What we had seen on the way up was all there was. It had taken 2 extra hours to avoid three locks. Then 4 weary paddlers headed back Newbury Lock and then onto the Teashop that had long since closed.

Paul of the jungle

It was a great adventure and one I’m glad I have experienced, but if I ever do wild paddling again, I will bring some tools to clear away through. It would be good if someone does clear a bit of the back water, say up to the metal barrier, just enough to get a board or canoe through safely.

The Final Tree

The next section is trough Hungerford and into the countryside beyond. I think a picnic might be needed as there are few towns or villages to stop at.

Happy Paddling.

Return to the Hot Tub

We returned to the Hot Tub for a series of Winter training in the luxurious warm waters of Hampton Pool.

Lovely 28º pool

7 lovely people joined us for the Taster session, some complete beginners and some with a little experience. The session started with a brief run down of the board, leash and paddle set up. Basic turns were shown on dry land before everyone got in to put it to practice. After about 10 minutes of turning and trying to paddle straight, it was time to try standing.

Learning how the paddle fits together
Practicing turning

Some looked worried about this prospect but after we showed them the basics everyone was standing and paddling up and down the pool. Some fell in a little, some a lot, but the pool is so warm it really doesn’t matter. Near the end of the session everyone was asked to jump in and practice self rescue. This is such an important skill to learn and unfortunately one that gets neglected, “How do you get back on when you fall off”? Again everyone mastered the basics. We all wear floatation devices too so no need to worry if you are not a strong swimmer.

Mastering Standing

A great evening was had by all and everyone did amazingly and most of all it was fun!

We also ran our Dittons Dolphins SUP Polo training with drills and skills. It is great fun and great to be able to train in a warm pool as there is a lot of falling in! Anyone can join so why not come along and try it. You will have loads of fun!

Running around the board to get the ball