Brett Scillitoe – 27 June 2022
How quickly a year passes. High Summer is the time to visit the Avon and Kennet Canal. We are making our way west towards Bath and Bristol. This year’s section was from The Rowbarge at Woolhampton to Newbury, The County Town of Berkshire.
The weather was a little challenging with a strong South Westerly breeze blowing. This meant that the number of paddlers was down not a normal Safari. However Paul wasn’t going to let the wind stop him getting a good supply of Vitamin D!
Most of the canal is in fact sheltered from the worst effects of the wind with trees giving protect. Just occasionally we had to paddle efficiently and make sure every paddle counted.
The sun shone and it was fun going. We occasionally to a break to rest and enjoy the conditions.
After about 3 hours, having passes Thatcham we arrived in Newbury and had a look around some of the little backwaters. We got chased out of one private back water by a please lady asking us politely and her 3 big dogs, who made it clear, we shouldn’t be there 😂
After exploring the central area of Newbury, we stopped at the lovely Teashop By The Canal for amazing sandwiches and cakes.
After lunch it was time to head back and this time with the wind and stream in our favour. We saw a Terrapene by a lock and met Di who had come for a paddle in the afternoon. Then Emma Lost her fin as she lowered her board into the canal at a portage point. Time to improvise and we lashed her Quroc board to Di’s and then the fun just increased and they tried to sail the raft home or splash others. So many laughs. Hopefully Quroc will return her repaired board very soon.
We cover 14 mile in 8 hours, had hundreds of laughs and got chased by 3 dogs. Not forgetting the 5 beers and food we had at the Rowbarge on our return.
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5 September 2021 – By Jo Burne
The club held its second ‘Whole of the Wey’ trip on 5th September. Hosted by the River Wey Tuesday group but open to all DPB to come and SUP the whole of the Navigation.
The Wey Navigation runs from Godalming to the Thames at Weybridge and is 31k (plus a bit on the Thames at the end to get to the car park) and 14 locks. I joined this event last year. I’d only been with the club a few months and managed to do 2/3rds of the Wey. This year I was determined to make the whole trip.
It was an early start. With it being a one-way trip, we had a combination of partners kindly picking people up and lift buddies. I drove to Weybridge to pick up Ed at 7.15am, who left his car there for the return to the start. Then we drove to the start in Godalming at Farncombe Boat house. There were 13 of us setting off at 8.30am. In a couple of groups to make it easier for portage, passing people and comply with the Wey rule of 10 people max!
It was a lovely morning. A little overcast but for September nice and warm and the promise of sun later. The first few Kms we tried to keep up a reasonable pace and they ticked over with the locks coming and going. It was great to get to Guildford – the big major milestone, before a snack and refuel. The group mixed and matched around, a nice pace for chatting and getting to know people who usually paddle in different areas. A few people took our photos with amazement and seeing so many paddleboarders out together.
Going from Guildford to Send the sun started to come out and everything gets really pretty. Lots of locks, bridges, reflections and nature. Occasional sounds of the A3 coming in and out, but mostly peaceful and beautiful. Quite a few barges around, as it was such a nice day at the end of the summer. And, as always on the Wey, a few more locks to negotiate. The lovely nature kept us going while we paddled towards send, keen to get lunch.
We arrived at Send, just over half way, the group straggled out a bit, between 12pm and 12.20pm. There we met four more Dittons Paddlers, who were doing ‘Half the Wey’. We stopped at the New Inn pub in now glorious sunshine. The Half Weyers had set up a paddleboard camp by the riverside and grabbed us a couple of tables by the river. There was an outside bar for beers and soft drinks and we ate our picnics by the river – all very idyllic.
Tempting as it was to sit in the sun, there was another half a navigation to get done! So set off again around 1pm. Layers off, hats on and sunscreen for what was now a pretty hot day for September. Lots more pretty countryside, cows in the river and quite a lot of river weed (but very passable) brought us passed the picturesque Ripley Priory and onto Pyrford. The speedy folks (not me!) were rewarded with time to visit and ice-cream van next to the Anchor pub. The rest of us caught up for a little snack and a quick rest.
Photos 9 and 10
The next section is the longest without a lock, a nice 4.5k of flat and straight (ish) water. A great combination of countryside then passing under the M25 and the columns of graffiti. It was nice to finish this section as it was then onto the home straight. Crossing the road, we headed on towards Weybridge. After our final portage we headed towards the Thames to a really pretty stretch past the posh houses of Weybridge. A very pretty view for the end of the Wey. There’s no-where to park here, so although finished with the Wey we had a final tiring portage through the rowing club and onto the Thames. Where less than a km brought us to Elmbridge Canoe Club at around 4.30pm. Many of us had a dip in the Thames to celebrate – we’d made it! A final trip to the pub for some then headed back to Godalming then home – all feeling rather tired but happy memories of a fab day and pleased we’d completed the “Whole of the Wey”. Hope you can join us next year.
By Brett Scillitoe
19 Aug 21
The original plan was to have a relaxing day at the Beach, play in the gentle surf and generally muck about on the water. Unfortunately, with the weather in 2021 being very changeable and hardly ever as forecast, the fun was going to have to move. There were a few paddle boarders out on the water. I think they were the inexperienced ones as they were rapidly learning the art of Down-winding. Yes, it was a day for the Kite and Windsurfers. They were having a fun time and doing some impressive speeds.
So, what was to be done. With Paddle Boarding there is always an alternative and Emsworth was that alternative. With the tide out, it was decided an early lunch and then go for a paddle. The Blue Bell Inn on South Street threated us very well. The light lunch turned into a full Sunday Roast. Well we did need energy to paddle in the windy conditions.
Sitting outside the pub in the sunshine and out of the wind we were looking forward to the afternoon’s fun. Once the boards were pumped up, we headed for the water. We made a fine sight as we walk down the street.
Once assembled on the water we headed for the main part of Chichester Harbour. We passed the end of the Harbour wall that held back the waters of the Mill Pond (and early example of the use of tidal energy) and were hit with the full force of the wind.
To say we had to be About Our Business was an understatement. The wind was strong and gusting. However, we were in a safe environment to learn about paddling in coastal strong winds. It was an onshore wind, with no surf to speak of, due to the sheltered shore area.
So, we made a game of paddle hard between the moored boards, and when we got to the next moored boat, get your breath back and make sure the group arrived safely, before heading to the next. This way we made progress out into the main harbour. We all had quick Release Waste Leashes, or the Leash was attached to the paddlers Buoyancy Aid. Safety first.
This lasted for some time, with lots of laughs and some fast paddling. After a good while we decided we had enough battling and wanted to copy the morning paddlers and do some Down-winding back to the slipway and find a cup of tea. Which wasn’t hard as there was a lovely tea shop right by the shore.
Playing in the wind we learned a lot about efficient paddling and short powerful strokes to keep the board moving forwards. With down-winding, to stay away from moored boats as much as possible.
Another Great Dittons Adventure. If you would like to come our next one, why not Become a Member.
14 Aug 21 – Brett Scillitoe
It started off as just the next Safari of the year. It’s been on my list for some time and Ed, Claire and Alex had paddled bits of it before. The challenge of a Safari is we go the extra distance. Ed helped with the planning and after checking the tides Saturday 14 August was the day. A month before when we set it up we didn’t have a clue if the weather was going to be kind to us.
We shouldn’t have worried. In a summer that has be challenging weatherwise, the forecast was OK. The week before, the attendee numbers started to creep up. It was looking good.
Come the day cars were shared and we arrived at Warsash just after 9am to pump up. Three of the club members who had all-round boards were able to borrow club touring boards. It’s one of the many benefits of club membership. By the time we were all pumped up and ready for the safety briefing, there were 21 of us. It was quite a sight!
After the Safety Briefing, we were off. A short walk and we were on the water and heading up the estuary. We had the wind and tide with us. It was definitely a mix of paddling and sailing. The Hamble is home to thousands of sailing yachts, both sailing and motor. Some very expensive ones at that!
The group did well to stay together and we made quite a sight out on the water. Our first stop was at The Jolly Sailor, Old Bursledon. The staff were great and quickly served us drinks and nibbles. We really did take the place over for a while. There were groups of us all over the place.
It took a while to get back on the water and carry on under the 3 bridges that cross The Hamble. By this time the tide was in full flow and as the river is narrow here we were moving at quite a pace. We were all wearing quick release belts or attaching our leashes to our Buoyancy Aids. With so many buoys and posts to avoid, it is the safest place to attach the leash.
Once we passed the last moored boats, the river opened up and the hustle and bustle of the marina area was left behind. We were paddling through fields and woods, with lots of bird life to look at, including some small white storks.
At the top of the main estuary, the river has 2 branches. The Hamble to the West and Curbridge Creek to the East. We turned left and headed up the Hamble as we had time to kill as we needed it to be high tide to reach our lunch stop.
Soon after there was a shout from the back of the group the “The Cream Mary”, the Hamble’s very own Ice Cream Boat had made an appearance. Had they seen 21 paddlers heading upstream or knew that the YMCA watersports centre was about to open 🤷♂️
They were delicious all the same and he made a good profit.
Onwards we went, up to a waterfall that is visible when the tide is low. I paddled over it before I know it was there and promptly ran aground on the large Paving Slabs that cover the base of the river here, under the road bridge at Botley Mills.
We turned and headed downstream towards lunch. Passed the other paddlers coming upstream. In the ensuing fun of turning round in a tight stream with long touring boards, a game of Domino’s was played and poor Caroline was at the end and went for a swim 🏊♂️😳
After a speedy paddle, we arrived at the Horse and Jockey for lunch. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful and the pub was very well set up for large groups. The food was tasty with large portions. Definitely a place to visit, as long as the tide is in 😁
After lunch it was just a small matter of paddling back on the outgoing tide, but with a steady head wind.
The late afternoon sky was beautiful and the scenery magical. Lots of other paddlers were out on the water having fun.
However, the fun stopped for Jane, one of our party, when here paddle blade fell off and promptly disappeared into the gloom of the deep water. She was adrift. Yes, up the creek with out a…
There was only one thing to do and that was to tow her home. She climbed onto my Red Voyager 13’2 and towed her board behind. The Voyager was brilliant and handled to extra load with ease. Once we had got going, it slipped easily over the water.
We finally reached the starting point by the foot ferry, after a proper paddle back. We were all tired but elated at such a great day out on the water.
Some went to the pub and others headed home, to return for part two – Hayling Blow 🌬
If you would like to join us on our next Safari, why not Become a Member.
By Brett Scillitoe 21 June 2021
It was a gentle start to the day, with an easy journey across to The Cunning Man Pub to the west of Reading. We were last here in September 2020 for lunch, at the turn round point of our first Safari on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Today’s Safari, the first of 2021, was going to be a different challenge entirely. Our Longest yet. We needed to be about our business and paddle well.
We had a group of six, Claire, Alex, Andy, Sara, Jackie and myself. After the normal pumping up and and faffing we perpared to go. A lone paddler passed us heading downstream, he was moving quickly on the strong current. We knew we would have to employ all our river skills to punch into the current for over 8 miles to our Lunch at the Rowbarge in Woolhampton.
There were few other craft out on the canal as we made good progress upstream. This section of the Canal is very rural, with lots of wildlife, Geese of different kinds, Moorhens and Coots, Herons standing watch and many others. There were mainly cattle in the fields and the odd group of horses.
This section of Canal is notable not only for the normal locks, but the Pillboxes from World War 2, as the Canal was a heavily defended Stop Line. Some would have contained some big guns. Also, there were lots of Swing and Lift Bridges. These we had to duck under. Some were very low indeed and needed a couple of attempts to get under.
At Aldermaston Wharf we met some other paddle boarders and had a chat. This was going to be our lunch spot, but the Tea Rooms were closed for the day. The next eatery, was the Rowbarge, 2 miles further on. We kept on pushing on.
There are sections near the locks that are pure canal with very little flow, but these where in the minority. As we neared Woolhampton, the banks were lined with a large growth of Gunnera plants. It was an amazing display of these large plants.
Lunch was eagerly awaited as we had burned a lot of calories and we needed to fuel for the return journey. There was a lot of banter and storytelling over the mainly burgers and beer. The challenges of ordering via Apps and online payments were overcome. Although we did confuse the staff a little as we used the QR codes from many different tables to order. But we worked it out. All part of the Adventure!
Oh, how we enjoyed the first section heading back. Riding the flow, passed the colourful narrowboats and through the wooded sections. Staying in the middle of the canal away from branches and other things to snag yourself on. We strongly advise quick release belts now for all paddling. We stuck together as well, making sure we were all safe. But no-one fell in or even had a “Moment”.
We had been out for a long time and had met some lovely people along the way. Had good discussions with Fishermen about the river and what they were hoping to catch. As we got closer The Cunning Man, he sent us a head wind, just for a laugh. So, we doubled down and pushed for home. Checking each other were alright as we passed the last remaining locks. These are some of the danger points as you remount your board when tired.
Finally, the pub came into view, and we used our last energy to Sprint for the line. It had been a long, but very enjoyable, satisfying day.
We had a great mini safari today from Hurst Park to the Weir Hotel just past Sunbury Lock.
Pumping up in the sunshine, the day was set fair with low wind. We paddled as a group, past Platts Eyot up to Sunbury Court Island, pausing for refreshment.
Taking the quiet route between the land and the Island, then back into the mainstream, we were at Sunbury Lock shortly afterwards, making our way to the side and one by one walking up the portage to the higher level.
A short paddle later and we were at the Weir Hotel, arriving ahead of schedule. Leaving our boards on the bank and making good use of the time waiting for the pub to open, we took the opportunity for a cooling dip. After trying to work out the online menu, staff appeared, and lunches and drinks followed soon.
After we were all fed and watered, we launched our boards to head back
Avoiding the Sea Cadets, we made our way back down the portage, heading back to Hurst Park; stopping on route for hydration, we arrived back at Hurst Park on schedule.
With only one thing left to do, we were back in the water for another cool off, a great way to end the safari.
By Brett Scillitoe
The day dawned a typical September morning, a little cool with dew on the grass. Although Sunday was a Training Day at ‘Ditton Beach’, the Safari group were off in a different direction.
Reading was the launch site and The Kennet the river we were going to explore. We all met near the Wokingham Waterside Centre, who were gearing up for their days sessions and kindly let us use their facilities.
John Lloyd from our Maidenhead Paddle Base joined us. So the group was Abi, Anya, Colette, Sam, John and myself, with Stephen joining later.
The route was a few hundred metres upstream and then left into the entrance to The Kennet. We immediately noticed the increase in stream we were paddling against, compared to The Thames.
At the first lock we met Stephen who had joined us from West London and had traveled to Reading by train. The joy of an ISUP.
We were now on the Reading Town section, which was fun to paddle pass the tower blocks and eventually through the middle of The Oracle shopping centre. The river on this section even has it’s own traffic light system, It gets narrow in points.
There were lots of people surprised to see us and little children pointing and waving. It was great fun.
Very soon the next lock came into view. This next section is narrow and fast flowing. Fortunately there was very little other river traffic, but then the local Angling Club was having a Match Day and there were 40 fishermen on the bank. So, it added to the challenge of the Safari. You can imagine some of the reactions as we appeared. Most were friendly, one even court a fish as we passed by!
The next lock was a challenge as we had to climb some steep steps. But then this was a Safari and you need to have some challenges on a Safari!!
The following section was now truly out into the countryside, with canal barges moored along the edge. This continued for so way with the river gently curving this way and that. One more lock and we were onto the final stretch before Lunch at The Cunning Man.
The bridges on this section are typical 17th Century and very attractive. A pleasure to paddle under.
After a Sunday Roast and a Pint for me, it was the return trip, on the current and with the wind. What a joy.
Heading back along the same waterway is always a pleasure of there are new things to see and discover. The Anglers, had finishes and I don’t think it had been a good day. Good for the fish I guess. The Oracle was much busier as we slipped by the shoppers and dinners.
We stopped by Reading Prison to drop Stephen off to catch his train and see where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for falling in love.
And so to the final run back to The Thames. It had been a good day, we had known we had done over 10 miles. Half of those against the current!
If you would like to join us on our next Safari, why not Become a Member.
A trip to remind us why we do this!
The ‘River Great Ouse’ Adventure – Godmanchester to Ely, Cambridgeshire – 50km, 2 nights wild camping.
A river to behold and to avoid!
Following on from Michael Ots great write up of his River Thames adventure (full length navigable see Marlow Paddlers SUP group), I thought I’d do a brief write up (that was the intention anyway) of my recent trip along the ‘River Great Ouse’ – not to try and compete with his great write up, but to maybe encourage some other local write-ups, and maybe inspire a locals adventure outing or challenge somewhere soon (from Marlow).
This trip was planned by my two mates who decided to canoe a length of the River Great Ouse over a long weekend, take in some sights and drink plenty of booze along the way – I found out and invited myself along – I don’t think they minded, but I don’t drink booze (anymore). Unfortunately, the local canoe / kayak centre at Godmanchester had no Kayaks to rent, so I opted to do it on my SUP. Canoeing isn’t that fast afterall, and I figured I could keep up.
50km over 3 days is not at first glance a big challenge – but bear in mind this was only my 10th or 11th go at paddle-boarding, having first ventured onto the Thames in Marlow in May this year, and I hadn’t even grasped how to paddle more than 3 strokes without veering into a turn and having to swap sides.Pre-planning of the route is made easy using RideMyGPS – you can drop a line along the River and check distances using the desktop version and then ping it to your phone app and share the route with the group.
We used GoogleMaps to try and find wooded areas to camp, but to no avail. There isn’t much in the way of sheltered places and there are many footpaths making sly camping places a bit hard to find. We decided open fields would be the way and as such took a couple of BBQ trays in case we couldn’t find enough wood to get a fire going, and to wing it regarding where to stop. Obviously you cannot look down a river using Google Maps but you can pan around at bridges and RideMyGPS has a variety of map overlays to see what is going on along the route.This also allowed us to find a few places to check out for an end point where I could drop my car and shoot straight off at the end – being that the canoe hire place couldn’t fit me in his van at pick up time.
I’d tell you where the end was as it was a very convenient spot, but seriously you don’t ever want to go this far as once you hit Gipsies Corner it is too much hard work on a SUP. End there or turn back. Will explain later.
Starting at Godmanchester is certainly recommended – this must have been a practice design by the main man above (or woman?) to get Manchester right – absolutely beautiful!
And easy access onto the river being that this is where the canoe hire place is. The handy thing about tagging along with a canoe is that they carried all the gear – and when I say all the gear I mean it. My ‘bear grylls’ mate who has a penchant of buying the lightest weight gear all the way down to knives and forks also has a penchant for carry heavy gear including a 14” weighty super drone and two converted wheelchair batteries connected together acting as a super USB charger, amongst other things.
My SUP carried just me and so portaging was nice and easy – and off we went.This first day was a leisurely cruise – the river seemed easy, despite winding about like they all do just to make you feel like you are doubling your distance to get anywhere, but it offered great scenery and two pub stops.
We found an open field with a large branchy tree (my mate insists on using a Hammock where possible) and no footpath meaning no one disturbing us, and us not disturbing them; just past where we had envisioned stopping, but right in the middle of a cow-pat minefield. Pitching out tents to miss them was tricky but we managed. And so was setting up a fire and sitting around it. One thing to note is a hot fire soon warms up nearby cow-pats making head torches essential. Our shoes never made it into our tents. Steaks on the BBQ tray finished of the day well and it was a warm enough night – we slept well.
I did say this was leisurely – we spent about 3 hours messing about for breakfast and chilling out. ‘Bear Grylls’ bought along his wood burner stove and we fed it enough twigs to home a stork just to get a few cups of tea – gas burners are definitely easier and more practical, but the wood burner is for real campers.
By day two I seemed to have ‘semi-mastered’ the j-stroke (right-handed only) and paddling became more of a breeze as the muscle memory kicked in and I was paddling straight without swapping sides. Even my mates thought I started looked pretty competent.
Day two is also where it starts to go wrong – once you hit Gipsies corner you hit the weeds, and the ‘River Great Ouse’ has ‘Very Little Ooze’ – i.e. nil to no flow. And when I say weeds I mean it – I was told by one boat crew it would have been impossible to pass two weeks earlier had the weed skimming machines not been through – and I think they need to service them as for the next 1/3 of the route I spent having to reach under my board every 100 to 200 yards to clear the weeds off my fin – the photo shows it all. It was back killing and challenging, but the weeds would not win.
Pub stops were hard to find too! And the ones we found were taking Covid protection to the extreme with one bar completely barricading the bar with a thick clear protective screen, and one-way systems and ordering procedures that could be used for Mensa tests.One thing is to be said for day two – the wildlife was out for show. A 3ft grass snake seemed happy to climb onto my oar, some baby coots that were literally 3-4 inches tall, and a yellow-bellied slider terrapin sunbathing on his favourite log, and. These terrapins are not native so he (or his kin) have been discarded by someone at some point. These creatures can be hard to spot and it was the same mate who saw them both – if I was on my own I’d have missed them as I tend to just drift along, so remember to watch the banks and keep an eye out for these little treasures (he also seems to spot lots of small insects having sex but I left those photos out).The evening stop over was a bit trickier to find and we ended up in a more densely ‘cow-pat’ populated field than the first night. It was hard to believe this could happen. There was more wood to be found and ‘Bear Grylls’ pulled out a mini flick-open saw that could cut down an oak tree (we didn’t though) and we collected some good wood. The BBQ tray was pretty poor so we tore it up and used the mesh to cook our steaks on the embers of the fire – a winning touch.The morning took the same slow start – my back was almost broken from the weeds but day 3 was the home straight – we had done ¾ of the trip and the weeds cleared up. It was time to practice left handed j-stroke – and practice I need; more than the remaining ¼ of this trip. We had plenty of time so we made use of it and had a good pit-stop in Ely for lunch and fluids. The end point was literally a mile or so away and felt so rewarding. As I said, 50km in 3 days does not sound too much of a challenge, but with such little flow and so many weeds it was a killer, but it was great to complete. ‘Bear Grylls’ said with open honesty he was truly amazed I completed it and I looked very adept on my board by the end – and that was enough of a compliment for me.
C/O John Lloyd – Beginner paddler! 2020
Sunday Safari run by Phil Crist
Attended by John Lloyd and Jemma Springle
Starting at Port Meadow Car Park – OX2 8PG or or what-3-words ///ranges.hardly.adding
A very picturesque starting point with free parking, but arrive early as it gets packed – we jumped on the Wolvercote Mill Stream at 8am where the anglers were also out early but plenty of stream width avoids any conflict.
It can be quite shallow so watch your fin, and there was a bit of avoiding the weeds but nothing drastic.
We did a sharp right onto the Thames and poodled up the river at quite a leisurely pace – a very relaxing country paddle – not too much to see with respect to boats, boat houses or wildlife, but certainly a nice leisurely paddle. Two simple portages at Godstow Lock and Kings Lock.
We decided to try out each others boards being that we had a 10’8 round nose, a 12ft bluefin, and a 14ft Starboard tourer. So we had a bit of fun jumping between the boards on the river. The 14ft’er obviously won!
On the return we took a left detour clockwise around the other end of Wolvercote Mill Stream – this changed the scene a bit – ducking branches, squeezing through the reeds, and carrying the boards over some very shallow areas, and eventually back to Port Meadow on the other side to the bridge where by this time a few hours later the car park was full, the picnics were out and the kids, paddle boards and kayaks were filling the stream .
A grand day out, with plenty of chat – luckily the blazing sun came out just as we finished – partly because i’d forgotten my sunglasses!
Courtesy of Micheal Ots – trip date July 6th 2020
Ever since moving to live beside the Thames, I have felt the urge to paddle the length of it. For a wedding present our lovely neighbours had bought us a book explaining then history of the river and its surroundings. So it seemed like a journey down the river would also be a journey through English history.
Technically any such journey should really be from ‘source to sea’ but there were two problems with this. Firstly, you obviously can’t actually start paddling at the source of the river (a field in the Cotswolds) which even at the wettest of times is nothing more than a puddle. Secondly, paddling the tidal part of the Thames beyond Putney Bridge requires a specific qualification and you have to be a part of group – neither of which I had. So I decided that the best option was to paddle the entirety of the navigable non-tidal Thames.
Navigation rights on the Thames begin at the picturesque town of Cricklade in Gloucestershire. However, when Rebecca dropped me off we realised that the river is really not much more than a shallow stream. Not to be undone I simply inflated the board without the fin for the first part of the journey. This got me afloat, but it also meant that I spent most of the first couple of hours trying not to spin round in circles! An added challenge on day one was that the river was almost entirely overgrown with bushes and fallen trees making for very slow progress as I navigated each obstruction. It’s possible that few, if any, others have been through this part of the river this year due to the pandemic and the exceptionally dry spring.
I stopped for the night a couple of miles short of Lechlade at a beautiful quiet spot on the river bank where I could watch the sunset. The Thames is a brilliant river for wild camping and it was very easy to find quiet spots all the way until you are until virtually in London. While not technically permitted I found no problem waiting till dusk to pitch my tent and making sure I was up and off early the next morning. I woke to lovely weather and made the most of enjoying the sunshine as I cooked my breakfast of bacon and eggs as the forecast was for the rain for the next three days! The sun was gone by the time I paddled into Lechlade. The town marks the limit of the river for powered craft and all of a sudden the banks were dotted with barges and boats.
I stocked up on supplies as i wouldn’t pass through civilisation again until Oxford, and that wouldn’t be for another couple of days. Just outside Lechlade is St John’s lock – the first of 45 locks on the river Thames. Locks are somewhat of a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing because they break up the journey and give you a sense of progress (they are spaced on average about every 3 miles). They also provide an opportunity to fill up one’s water bottle. (Sadly though they didn’t give you the opportunity to use the toilet as like most pubic toilets they were closed because of COVID – so I was glad of my spade!).
Locks are also a curse in that they required pulling the paddle board out of the water, taking off the bags, walking to the other end with the board through 2 or 3 gates, walking back to collect the bags and then finally when back at the board, reattaching everything and launching off once more. Despite the hassle it was still much quicker than going through the lock and meant that I actually kept pace with most boats despite my slower speed. Occasionally I arrived just as the lock was opening for a boat and so I took the opportunity to talk kindly to the lock keeper and go though with them and so have a bit of a rest. For the rest of the day I meandered through the flat countryside. Paddling down a river is definitely not a quick way of getting anywhere.
The Thames in summer has very little flow so most of the time I was going at about walking speed but expending considerably more effort to do so! Thankfully I had been on a test trip a couple of weeks previous where I had discovered this fact. Before that I had naïvely anticipated being able to paddle about 50 miles a day and quickly discovered that a decent distance from a hard days paddle would be more like 20 to 25 miles! It took a while before I settled on a suitable spot to camp – partly because I was not only looking for a flat area or grass but also for some tree covering from the now persistent rain. I finally found such a spot and I cooked dinner in the doorway of the tent and soon after I was sleep.
There is something lovely about going to sleep to the sound of rain on a tent. It is not so lovely to wake up to the same sound knowing you have to get up and spend a day paddling in it. By lunchtime though the rain had stopped and it had brightened up enough to almost feel warm. I arrived at Kings Lock – the first mechanised lock on the Thames and the most northerly point of the river. From here I would be paddling mostly south or even south west for the next day and a half. Unfortunately the winds were also set to be south westerly meaning the prospect of a lot of hard paddling to come.Just outside Oxford I doubled back up Wolvercote Mill Stream for a few hundred meters to meet up with my friend Adam Grady for lunch and was thankful for the hot noodles and tea he had brought with him.
The afternoon took me south through Oxford itself although the views from the river are not that great – it’s path is through a more industrial part of town.By the evening I had made it through Abingdon. I’d normally find a more secluded spot but when I saw a nice sheltered area just outside the town I decided it looked too good to pass by and stopped there to camp. This also meant that Adam was able to pop over again – this time armed with a couple of beers. The following day started sunny – at least for a few minutes at 6am. So I quickly got up to make the most of it to cook breakfast and then left early. This was just as well as it was going to be a long hard day of paddling into an almost continuous headwind. However, this was more than compensated for by the fact that I was able to meet with Tom Price for tea and cake at his parents house in Moulsford. They have a lovely place right on the river and I enjoyed stuffing my face with various cakes and desserts which powered me on for the final part of the day.
By the evening the wind had completely dropped and I loved the final mile or so with the crystal clear reflections of the wooded hills on the left bank. I found a wonderful spot on that bank to camp, sheltered under the trees, and enjoyed dinner washed down with a cup of wine. The following day was to be the longest yet but I had a good incentive to make the distance. After 24 miles I wouldn’t yet be finished but I would be home! I enjoyed the benefit of the now north westerly wind blowing me south easterly through Pangbourne but I wasn’t so glad of it as I battled my way into it that afternoon on the way in to Henley. Jerome K Jerome had little good to say about Reading on his journey ‘Three Men in a boat’ and I can’t say it was my favourite part of the journey either, despite the fact the sun had finally come out. Reading does though have the only Tesco Extra in country which comes with its own mooring. So, I made use of this to buy lunch before setting off again to find a nicer setting outside the town to eat it in.Just before Henley is Marsh Lock. Unfortunately, the lock keeper didn’t let me go through with the boats as it turned out to be the longest portage on the Thames – a walk of several hundred meters over a footbridge with board and bags. However, upon leaving the lock I was now back on home territory as I had already paddled these last 9 miles a few times before – though it wasn’t quite as easy as the first time I did it in January when the river was much higher and faster than it was now.By 6pm I was back at Marlow lock, with Rebecca waiting for me, and a very welcome dinner of BBQ ribs and chips – not something you can easily cook on a camping stove! We also happened to bump into John – an American now living here in the UK who was also paddling the Thames.
Despite travelling at a similar pace we hadn’t yet seen each other but it was very providential we did just then because we were able to help him find his hotel (he had dropped his phone in the river!) and also store his board outside our flat to save him lugging it through town.Rebecca joined me the following day as we paddled on with the benefit of a healthy tailwind for most of the morning. The stretch heading south past Clivedon House is one of the nicest sections of the Thames with steep wooded hills on the left bank and numerous little islands to navigate around. We could have stopped for lunch in the tiny village of Bray – the unlikely culinary capital of the UK. It boasts seven Michelin stars in total including two of Britain’s five three-Michhelin-star restaurants. Instead we stopped just before in Maidenhead where we bought a considerably cheaper lunch from the Co-op!After ice-creams in Windsor we headed on to find a place to camp. Although the pristine grassy banks of Windsor Great Park looked gloriously inviting, we didn’t fancy getting shot so we pressed on past Datchet where Rebecca found a fantastic secluded spot to enjoy our evening G&T’s and chilli con-carne.
The following morning Rebecca headed back while I pressed on for a long final leg to Teddington. It was the hottest day of the trip and I ended up jumping in the river every half an hour to keep cool. Once I had passed under the M25 the banks were almost continuously lined with houses and apartments and it was fun to decide which one I would choose to buy if I found myself with a few million pounds to spare.
The river grew increasingly busy with boats, kayakers, paddleboarders and swimmers all enjoying a glorious Sunday afternoon. It reminded me of seven days previous when I had begun the journey at Cricklade. Despite being little more than a stream, even then a group of kids were enjoying playing around in it. Seven days and 140 miles downstream the same river was still providing enjoyment and pleasure to so many – just as it also had to me.As the afternoon bore on, I needed a break and I fancied an ice cream, so I kept an eye out for anywhere suitable.
Finally, in Kingston, I spotted a café on the water’s edge and paddled over to find that Jon was also there. After catching up on our respective journeys we paddled on together for the last three miles to Teddington. As we pulled up to the lock, I felt rather sad that the journey was coming to an end. In the moment I didn’t actually feel tired (although I can’t say that today!). Rebecca was there to meet me and we celebrated by going out to the nearby pub for dinner – our first meal out in four months! As we walked back over the bridge to the car and watched the sunset over the lock and the tidal Thames beyond, part of me wished I could keep going to the sea. Maybe at some point I will…
Courtesy of and with permission of Michael Ots
Taken from the Marlow Paddlers (SUP) Facebook Page