Dittons Paddle Boarding
Activity - Safari

The Cunning Man Heads West – A Paddle Boarding Safari

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.

The Team at the start
Brett, Alex, Andy, Claire, Jackie, Sara

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.

paddle boarding under the M4
Paddle boarding under the M4

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.

Posing by a well defended Lock
Posing by a well defended Lock

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.

Gunnera 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!

Lunch at the Rowbarge, Woolhampton
Lunch at the Rowbarge, Woolhampton

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”.

Under a low bridge
Under a swing bridge

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.

Arriving back to the Cunning Man
Arriving back to the Cunning Man

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.

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