Shropshire Paddlesport Thames Trip 2023

Two Weeks Paddling Old Father Thames (Tales from the Riverbank)

The Mascot

‘Handy Andy’ made his first appearance on a club expedition and was to accompany us on the whole journey. His original plan was to end the expedition with a Viking funeral as he drifted out into the North Sea. However, he became a focus of everyone’s daily struggle with wind, rain and physical tiredness. He lost two paddles and broke the flag, but the group rallied round carving him new blades in the evening along with a stylish dry robe to hide his modesty. He is currently resting at home before tackling the Scottish white water in a few weeks.

The Paddlers

The ‘doing it all’ team was made up of Phil & Caroline, Alec & Lindsey, Carol, Bill & Sian and was joined by Anne, Ian & Jane and Tim for sections along the route. We all got extremely wet due to the rain, but no one swam, with the possible exception of Handy Andy who spent a few days lying face up in a swamped boat.

The Tideway in London is classed as ‘Advanced Water’ with significant risk posed by large fast-moving vessels, strong tidal flows and numerous entrapment hazards from piers and stationary vessels. Natalie, Michal and Toni from Six Knots guided us on the last day through London giving us a safe and extremely enjoyable experience.

The Walk

The first day was a 14 mile walk from the source near Kemble to Cricklade where there was sufficient water to float and paddle a boat.

The River

Our journey comprised 174 miles (14 on foot), 44 locks, 215 bridges, peaceful nature reserves, ancient woodland, places of history and over 12 days of paddling a waterway that went from ‘jungle warfare’ to Britain’s busiest.

We were able to go through all the locks, some in the first few days we operated ourselves, but most were manned by lock keepers from the Environment Agency. At one lock we chose to try the roller system to portage the boats, just for fun………and the swans were very welcoming.

Electronic gadgets monitored our progress with Bill, Lindsey and Caroline constantly comparing average speed, average moving speed, distance travelled etc.
For some strange quirk of human nature we paddled faster when it was raining, and we were being buffeted by wind and slower on shorter days when the sun was shining.

Occasionally we found a convenient café for lunch (thank you Wokingham Waterside Centre), but most of the time we stopped on the riverbank and enjoyed the scenery.

The canoe shoot at Radcott Weir offers the only white-water experience on the Thames, a 300m narrow channel that goes around the lock before depositing you back into the main channel. More jungle than white water, but good fun, especially as there is only room for one boat at a time.

Along with luxury motor launches there were sadly many abandoned and sunken craft, an example here on the upper reaches of the Thames.
Other craft we saw, were just bizarre.

The Campsites

We stayed at Caravan and Camping Club sites in Oxford and Chersey, Chersey was brilliant with brand new facilities, easy access to the water and a convenient pub and shop next door. The daily routine was 8am all packed and ready to go, returning to the campsite sometime before or after 5pm. Paddle, eat, sleep, repeat………those coming to Scotland can expect the same ! Occasionally we would have the energy to complete a jigsaw – The Counties of Great Britain and Ireland – thanks Carol. One evening we decided to rearrange the cross bars on the trailer…..the bent one is now at the top.

Notable Events and Funny Moments
The postman definitely needs a boat to collect from this one……or is there a door the other side ?

Two collections per day as well.

In Windsor we had a close shave with an amphibious bus that roared down the slip way just after we got our boats off.

London and the Completion of an epic journey

From Teddington the last 24 miles is tidal. High water was at midday so start times were adjusted so we paddled with the flow. Very interesting waves form from a combination of tide, river flow, wind and wash from large boats. You quickly learn to ‘ride’ them, although both evenings we all experienced the sensation of the tent / caravan / camper moving up and down ! We spotted a seal on three occasions, once with a fish in its mouth, unfortunately no one had a camera ready.

In conclusion: the Thames is a fantastic paddle; it is the best touring river I have paddled. It does not have the white-water excitement of the Spey and Tay, but it has much of interest. Famous places, unique buildings, nature reserves and ancient woods. Fascinating houses, from historic mansions to modern ‘grand designs’. The pictures below can speak for themselves.