Our trusty boats
For me, a relaxing holiday is spent 'doing something active'! I find that if I spend the day doing something physical then I have a good excuse to eat plenty of food and have a lazy evening. So, this summer we spent four days kayaking down the Thames. We'd done the first 50 miles a couple of years ago over a long weekend, and had always wanted to finish it.
Near the start at Cricklade
Two years ago, we had started at its source at Cricklade where the river was so shallow we had to walk down the stream, dragging our kayaks until it was deep enough for them, and us to float! (it was a 'dry summer' that year!). We followed the meandering course downstream, paddling through reeds and rushes and under the weeping willows, disturbing disgruntled swans and coots along the way. Slowly the river deepened and widened and we passed through Oxford, 'the city of dreaming spires', paddling along a stretch at Port Meadow - a piece of river I know well from my school days - and aside the beautiful college buildings in the University Parks. Then on to Abingdon where we ran out of daylight and time, so with 50 miles under our belt we put our Thames expedition on hold.
Putting in at Abingdon
This summer, we picked up literally where we had left off - carrying the kayaks across the water-meadow to put in under one of the arches on Abingdon Bridge. We covered 20-25 miles a day, setting a leisurely pace with time set aside to stop for well-deserved tea breaks. After all, we were on holiday! Stopping at locks and river-side pubs and cafes, we ensured that we didn't go hungry and anyway had 'emergency rations' and a flask safely stowed away in our kayaks - ideal for impromptu picnics.
A fine place for a picnic...
We took it easy, over-nighting at a rather smart hotel in Streatley (providing great entertainment for the guests at a riverside wedding as we clambered ashore, narrowly avoiding what would have been an eventful descent of the fast-flowing wier!), Henley and Eton. Plans to camp were scuppered by hostile 'get off my land' notices at any likely quiet stretch of river bank...
One of many herons we saw - this was the first (and last!) we photo'd
It was simply lovely to potter along the river, a little faster than walking pace, looking at the swans, geese, ducks, herons, moorhens, grebes and kingfishers.
Ok, so these are cows, not sheep.
I was reminded of passages from 'The Wind in the Willows' as we went 'all along the backwaters, through the rushes tall' - not surprising really as Kenneth Grahame first met Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad near his home at Cookham - a sleepy little riverside village in Oxfordshire. We rescued a young sheep that had fallen into the river and was too cold and tired to scramble up the steep bank - we could hear its joyous bleats as it frollicked in the meadow with its friends long after we had hauled it on shore!
...simply messing about in boats...
It was surprising to see such a variety of wildlife, watermeadows and uninhabited rural spaces, even as we entered the more populated reaches around Staines and Slough - even into London.
...desirable riverside mansion...
In addition to the abundant flora and fauna we were in prime position to spy on some of the gorgeous houses and mansions flanking the Thames. Impressive Georgian mansions with sweeping lawns to the river bank, home to a spinney of old oaks and a couple of hundred deer, or rambling Tudor houses with ancient beams and leaded windows. A boathouse is obviously a pre-requisite (some of these would have made a substantial home on their own!) together with the obligatory launch and skiff moored alongside.
Behaving myself at a lock!
Our journey coincided with the Olympics and as we kayaked along the stretch at Eton we could hear the cheers and screams and see the overhead cameras tracking the rowers at Dorney Lake. We even had a police escort some of the way - 'to ensure that there was no undue revelry at the nearby locks' - but the officers involved seemed to be enjoying their day pottering up and down the river, relaxing in the sunshine.
The Finish! - Teddington Lock
After four days we reached our destination - Teddington Lock. Beyond this point, the Thames becomes tidal as it passes through London, and special permits are required to venture beyond this point. The river becomes much bigger and wider and is the domain of tugs and dredgers, and whilst it would have been fun to see London from the river we decided to leave the last stretch for another time - one that wouldn't clash with London 2012!
It really was a fantastic few days, and despite the aching shoulders and blistered hands, one that I would do again. There is nothing quite like 'simply messing about in boats' to restore the soul and recharge the batteries...
Eich Ceiropractydd yng Nghlinig Ceiropracteg Llangefnii