A marathon a day: Helps get you from Marlow to Chel-say

30-31 July 2011

There’s nothing quite like the ‘home stretch’ whenever you’re out paddling – the optimism, the burst of speed, the feeling of ‘nearly there’.  Well on this trip we had two whole days of home stretch as we shuttled eight of the club boats 52 miles up river on the CKC trailer to Marlow and planned to paddle them home all the way back to Cremorne Riverside.

Our epic two day trip...

Dave Tuttle came up with the ingenious plan, as a way to get to see what the rest of the Thames looked like – the non-tidal part – and as a way of potentially ticking off a chunk of a later source to sea challenge?

Thanks to my nephew who played shuttle-bunny and dropped Dave and I, along with the kit and boats off at the riverside slipway in Marlow (at the crack of dawn!), minimal faffing was required and when the other guys rocked up via train and taxi we swiftly packed boats and made it on the water for an impressive 9am launch.  However, we were only paddling for about 4 minutes before we had to stop and wait for our first lock – which was good as it gave us time to slap on some extra sun cream, as the day was looking to be hot!

Thankfully most of the Thames locks are manned during the day, so all we had to do was paddle on in when instructed after the motor boats and barges. Sitting in a sea kayak when in a lock is a surreal experience – the first time you do it – but by the end of this trip we were all dab hands at it (the trick I found is not letting the stern of your boat get caught on the steps as the water drops!).  We also became quite adept at leaving a CKC tag in the locks we passed through with a bit of ‘sludge graffiti’ as the water level dropped beneath us.  Stu and Kate had to go one further and mark their own personal journey down the Thames… but I guess each to their own?

Dave had heard of a nice couple of pubs that nestle against the banks of the river, just down from Marlow – and as it was still pretty early we all convinced ourselves that a hearty pub-breakfast and a cuppa coffee would be a good way to start the weekend.  Unfortunately it was so blooming early that none of these pretty little places were open or serving food as we forlornly paddled up to each of them.

In hindsight it was probably a good thing that we didn’t stop, as we had a long way to go that day – 26 miles in fact – and with only around 0.5 knots of current to help us along, it was going to be a tough slog. So we continued onwards and started making friends with some of the pleasure boaters who we played leapfrog; they zoomed by us, only to be caught up again at the next lock as we all waited for entry.  Something that added a considerable chunk of time to our meticulously planned schedule as it took longer than Dave thought it might to clear each one – if you turned up at the wrong time.

Randomly we managed to acquire some red and pink cowboy hats for everyone – so not only did they raise eyebrows and ice-breaker questions from the passing boats, but provided some much needed protection and shade from the sunshine – bonus!

It was late morning by the time the countryside tow-paths gave way to the manicured gardens of the uber rich that stretched down from grand houses on the both banks of the Thames in the Maidenhead area.  So not wanting to seem common, Dave was all too keen to say hello to a man he saw sitting on his private pontoon – it wasn’t until after the life-size papier mache gnome failed to respond did he realise his mistake and look quickly over his shoulder to see if the rest of us had noticed his blunder (we did and mocked him for it!!).

It was in this neck of the woods (or should I say topiary) that we also came across a bunch of Canadian canoes pootling along the river, lazily taking in the sites and gawping at the splendour (and cost) of these houses! In our speedy sea kayaks it didn’t take us long to catch them up and introduce ourselves and have a chat with Hastings Canoe Club, who were doing a similar trip – but over four days instead of two.

Shortly after that we said our goodbyes and carried on, with the prospect of a lunch stop some-time soon, it wasn’t until we started to see the outskirts of Windsor that we found a suitable landing to get out and stretch our legs.

Back on the water we carried on downstream amid the hundreds of ducks and swans, skirted by the island based Windsor Racecourse and then down a cheeky ‘short cut’ which lead us passed some hillbilly lookalikes and into tumble of fallen trees across the river. With a few limbo manoeuvres we made our way through and came out facing a whole load of people sitting on the riverbank and drinking in pubs near Windsor Town.  Around the next bend we arrived at the ‘no mooring’ signs or the Royal grounds attached to the back of Windsor Castle itself, a beautiful stretch of river that sadly was spoiled by the noise of the planes heading into Heathrow.

By now the heat (and length) of the day was starting to get to us and we desperately wanted a beer – but it would seem that it would be some time yet before we could break for a pint as there were no pubs to be seen. After eagerly asking one Lock Keeper we got told of a Harvester some two miles further down river, they were probably the quickest two miles of the day at the speed we paddled.  Although a bit of a dive, the beer was cold and much appreciated (even though the first one barely touched the sides).

Rested and watered we cracked on and, much like buses, now came across pub after pub along the banks. The hesitation we had about Staines proved to be in vain as we were pleasantly surprised it ‘looks alright’ from the river – especially the pub we spotted after passing under the bridge.  With our campsite supposedly just 30 mins away we stopped for another quickie pint and to appreciate the late evening sunshine with a load of locals.  Much to Olwen’s delight they served ‘Tea’ (by the pint) and Tim was also impressed that he could get a pint of ‘Semen’ – or something like that?!

We reached our designated campsite near Laleham as the sun was making its final descent below the horizon and swiftly pitched tents, showered and headed over to yet another pub, where we made last orders for food by the skin of our teeth. Not surprisingly after a full-on day paddling we were all pretty shattered and were heading back to our tents soon after for well-earned snooze.

As Sunday dawned we all got up in good time and de-camped everything back into the hatches on our sea kayaks, ready to head off after we’d had hearty breakfast at the campsite café.  It was at this point we discovered that the café had been fire-bombed and it would be another morning without brekky – so we shared what rations we had left and set off in search of the next open pub or café down the river.

We passed through Chertsey and a good part of Shepperton before we rocked up at the Thames Court – only to discover we had to wait for the lunch menu before we could eat.  Not wanting to risk the wrath of a hungry Stu, we waited and watched as suddenly hundreds of people emerged to make the most of the sunshine and a nice pub lunch (unfortunately it wasn’t that nice!).

After Shepperton we headed on towards Hampton Court, but as we went by Sunbury there seemed to be a flurry of river traffic, so Olwen, Tim and I hitched a lift on the wake of a small motorboat towing a kid on a rubber ring.  After a day and a half paddling the small surfing rest bite was well received and thanks to that kid’s help we all made it down to see the Hampton Court Palace gilded gates rested and eager to go.

After that, the river towns and river started to feel more familiar to us Londoners, as we passed Thames Ditton, Kingston and then Richmond. We became so relaxed and settled into our paddle stroke that it wasn’t until after a flock of geese nearly decapitated Kate as they v’d along the river did we start to pay attention at what was going on around us again.

Thanks to Dave’s planning – and a perseverance to paddle onwards by the team – we reached Teddington Lock bang on high-tide, so were actually able to shoot the 4 inch drop down the weir with barely a scrape to our hulls.  The cut-thru on the weir also happened to place us nearer to our designated lunch spot – The Anglers pub. However mutiny occurred when Phil spotted a massive sign for Cream Teas at the place next door – so we split up into two contingents; one for beer and one for tea, only to regroup and ride the tide back to Cremorne half an hour later.

We were suddenly making a stonking pace, as we let the ebbing tide add a few knots to our regular paddling tempo, helping us zip passed Kew, Barnes and Hammersmith. Now we really were on the ‘home stretch’ – water we regularly paddle during the evening sessions, so it didn’t take long to but those last few miles under our belt. It was around 5pm that we made it back to base, with triumphant grins all around – we’d done it, two marathon paddles in two days!

So, in summary, our trip in numbers:

  • 52 miles
  • 48 bridges
  • 11 locks (taken)
  • 8 Kayakers
  • 3 Limbos
  • 6 tents
  • 2 portages (at locks)
  • 1 weir (run in boats)


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