Myself, Jenny, Paul, Norma, Catilin, Andrew, Michele and our trip leader Dan, find ourselves climbing into three canoes and one double kayak on a small slipway at the end of Tonbridge Castle car park. It’s October 7 around 10.00am and it is slightly raining and cold enough to be wearing a fleece. This is our launch site for an eighteen-mile, nine lock trip down the River Medway, from Tonbridge to Maidstone.
Within half a mile of starting we find ourselves at Tonbridge Town Lock, but to our disappointment the canoe shoot is not in use. So, we decide to haul our boats over the barrier and pull them down the shoots brushes anyway. Far more fun than just an ordinary portage. Porters Lock is the third on our journey and it’s our first flowing shoot. Down we go, a bit wobbly at first but great fun. All a little bit more excited now and we can’t wait for the next one. We paddle forward.
One thing you notice about the Medway is that it is just not busy. We came across three moving boats all day. There’s plenty of birds crossing from one bank to the other and at one point we followed a Kingfisher for about a mile or so. There’s plenty of fishermen also, all happy to say hi and let us know what they have or have not caught, but apart from that it’s all nice and quiet.
The canoe shoot at Oak Lock is steeper than the previous and after shooting it we all decide to stop and have a bite to eat and a drink. Flapjacks and flasks are taken from dry bags as Dan decides he’s going to run the shoot again, on his own this time. We all watch, cameras at the ready, was that a wobble, no, perfectly executed. At Sluice Lock the excitement builds, as this is by far the steepest shoot. Catilin and I are the first to go over. Catilin is up front and gets a lap full of the Medway as we come crashing down. The water throws itself into our canoe by the bucket load. Paul and Michele come down behind us with the same intensity, followed by Dan and Jenny and then Andrew and Norma. We all take five minutes to empty our boats.
There’s a pub called the Anchor Inn at Hampstead Lock and this is our destination for lunch. However, when we arrive the pub is closed and boarded up. What a spot of luck this turns out to be, for on the opposite bank we spy the Teapot Island. A café boasting a museum of around eight thousand tea pots. Featured in the Guinness Book of Records in 2004 for the largest collection, but cruelly snatched away in 2011 by a man in China who has amassed a whopping thirty thousand. A few of us order lunch while a couple of us are told about the time Prince Charles and Camilla came and viewed the collection and about the Prime Minister, who actually bought one, for they sell them as well. Michele orders a pot of tea. Whilst we were sitting eating and chatting, (Hamptoneers second favourite pastime) the heavens opened, so we dragged our heals a little and this gave Jenny an excuse to buy an ice cream.
Teston Lock was to be our finial shoot of the day, again, great fun and once down, completely dry this time, we paddled towards Eastfarleigh Lock. Once past this we have our longest stretch of paddling between Locks, four and a half miles. We enter the urban fringes of Maidstone and as the river slowly bends left you are taken aback by the fantastic grade 1, mullion windowed Archbishops Palace that sits on the right bank, a truly beautiful building. Old and new sitting comfortably next to each other here, with the reasonable new House of Frazer department store sitting very close by. Another half mile brings us to Allington Lock and the end of our journey.
Eighteen miles of paddling and running canoe shoots in the county known as the Garden of England. The weather was all over the place, throwing a little bit of everything at us, but the scenery was glorious and the paddling was made slightly easier for we had a slight wind on our backs for a good part of it. The modernising of the Locks has been undertaken with paddlers in mind and for this reason there was hardly any canoe carrying involved, apart from the Jobsworth, the high bank and the health and safety incident, but I’m not going to mention that, it’s too crazy for words and I still can’t get my head round it.
Thanks to all my fellow paddlers for a great days paddling. To Andrew, Jenny and Paul for bringing all the paddlers and boats back home to Hampton and especially to Dan for organising the day.