Our select band (Tamra, Jana, Phil, Frank and yours truly) assembled at 8.30 at the club to collect our chosen boats pausing only for Tamra to complain that she should have bought her heels to get the boat on top of her car and for me to explain that due to over-indulgence the night before I was in less than fine form.
After the short hop down the M3 to Fleet we parked in the public car park next to the Barley Mow pub luckily avoiding any unfortunate business with the restricted height barrier. From there a good heave and we could literally have thrown the boats straight into the canal. By this time the weather was warm and sunny so we took off most of the layers we had donned and got going.
The first section of the canal has lovely wooded countryside to both of sides of it which did mean a fair bit of debris in the water but really that was the only thing to complain about. Jana impressed us with her ornithological knowledge. Examples; “Oh that’s a really cute duck”, “Are those two birds mating whilst they’re flying?”
We paddled straight past King Johns (Odiham) castle and dodged several overenthusiastic “yoof” in hired canoes / kayaks / rowing boats before coming to the only real obstacle in the trip (no portages on this part of the canal) the low bridge at Greywell. Apparently the canal was unusually high and it was touch and go whether we could slip underneath it. Tamra got the award for the most elegant transit, a gentle limbo action that saw her through in seconds.
We soon neared the end of the canal (a collapsed tunnel now a bat sanctuary) at this point the water was very shallow and choked with a red-brown weed that made our progress more like punting than paddling. It was impossible to turn around so we had to reverse through the channel we had ploughed through the weed like mini ice-breakers.
After the turn we arrived back at King John’s castle and stopped for snacks (Thank you Jana for the banana bread) and a short history lesson, apparently the castle was once the home to Kings but it is now little more than a few rough stone walls and some signs promising certain death to anyone foolish enough to climb up them.
Refreshed we pressed on again dodging some even more “merry” and out-of-control folk in a row boat. By this time my head had cleared and I was enjoying the lovely weather, scenery, cute ducks and non-existent flow.
Arriving back the at the Barley mow we loaded out boats and headed to the pub for food. There was almost a rebellion when we found that the wait was an hour. The possibility that we might not be entertaining enough company for this extended period of time was voiced by one of our number but in the end we only had to wait for 25 minutes or so.
Thanks to Phil for organising the trip (and transporting my boat and I), to all concerned for the good company and to the weather gods for being kind to us.