Barnes to Vauxhall Bridge and back

Barnes to Vauxhall Bridge and back – 22 August 2015 – 16 miles

How many clubs in England would love to make this trip? From the rural Thames of Barnes village to the Palace of Westminster in 1.5 hours, tide assisted, with good cheap food and a rising tide to sweep you home again. My third summer, and at last I got to paddle the real river, there being 10 of us in total comprising two K2’s, Mark’s sea kayak and 5 K1’s, led by Andrew and the promise of a Portuguese tart.

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Everyone got muddy launching at Barnes, 90 minutes or so before slack water, and after a racing start settled into a quick march past the rowers at Putney and Craven Cottage, the rubbish warehousing (for loading our waste onto barges) and past the rubbish architecture which, sadly, we’re stuck with and which gets worse as you approach Vauxhall. The developers of Chelsea Harbour say its modeled on Monaco, that renowned touchstone of taste.

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Amidst the glass is a beautiful church on the south bank; Vauxhall bridge – a traffic-fueled monster from above – is lovely from the water with four statues on each side by F.W. Pomery, a Londoner and Royal Academician. One, representing architecture, I’m told has a miniature of St Paul’s Cathedral but I was focused on staying afloat and dodging the giant yellow duck that lands at MI5. Andrew, furiously quacking at his ducklings, brought us safely to land. Dan says the duck had buoyancy problems solved by pumping foam into the wheel arches. The foam caught fire…

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By the way, in the short stretch of water between Vauxhall Bridge and the MI5 landing there is a griddle-like structure poking out into the river – this apparently is the outflow of the long-since enclosed River Effra.

At the Madeira café behind MI5 a rude waiter competition was in full swing. ‘I’ve been looking for your table for 10 minutes’ – so just how many parties do you have today wearing buoyancy aids and smelling of effluent? It’s a great place and the food – the tarts – are delicious. We got chatting to a bloke with a faraway look in his eyes and scratched from head to foot. Well, if it wasn’t Peter Loy, fresh from falling down a mountain side on a bike. Get well Peter, we need you.

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Ninety minutes after landing the tide was right for our return, under Vauxhall bridge once more and past St Georges wharf and tower (twice voted the ‘worst building in the world’ since it was finished in 2005) to Craven Cottage with Fulham one-nil up. Somebody waved to me from one of the boxes.

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We reached Barnes 90 minutes after leaving Vauxhall.  Fair weather and a hot sun play tricks on the paddler: the wide fast–flowing river a benign old dear rumpled only by the wash of an occasional fast-moving boat.

A total of 16 miles and 3 hours’ paddling with 90 minutes waiting for the tide to turn.

Stephen Morris  

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