The Wey Navigation Marathon 2014

 

Club Paddle 14th June 2014 OR : how I paddled a kayak from Godalming to Hampton in 8hrs 22mins and learned to love swans – Dave Kew’s account of the day Flapjacks, Snickers, Nuts, and Sandwiches OR: how I snacked my way along the Wey with some paddling in between! – Phil’s account of the day
The club event scheduled for the 14 June was a little unusual being as it was for a rather longer distance than recent previous outings. At 26 miles it was listed as a Marathon which encompassed the full distance of the Wey river and Navigation from Godalming to Weybridge where it joins the Thames, on around the Desborough loop and downstream to finish at Bell Hill. Not a journey to be undertaken lightly, but one which looked good for anyone contemplating long distance races to test their mettle. Nevertheless I was sure that my companions Christine, Daniel and Phil who organised and measured the trip, were all likely to complete the distance without too much effort. For me it was a distance far in excess of anything I’d attempted before by an order of magnitude. The question I had was whether I would be able to go the distance, or even keep up the pace needed to complete it in the projected eight hours, (including lunch stop).From the outset we had tried to organise lifts to the start at Godalming town bridge to avoid a car shuttle. My lift could only be arranged early and if I may stretch an old analogy to breaking point, the trip turned out to be a journey of two halves because that split us into two separate pairs with different start times. Consequently after picking up Christine and boats we arrived at the start half an hour earlier than the ‘official’ start time and put into the water from a partly overgrown concrete ledge at the bridge’s footing. But, despite the half hour lead we still expected to be caught by Phil and Daniel, probably well before arriving at Guildford.The weather forecast for a week before had been for sunny or partly overcast conditions with only the chance of a little rain overnight. In fact, despite more than a week of predominantly dry conditions it was obvious that the water level and flow was a lot higher than usual. In places the water was lapping the canal bank top. Unbeknown to us torrential rain overnight had brought the river up to levels deemed to be dangerous and red boards to prevent navigation were later being put up at locks as we passed through. At first we settled for a modest pace but were aided by a substantial flow which increased as we went further.I soon found that Christine was a lot faster than me at portaging the locks as she stepped easily in and out of her boat while I struggled like a stranded walrus on the lock banks. We eventually settled into a routine, leap-frogging position through most of the locks whereby I would arrive first at the portage and invariably have to watch Christine paddle away in front of me as I struggled to settle back into my boat.By Guildford the water was running faster and at the places where the river joins the Navigation there was considerable turbulence. At the other side of the town we began meeting crowds of kayaks from the Wey Kayak Club, and not all of them were on the right side of the river. But we passed through them with only a few near misses and odd looks.At Stoke lock we had to get in at the floating rubber pontoon on the river which by now appeared to be in full spate. Christine was first away and had disappeared around the bend a couple of hundred metres away by the time I pushed off from the pontoon. We enjoyed quite a ride all the way to Send where we stopped for a short break at the New Inn.We were surprised still not to have been caught, but decided to carry on to the Anchor at Pyrford where we were due for the lunch break. The picturesque Papercourt and Newark locks came and went and we got a slingshot boost from the river’s weir stream as we passed through Walsham Gates and back into the Navigation.The weather caught us out again just before Pyrford when the heavens opened for another deluge. We took shelter under an overhanging tree and a convenient bridge and continued as the rain abated to make the Anchor at about quarter past one. We were met by Babs and Jeff who were holding our booked table against the multitude of people there, but by now I had consumed two Hi-Energy bars and half a bottle of Lucozade and was feeling decidedly queasy. I certainly didn’t have the appetite for a meal so had to pass that up.At last we made contact with Phil and Daniel who arrived at this point, and after half an hour comparing notes Christine and I decided to press on ahead. From Pyrford it’s a two and a half mile pound to the next lock which I know quite well, and which we now paddled in bright sunshine and very humid conditions after the rain. What I didn’t know was the way through to the Thames Lock from the Town lock, through which Christine showed me the way, including through the back door of a sailing club and onto the open water of the Thames just downstream of Shepperton lock and weir.We had joined up again with Phil and Daniel at Thames lock and the four of us set forth across the open water to get to the Desborough Island loop, no short cuts being taken here today. The wind, which had been against us most of the day, was now blowing unfettered across the water pushing up waves into a fine old choppy surface. To add to our difficulties we were half way around the loop when we were overtaken for the first time by a party, in an overloaded boat which added its substantial wake to the already broken surface. We rode out the turbulence while they carried serenely on completely oblivious to the carnage behind them as boats at the waterside rose, fell, and tugged at their moorings. Unfortunately the party boat must have taken an unseen detour, as a while later after we had cleared the loop, they came at us again, this time passing us with a distinct list to starboard and creating just as much wash as before.With the wind against us we passed through Sunbury lock, now sans its log on the rollers but with water cascading over them instead. For the last time we launched, this time into the maelstrom that was coming from the weir at least a couple of hundred metres away. We skirted the rough water and hugged the bank to gain what shelter we could from the wind and the very choppy surface.Eventually the welcome sight of the church tower hove into view and I limped into Bell Hill behind the others, glad to see the finish and that I’d actually made the distance, but also sorry that it was over.Dave Kew Having read Andrew’s article on nutrition for long distance paddlers from the Navy I concentrated on putting that into practice for the Marathon on the Wey. I had a blissful Friday before the paddle eating cakes, doughnuts, chips, pastries and beer (for fluids) – this is what they call ‘carb loading’ and it is something I recommend everyone try out occasionally, just don’t try eating anything else (like vegetables) as it will make you feel very ill! On Saturday I woke early to have extra time for a big breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs, toast, croissant, orange juice and extra strong coffee to help my paddling performance! By the time I had got all my gear into the car I was feeling a little queasy but reckoned this was a good sign as it must mean my ‘tank was full’ to the brim with all the food groups needed for life (and paddling).I picked up Dan and boats and most importantly delivered the after paddle cream cakes to the club fridge and headed down the A3 to Godalming. Having had strife with parking on a previous paddle I had looked up online where to park and the council offices car park was open on Saturday to the public so having dropped the boats, Dan and stuff off at the wharf parked up for the day for a bargain £3.50. It was now 9.45am and I read a text sent at 9:05am from Dave saying that he and Christine had launched, so they were 40 minutes ahead of us.To start with we headed in the ‘wrong’ direction up to the official start point at the town bridge before starting the clock on my device and turning downstream heading for Bell Hill. The river was very high and brown with lots of floating debris. The torrential rain from the night before was all cascading in from the Wey river upstream and all the many tributaries. That was good, what was not so nice was the gusty north wind which would try and blow us backwards, luckily the current was the stronger of the two and whisked us north towards Catteshall lock, the first of 15 portages ahead of us!At the lock I slowed as swiftly as possible and hopped out, lifting the kayak out of the water and straight onto my shoulder for the jog across the road and onto the grass beyond the lock. I ran back to check on Dan. He was slowly making a u-turn so that he could get out on the left side, then kayak on shoulder across the road and back into the water facing upstream so he could get back in on the left side of the kayak, make a three point turn and then finally he was again pointing downstream and ready to head onwards. This complicated process was repeated at almost every portage which I calculated added about 45 minutes to the journey! Luckily I had my snacks to nibble on whilst Dan was doing his maneouvres and could take a few photographsI had 30 mini flap jacks with me which was 2 per portage (78 calories each) so reckoned that these would keep me going all day long – which proved to be the case. As the early miles were ticked off by audio announcements from the nice ladies voice on my gadget the number of miles yet to do was a rather big number and the thought of all the portages and paddling to get to our destination seemed like a very big task. After a few more miles paddling I decided to just think about the paddle to the next lock and another flapjack and banish images of the Thames from my mind. My plan had been to maintain an average of 4mph including portages, but with the good flow we were consistently bettering that doing some miles in less than 12 mins = 5mph, which was gratifying.Soon, we reached Guildford and had a five minute break at Millmead lock. The river here was very high and swirly and there were lots of Wey kayakers out heading against the stream, mostly on the right hand side of  the river so we had some near misses! Back on the water the flow was now really helping us along down to the Wey KC and onto Stoke lock. We met the occasional boater but as the river levels and flows increased they were not able to proceed as the lock gates were shackled shut.We had hoped to join up with Chris and Dave at the New Inn at Send but when we got there for a quick coffee and cake stop, there was no sign of them and no text message – they must have just kept going on towards the Anchor and lunch. I called Babs who was waiting at the Anchor with our food order (fish and chips for me and ploughmans for Dan) and told her we would be there at 1:30pm and to expect Chris and Dave soon.A light drizzle set in as we passed the eerie ruins of Newark Priory but not enough to warrant putting on a waterproof, so we moved up a gear to make our lunchtime date. Dan would head off first from each portage and I would then try to catch him up which sometimes I managed to do, other times he would put in some extra power to beat me to the next lock. This gave us a bit of entertainment to keep our minds occupied and thoughts away from whether a flapjack top-up would be needed at the next portage.Water was raging over Walsham weir but the gates were open so we raced onwards on the last leg before lunch down to Pyrford, ready now for our food and a nice pint of … coke! At the Anchor we met up with everybody at last. We gobbled up our meals, chatted to Jeff and Babs and caught up with Dave and Christine’s morning exploits. They headed onwards with us a short way behind. We saw them in the distance at New Haw but then stopped for a moment to watch the Addlestone canoe club kids doing seal slides into the water from the top of the lock! (see pictures) Eventually we caught Dave and Christine at Thames lock in bright hot sunshine. I offered everyone more flapjacks and Snickers bars and made sure Dan had more water to drink as he was getting a bit light headed. We went through the rowing club gate and out onto their pontoon for the launch into the Thames which is broad and fast flowing there – in contrast to the Wey.We were all getting tired now and with a strong wind, fast flow, choppy waves and rogue motor boats overloaded with drunken youths blasting out ear splitting music, we kept together as quite a tight group around the Desborough loop and paddled steadily down to Sunbury lock. Eventually the tower of St. Mary’s church came into view at which point my brain said to my body – OK – just relax and I did just that, tipping over to the point where a few pints of water came into the boat, but lightning fast I managed to react and recover without a dunking – close one! We got to Bell Hill at 5.30pm, relieved but in some ways sad that the day was finished. We ate up the scones, eclairs and cakes in the fridge before heading back to get my car!It had been a brilliant day, a real test and challenge, but by concentrating on good paddle technique, maintaining a steady pace, slick portages and eating and drinking plenty of the right things we all made it in with energy to spare!Phil Tauwhare

Distances, locks, hazards and portaging

There are numerous places on the Wey Navigation, often just before a lock that a weir stream leaves the navigation (often on the right hand side) keep well clear of all weirs which are usually clearly marked.

Place Locks Miles %  Portage Notes
Godalming Town Bridge 0 0.0 0  CARE : as stream can be strong here
Godalming Wharf 0 0.2 1
Catteshall Lock No 1 0 0.6 2  LEFT : go through gate and across road (TAKE CARE CROSSING ROAD)
Unstead Bridge 1 1.7 6
Unstead Lock No 2 1 2.0 8  LEFT
Guns Mouth Junction 2 2.4 9
St. Catherine’s Lock No 3 2 3.0 12  LEFT
Mill Mead Lock No 4 3 3.7 14  Keep clear of rowing boats, kayaks and small WEIR on left then LEFT.
Guildford Town Bridge 3 4.5 17
Bridge Street Bridge (Guildford) 4 4.5 17
Dapdune Railway Bridge 4 4.8 18
A3 Road Bridge 4 5.4 21
Guildford Waterside Centre 4 5.6 22
Stoke Lock No 5 4 6.3 24  RIGHT : go down bank onto pontoon to launch – CARE : can be strong stream
Bower’s Lock No 6 5 7.6 29  LEFT or RIGHT (I think) then launch on RIGHT
Broadoak Bridge 5 7.8 30
Send Church Bridge 6 7.9 31
Triggs Lock No 7 6 8.6 33  RIGHT
Worsfold Flood Gates No 8 7 10.0 38 Keep right approaching the gates as there is a weir on the stream to the left. Straight through or portage LEFT if gates shut
New Inn Send – coffee stop? 7 10.5 40  RIGHT bank before bridge
Cart Bridge 7 10.6 41
Papercourt Lock No 9 7 10.9 42  RIGHT : put in below lock gates or go beyond bridge to put-in
Newark Lock No 10 8 12.5 48  LEFT : then cross lock to launch RIGHT (I think!)
Walsham Flood Gates No 11 9 13.1 50 CARE as approaching to avoid weir straight ahead, keep LEFT.  Straight through if open or LEFT
Pigeon House Bridge 9 13.6 52
Pyrford Lock No 12 9 13.7 53  RIGHT : care crossing road to Anchor Pub
Anchor Pub – lunch 10 13.7 53
Woodham Junction 10 16.5 64
Woodham Junction Motorway Bridge 10 16.8 65
New Haw Lock No 13 10 16.8 65  RIGHT : CARE crossing busy road
Coxes Lock No 14 11 16.9 65  RIGHT : can be strong stream downstream
Black Boy Bridge 12 18.3 70
Town Lock No 15 12 18.3 70  LEFT : CARE crossing road to small bridge, HIGH bank here
Weybridge Road Bridge 13 18.7 72
Thames Lock No 16 13 18.9 73  LEFT : then through small gate into rowing club, launch from pontoon, check if any rowers about that this is OK.
Thames – Wey Junction 14 19.0 73
D’Oyly Carte Island Footbridge 14 19.6 75  CARE crossing river to follow old river to the left as we include this part of the loop to ensure we do 26.2 miles.CARE : rejoining main river at the end of the loop, look out for rowers and other traffic.
Walton Bridge 14 22.0 85
Sunbury Lock 14 24.9 96 CARE approaching lock cut, keep well clear of the weir LEFT down rollers before lock. CARE as stream can be strong below the lock.
Sunbury Court Island 14 25.4 98
Platts Eyot 15 25.7 99
Bell Hill 15 26.2 100  Arrival!

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