Club Paddle 31 August 2014
The planned club trip for the last day of August promised to be a pleasant summer’s day out on one of the mid reaches of the Thames above Old Windsor, and it didn’t disappoint.
Looking out across the water at Bell Hill before we started out we had blue skies and sunshine with only the mandatory light breeze rippling the water.
Seven of us collected boats from the clubhouse and set off to the ‘Bells of Ouzely’ pub and eatery on the bank of the Thames about a mile below Old Windsor lock. Barnet and Daniel, sharing a Canadian and making the overall number up to nine, had set off a little earlier and
were paddling away from the pub as we drove up to unload. However, as our little convoy approached Old Windsor the weather perceptibly changed and heavy cloud gathered, changing the outlook entirely. In fact the conditions were to alternate between warm/sunny and cloudy/cooler for the remainder of the trip but we escaped any actual rainfall.
The put-in at the pub was via a couple of flights of steps set into a rather steep, grassy bank that allowed only one boat at a time from each flight to take to the water. After this was accomplished by all seven of us we set off up the first stretch towards Old Windsor lock. There was a fairly significant flow against us and together with an opposing wind, began to turn the paddling into something of a workout accompanied by the noisy concerto of aircraft engines taking off from Heathrow and passing over us at right-angles to the river.
The noise was only just beginning to diminish behind us as we arrived at the lock and began to queue up for the portage. We had the choice of an eye-level concrete wall or a bouncy-castle style pontoon which we all accomplished with varying degrees of efficiency only to be
followed by an assault course of steps and banks to get past the lock to the get-in on the other side.
The long reach that followed skirted the Windsor castle grounds on our left. Evidently that area was out of bounds to everyone, judging by the frequent warnings plastered along the high banking which threatened pain and punishment if you so much as touched the embankment. Across the grounds Windsor castle soon hove into view and it seemed a good idea to get everyone together for a group photo with the castle in the background. After much cross-stream and crosswind milling about, which may have caused anyone watching on CCTV some concern, the majority of our little band eventually got into the shot and we carried on our way thankful that no one had to swim for the bank in that particular area.
Here the river curves around almost a full 180 degrees bringing us up to Romney lock and the keeper waved us into the maw of the open lock. This was a new experience for your scribe and I clung to one of the hanging chains set in the side of the lock and the others rafted up as the gate closed behind us. What came as something of a surprise was the water coming into the lock came up directly underneath me, heaving me upwards. Luckily I had the chain to hang onto but Stephen had to ride out the turbulence in the centre of the lock.
Already in the lock were three gentlemen of a certain age, in a rowing skiff complete with
pith helmets and a dog, no doubt re-enacting the journey described by Jerome K Jerome.
When it came to exiting the lock they displayed a suitable ineptness with paddles and boathook as they almost took out a couple of our number all trying to get past the open gate. I never did find out if the dog was called Montmorency. The lock cut ran us almost up to Eton and we passed under its picturesque bridge to the enjoyment of those looking on from the parapet and the squawking disapproval of a myriad of geese on a pontoon as we passed too close for their comfort. Our goal was the riverside cafe on the left bank which for a change had ample bank-side space to get out.
We executed a neat peel-off to cut across the river traffic to make our landings and meet up with Daniel and Barnet who were already there and munching on their bacon butties.
It was pleasant sitting in the sunshine but alas it was soon time to go again. This time we headed a little further upstream between the bank and a small island, cut straight across the traffic stream again and into a narrow backwater that we had come to explore. The backwater narrowed, twisted and turned and became more overgrown such that it would not have been surprising to have come across Bogart pulling the African Queen through it. We progressed in single file until emerging through a non existent ‘Cuckoo Weir’ only a few hundred meters from where we entered.
This time we had wind and water in our favour and the return trip time was easier and shortened somewhat. Between Romney and Old Windsor locks the other traffic died to almost nil and we practically had the river to ourselves. By the time we portaged Old Windsor the Sun was out and we finished the journey in warm sunshine, the only thing spoiling the trip being the return of the aircraft noise and that of a small motor boat occupying one of the two flights of steps at the get-out.
All in all it was a pleasant day out of around 11 miles taking in some splendid scenery. Thanks go to Phil for organising the event. I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did.
DW training progressing nicely!