Sunday 26 January 2014

New Haw Lock to Walsham gates and return

Andrew, Sarah, Ivy and Bernard, Dave and Derek, and Stephen

Notes to a virgin leader

For a first time leader New Haw to Walsham is a gift. Easy water, easy access, one short portage and a pub.

I, however, had planned to begin at Coxes Lock, a mile or so north of New Haw and closer to the Thames. For as long as the River Wey remained closed this would allow a strong group the longest possible paddle on the Navigation (9 miles round trip) with options for weaker paddlers to make a shorter day. That was the plan. With a light rain falling, in the shelter of the club house we unpicked it – a little local knowledge casting doubt on car parking and access at Coxes. Barbed wire and muddy pasture came to mind and, as this wasn’t the day for experiments, we agreed to launch at New Haw Lock.

10 o’clock: rain and my optimism are falling nicely when through a watery windscreen the start comes into view. Quick. Out of the cars, up the bank and onto the water and, with a lingering look at the White Hart pub, a quick start south, face into 3 knots of wind. The swish of traffic on a wet M25 sounding like hell.

Dave and Derek make a flying start; Bernard and Ivy are paddling their beautiful, feather-light canoe like there’s not a breath of wind. Three other kayakers pass us going north, the wind in their sails. We’re moving, finding a pace, getting warm and I’m beginning to think I’ll get away with it. Get away with what? In this weather get away without injury, exhaustion, capsize or – more dangerously – a cock-up at the pub.

We make the 4 miles to Walsham Gates in an hour, including a wet and windy porterage at Pyrford. At Walsham the lock gates are open and Andrew pokes his nose out towards the river. The Wey is racing; we turn back.

Now, since we made the outbound trip, into wind, in 65 minutes, how long will it take to get back to the start? And does it matter? Well it does if, as seems likely, we finish at 12.30 when I’ve booked lunch for 1.30. As it happens the return leg takes 60 minutes, only five minutes less (note to self) than when the wind was on our nose.

Vital, now, (note to self), to bring forward the booking (done) and, with everyone in dry clothes, get some warm food. By luck more than design (It was my first visit) the White Hart is cheap and cheerful, the food is good and the portions are huge.

We drive back in the rain and as we reach Bell Hill, the sun comes out.

I make a note: for a successful trip, listen to advice, don’t hang about in foul weather, eat good food in dry clothes, and let the good cheer and resilience of your fellow paddlers do the rest. Oh, and unlike me, ideally go where you’ve been before.

Stephen Morris