First Impressions – Boulters Lock, Maidenhead, to Marlow & Back - November 14th, 2021

Sunday, 14th November, 08:30 sharp at the Clubhouse to load the kayaks and heading off by various routes a little after 9. A dry start to the day, relatively mild (13°), largely windless but an entirely grey sky. By 10:30 we had all assembled ready to launch off a fairly high bank opposite the ‘Pay & Display’ car park and above Boulters Lock. All went well with a little mutual assistance getting into the kayaks and in time honoured fashion (last in, first out?) one of us duly capsized. (And fortunately – spoiler alert – that was the only one of the day).

And so we headed north/went ‘left’ (as we had been told to choose our direction with care beforehand, not that we had much choice with a lock gate a few yards away to the right!). The channel rapidly widened into a broad reach which felt much bigger than at Hampton – perhaps it was due to the beautiful countryside (and more than a few splendid houses) on both sides which we gradually passed.

And so we progressed slowly (there seemed to be just enough flow to reduce our speed or perhaps it was all too early and we needed a coffee first?). Overhead birds of prey circled – better not fall in? Eventually we reached Cookham Lock and had to stand up to clamber onto the lock entrance wall. Remarkably it proved easier than the short hop onto the Club pontoon! Kayaks then had to be portaged to the far side of the lock where one or two of us availed themselves of a discreet hedgerow only to have the lockkeeper appear and remonstrate against such behaviour. (Point to note in future – there is a toilet block on the other bank of the lock, it just lacks any sign! 2nd point to note – beware lockkeepers mowing the grass, they still have a beady eye out!).

Having avoided further abuse we continued to Marlow. This proved a little more challenging to land. There is a small reach to the side of the lock gates with a pontoon and posts separating the two. At the back of the reach there is a stormwater(?) discharge which proved turning the kayak round for a right handed exit a little challenging (note to self – try your left side next time). The kayaks then had to be lifted up a steep ramp, past the lock and lowered onto a patch of grass above some steps overlooking the Thames below Marlow town centre. In view was Marlow Bridge, a 19th century suspension bridge, and the shops were just to its right we were told.

A decision was made to leave the kayaks and walk ‘directly to the shops’ to find a friendly cafe.  Marlow must be an old town as the footpath zig-zagged between walls ancient & modern, presumably reflecting mediaeval boundaries, until we came out next to All Saints Church by Marlow Bridge. Enterprising locals had knitted hundreds of vibrant red poppies on the churchyard railings and across the road on the park’s. And the church looks hundreds of years old – worth a view another time.

By now the group of nine had divided and the ‘early birds’ had disappeared. Tempted to visit every hostelry as we headed towards the High Street, we eventually sighted Mark waving vigorously outside a pleasant but crowded café. After all on a grey November day there’s nothing better than shopping and eating out? At least so it seemed. The staff and owner were friendly and welcoming but with limited daylight hours remaining and a long paddle back (it was thought) hot food wasn’t going to appear other than for the lucky few. Coffee and cake it was therefore until an enterprising pair (Denise and Audrey) went hunting and discovered Sainsbury’s Metro just up the road and collared some sandwiches. There is absolutely no truth that they shamefacedly consumed the sandwiches in the café, (they eat them out of sight under the table – the sandwiches that is, not Denise and Audrey).

And so back to the kayaks, which were miraculously still there, past a sole bagpiper playing heartily outside a backstreet pub. No apparent reason why although it was Armistice Sunday.

Then we raced back, except we didn’t (just in case the lockkeeper remembered us) but we still shaved a whole hour’s paddling time off the outwards journey. And there really wasn’t that much flow. The skies turned blue and the autumn golds/browns/yellows glittered below Clivedon where the hillside rose above the Thames. Another highlight was the grazing heifers who had descended a steep bank to take the waters, and suddenly appeared a few feet to our right as we paddled past. Then there was the ‘running greyhound’ who leapt off the bank between the passing kayaks at which point it became clear it was a wetsuit clad swimmer. One kayaker commented on his sanity – we had passed a few lumps of wood floating just below the surface. What would have happened if he had head butted one?    

Cookham Lock proved to be easier returning – the lockkeeper had gone, or maybe he couldn’t face us again?  And as the light began to fade we suddenly appeared back at the car park. All exited without mishap, some with a little assistance, and then we packed up for the return. Or most of us did. The intrepid few headed across the lock, on foot, for a welcome drink and hot nibbles at the Boathouse ( https://www.boathouseboulterslock.co.uk/ ). Great welcome and even greater food (any hot food is great after its lack at the Marlow café).

Then it was back to the Clubhouse, clean the kayaks and head home after a very good day out. And Mark’s (alleged) unblemished record of leading dry paddles was retained – until next time.

Thanks Mark & Maxine for leading us on a beautiful day’s paddling, and for good company throughout.