7 June 2014
Eleven paddlers set off downstream from Bell Hill: Val, Adam, Dave, Gerard, Andy, Chris, Sarah, Stephen, Derek Heath, and Norma powering me along in a Rorqual. Another paddler was expected but it turned out that he was going to have a different kind of eventful day.
The forecast included rainstorms and thunder, and not long after Thames Ditton it started to rain, soaking us before we had reached the Royal Canoe Club. We paused at Teddington Lock for a quick briefing about our next step.
Deliberately straggling away from the lock, about one km later we headed up onto the slipway at Swan Island (by special permission) and parked our boats there. Chivvied along clutching our tickets, we headed off Swan Island and past Radnor Gardens, into Radnor House School. There we were just on time for our appointment to descend into the earth below the school and inspect Alexander Pope’s Grotto, a subterranean creation by Twickenham’s most famous resident. Fixed into the walls of the grotto are pieces that appealed, or took his whimsical fancy. Pope’s Grotto is only open a few times a year and demand for tickets is strong, but the organisers were pleased to see us.
The sun appeared as we made our way back to the boats. Once afloat – with one paddler determined to see how close he could get to the houseboats without capsizing – we pushed down the magnificent Horse Reach with its view of Richmond Hill. We hurried on for Richmond Lock, hoping to get there before it was closed. We made it, floating easily past the weir that would shortly descend and stop the water levels up to Teddington from getting too low.
Landing hungry and nervous at Isleworth – our lunch booking at The London Apprentice had been refused – the annual Church Street party was in full swing in the sunshine. The organisers had said we would be welcome and we were. Boats loaded onto the cars – thanks to Clive and Jeff for adding to our fleet of kayak shuttling cars – we soon found the food stalls and tucked into a range of good food and real ales.
Re-hydrated and nourished, we were back at Bell Hill by mid-afternoon.