Saturday, April 6, 2013

Camping for the sake of it........ Dolgamedd, Snowdonia and Church Farm, nr Telford.

So I decided, reluctantly that I would have to sell 'Millie'. The ideal scenario would have been to purchase a suitable size kayak for solo trips and lightweight expeditions and to keep 'Millie' for multi person paddling and for when a gentle drift down the chosen waterway was desired. Unfortunately I am a man of limited means and although I could possibly push to affording both, I felt that I couldn't justify spending such an amount on myself whilst the kids walked to school with bread wrappers for shoes.
'Millie' was listed on ebay and I hoped to get the same price that I had paid for it, after all it was in the same condition and now came with added adventure. Whilst waiting for the bidding frenzy, I looked around to find a suitable kayak in the price range that I could (hopefully) afford. I narrowed it down to three, the Liquid Logic Mist 12.5, the Riber one man, and the Water quest. Stockists were spread around the country, but as a lorry driver, I knew it wouldn't be long before I was in the vicinity of each and able to take a proper look at them all and make a sensible, fully informed decision after evaluating all three.
'Millie' sold for the price I had hoped.
My shiny new kayak
The Liquid Logic Mist 12.5

The first kayak that I managed to see was the Liquid Logic Mist 12.5 in Bridgend, the reviews were good, the pictures looked good, the dimensions were good and it had storage to allow for weekend trips without having to trim my kit too much. In the shop I sat in the boat and had ample room and it did look good. My plans to see all three kayaks went out the window when faced with a nice shiny kayak and enough funds to purchase it along with a new paddle and spray deck.

Dolgamedd, Snowdonia.

The river running through Dolgamedd
Our next camping trip was to be to a weekend at Dolgamedd in Snowdonia, a lovely campsite sitting next to a river in Brithdir near Dolgellau. Loz spotted this campsite on the UK Campsite web site when he was browsing for a decent campsite that would allow campfires and also facilitate a spot of paddling.
On closer scrutiny we realised that the River was a little on the difficult side for the type of kayak I now owned, so we took the controversial step of deciding not to take the canoes. This trip would just be about camping. Relaxing by the river being warmed by the campfire.

After finishing work on the Friday Loz picked me up and after loading his car with my gear we set off for the wondrous beauty of Snowdonia. On arrival at the site we found the office to be unmanned so we made our way to the riverside and set camp.
The very useful picnic tables by the river
After a short while the patron of the site made her evening visit and we paid our dues and purchased some firewood. It wasn't long before we were set and had a roaring fire burning in the fire pit. The beer was cracked open we had a rather decent spag bol on the go. The setting of this campsite really was stunning and the proximity to the river which we had pitched our tents only increased the appeal of this gem in the Welsh countryside. Unfortunately it had been a long day and it wasn't long before Loz and I , whilst sitting in glow of the campfire with the gentle babbling of the river, were beginning to nod off.
Loz managed to get a pic of me nodding.

We could have called it a night then but the peacefulness of the whole situation kept us sitting out for a while longer. Although for once there wasn't a lot of inane chatter.
After a good nights sleep we arose to the habitual tea and breakfast sandwiches, today, bacon, egg and the ever present sausage were the sandwiches of choice. Appetites sated we washed up, taking advantage of the excellent room that consisted of sinks, fridge, telly(we didn't watch it,but ideal if you've dragged kids along and the weather isn't at it's most clement) and plenty of books and magazines for anyone who's idea of relaxation is to sit by the river reading. Their was also an outdoor pot washing area and a very nice shower block, that we used after we had finished washing up.
Fed and showered it was time to venture out, we had decided to pay Dolgelau a visit. After a short walk round we decided that we'd rather pop to Bala. Another little walk up and down the town we set back to the campsite, wanting to have a little wonder up river.
And we weren't disappointed. Just a short walk across the campsite and through a gate we followed the river upstream through a small gorge and there, framed by an old arched bridge was a dramatic waterfall.
The Gorge at Dolgamedd

After admiring the view and taking a few photographs we headed back to the tents for another round of relaxation, beer and food.
Tonights tea was was steak, jacket potato and huge mushrooms topped with pate, all cooked on the campfire.
Our dinner of steak on the campfire

Alcohol flowed and enough rubbish was talked to make up for last night.
After a really good nights sleep and rather later than was normal when we were camping, we rose to a pleasant morning and had breakfast, again it consisted of sausage, bacon and egg sandwiches all washed down with copious amounts of tea.
Unhurried we broke camp at a leisurely pace and bade farewell to Dolgamedd, both agreeing that a return visit would forthcoming.

Church Farm, nr Telford

A little later in the year Loz fancied another camping trip. This time we had no inclination to take the canoes. We chose a site that wasn't too far away. We wanted to be on site and pitched before dark and with it being November and with me not finishing work till after lunch, a long travelling time was not really an option for this trip. Telford is under an hours drive away from where we live.
Again we found this campsite on UK Campsites, although they do have their own website @ On arrival we paid our dues and were shown to the field in which we would be pitching, a rather overgrown field with the grass being about six inches high.
This may have been because of the time of year it was. We had the field to ourselves and headed for the far corner and pitched our camp with views looking across further fields and toward the Wrekin, very pleasant surroundings.That night I had decided to try to cook chips on the campfire. Before anyone gasps about the inherrant dangers of cooking with oil on an open fire, I had done a risk assessment of sorts.

Firstly I had purchased a sturdy oversized pot so that it wouldn't be more than a third full.
Secondly, it was an open fire, in a fire pit, with nothing around it. If it had of over heated, the worst that could have happened was the fire would burned fiercely for a while and the chips would have been ruined. That was my opinion anyway and I was happy to go along with my findings.
So I set to trying to cooking chips, unsuccessfully. To be honest it was as though the oil didn't get hot enough, exactly the opposite of  any problems I had expected. However, the steaks, cooked by Loz in the cast iron skillet that I had purchased were cooked to perfection. No more mention of chips was made.
After a chilly but comfortable nights sleep we woke to the fast becoming traditional breakfast of bacon, sausage and egg sandwiches and lots of tea.
The site was on a working farm and had no shower facilities, so for this weekend we would be showering out of a packet(baby wipes, lol).
Fed, washed up and slightly fresher we set about relaxing and drinking tea.

Tonight Loz was treating me to a lamb curry, all cooked fresh, with rice an naan bread which was delicious and created the need for alcohol. Which was drunk with aplomb and much chatter till bedtime when we retired to our respective tents.
After a very frosty night we woke and rose to a leisurely breakfast, again bacon, egg and sausage sandwiches with tea. Later we broke camp and made the short journey home.
Although it was a pleasant weekend I don't think we will be rushing back to this site.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Llyn Gwynnant.

Fresh from our adventures on the Thames with the superb, but big and heavy 'Canadian'. It became apparent that I wouldn't be able to spend as much time on the water as I would have liked. Finding the time when both Loz and I had the time to get 'Millie's' bottom wet was becoming ever more difficult. With our respective jobs and family commitments and Loz's other hobbies, synchronizing our spare time so that we could get time on the water was becoming a rare event. And with the size and weight of 'Millie', running out solo was not really an attractive option even if I was adept at paddling alone, which I'm not. If I was going to get more water time, I was going to have to re-evaluate my chosen craft. The major factor in me deciding to go with the open canoe option was my size, I had tried a couple of kayaks and found the cockpits too small making entry and egress both difficult and potentially dangerous if I needed to 'evacuate' quickly when on the water' or worse still, under the water.

While I was contemplating my next move regarding watercraft we were invited on a stag weekend at Llyn Gwynnant, a campsite on the banks of a beautiful lake in Snowdonia.
 So on Friday 17th August we headed off to North Wales for a weekend of canoeing, camping and I have to admit, a fair amount of drinking. The weather was still horrendous, skies of dark grey and torrent of rain accompanied us on our journey. We were the last to arrive at the site and after quickly pitching our tents we headed into town to find a hostelry that would both feed us and supply us with the required amount of alcohol. The plan had been to cook a big bunch of food on the barbeque and sit around the campfire drinking and putting the world to rights. But as I said, the rain really was biblical and the mud was ankle deep. Hence the change of plan and quick exodus to the pub. Tonight we drank and dined in the warm and dry, tomorrow we will return to the original itinary of being cold and wet.
After a pleasant but rather staid evening in the pub we returned to the campsite and retired for the night.
The next morning the rain had eased to a steady drizzle and a couple of the lads had rigged up a bit of a Heath Robinson shelter using a blue tarp roped between a couple of trees and a large trailer that had been used to transport a couple of the lads gear. From beneath the shelter the smell of bacon and sausages wafted towards my tent and tempted me out of of my sleeping bag to be greeted by the sight of Mark, the stag, and Nick cooking breakfast.
As we stood eating our breakfast sandwiches and drinking tea the rain stopped and the low clouds that had restricted our view to just the bottom third of the mountains and hills that rose on either side of the campsite were now in retreat, affording us a vista that was both beautiful and dramatic.

After breakfast the lads that were to be walking up and down Snowdon all piled into Marks Landrover and were driven to to start of their chosen path by Sprigsy, who after dropping off our mountaineering contingent set off on his own to do some photography. That left four of us at the campsite, Loz and I dragged 'Millie' and the two kayaks over to the Lake, leaving the the two to just relax and enjoy the ambiance and beauty of Llyn Gynnant.
We had taken both kayaks and 'Millie' because I wanted to try getting out of the cockpit of the kayak while it was upside down. I wanted to be able to go out and get water time on my own, without relying on other people to accompany me. And to do this I needed to be sure that if I ended up the wrong way up on the 'Curly Wurly' (the Wyrley and Washington canal, our local canal), I would be able to get out safely. And what better place to practice than in the clear, fresh waters of Llyn Gwynnant with my good friend and experienced kayaker Loz looking after me.

After a few refreshing dips in the crystal clear waters of the lake, successfully getting out of the capsized boat and a little play with 'Millie' we took full advantage of the hot showers and took our seats back at the camping area and cracked open a few cans while we waited for the return of our intrepid mountaineering friends.
When they returned, the campfire was lit and the barbeque teased into life, the beers, wines and spirits were lined up and we took our seats for a night of red meat, alcohol and inane ramblings.
Nick, who had unwittingly taken the role of head camp chef took his position at the barbeque and ensured a steady stream of red meat, ably assisted by a steady stream of Sous Chefs. Mark, the stag, assumed fire tending duties and kept a substantial fire burning throughout the evening giving us both warmth and light. The alcohol was plentiful and the conversation was entertaining.

We were regaled with stories of the lads misadventures on Mount Snowdon. Nick made the mistake of showing a polite interest in Loz's and my Thames adventure and was therefore subjected to a full account of our trip. Fortunately we weren't the only ones with tales to recount and we were treated to many stories of other adventures

Around midnight I decided it was time to turn in and retired to my tent. Sunday morning arrived with more rain, adding to the already problematic mud problem. Breakfast was again cooked by Nick and Mark and after taking on board the sustenance of bacon, egg, sausage and tea we broke camp and bid farewell to Llyn Gynnant.

Overall we found the campsite to be very good, the facilities were adequate and although the weather and subsequent mud didn't really facilitate the most pleasant of experiences it didn't really spoil it either, the location was stunning and the lake beautiful. Will definitely be making a return visit.

 I decided that although I had managed to get out of the kayak on the nice clean, clear waters of the lake, it was very tight and not really confidence inspiring as to whether I would be as happy being upside down on my own on the dirty, murky canals of the Midlands. I think I will be looking to get a kayak with a bigger cockpit and a lot more stability, unfortunately, I will have to sell 'Millie' to raise the funds.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Mighty Thames.

Due to the inclement weather, especially in the first half of our trip, it was not practical to remove the camera from it's protective bag and take as many photographs as we would have liked. Therefore we have used artistic licence and used photo's that we have found on the web etc. Where we have done this we have included a link to the original and offer our thanks to the originator of said photo's. If any of the photo owners object to us using said images please contact us via the comments facility and we'll gladly remove your images. Likewise, if anyone would like to use any of our images or text (in whole or in part) please feel free to do so. All we ask is that you include a link back to our blog.

The Journey

So, if Jerome, George and Harris could along with their dog, Montmorency, jump into a Skiff at Putney bridge and row their way to Oxford along the mighty Thames. And, a century or so later a trio of comedians could retrace the oar strokes of the original journey as documented in 'Three men in a Boat', surely a couple of forty two year olds could load a canoe and paddle it over seven days from Lechlade, at the start of the navigable Thames through to Teddington Lock in West London. Not too much trouble when you take into account that between us we make a fine body of a man. Loz is not fat, I'm not short. Loz is not bald, and I'm not grey. And we can both wield a paddle with the intention of moving an open canoe along a still canal. So, a flowing river, albeit not Britain’s fastest flowing river, should offer us a little assistance in reaching our goal with not too much trauma.
So it was decided that the Thames would be the venue for our first major trip. A leisurely six hours a day paddling with ample time to stop for lunch and a little sightseeing along the way and plenty of opportunity to take photos to embellish any blog that we may indulge in to chronicle our adventure. And all this whilst raising money for a good cause, Cancer Research at

Originally the idea was to start our journey sometime in July or August, but, due to work commitments we decided to bring it forward to Easter (April). A development that we assumed would have several positive effects, not least the fact that so soon after winter, the flow on the river would be at it's fastest and we wouldn't be cooking in the hot midsummer sun. The only downside that we envisaged was the fact that the night time temperatures would be very low and there would be a chance of rain. But when, In Britain can you guarantee or even predict with even a slight chance of accuracy, a seven day, rain free period?

Vango 450 beta.

So, the date was set and while Loz already possessed an impressive amount of kit, I still needed to acquire a few things to make my trip a little more comfortable. A Trangia 25 series, a new Vango tent, (a little larger than would be normally used on such trips due to me not being too comfortable in small spaces). a new kit bag, a new self inflating air mattress and a selection of 'vac bags' to assist with packing and keeping stuff dry were added to my modest array of gear My (Ralph) kit took up more space than Loz's would, mainly due to the fact that most of his was purchased with motorcycling in mind and the canoe, in which all my camping trips would be taken, afforded us more space than any of Loz's three motorbikes.(see janglejangle).

Date set, route planned, campsites booked provisions provided and logistics sorted. A pleasant weeks paddling on the river was awaiting us. What could possibly go wrong?

At this juncture it may be wise to ask you to check in your dictionaries, for I strongly suspect that if you look up ' naïve' there would be a good chance that the definition would simply read, 'Ralph and Loz planning a canoe trip'.

Ralph's tent at Bridge House campsite, Lechalade on Thames

So the morning of Friday 6th April 2012 arrived and as planned my good friend and gaffer from work, Steve Deakin, turned up punctually to transport us to Lechlade ready for the big launch on Saturday. The canoe was secured on the roof, the kit thrown on the back of his pick-up, and we were away. A pleasant morning that filled us with hope for the week ahead and we decided that it would be rude not to treat our kind driver to an Olympic Breakfast at the Little Chef. Our appetites sated we continued the journey, arriving at 'Bridge House Camp-site' in Lechlade around lunchtime. After checking in and unloading the car we said thank you and goodbye to Steve and pitched our tents and set camp. The camp-site was very pleasant and the facilities were more than adequate, although the shower cubicles were a little on the small side for someone of my stature, who even after losing four stone whilst training for the trip, I still weighed in at seventeen stone and six foot three inches tall. 

Ralph and Loz's tents pitched for night one

The River was approximately two hundred meters away across a grassy field that was evidently the nesting grounds for a couple of hundred swans which initially filled us with dread after our previous encounters with the species, but it soon became apparent that the said swans weren't nesting and therefore weren't too bothered if we used their field a short cut to get to both the town and the river. 

I think the highlight of our short stay in Lechlade was the fish and chip shop that we visited for tea, Monica's Plaice was the establishment that we stumbled upon for tea and on ordering fish and chips for each of us we were delighted by both the size of the portion and the quality of the food, beautiful. I would definitely pay another visit when I'm in the area again.

Early morning call from Mrs Duck.

After our tea we made our way back to the tents where we struck up a conversation with a couple of well travelled motorcyclists and whiled away an hour or so chatting and seeing off a couple of cans. Very civilised.

Day One, Lechlade to Northmoor Lock. 

Distance 19 Miles. Conditions, Breezy, Showers, overcast and slightly chilly.

Saturday morning arrived and we rose from our slumber with no rush or panic whatsoever. An early morning call from Mr And Mrs Duck, a hot cup of tea, a warm bowl of porridge (Loz didn't fancy the planned sausage sandwiches), a leisurely shower and another chat to our biker friends, who it turned out resided very near Teddington, our finish point. At eleven thirty we decided that we ought to perhaps start canoeing, after all, it's what we were here to do.
Everything loaded into the canoe and the canoe loaded onto the trolley we made our way towards the field that would afford us access to the river, but first we had to negotiate a small bridge, and although this wasn't a problem in itself the small steps at either side were something that we could have done without, the canoe/trolley combo when loaded with a weeks worth of camping gear wasn't exactly feather-light. Having overcome the small obstacle we launched the canoe into the River Thames, just beneath the bridge and began our journey in earnest.

The Thames or the Triumph of navigation 1792, James Barry.

The paddling was a touch harder than we expected, the flow on the river was non existent and the breeze was against us, this was the first of many clues that pointed to the fact that maybe this trip wasn't going to be as easy as we had hoped. So, it seemed the only thing that was going to get us to Teddington was our own brute strength and effort. Oh dear, we could be in trouble.

Old Father Thames, no help at all!

At St Johns lock, the first of the forty five locks that we would travel through, we got our chance to ask 'Old Father Thames' what he was playing at. We also explained that this trip was in aid of Cancer Research and it wouldn’t hurt him if he pulled his finger out and whipped up a bit of flow to help out a couple of well meaning blokes. The trouble was, that 'Old Father Thames' was an inanimate object, a statue that had been commissioned in 1851 for the great  exhibition at Crystal Palace and sculpted by Rafaelle Monti using Portland cement which was unusual for the time. After being rescued from a fire the good man was moved to Thames Head at the source of the Thames but after being vandalised was moved in 1974 to it's current location at St Johns Lock where it could be watched over by the lock keeper.
Anyway, with 'Old Father Thames, being just a statue, help in any form was going to be extremely unlikely. Looks like it would be down to us alone to get this job done.
During the planning stage I had left it late to join 'Canoe England' which in turn meant that my membership pack which included my license to paddle on the Thames, and a whole host of other waterways for that matter, wouldn't arrive in time, oops!. I had to make a couple of grovelling phone calls, first to Canoe England, to explain my stupidity and ask, "If there was anything that could be done?" to which I was told that all they could do was send me an e-mail with my membership details. The second was to a very helpful lady at the Environment Agency at Shepperton Waterways Office. who also e-mailed me with a note to show the Lock Keepers, explaining our problem and instructing them to allow us through with the paperwork that we had.
At St Johns lock we explained our situation regarding our license to paddle, and after inspecting our e-mails he kindly operated the locks and allowed us through. The whole, being allowed to paddle through the locks, thing was absolutely brilliant. As, like I said earlier, our canoe could never be described as light weight. Not with it being loaded with a whole weeks worth of kit and caboodle.
Again at Buscott lock we had to explain our lack of license and e-mail situation to the Lock keeper, who on inspecting our substitute paperwork allowed us passage through his lock. Although so far we weren't encountering any problems with our paperwork dilemma, it was getting a little tedious and we were sure that before we had paddled through the forty five locks along our journey we would probably meet a lock keeper who would not accept our explanation and refuse us passage.

Grafton Lock.

On arrival at Grafton Lock we again explained to the Lock keeper the license/e-mail situation. And our foreseen problem was apparently upon us.
"Well, officially, without a license I shouldn't really allow you through the lock." he said.
Well, we had hoped to get a little further down the river before we met this kind of obstacle. I alighted from the canoe and armed with both e-mails approached the Lock keeper, he read them.

Our license to paddle.

"Oh, you've spoken to Sophie." he chirped, starting to operate the lock. "I'll see if I can sort something so that you don't have to keep explaining at every lock."
While we were in the lock being lowered to the level of the next stretch of river he disappeared into his little office and returned with a temporary seven day license.
Sometimes when someone first appears to be unhelpful and turns into a benefactor of your trip, flipping your first impressions of him on their head, it's both a relief and result in our quest for Teddington.

Now we could continue our journey and paddle through the locks without having to regale the Lock keepers with stories of my stupidity. Apart from a slight headwind and a few light showers the paddling wasn't too bad. it would have probably have been prudent to have started today's leg of the journey a little earlier. As it was, it was looking like a late finish. Oh well, live and learn.

A barn owl.

As we passed through Rushey Lock we asked the Lock Keeper how far it was to Northmoor Lock. Apparently we still had about nine miles left to go till we arrived at the site of our first nights camp, pre-booked and pre-paid, so changing our minds and stopping at Shifford Lock wasn't an option, a mere five miles downstream, no choice then but to plough on and get there as soon as possible.

Although the going was now getting very tough, and the journey was turning out to be a lot more hard work than we had expected there was still a strange sense of relaxation to be had from the tranquility of the river and the sightings of the wild life along the way, today's high lights were the amount of swans that were serenely going about their business, not caring about our intrusion into their territory. Swans, when not getting all aggressive while defending their nests/young, were indeed beautiful and graceful creatures. And something that I personally hadn't seen before in the wild was a Barn Owl, swooping around in the trees to our right, we were lucky enough to watch it for a while as we paddled quietly passed, navigating effortlessly through the twilight in the trees and perching on branches scanning the area for prey.

The welcome sight of Northmoor Lock,
and the end of day one.

We arrived, tired and damp at Northmoor Lock at around seven thirty, too late to get some tokens for the showers off the lock keeper who had gone off duty at five. We pitched our tents and had a quick wash in the very nice toilet/shower room. It was a shame that we had not managed to obtain tokens for the showers, not just because tomorrow nights camping did not include any washing facilities, but also because the shower/ washroom  was impeccable. Warm, bright and spotlessly clean.
The only other people on the campsite were a young couple and a family of Mom, Dad and two young children, who, despite the wet weather were having a great time. Camping in their tent and the 'camping pod' that was available for hire to people who couldn't quite bring themselves to go the whole hog and sleep under canvas, basically they were sheds but, hey if it gets more people outdoors then they can't be all bad.
We cooked and ate dinner and retired to our damp tents for the night, vowing to get up earlier tomorrow and start the next leg of our journey a little earlier.

Day One finished, eight hours paddling.

Day Two, Northmoor Lock to Oxford Sea Scouts field.

Distance, approx 13.5 miles. Conditions, wet and windy, overcast and cold.

We rose about seven on Sunday Morning, washed and ate breakfast of porridge. After decamping and loading the canoe we set off about nineish. Today's leg had been deliberately planned to be a shorter day to allow us to set camp and then have trip into Oxford for a beer and maybe even a curry. But after mentioning our plans on 'Song of the Paddle' we were advised that maybe it wouldn't be the best of ideas to leave our kit in such an un-secure situation and upon reflection we agreed with the obvious knowledge and experience that was being shared.
So, only thirteen and a half miles to go today, which was a good thing because we were facing quite a strong headwind. So much so that if we stopped paddling we went backwards.
Above Pinkhill Lock

After paddling for just short of four miles we came upon Pinkhill Lock, As with most of the Locks I alighted the canoe and stretched my legs whilst Loz paddled solo through. The main issue that I was having was with my lower back, my coccyx, to be more precise.You see 'Millie' is a fine vessel, more than capable of transporting three adults and an amount of luggage etc. Or as in our case for this trip, two adults (although I am sure our wives would argue this description) and a whole lot of luggage. But a fault she possessed is that the plastic moulded seats do tend to result in a bruised coccyx. Loz had avoided this ailment by bringing along his gel seat that he used when on long trips on his motor bikes. I however had assumed my now default position of unprepared. And I would suffer the symptoms of this particular oversight for a few weeks after our trip had ended.
Swinford Toll Bridge

The next leg of today's journey was a short distance of a mile and half to Eynsham lock. Just a short distance before Eynsham Lock is Swinford Toll Bridge, which was built in 1769 to replace the the ferry which had been in use since the 11th Century. One of only two remaining toll bridges across the Thames it was sold in 2009 for £1.08 million pounds. At only five pence per car, it will take a few crossings to repay that investment.
From Eynsham Lock to Kings Lock, the next lock  that we would encounter was a windy two and three quarter mile struggle.During this stretch we would be joined by another two waterways, The Wharf Stream and the River Evenlode. Which under normal circumstance would be of help to us in our endeavourrs. However with the lack of rainfall, up to the point that we had started our trip, and that hadn't yet had time to affect the flow, so even with these extra two waterways assisting, The River Thames refused to give us any assistance whatsoever.

Kings Lock Keepers Cottage
After Kings Lock, we followed the River in a south easterly direction and soon passed under the A34. We decided that this would be a good place to take a short comfort break. With the bridge affording us some shelter from the showers, we rested and attempted, without success to straighten our backs and legs and I took the opportunity to climb up the bank of the bridge and take a glimpse at the madness of 21st century life that we had abandoned for the week. And watching the cars and trucks racing up and down this busy trunk road. I myself am a truck driver, so for most of my life this is the pace I keep. So whenever I get the chance to take a trip in the canoe at the sedentary pace that it demands, the steady, quietness never fails to relax me and recharge the batteries. 
All rested and raring to go again, we took to the paddle once more. Just a short distance after the bridge was Godstow Lock. In all the distance between Kings and Godstow Locks was a mere mile and a quarter.
Godstow lock was to our surprise, electrically operated. And, as we were discover, the rest of the Locks that we would encounter were also electrically operated too. 

Godstow Abbey Ruins.

After passing by Godstow Abbey ruins, the River opens up and flows gently through Port Meadows and although it was nice to take in the views, the openness of the landscape allowed the wind to hamper our progress even more and the going got quite tough.
After this exertion we decided to break for lunch and pulled to the bank opposite Bossoms Boatyard. Fed and watered it was time to move on and drive this vessel that we called 'Millie' onwards through the wind towards our goal for the day, which was the field at the side of the Oxford Sea Scout Headquarters a distance of approximately three and a half miles with one more Lock to go through, Iffley. Three and a half miles,that's all we had left. But the wind was, by now, getting very strong and the going was extremely difficult. We passed numerous buildings that were home to countless rowing clubs and their boats. A few of the rowing teams were out practising and as they passed us it reminded me of the Hare and the Tortoise. 

22nd Oxford Sea Scout Headquarters.

With a final push we reached our destination at about four thirty. Tired, wind beaten and hungry.
We set camp in the field just to the side of the Sea Scouts main building and whilst Loz brewed up a cup of tea and made a quick trip to a nearby shop to replenish a few supplies.
Also taking advantage of the Sea Scouts hospitality was a young couple from Wallingford who had hired a canoe and were travelling from Lechlade to Wallingford with tonight being their last overnight camp before their last day canoeing tomorrow. As we sat drinking tea we compared notes on how difficult it had been, paddling through the wind. Later while we ate our supper of pasta and sauce and enjoyed an alcoholic drink or two, we were joined by a very brash chicken who took a liking for my tent and proved quite difficult to get rid of, eventually it's owner retrieved the fine looking bird and thus deprived Loz and myself of tomorrows lunch.

Day Two finished, seven and a half hours paddling. 

Day Three, Oxford Sea Scouts field to Bridge Villa Campsite, Wallingford. 

Distance, approx 22 miles. Conditions,very wet and extremely windy, overcast and cold. 

Camped at Oxford Sea Scouts.

At six o'clock my alarm went off and it was time to rise, I had assumed the role of early morning teasmaid and it wasn't long before I had the kettle on. Whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil I got myself washed and dressed, ready for today’s events. I woke Loz with his drink and we had our breakfast of porridge and drank our tea before decamping and facing today’s challenge. 

Sitting there on the banks of the Thames, at that early hour with hardly any noise to break the tranquillity was an ideal way to start the day. Although overcast, it had not yet started to rain and there was only a slight breeze. In this idyllic moment in time, it was impossible to envisage the horrors which we would face today.
We left shortly after our fellow paddlers, at around eight o'clock, and made the short paddle to Iffey Lock.
After making our passage through the lock without incident, we began the next leg which was another short paddle of about a mile and three quarters to Sandford Lock, which we were to learn has the deepest drop on the non tidal Thames at eight foot nine inches. Just behind the lock lies a weir pool, nicknamed 'The Lasher' because of it's treacherous and very strong undercurrent. An obelisk sited by the weir records the deaths of five students, victims of 'The Sandford Lasher'.
Moving on, we set resumed our journey. Between here and our next lock, which was Abingdon, it was a strength sapping five miles against an ever increasing headwind. The River keeps a relatively straight line as it makes its way south toward Abingdon, turning westward to flow under 'Nuneham' railway bridge. It was here that we decided to break for a cup of tea, making use of the shelter that the bridge afforded us, for as well as the ever increasing wind the rain had gotten more persistent too. The wind had become a very serious hindrance, stealing the energy from each of our paddle strokes and making the journey extremely hard work.

One of the many Barges we passed on our trip.

Buoyed by our cup of tea and short break, we ventured out from beneath the bridge and faced the wind and rain again. Through Abingdon Lock we turned gently south again, paddling through Abingdon and turned eastwards just after Jubilee Junction and entering Culham Cut. The 'Cut' was a straight man-made canal that was opened in 1809 to avoid a shallow and meandering section of the River. It was sheltered on both sides and seemed to offer a little shelter from the wind. At the end of the cut was Culham Lock which was where we decided to break for lunch. 

After lunch we pulled away from Culham Lock and pushed on, wanting to get as much of the two and three quarter miles to Clifton Lock under our belt before the energy provided by lunch had ebbed. The wind was awful now and it seemed to take forever just to reach Appleford railway bridge, the halfway point between these two locks. 

            The River Thames near Clifton Hampden

Through Clifton Lock, and slightly over three miles of a sweeping almost semi circular bend in the River round to Days Lock. Paddling round this bend had become one of the most physically challenging things that I have done, the wind driving the rain into our faces, waves of at least a foot in height rolling upstream against us. I never before seen waves breaking on the a river. So now we were not only battling 'Old Father Thames' but now he had called in 'Neptune’s White Horses' to try and defeat us. 

As Loz said, “Someone had taken the 'FUN' out of fund-raising. My enthusiasm was slowly disappearing. 
We battled on and got through Day's Lock and faced the four mile ordeal to Benson Lock. The wind still taking up most of the energy of our paddle strokes. We reached Benson Lock, tired, wet and very wind beaten and still our journey was not over for today, we still had roughly one and a half miles till we reached the bridge at Wallingford which was our goal for today. We dug in deep and summoned the deepest reserves of our energy and gave it everything we had left. With the wind and rain getting worse all the time it had now become like paddling through treacle. 

Wallingford Bridge in better climes.

We reached the bridge about six and climbed out and dragged 'Millie' ashore. We had a couple of hundred yards to drag her, fully loaded on the trolley to Bridge Villa Campsite, our camp-site for tonight. I would have said we portaged, but believe me, I am still over exaggerating the elegance of the manoeuvre by describing it as 'dragging'. We were tired and wet and we just wanted to set camp for the night and put today behind us. 

We checked in and put up the tents that were still wet from last night and no chance of drying out before bedtime. This was the lowest point of the challenge for me and although I never considered giving in, I did think that maybe we should stay off the River tomorrow and have a recovery day and either finish our trip at Chertsey or extend the trip by an extra day to allow us to complete the journey to Teddington. I decided that before I let Loz know of my concerns I would have a hot shower and some dinner and sleep on it, but I was sure that the least we needed was a day off to recharge, my moral and enthusiasm were at rock bottom. 

Bridge Villa Campsite, Wallingford.

We made our way with some excitement to the shower block, not just because we would be getting out of the rain for a short while but because this was to be our first shower since Saturday morning. And we were not disappointed. The shower block was impeccable, spotlessly clean, well appointed and warm. I stood under the hot shower for at least fifteen minutes and dressed in warm, dry clothes ready for a short walk across the bridge to visit the Wallingford Tandoori , that we had decided to have our dinner in.  

'The Morale booster.'

Well fed with a beautiful curry and a couple pints inside us, it was time to get back to reality and return to our tents for the night. I was at least starting to feel a human again.  

Day Three finished, ten hours paddling. 

Day Four, Bridge Villa Campsite, Wallingford to Wokingham Waterside Centre, Earley. 

Distance, approx 19 miles. Conditions. Sunny and slight breeze.

When the alarm woke me at six on Tuesday morning something was amiss. There was a strange and eerie quiet, something was missing. Every morning so far we had woken to the sound of the rain on our tents, but today it wasn't there. I emerged from my tent, bleary eyed and confused only to be thrown deeper into confusion when I realised the sun was also shining and the wind had eased. I brewed the tea and woke Loz. who was also taken aback by the strange sight that greeted us. Not wanting to waste this good weather we quickly ate breakfast, washed and decamped.And although there hadn't been time to dry the tents it was still nice to start the day without the wind and rain beating at our enthusiasm.

We entered the River at Wallingford Bridge at about nineish and it was incredible how different it looked when the sun was shining.

The first leg today was approximately five and a half miles to Cleeve Lock, just north of Goring. From Cleeve Lock it's an extremely short paddle to Goring Lock. After which we would travel through Goring Gap, which is where the Berkshire Downs and the Chiltern Hills come together to form the narrowest part of the Thames Valley.

From here we continued our journey, enjoying the better weather and wishing that we had a better quality camera to capture the wildlife that we were seeing. So far on our journey we had been treated to the sights of Swans, Herons, a Barn Owl, Cormorants, Buzzards, Kestrels and of course in this area of Britain, the Red Kite, plus numerous other birds that we weren't knowledgeable to name. After paddling for just over four miles past Beale Wildlife park we reached Whitchurch Lock near the towns of Whitchurch on Thames and Pangbourne. 

Sweeping westwards then south we paddled for just short of two and a quarter miles to Mapledurham Lock, on the edge of Mapledurham park and near to Mapledurham House and Mill, the last working mill on the Thames, still producing stone ground flour. After navigating the lock we made our way through the Kentwood Deeps and round into Reading. Where after several frustrating conversations an being told that we couldn't get to Wokingham on the River Thames, we eventually found that our destination was about two miles further downstream. 

So with the end of todays journey in sight we pushed on through Caversham Lock and on to Wokingham Waterside Center which was to be our base for tonight.We arrived at about five thirty and after 'checking' ourselves in we were shown to the field where we would be camping. We were to be the only campers in this field although there was, in the next field, a small troop of scouts who were also taking advantage of the excellent hospitality shown by all the staff at Wokingham Waterside Center. We made camp and took a shower in the center before settling down to cook and eat our dinner. The lack of rain, coupled with the slight breeze and the last of the sun meant that for the first time on this trip we would be going to bed in dry tents. 

Day Four finished, eight and a half hours paddling.

Day Five, Wokingham Waterside Centre, Earley, to Cookham Lock

Distance, approx 16 miles. Conditions,dull and breezy with showers.

After a very cold nights sleep, I was awake before the alarm went off. Unlike Loz with his proper gear, I had been bothered by the cold of the night and had awoke with several more layers of clothes on than I had gone to bed wearing whereas Loz was sleeping soundly, all wrapped up in his 'goosedown' sleeping bag. I decided that I would take advantage of the facilities on offer and get dressed in the warm so I took myself an my clothes along with the mugs and tea bags and got myself ready in the warmth of the center. While I was dressing the kettle was boiling and in no time I had re-entered the land of the living and had two cups of tea one for myself and one for my good friend Loz. And the flask was also full for our cups of tea that we would hopefully be enjoying later.
It's amazing how efficient you can be when you have the use of electricity.
While Loz was enjoying his early morning cuppa I started to brush the frost off my tent, hoping it would maybe dry out before I had to pack it away.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the Wokingham Waterside Center for their hospitality and friendliness and we would highly recommend to anyone that may be planning a trip down the Thames to contact the center and see if they can do anything to help, especially considering the lack of camping facilities in this area.
So it was soon time to get day five under way. At eight o'clock we pushed off, ready to make our way towards Cookham Lock. We travelled through Sonning, Shiplake and Marsh Lock and entered Henley-on-Thames where we stopped for lunch. Loz needed to stock up on cigerette papers so he ventured away from the River to grab a few supplies while I sat and relaxed and took in the sights and atmosphere of Henley.

Shortly, Loz returned with the shopping, the most important items being his cigerette papers and an absolutely wonderous Melton Mowbury Pork Pie which was devoured by myself, surely the food of the gods. Sated, we continued our journey. We followed the River northwards, sweeping round westwards then south at Hambledon Lock then generally westwards through Hurley and Marlow, passing under the A404 and turning north west past Bourne End before dropping in a southerly direction for aproximately a mile and a half before kicking westward again and into Cookham Lock, our home for tonight.

We had pre-booked the site at Cookham but still needed to pay the Lock Keeper, at which time he informed us that the shower was out of order. A lack of shower facilities was fast becoming a feature of this trip.
We set camp, washed, changed and cooked and ate dinner as the rain started again. We took shelter in my tent, the larger of the two and settled down to enjoying several shots of vodka. Upon reaching the 'oops, I may have drunk slightly too much' state, Loz retired to his tent and I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept.

Day Five finished, eight and a half hours paddling.

 Day Six, Cookham Lock to Chertsey

 Distance, approx 21.5 miles. Conditions,dull and windy with heavy, thundery showers and Hailstorms.

On this the penultimate day of our journey, I awoke from a very cold sleep wearing every item of clothing that I had with me, the temperature had really dropped. Looking like the michelin man I put the kettle on to boil ready to start today the same way we had started every other day so far, with a hot cup of tea and a bowl of porridge. The frost didn't stay too long on our tents because it started raining again.

At the other end of the lock were a group of about fifteen people that had been doing the same trip as us but in three skiffs that had been taken up to Lechlade for them and they were rowing them downstream. We later learned that they had set off on the Thursday morning as we set off on Saturday lunchtime. After a brief conversation we made our farewells and set off on todays ordeal.

From Cookham the River heads south for slightly over two miles to Boulter's Lock. After Boulter's Lock we continued south through Maidenhead and under Maidenhead Railway Bridge. As we exited the town the River kicks westwards before arcing back south after Bray Lock, two and a quarter miles travelled from Boulter's to Bray. If we had more time, and more money, we may have sought out 'The Fat Duck' in which to have lunch.

After passing under the M4 we paddled the three and a quarter miles to Boveney Lock, just past Windsor Rowing Lake. Ever onwards we pushed on past Windsor Racecourse and with Eton on our left and Windsor to our right we had completed the next two and a half miles to Romney Lock. 

As we exited the lock ready to make a start on the next three miles which would take us to Old Windsor Lock the skies darkened and the rain started, in a tropical fashion. Lightening flashed an thunder rolled, with no discernable gap between the two. We were sat right under the storm and we had little choice but to paddle on. It was quite a dramatic way of seeing Windsor Castle, but I don't think either of us would say it was an ideal way to travel through Windsor.

We followed the River as it swept round and Home Park, keeping a dramatic view of the Castle on our left. At the back end of the park just before Albert Bridge there was a short respite in the storm and we decided to stop for lunch.

After our sandwich and cup of tea we pushed on through Runnymeade and past Magna Carter Island and the memorials, the Magna Carta Memorial, the John F Kennedy Memorial and the Air Forces Memorial. Just after going through Bell Weir Lock we passed under the M4and paddled the three miles through Staines to Penton Hook Lock, the penultimate Lock of the day It was at this point that the skies turned black again and the storm resumed, thunder, lightening and hailstones beating down upon us.
 Approximately three miles of river lay between us and our destination for tonight, so with the hailstones stinging our ears we pushed on under the M3 and into Chertsey Lock. From here it was aproximately one mile to finish. With the canoe now containing about two inches of water from the rain and hail, and the fact that we had been paddling for close on eleven hours through the most inclement of weather, today could not end too soon

Tonight though, would be different. Tonight we wouldn't be pitching our tents and cooking up pasta for dinner. Tonight we wouldn't be sleeping in cold damp tents. And as we rounded the little meander at Chertsey Meads our salvation came into view. My sisters house boat, all warm and dry. And inside would be waiting a huge Roast Chicken Dinner and a hot shower, followed by an evening of conversation whilst being warmed by the wood burning stove, heaven.

After a lovely evening, courtesy of my sister and her partner, we retired to bed.

Day Six finished, eleven hours paddling.

Day Seven, Chertsey to Teddington Lock, 'The End'

Distance, approx twelve miles. Conditions, Occasional showers, some sunshine..

For the first time this trip I awoke to a cup of tea made by my good friend and travelling companion,Loz. Who due to the nature of his sleeping bag had not had a great nights sleep, as although it had kept him mighty warm all week, when used indoors with the residual heat of the log burner it had pretty much cooked him. Still, if it meant I got a cup of tea in bed, then it couldn't be all bad. Could it?

This being the last day and as it was shorter than the preceeding days paddling and we were setting off with no kit etc, just a rucksack for the flask and the sandwiches that my sister had prepared, meant that we weren't in a major rush to launch the days efforts. With this in mind we relaxed and had another cuppa and a superb bacon sandwich, mmmmmm.

All fed and relaxed, we set off. The first job was to empty the canoe of her gathered water from yesterday. Then away we went.

It was a day of fair weather and little incident. Loz was enammered with the abundance of parakeets flying around and we paddled pleasantly to Hampton where we stopped for lunch and Loz managed to hand feed a swan some of our leftovers. 

Fed and watered, we continued our journey. Round Hampton Court, through Kingston upon Thames and on to Teddington Lock where we would be met by my wife, my youngest daughter and my sister. That's if they don't stroll down river to meet us and not upstream, the way we were coming from. We finished our journey and after a phone call to our reception comitee they eventually found us. Job Done!!!!! 

Day Seven and the week finished, six hours paddling.

The End, a quick summary.

So our journey is over. We took on Old Father Thames and fought him from start to finish. But did we win? Well we were battered and bruised and we wouldn't be breaking any records for the time it took us, but we finished and we raised over £700 for Cancer Research. So all things considered, I think we won, but only by the narrowest of margins.

If you would like to add to the total we raised for Cancer Research please go to and give what you can, or text the code PVWX88 plus the amount you want to donate to 70070. Thankyou. Every penny helps for this very worthwhile charity.