The Earth, Wind and Water Charity Paddle

It was a fine start to the day - the sun was shining, the birds were singing and we were all ready for a good day of paddling. Our group consisted of Euan Robertson, who was raising money for War Child, me, Simon, Kate, Owen, Tim and Malcolm.

Our first challenge was to get through Osney lock, and we turned up in perfect time, just as the lock gates were opening to let a boat out. We crept in after it was clear and waited for the water to rise slowly but surely. Once through we made a quick detour and portage over to the Oxford Canal and sped off north towards Wolvercote. It was on the way there it suddenly dawned on us that the last time we did this stretch we found there were a ridiculous amount of locks to portage around.

After about three we were on a relatively straight section up past Kidlington. It was here we had flashbacks to the other nightmare from our previous trip - the killer swan. You can never know the horror of just how crazy this swan is until you have experienced this nemesis for yourself. Protecting your cygnets is one thing, but chasing us for over a mile, flapping your wings and flying at us is a mean sight to see. Malcolm seemed to be his favourite and Simon even got smacked in the face by a rouge wing. It was only when we passed some narrow boats coming in the opposite direction that he gave up his pursuit and turned around to go back to his family.

At Thrupp we got out and had a packed lunch in the shade, munching on the usual snacks and topped off with a whole carrot cake generously brought by Kate and Owen. From the canal we crossed over to the River Cherwell. This was supposed to be the speedy section of the trip because there was flow on the Cherwell that was going to push us quickly towards home. Sadly however, we had underestimated just how little flow there was on the Cherwell, and once past the first narrow section it became apparent that a) there was no flow and b) there was an abundance of trees. We had to portage around the first tree which was again guarded by a protective swan and its family.

The second tree caught our attention and we decided not to portage around completely and instead we decided to climb over it. After much pushing and pulling we all made it through cleanly and went on our merry way. There were hundreds of damsel flies mating in the reeds and floating around on the breeze with their purple wings flashing by your head occasionally.

Our next land mark was to be a weir, which we missed and eventually had to turn around to go back to. We climbed down it and shuffled through a shallow section under a bridge before once again setting off towards Islip. Just before we got there we met two tandem canoeists coming in the opposite direction who were impressed how far we had come. Then turning right at Islip we found yet more trees and debris blocking the river which we had to get through and over.

After talking two hours longer than expected our group split just before the Victoria Arms with Malcolm, Kate and Owen taking off to get home and the rest of us nipping into the pub for a refreshing pint or two. Sadly we got a call from Kate saying that they were locked in the field and we had the keys! We got back onto the water and Simon took off in a sea kayak to get back super quick, the rest of us took our time getting back to the shed, and while it was comforting when we finally got to the familiar Thames I was also sad the day was over.

Dead fish, two dead sheep, two dead ducklings, two killer swans, two flitting kingfishers and lots of mating damsel flies had joined us on our trip covering over 20 miles and helping Euan to complete the first leg of his charity challenge. An absolutely beautiful day, and a tiring but totally worthwhile paddle!

- Jen

Photos by Jen.