Oxford to London Part 2: Abingdon to Wallingford

The second leg of our Oxford to London expedition proved to be a challenge, just like the first part, but for different reasons. First, the river was up and flowing meaning that we'd have to be careful. Second, the clocks changed on Sunday morning and there was the possibility that nobody would turn up at the Scout Hut. Third, the International Pooh Sticks Championships were planned at Little Wittenham and there was a chance our boats would have to share the river with lots of smaller pieces of wood or even be commandeered for a pooh sticks race of their own.

Luckily, the river's pace meant that the Pooh Sticks Championship was postponed, and once we were moving we realised that the flow really wasn't so bad. However, the lost hour proved to bamboozle poor Nick who turned up later than expected and missed us. Everyone else was ready for a day out of the water including Simon, Penny, Raymond, Philip, Laurien, Lizzy, Niamh, Robin, Andy, Ian and myself.

It would appear that all these trips are making Isis into a finely tuned loading machine, and the trailer was packed and loaded and in Abingdon perfectly on time to unload the boats into the field where we met Kate, Glynn and Helen. The vehicles then made off to the get-out while the rest of us prepared the boats by the river and warmed up. Once the drivers returned, striding across the field reminiscent of the opening scene from Reservoir Dogs, we got into our boats and set off into the flow.

Our first section along Culham Cut to Culham Lock was easy enough, with just enough flow to make it a swift paddle, but not so much that the boats were hard to control. The lock keeper at Culham presented us with a red card for paddling when the locks were on red boards. For those of you who aren't aware, there are three states to the Thames other than the gentle rolling water we know - stream increasing (yellow warning boards), strong flow (red warning boards) and stream decreasing (yellow warning boards). While they can't stop you from paddling, they are obliged to warm you of the dangers, but luckily, given our party consisted mainly of experienced coaches we decided we could continue with our journey. We moved carefully out of the lock as Culham Reach joined with the Cut and the two bodies of water created a slightly stronger flow, but as we continued it turned out that the flow subsided significantly.

After Appleford Railway Bridge we continued until we came to a weir which we had been warned, by Culham's lock keeper, was fully open and we had visions of being sucked down it. However, as we got there it was completely washed out and the water on the other side was so high that there was no real drop and most of the boats carefully made it through the slight flow to the other side for a detour to Long Wittenham. Some beautiful houses and gardens were passed before Philip noticed a sign at the bottom of one garden highlighting that it was the mooring for The Plough pub. It didn't take much to persuade us to moor up our boats and have some lunch. We meandered up the huge rolling lawn to the main garden and joined some benches together. The barman let us be served at the back door so we didn't traipse mud into his lovely village pub.

Once fed and watered we continued down the detour until it joined up with Clifton Cut, missing out Clifton Lock. Some stunning villages were then the back drop for our paddle including Clifton Hampden, Burcot and Little Wittenham, which sat under the gaze of Wittenham Clumps in the distance. We saw some members of Isis, Emily and Audrey, at Day's Lock and by this time Simon had got bored of paddling his open canoe solo, and decided to borrow Glynn and Helen's splits to make better progress.

We passed under Little Wittenham Bridge, where there was no sign of any pooh sticks, and made our way past Shillingford and Benson. One thing I didn't realise was just how many pillboxes there were scattered along the banks of the Thames, even this far away from the capital, or the coast. It seems that a German invasion using the river as a means of transport was entirely possible and so we passed around six or seven of them standing silent sentry over the water.

My boat was at the back of our group when we arrived at Benson Lock. I had thought those at the front had worked out what was happening at the lock because they were all sat on the right hand side patiently. After waiting for a considerable amount of time, it turned out that the boat they were waiting for to come through the lock and let us in, was actually going the opposite direction. The lock was empty and to make matters worse, it had to be manually opened as the electrics weren't working. Glynn and I took to opening the sluices and then the gates by winding the wheels, before letting everyone in and starting all over again with the winding to close them, before starting again at the other end of the lock. It really was hard work in the olden days, before electricity! Benson weir was an awesome sight with lots of gates open and water thundering through, but there was no time to sit and admire it as we were so close to our goal with Wallingford only about 15 minutes paddling down the river.

We made it in good time with our get out just beyond Wallingford Bridge and had some ice cream from the ice cream man who had opportunely turned up as we were about to load the trailer.

Yet another fantastic day, with significantly more sunshine that the last leg, and lots of hope for the next stages of the expedition!

- Jen

Photos by Glynn and Helen

Photos by Jen and Lizzy.