Oxford to London Part 3: Wallingford to Henley

Saturday morning, 8am, the boat shed. Part three of the Oxford to the Thames Barrier started off with the arrival of the sunshine, followed closely by Jen, Simon, Penny, Lorien, Nick and Niamh. After a reasonable amount of faff, the trailer was loaded and we headed off to the get-in at Wallingford. There followed a brief interlude while Simon and Penny shuffled cars and trailers to the campsite in Maple Durham estate. Everyone else used the time to take in the local wildlife - the birds of prey, the mother ducks herding their babies, the Air Cadets loading their open canoes - but before too long, we were all in the water and heading downriver. Lorien and Nick shared an open canoe while everyone else took sea kayaks. It was a fairly peaceful trip down to Goring for lunch with many good omens. On the first day, it seemed like every lock we approached was just waiting for our arrival, before friendly lock keepers pushed the magic buttons while we sat in our boats. Not a red card in sight - a first for this expedition! Simon set up his new camera to take on 5-second intervals, including during our lunch break in Goring, so there will come a point where the club members will be enthralled by images of Simon having his after lunch nap... sorry about that...

After setting off again, we made it about half a mile before our first big adventure, a cow stuck in the water spotted by Jen. A quick discussion and we decided to call the RSPCA. It turns out they are closed on weekends so we called the fire brigade. Lorien, Nick and Penny moored up and headed into the field to wave at the firemen when they arrived about twenty minutes later (yes, with sirens and lights!). There followed an exhibition in cow rustling as Simon poked the poor animal with his paddle under the watchful tutelage of the boys in blue. We kept the comparisons with Brokeback Mountain to a minimum for the sake of the cow. Unfortunately, the batteries in Simon's camera died at some point so the record of our trip ends at this point.

While still discussing the finer points of cattle rustling, several members of the group saw a mini whirlwind travel across the river in front of us. This little escapade delayed us quite a bit so it was heads down to paddle to the campsite. The locks, lock keepers and weather all remained kind. The houses and boathouses became grander, the gardens more ornate. With two miles to go, the group separated so that there wouldn't be too much delay setting up camp. Jen stayed back with Lorien and Nick while Penny, Simon and Niamh headed off. This was a brilliant idea in principle except that Penny and Simon can paddle much faster than Niamh. Still, they eventually made it and Simon and Penny headed off to collect the car with the tent in it (a minor snag in the planning...) It was the inaugural outing for the brand new Isis CC ten-man tent but you would never have imagined it as Simon ran from the car with the three bags yelling, 'Quick, put the tent up! The rain is coming!'

Dinner was a bit impromptu when we discovered the pub with our reservation had no chef that night. Ten minutes later and two miles further on, we settled in for a traditional pub meal. The plan of staying on for a drink and a game of pool was abandoned as the group practically fell asleep by desert. Lewis arrived at the campsite about 10 o'clock to complete darkness. Following a brief encounter with the security team, he gained entry to the tent and a very sleepy Jen was able to point him into Nick's room, and the tent returned to a comatose state. Unfortunately, our good karma ran out, the heavens opened overnight and the temperature dropped drastically. There was definitely no need for sun cream on Sunday which was a good thing as we had forgotten to bring any. The decision was made to leave the tent up during the day in the hope that it would dry out. The ten then provided shelter as the shuttle trip took longer than planned. Finally, we made it onto the water. Ever the gentleman, Lewis took the plunge into the Thames, freeing the rest of us from wondering who would be first in. Nick and Lorien were able to pick up speed after switching to kayak paddles in the open and reasonably good time was made. The day was colder, wetter and windier, but nature was still out in force. There were times when it felt like we were inside an episode of Springwatch with Bill Oddie. Coming into Reading, we had to give way to two swans battling over territory. No more cows though...

Penny joined Nick and Lorien in the open canoe and Simon took on the job of towing Penny's boat as we fell further behind schedule. Lunch was taken earlier than planned when we sought shelter under the eaves of the Wokingham Canoe Club. A voice came down from the heavens (well, the balcony) offering a brew which was gratefully accepted. The paddling branch of the club are a lot like Isis CC but they have carpet, and heating. Oh, the luxury! They even have a club dog called Dude who had the art of begging down to perfection. The tea had some magic ingredient which lifted all our spirits and we hit the water with recharged batteries. The locks remained friendly and we only had to portage around one and even that was more to stretch our legs. As the paddle continued, it became clear that we wouldn't make it to Hurley. The backup plan of using Henley as a get-out was called into play - a car had been left there during the shuttle just in case. The closer we got to Henley, the real estate started to go from merely expensive to 'Home and Country' magazine articles. Even the boat houses (and resident boats) were off the scale. The geese and ducks seemed to be more discerning in their choice of lawns to graze too. The sun finally decided to make an appearance as we pulled in to Henley.

On the trip home, Penny, Lorien and Nick went with Penny to unload the boats at the scout hut. Simon, Jen, Niamh and Lewis returned to the campsite to pack the now-dry tent. A very tired, cold, hungry, satisfied group of crazy paddlers finally gathered at the scout hut, swearing never to do this again while fixing a date for the next paddle.

Did I mention we rescued a cow?

- Niamh

Photos by Jen.