Oxford to London Part 5: Old Windsor to Putney


Malcolm, Sheena, Simon and myself all met at the Scout Hut at 7am to load our boats (in record time) and set off for Old Windsor where we met Lewis and Mike. Once the shuttle was completed we lowered our boats into the water and set off for a mammoth day of paddling. Our first sight was Runnymede, the location where King John sealed the Magna Carta in 1215. This countryside soon merged into housing and we made our way into Staines, which boasted some impressive houses, then Egham and Chertsey. We all took some design tips for our future river front properties after having a good look into the back gardens of various houses. At Chertsey Bridge I informed everyone that we had completed six miles, which was approximately a third of our total distance, and since it was midday we decided to celebrate with early lunch since we'd had an early breakfast. We found a picnic area in parkland with a perfect landing beach and started muching away to get some energy for the rest of the day.

At Desborough the river split into the old winding section, and the newer Desborough Cut which seemed to cut off a mile from the total distance we would be travelling. As the old path of the Thames was very shallow we stayed on the 'Cut' with all the other river traffic and rejoiced at paddling less over the day. The wildlife along the Thames is very impressive and in an afternon we came across nesting grebes, comorants drying their wings, herons, jays, kingfishers, swallows and terns, plus lots of parakeets. As it is spring there were lots of babies floating around in the water - cygnets, ducklings and goslings, and even a baby coot riding safely on mum's back in and out of our boats.

We pushed on through Sunbury and Molesey until we came to Hampton Lock. Once through and in the shadow of Hampton Court Palace, we found a small beach and had another good rest to get up some energy for the final push up to Kingston. May flies and swans joined us on the beach, and after lots of mucnhies and a good bathroom break, we set off into the wind for the final three miles. This was by far the most toturous section of the day. The wind was high and whipping up waves which made paddling difficult. The wind was also so strong that progression was at a snail's pace. With grit and determination we pushed on and finally the Leander Sea Scout building came into view and we all had one last blast before finishing the day eleated after 19 miles of paddling.

We had a brief rest and congratulated each other before the shuttle started and we waved goodbye to Mike and Lewis who were bravely with us for just the one day. Our host, Karen the Scout Leader showed us around their building and we were delighted to see confy chairs and warm showers. As the evening drew in with ordered some pizzas for delivery and with the door open out onto the Thames we watched the sun go down as we filled up on much needed carbs. We then had to work out what to do the next day. With the tide kicking in from Teddington we would have to be up at 4am to have breakfast and complete the shuttle to Putney so we could be on the water fror 5.30am and thus complete the 12 miles by 9.30am (avergaing 3 miles and hour) before the tide turned at 9.46am. None of us liked this idea, especially since I had suggested we might get a lie in on the second day. Then Malcolm had th best idea...paddle UP the Thames from Putney to Kingston, starting at 9.46am when the tide changed at Putney, rather than racing to finish by this time. This way we would get our lie in and breakfast, we would still paddle the full distance and we would also make use of the tide by starting just when it turned. It was so crazy we decided it would work and so went to bed happy with the knowledge we would get a lie in!


We were woken at 7.45am on Monday by Malcolm wishing us 'good morning' and telling us Osama Bin Laden had been killed, that certainly got us out of our sleeping bags. We sat on the balcony overlooking the Thames munching our various breakfasts including muesli, cereal bars, army ration packs and cold pizza from the night before. After a quick clear up we loaded the boats on the car and whisked off to Putney Pier to get in.

We were early for the change of tide which was scheduled for 9.46am and so we sat on the slipway watching the boats dangling from their anchors towards London. Then, almost on time, the wind blew, the buoys changed direction and the boats all swung around in unison as the river started flowing in the opposite direction. We then jumped in our boats and were blown off up the river by the Easterly wind. It soon whipped up some impressive waves and we started our paddle back to Kingston by surfing quite successfully, using the waves and the wind to propel us further. In our first hour we had covered just over four miles which was really good.

Compared to high tide, the river was very shallow and at times you felt like you were paddling a little trickle that would soon dry up, especially when you hit the river bed with your paddle. As with our first day, we were impressed with the amount of birdlife flying around, on one of the beaches we came across fifteen herons standing guard while in the tree above another heron sat on a nest.

We paddled on, sometimes making use of the wind while it was behind us, but once turning a bend in the river we were battling the same wind which was in our faces or pushing us sideways. After six miles we were still making good time and paddling past Kew Gardens where we decided to have a rest stop. We got out to stretch our legs and Simon put a rock at the water's edge to see how much it was rising while we were resting. By the time we had finished our drinks and munchies the rock was lost to the Thames as the water level continued to rise.

After Isleworth Island we came acrooss Richmond Lock which was the end of our tidal help. We made our way up the rollers to the side of the three giant weirs which, once the river level is the same on both sides, are opened and boats can go straight through. There is also a lock which costs �5 to use at other times as it is run by the Port of London Authority rather than the Environment Agency like the others we come across. Once through the wind really hit us and we made our way into the very lovely Richmond and beyond. Our final lock at Teddington was a welcome sight as it signalled our final leg and after getting through we were hit by the strongest wind yet and we had to really struggle for the final half mile back to Leander Sea Scouts and the end of our journey.

Simon and Malcolm completed the shuttle, as Sheena and I prepared the kit, had our lunch and did some sunbathing with the ducks, geese and swans. We finally arrived back into Oxford for 5pm and after dropping off the kit at the shed we had a round of hugs and went our separate ways to enjoy the evening. An absolutely brilliant weekend and, by far, my favourite leg of the trip so far!

The next and final stage of our expedition will be the Thames Tideway from Putney to Shadwell!

- Jen

Photos by Jen.