Cherwell Sunday paddle 11th March 2007

On a crisp and clear Sunday morning, a small group of intrepid kayakers and canoeists, comprising of Penny, Sara, Elwira and myself met at Sea Scouts for a trip down Sor Brook. However, due to very high river levels and excessive tree branches, that idea was scrapped, and instead we went down the Cherwell, between Clifton and Upper Heyford. Starting proved slightly problematic. The arch of the bridge was underwater, so we had to launch from the other side of the road, over a wall and through a small bog. A mere 20 minutes later, we were off! It was an absolutely stunning day, with sun and the smallest hint of small whispy clouds moving on a light breeze.

Despite this idyllic scene though, we soon ran into trouble. As the river was so high, all the branches that normally we could gracefully paddle under were squarely in our way. Less than a mile down-river from the put-in, and we were stuck. Luckily, help was at hand with a handsaw from Penny's canoe, and we forced our way through. Eagerly, we looked ahead, to see another tree blocking our route not 10 metres further down, with another after that! Undaunted, we cut our way through again, wishing we had the machete from Saturday's canoe safety test (at least, I know I was wishing). Finally, though, the river played its trump card, and blocked us entirely. There was nothing for it, we had to portage. At possibly the muddiest part of the bank. Typical.

However, we continued on with heads held high, and the trip progressed smoothly. Just after passing over a weir (which we only knew was there because of the slight ripples on the water & it was entirely under water!) we stopped for lunch, a rather brief affair as the wind had picked up, and it was chilly when not paddling. Further down, we saw the mill house that we had passed earlier in the car. There was a small wooden bridge that was underwater! Penny said that the river was at least 6 ft higher than normal. This did cause more problems where it had breached its banks and spilled out onto the water-meadows. The extra streams of water caused some very odd and frankly annoying currents.

Further on, there was a small weir that Penny said was private, and that someone had shouted at her when she had last gone down it. In defiance of this water-sport hater, we went down it. No one shouted. Relieved, we continued on, only to be stumped 20 metres downstream where we literally ran out of river. Being in the smallest kayak, I went under some barbed wire, across a bit of field and beneath a tree to get back on the river, but the others had to portage. It turned out that what we had thought was a low bank was in fact the very top of a bridge! The only clue was the water bubbling up from the other side.

Finally, on the last stretch home we had another portage because a small foot-bridge had about a foot of space underneath (although the flow was very good fun to play on for a while). I managed to leave my bung open when emptying my boat, so for the last bit I was slowly filling up. Almost unnoticeable though! As we came in sight of the canal again, yet more trees blocked our path. After hacking, slashing and breaking out way through the worst of it, one entire tree trunk stymied us completely, so we carried boats the final few metres. Penny and Sara drove back to collect the drop-off car, while Elwira and myself wondered if it was possible to drag the boats to the pub, just so we could keep our eye on them whilst having a sly pint! Too much effort, we decided, and settled down to watching barges.

Eventually we got back to Sea Scouts at around 5.00 PM, having gone a good 7 miles on the Cherwell. A lovely gentle paddle (as long as having twigs in your hair is OK!) and everyone had a great time!

- Seb Coombe