A Thursday night paddle: 24th November 2006

Raced from work and got changed in my van, Kate came over from the container to let me know it looked like only us two it had turned up, It had been a hard week, I was looking forward to an evening paddle, and that night the weather had improved, dry and crisp. I had rung Kate whom had organised the trip, at lunchtime, and was pleased to find the trip was to be to The Kings Arms, which had recently been refurbished.

By the time I had sorted out my kit it was clear that no one else was coming so we decided to paddle tandem in the Algonquin, which I think is the fastest club canoe. The weather was living up to its earlier promise, and as there was no other craft on the water, it felt very special. We whizzed along in the dark, Kate had rigged light sticks on front and rear, and I had a sea strobe in my pocket in case a Salter's steamer suddenly loomed ahead, but it was such a lovely evening we didn't need any of the kit we had brought, Kate was using one of my recently refurbished wooden paddles and was scooting us along aided by a swift flow, and we very quickly reached the rollers at Iffley lock. After hauling the canoe up and over, we continued to race along past the magnificent house on the island (couldn't resist a sneaky peek through the windows). It was eerily quiet, once you filtered out he low background traffic hum, and the stars were out in force along with some stunning shooting stars and a surprising number of aircraft. After rounding the S bend round the island we kept well to the left to avoid the long drop to the pools on the right, and continued to speed along towards Sandford lock. The Four Pillars looked very inviting, and the mini steamer should really have been plying along the Thames with the guests being able to savour this special atmosphere. The pub, Mill and Lock soon appeared, another oasis of light beckoning us to abandon the serene canoeing experience and enter the bright lights of the pub.

The outside dining area had been considerable smartened, the tables looked new and pristine, and large gazebos covered groups of tables and there were heaters so it would be possible to enjoy a drink and keep an eye on the canoes! However we had decided to have a meal, and went inside where despite our odd dress we were warmly greeted and given a space to store our bags and paddles, We decided to sit in the centre of the pub, and felt that we looked like refuges from a Cadburys milk tray advert, both being dressed completely in black! It looked like the refurb had been a matter of detail and possibly the kitchen, as the layout and appearance was the same as a few years ago when it was our works local, Perhaps it is listed, as there are lots of timbering and internal walls. The beer was good and Kate's vegetarian tastes were well catered for, choosing an aubergine main course, I plumped for stuffed mushrooms starter and outdoor reared sausages on a bed of mashed potatoes. The food was very tasty (thought the mushrooms were quite small!) and the outdoor reared sausages did not look as though they had been running around anywhere. The service was very prompt courteous and helpful, nothing was too much trouble, possibly because we appeared to be the only diners for most of the evening! It was a pleasant change to be made a fuss of, somewhere where you are not a regular. Kate chose a very attractive chocolate and ice-cream dessert and I choose another pint of beer! Whilst attractively presented and very tasty, the dessert proved too much for Kate, so I gallantly finished it off for her. A very pleasant meal cost les than '30 including beer, and we noticed that the wines appeared quite reasonably priced too.

We paid the bill, put on our outdoor gear and went back to the canoe and set back, against the current, but the Algonquin sliced through with not much extra effort and we soon reached the railway bridge, having spotted a totem pole that appeared to have an ancient fish on its top (river left just after the island on the downstream side). The trees appeared to have interesting shapes silhouetted against the starlight sky (honest, I'd only had two pints), and as we approached Iffley could see the weir and rising buts were running. There was little or no traffic on the bank and we raced back in peace until we approached CoORC when a gaggle of geese complained vociferously that we were invading their territory, though the geese and ducks looked comical lining the bank underneath Donnington Bridge. The container seemed a little reluctant to open up, and after putting the boat away we parted, having enjoyed a relaxing evening paddle!

- Philip Sowden