Introduction to Kayak Touring Course

Day 1 - Saturday

Six of us (Kylie, Charlie, Lewis, Valory, Oliver, and Laurien) arrived at the Sea Scouts for 9am to meet Kieran and Anna, and have what was for some of us our first experience of sea kayaks, buoyancy aids, and left-handed versus right-handed paddles. It was a sunny, encouraging day.

Even the warm-up with Anna was a new experience, running in circles miming flexible-shaped activities we might do on a beach. Next was to choose kayaks that fitted our wide range of sizes from Kylie to Lewis, and to get into them without falling in. When Kieran and Anna had demonstrated a few strokes, we started gently upriver with Anna leading. This pretty well set the tone for the rest of the day, with Kylie gliding effortlessly up ahead, along with Lewis and Charlie, Oliver and Valory, and Laurien zigzagging at the back.

We turned right into the Cherwell and stopped to learn about rafting up. By this time Oliver was feeling terrible and Anna took him back, so we were just 5 + 2. We kayaked past Christ Church Meadow to the Head of the River pub, where we were given avoidance practice by Italian teenagers attempting to punt, in return for which Kieran gave them a quick lesson.

We stopped for packed lunches at the Waterman's Arms, a pub I've only seen from land before. Amazing how different Oxford is from the water. We went under Botley Road and turned right onto the lock cut and then right again to the Castle Mill Stream. We passed a large Danger sign for a weir at the Castle. Did I hear Kieran say we were going over it? Anyway, thankfully we climbed out of the boats and Anna poled them past the weir. Lewis was making for his boat when something underwater tripped him and he went under, now in his element, soaked not for the last time this weekend. Immediately after this we went under a bridge with the water almost too shallow to navigate.

We finished the day around 4.30, with Kieran persuading us we needed to do capsizes. He gallantly said he wouldn't make us do anything he wouldn't do, and demonstrated a few rescues with Anna, which resulted in him turning up the next day with a terrible cold.

Drenched after our test capsizes, one or two of us were warned to shower off the leptospirosis. On the up side, we'd had some lovely gentle, sunny kayaking among the willows and ducks and moorhens of the backwaters of Oxford, and it turned out that those of us who hadn't already got it had done enough to win our BCU 1*.

Day 2 - Sunday

We were back up to six again, and had a TA-style warm-up led by Lewis. Once again we set off upriver, led this time by Charlie, and headed for the Victoria Arms. The Met Office diagrams, which turned out to be right, depicted black clouds and double drops of rain with a small ray of sunshine, but we were all dressed for it and only stopped to shelter under the willows once.

Sadly we were a bit behind schedule and never got to the Vicky Arms. Having portaged up the weir at Parson's Pleasure, we stopped for packed lunch instead at the Cherwell Boathouse, where we sheltered from the rain and Kieran took the opportunity to give us a talk.

On the way back we met a group of Isis CC open canoeists spectacularly shooting the weir as a raft at Parson's Pleasure. Are we aiming for this or are we content to experience the peace of the backwaters?

We came back via the Head of the River - more Italians punting, with more free tuition from Kieran. The day ended with almost everyone doing a capsize, this time with spraydecks. It had been a great touring course weekend, with just the right mix of pleasure and challenge and good company.

- Laurien Berkeley