2* Assessment Paddle to Tumbling Bay

Well, it was the most glorious of Summer days (wait, aren't we in Autumn?). A barmy 26 degrees of heat in the last days of September was going to make for a fantastic evening paddle. The winds were very light (non-existent in fact) and the water was going to be placid (rather like the opening paragraph!) Hilma, Paul, Chris and Bradley were being monitored by Jen on what was to be a four- way split over the journey.

We were on our way, just as the sun set beautifully around 6:25pm and we slipped out onto the river, and up past the Oxford boathouses in fairly smart order. After the first 20 minutes of being besieged by all types of craft, we came to the Head of the River pub and the sun finally hid it's head and everyone seemed to abandon the river to us intrepid few. (Most probably they were enjoying the river from the safety of a pub bench!).

The author, having never travelled this far upstream through the city, was not so much impressed by the cityscape, but saddened at the amount of detritus that had been dumped in this area! But this disappointment was soon quelled by reaching our first checkpoint in good time.

Hilma (I think I need to start calling her "Teach") took over for the second stage as lead, taking us to Osney Lock. Just as we came to the Lock, a punt was coming out, but we decided to stick to our original plan and portage around the lock. Once out the other side we needed to stop for a refreshment break and The Punter provided a suitable stopping point. It was beautiful sitting on the bank as the sun went down with a pint in the hand (well half a pint of diet coke. Is it the same? - not really but...)

So "Teach" led the way (and pointed out all of the relevant landmarks) and monitored all of the wildlife. The night drew in and head torches became necessary. We finally left the main Thames and started towards Tumbling Bay. For the second time, we portaged and, after being slightly shocked by a man sitting on the bench in the dark, placed our boats on the lovely flowing water on the bottom of the weirs. It already felt like it was going to be troublesome as the water seemed low and even here we were getting stuck on the bottom.

Bradley took over as the lead (for the third section) and decided we need to number off, from 1 to 5 (this numbering system led to the casual refrain for the rest of the evening, of 5 Gold Rings, 4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a Pear Tree) as his pre-planning knew that this could be quite a tricky stretch. Little did we know!!

This was definitely something different. I felt like a kid running through back gardens that hadn't been traversed for ages. The amount of trees, branches, twigs and debris suddenly made every movement significant. If you went left, you found yourselves suddenly putting in bow rudders to prevent hitting the next branch and Bradley was doing a sterling job navigating us through some fairly complicated water.

We came to our first bridge on this section at Binsey Lane, and suddenly the lack of water flow, managed to ground us. After a small time trying to find water suddenly everything seemed to be back on track, although progress was still much slower than expected due to the volume of downed trees.

Eventually, the trees got the better of us and one fine example managed to prevent us from traversing through it. So the decision was made quickly to determine if we could portage. "Teach", our intrepid explorer, managed to discern that we could get the canoes up and around using a farmer's field. So in fairly quick fashion we disembarked and went around. At this point choruses of 5 Gold Rings could be heard every couple of minutes and Chris had become "Mr Ambient Lighting".

With the water now clearing, and just a few dramatic S-bends to be taken in the dark, the mood become more jovial and even the campers on the bank didn't break our spirits. Finally, the time came and we were back on the Thames and time for "Mr Ambient Lighting" (Chris) to take the helm for the last part of the journey.

The fantastic thing here, was that you really felt the fact that it was night! The water was tranquil with reflections dramatic in the cityscape and we were still having a wonderful evening. Mr A.L. took us to the right of the bridge at St Aldates and finally decided we should take tunnel number 3 after his little reconnoitre. So with a few more choruses of the 5GR, we were back onto the main flow and heading on the final homeward stretch.

As we passed the Oxford boat houses and the swimming pool, all of us became buoyed having had the water to ourselves (expect swans, geese and ducks), and with beautiful stars out in the sky, we finally drifted back to the hut (a little late, but certainly happy!).

A pleasurable experience and a stunning end to a fantastic course. A round of appreciation to Jen and Simon for all their hard work in getting us here.

-Paul Rogers

Photos by Jen.