This was a trip with little to no planning. I booked the time off work, ordered a new paddle board and decided to paddle the length of navigable, non-tidal River Thames. Starting at Cricklade and finishing in Teddington (around 140 miles, with 44 locks).
This trip started in Cricklade on Saturday 25th July, finishing in Teddington on Friday 31st July 2020. It was done to help raise funds for the Canal and River Trust (JustGiving). I did the challenge on a stand up paddleboard and Lisa joined me in a touring kayak.
Friday 24th July – Lisa had used JustPark to park her car on somebody’s drive in Teddington (the finish line) so we can finish, pick up the car, put the kayak on and make our way home. She caught the train from Teddington to mine in Reading, we had just finished dinner and were about to start packing when she got a phone call from the woman whose house she was park in front of, telling her that she couldn’t park there. We had to drive over 2 hours round trip to get to Teddington, put the car somewhere else and then drive back. This little adventure meant we never finished our packing on Friday night and actually pushed us back a couple of hours before we even started.
Saturday, we woke up a little later than planned because of the previous nights un-excepted journey, we finished packing our bags and made a nice breakfast and then headed on down to Cricklade to pick up Lisa’s kayak.
With Lisa’s kayak on my car, we headed to our starting point on Abington Court lane to unpack our gear from the car and get ready to start the paddle!
Just as we finished repacking our gear and loading everything onto the SUP and into the kayak, it started to rain on us. We took cover under the tree on the bank but decided it wasn’t going to ease up on us and that we should just get started.
The route from Cricklade was very shallow. It was so shallow that I actually decided to not put my fin on the SUP, it turned out it was a good job I did that as well. Every time it started to clear up and I thought “I wish the fin was on right now” a fallen tree half an inch under the water would appear. As well as being shallow in lots of points, it was also very overgrown, which made it a challenge. At some points it was shallow enough I could get off and stand with my feet not being totally covered by the river. The only challenge was when the river started to get wider and deeper, I had to fight to make sure I wasn’t going around in circles on the SUP.
We got into Lechlade around 6pm, and found (The Riverside) a pub on the left just before a bridge and decided this was the perfect place to get some dinner. Seated outside because we were to embarrassed to sit inside due to being soaking wet from the rain all day, we ordered and paid via our phones (contactless ordering, covid) and ate some fish and chips in the pub beer garden.
After some food, we carried on a mile up the river near the first lock (St John’s Lock) of the trip, where we wild camped for the night.
We had a dry night and Day 2 started with us making a bacon and cheese sandwich and a cup of tea before heading to the first lock (St John’s Lock) where we saw the statue of “Father Thames” and did our first portage.
The Thames was very different from Lechlade compared to the initial few miles in Cricklade. The river was much wider and no longer overgrown. However the river did have a lot of twists and turns at this stage which does cause you to go slower. Thankfully I now had my fin back on.
We were thankful to meet a narrow boat which we managed to slip into a couple of locks with, which saved us from having to portage, although we paddled ahead of them from one of the locks and decided to portage at the next lock, which meant they slipped through the lock whilst it we were portaging. All of the locks at this stage were self-service rather than having a lock keeper on duty.
All the toilet facilities at the locks were closed/locked, but water points/taps appeared to be open. We stopped for lunch at a lock and used this time to fill up our water. Whilst paddling, I realised it was a Sunday, and I had been craving a Sunday Roast dinner since before the start of the Covid19 lockdown. I knew if I saw a pub, that today would be the day I finally got my roast. We stopped at “The Maybush” in Newbridge for a great Roast Lamb dinner before carrying on for the final few miles to Pinkhill Lock. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, the campsite at Pinkhill Lock was officially closed. However, with nobody around, we decided to use this big empty space as the perfect place to have a wild camp. Looking at the weather we could see that it was due to rain from around 2am, so Lisa setup her tarp to sleep under, and I found the best looking tree I could to offer any form of shelter inside the bivvy bag.
Starting off a little damp, and hoping the rain was going to stop before getting out of the bivvy bag, but it actually getting heavier and heavier, we finally got up and made porridge for breakfast before setting out to start our longest distance day and navigate Pinkhill Lock. This was actually the first lock that we operated ourselves. We realised that Lisa had a line that we could clip around the D ring at the front of my SUP, she could tie around her and then once I had the lock open, she could paddle through with her and the SUP fully loaded. This would become the trick we would use for the rest of the trip, and it was really useful.
All lock keepers have been told to not let paddle boards through the locks due to a couple of near fatalities. I put this down to the recent explosion of popularity of paddle boarding over the covid lockdown and inexperience of some paddle boarders, but if you are careful and sensible (be the last into the lock, get on your knees, hold onto the chain on the side, communicate with powered boats if you are leaving first/last) everything is fine. We found that some lock keepers wouldn’t let me in the lock, but would let Lisa tow the SUP through the lock, which was usually easier and quicker than portaging, especially when you have to take off all the bags, take off the long fin off the SUP, carry it to the other side of the lock, and reload it all.
Monday was a very windy and wet day. There was times where I had to paddle as hard and fast as I could to keep going forward. If I started to slow down, I could feel the nose of the SUP being turned around and I’d start going in the wrong direction, back the way I had come! Once we were down towards Abingdon, the weather lightened up on us and we enjoyed a lovely golden sun on our backs as we carried on to Day’s lock.
Day’s lock also contains a camp site and we had planned to do similar to Pinkhill lock, it just turns out that we unaware of where the camp site actually was (it is after the lock on another island, but we stopped before the lock). So for the night, we just camped on a bit of land right next to the lock and weir.
START: Day’s Lock
FINISH: Wokingham Waterside Center (Thames Valley Park, Reading)
DISTANCE: 23.7 miles
PADDLING TIME: 6 hours, 51 minutes
NUMBER OF LOCKS: 7
We started at Day’s lock with some more porridge and started our paddle towards Reading. We had broken up the trip in the way we did so we could stay at my house for one night. This would give us a chance to restock our food and not have to worry about camping for a night, as well as do a quick clean and wash of our gear.
The day itself was a nice day. We found our rhythm in the sunshine and how to navigate the locks and we made great time. We decided to forgo lunch to get to Reading quicker, so we could have time to sort our gear and get a larger dinner in!
START: Wokingham Waterside Center (Thames Valley Park, Reading)
DISTANCE: 24 miles
PADDLING TIME: 7 hours, 07 minutes
NUMBER OF LOCKS: 8
This is a trip I am very familiar with as this is local to me. I have actually done Wargrave to Cookham several times before.
We picked up the kayak and SUP from Wokingham Waterside Centre (big thank you to the guys there for storing our gear for the night) and headed out to the paddle towards Cookham. We met a couple of older guys in an inflatable kayak at Henley. They asked where we were going and when I told them “Cookham” they said same, they then asked what time we expected to get there, which I replied with “5:30pm” (this was at around 12:30) and they seemed gobsmacked. I don’t think they expected it to take that long, bearing in mind we were paddling past them with ease. I really hope those guys made it to Cookham that day.
From Henley onwards we noticed a huge increase in boat traffic on the Thames. It becomes increasingly more popular around Henley, plus a couple of places that allow you to rent boats. You need to keep your wits about you, as any old fool will hire a boat from Hobbs of Henley and zoom past you as fast as they can creating a huge wake.
We had a little pit stop in Marlow for an ice cream before heading on to finish at Cookham. Just after Cookham lock we have LOL and Scott waiting for us at the bank with the BBQ going! They brought us an amazing cold coke, some pretzels and some sausages to throw on the BBQ! I can’t thank you guys enough for feeding us that night, it gave us something to work towards, and made it better knowing that we didn’t have to make our own food before setting up our camp for the night.
Waking up on a beautiful island in Cookham, we knew we had a slightly shorter day ahead of us. As we had restocked the day before, we had a lovely bacon and cheese sandwich for breakfast again before jumping on the water for what had been the latest start except the first day all week.
At this stage it all starts to become part of the same. We stopped at Windsor for an ice cream. After we left Windsor we noticed a huge decrease in boat traffic again. Not seeing boats for large periods of time, apart from when a few would pass at the same time (assuming they left a lock together).
We had a look around to see if we could find somewhere to wild camp, but this close to London it was a little harder and more built up. As a backup plan we had Laleham camp site as a target of somewhere to stay, thinking it was on the river. It turns out there is a road you have to cross between the river bank and the camp site. This wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but not what we had expected. If you are looking for a camp site around here, I might suggest looking at Chertsey camping and caravanning club site, as it looks like you can get to it right from the river. Laleham campsite was an acceptable place to sleep, but it was very noisy, you could hear the M3 clearly all night and one of the carvans that we had setup near was leaking toilet waste all night which wasn’t pleasant.
This was our second shortest day, but a lot less overgrown and bendy than the first day. So we started up by waking up a little later than usual and taking full advantage of the facilities of a manned camp site, such as showers and toilets.
We had to carry our equipment from the camp site back down to the waters edge to start the day. After getting set up, we carried on. Lisa did a bit of a backwards seal launch into the water, and as she did that she felt a little knock. Little did we realise, it was actually a perfectly shaped stone sliding into her skeg which prevented her from putting that down for the final day!
It was a long hot day (with it hitting record highs, measured at 37.3c at Kew Gardens, the third hottest day in the UK – https://www.itv.com/news/2020-07-31/thunderstorm-warning-issued-as-uk-braces-for-hottest-day-of-the-year ) and this really showed as we got into Teddington, where the banks were lined, not with our friends and families to cheer us on, but teenagers taking advantage of the water to cool themselves down and splash about.
After one final argument with the last lock keeper (the last lock keeper on the Thames), the board was towed through the final lock, I jumped back on and we were done!
We paddled over to the RNLI launch slip to finish our trip, where we repacked our gear and loaded up Lisa’s car and drove home.