Abingdon and Swift Ditch trip report

On Sunday 11th of July eight Nomads led by Matt met at Abingdon lock for a circular tour up the Thames and down the Swift Ditch. The weather was better than forecast and it was already brightening up considerably as we carried our boats across the weir and lock to meet up with the late Simon on the other side at the put in. After a quick safety briefing focussing heavily on trees we put in according to our own style from the highish bank or the lower steps.

We seemed a bit overdressed as we set off up river against a gentle current through fields and moored boats with the noise of what sounded like motocross in the background. Not far upriver we came across a sunken houseboat in the middle of the river with a small white buoy to keep river traffic from hitting it.

Only about a quarter of a mile upstream we stopped by the big red DANGER sign at the entrance to the Swift Ditch and after a quick inspection and assigning helpers to watch our newer members we slid down over the small chute and stopper into the pool at the top of the swift ditch with no need for throwline protection. Suitably paired up where necessary we started the descent with a fast flow taking us down a very ‘ditch’ like section, before it opened out a bit and the flow slackened somewhat. Caution was the name of the game as we ducked and twisted round the branches and trunks all but blocking the cut on this section, soon to be followed by underwater tree trunks, for which warnings were shouted back from the front of the group. An open millpond like clearing half way down gave us some respite and allowed us to regroup before an almost invisible channel led us onward toward Culham and the Thames.

Just as we regained the Thames and got our bearings a shout came from the bank where by happy chance Rafael’s family were passing on their bicycles while he paddled with us. After greetings we headed upstream past attractive new riverside houses on the left hand bank toward the centre of Abingdon where we took a short pause. Simon wanted to explore the smaller town side channel here, so we crossed over and paddled up to the bridge and riverside luxury flats converted from what had clearly been a 19th century or earlier prison. An easy excuse for the small rooms no doubt!

Rejoining the main channel after the bridge we continued up the half mile back toward Abingdon lock with a park on the left and fields on the right. At the lock we spotted three paddlers playing in the weir stoppers, so we headed over to say hello and ask about the safety of the weir, about which we previously knew nothing. They were members of the local Kingfisher Canoe Club and advised us there weren’t any underwater hazards and the left hand (looking upstream) jets were ok, but to watch out for the very shallow water if we needed to roll. We decided not to play in the stoppers, but spent a very happy half hour or more playing in the fast flowing water with break ins and outs and ferry glides. Rafael was looking very good as he practiced his technique with Simon’s help and Jayne on her first club trip hung back a bit more, but was stable and secure on the moving water.

The weir was ideal for the practice we wanted apart from the very boily areas higher up between the jets and the strong tow back beyond these areas if we got too close. Though the stoppers looked safe and would definitely have spat us out if we baled, luckily no one was brave or stupid enough to try them and instead, suitably tired, we had a very enjoyable picnic lunch on the opposite bank talking about this and other trips.

Thanks to everyone for coming and making the trip so enjoyable and congratulations to Jayne on her first club trip.

Matt, trip leader

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