Cherwell trip report

On Sunday 8th of August eight Nomads led by Matt met at Donnington bridge on the Thames west of Oxford for a scenic trip up the Cherwell through the centre of Oxford. Simon who was meant to be leading the trip unfortunately couldn’t make it as he’d been pinged by his COVID app a couple of days earlier and had to miss his own trip! The weather forecast was grim – 60% chance of rain every hour for the whole day – so it was with a mixture of trepidation and resignation and plenty of waterproofs that we put into the Thames and started dodging rowing boats on our way upstream to the Cherwell.

Five of the group were on their first Nomad club trip, but all paddled strongly as we paced ourselves for a couple of hours out and another couple back. Despite the forecast the sky was bright and the sun started to come out as we turned into the Cherwell before the Oxford college rowing clubs that would have made nice houses. The tree lined channel here was nice and wide with meadows either side and we passed a wild swimmer on our way toward the centre of Oxford wondering if the early hour and bad forecast would save us from the usual swarms of tourists in punts.

Prospects were looking good as we passed Magdalen bridge and the punts were just being unlocked for the day by students supplementing their loans. It was a tight squeeze up the left hand channel seemingly choked with punts before we could head up the side of the college only to be greeted by a large sign on the footbridge saying ‘River dammed – no access’. On enquiring of the security guard on the bridge we learned filming was shortly to take place for Masters of the Air, a new Spielberg mini-series, but when we told him we’d be exiting the far end of the channel we were allowed through as there was still a little time.

The channel narrowed and got quite shallow as we passed by Magdalen college and just before rejoining the Cherwell we thought we’d made a mistake as our exit appeared to be blocked by large hanging boards, which turned out just to be placards preventing ingress to the other end of the channel. Back on the Cherwell the river got twisty with lots of overhanging trees for quite a distance till we got to a wave on the right where the braver of us had a quick play. After this it was onward to the only portage, a punt rollered slope to the upper level.

The moderately high put in was a challenge for those on their first trip, but was made short work of by Graham with the assistance of a passer by.

Onward then along the wider ‘upper’ Cherwell through beautiful parks and gardens. The weather was by now quite sunny and we hoped rain would hold off at least for our lunch/brunch. James was paddling strongly and no one seemed to be feeling the distance too much.

After a mile and bit passing a combined punt hire, restaurant and ‘coffee hut’ we entered more open countryside and soon found our lunch stop, the landing stage of a pub on the right. Dipak and Phillip now disclosed their secret weapon, a bottle of brown ale each, which may go some way to explaining the angle of the photo.

By a miracle, though it was blowing a bit of a breeze and slightly overcast, the rain managed to keep off us as we enjoyed our lunches and the usual talk about boats and other trips. Suitably refreshed we put back in and encountered our first punts of the day on our way back downstream. The quality of punting was extremely variable ranging from smooth and professional to a group with the punt wedged on both banks (Suez canal trip anyone?) and the puntress clinging for dear life to the pole.

The punt rollers were taken advantage of by Phillip and Dipak on the way back in their long touring canoes while the rest of us slummed it carrying our boats. With more time on our hands the surf wave proved irresistable for a bit of a longer play, so Matt first ventured beyond the top crest into the stopper to test it our followed shortly by Tony who showed his time at Lee Valley hadn’t been wasted. James was very keen and after surfing the lower wave for a while he too tried the stopper, which he managed well for about 30 seconds before catching an edge and capsizing to be the only swimmer of the trip. Well done for giving it a go.

Punts were much more in evidence now toward the centre of Oxford, but still not crowded as we passed Magdalen bridge again and took the left fork past Magdalen College School and St Hilda’s College for a bit of variety on out way back. Everyone was keeping up well still as we marvelled at our luck still avoiding the rain and enjoying the lush scenery and meadows on the way back to the Thames.

Back on the Thames we narrowly avoided getting mowed down by a rowing boat not looking where it was going as we crossed to the ‘right’ side of the river and it wasn’t long before we were back at Donnington bridge and our cars. Well done to everyone especially Dipak, Phillip, Amie, James and Nathan on your first trip and thanks to Dipak for your photos and the video.

Matt, trip leader

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