Private Paddle Report – Wolvecote Circuit

Wolvecote Circuit Paddle (near Oxford) organised by Dave Hillier

This paddle on Friday 1st April was organised by Dave Hillier to do the Wolvecote Circuit near Oxford as detailed in the Peter Knowles’ Pub Paddles book. The circuit combines part of the Thames heading downstream, followed by a return to the start point, at the Trout Inn, via the Oxford Canal. As on his previous Medway paddle Dave, with his wife Zoe in tow, had walked the circuit in advance to undertake a risk assessment and highlight any potential issues. One issue was the recommended car park which had a height restriction which stopped van and roof rack access hence the change to the Trout inn get in. The only downside of the change, was that the loos were in the original get in, so a 150 metre walk!

Six had intended to paddle but work commitments and health issues reduced the number to three leaving John Murray, Dave and myself. We arrived at the Trout Inn car park at 0930, agreed by Dave as a get in with the publican. Once changed and given a briefing, we entered the water into a gently flowing Thames from an ice covered get in. We soon reached Godstow lock, the first of several portages, behind which were ancient ruins of Godstow Nunnery dating back to the civil war.

The scenery on the Thames was generally trees that were starting to bloom as spring gradually develops and passing the large (440 acres) Port Meadow plain was quite open.  It was a nice sunny day to offset the cold but the crosswinds made the water quite choppy and the paddle more challenging, in some places making the J stroke more appropriate. Looking at the banks it was clear that the water level was down a couple of feet. We didn’t meet any moving craft although this stretch is well known as a training site for rowing eights.

We left the Thames at a turn known as Sheepwash Cut and went under some fixed railway bridges as well as passing a large railway swing bridge that is being restored by the locals. We then entered a marina from which we portaged into the Oxford canal. Paddling became far simpler with the lack of flow and wind. We passed a series of road bridges and drawbridge type bridges in this far more urban area where many houses had garden access to the canal. Some of the bridges had very good artwork under the arches with one having a brilliant kingfisher several feet wide.

We stopped for lunch in a small park and used a picnic table in an empty kiddie’s playground. Had a nice chat with a couple of locals and Dave administered first aid (well handed over some plasters) to a young lad who sought our help as he had bad blisters on his heels. Although it was okay to stop here with it quiet there was a better location with picnic tables a little further on.

As the paddle continued, we passed far more house boats, some three-a-breast reminiscent of the canal festival, meaning single file traffic for us. At one point the canal was closed due to extensive construction work including a new brick base for the canal necessitating quite a long portage. Onwards until we reached Duke’s Cut which leads back to the Thames via two locks. A slightly different route to the book to ensure we returned to the Trout Inn.

We portaged several locks on the paddle but the pick was the manned/personed Kings Lock which had a series of historical and wildlife displays. Being a Thames lock it was somewhat larger than normal locks and the lady lock keeper offered to open it for us but we declined. In chatting to her we discovered that there was an adjacent campsite and indeed several other sites near locks owned by Thames Water should anyone consider a longer trip.

Re-entering the Thames we returned to the Trout Inn, got changed and went in for a drink to thank the Landlord. A busy pub full of beautiful people, and a large Peacock outside, so clearly us three got a day pass!

So a nice day on which we took our time chatting along the way. We could have completed it much quicker but enjoyed a relaxing paddle. During the paddle John did a series of assisted seal launches building up to a solo. Dave demonstrated how to do them and also how not to as he nearly came a cropper launching between two posts but survived. I chose to risk wearing my hearing aids throughout the trip, so stuck to simple launches.

In summary an interesting and enjoyable paddle but quite a journey, so probably doesn’t make it attractive as a larger club trip, unlike Dave’s Medway paddle which had far more interest and attractions.

Well done Dave for organising, risk assessing and leading the paddle.

Chris Harper

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