Distance: 13 miles downstream
Date: Friday 31st March 2023
Start: Windsor Leisure Centre Slipway, Stovell Road, Windsor SL4 5BZ
End: The Kingfisher Pub, Chertsey Bridge Rd, Chertsey KT16 8LF
Dave Hillier (organiser)
Conrad Chambers (trip report)
Pierre Leon (researcher)
Graham (shuttle driver)
Dave, as usual, issued a completed risk assessment in advance of the scheduled date for the paddle.
Pierre, also as usual, provided an excellent map, along with a detailed breakdown of the route.
This one included multiple optional get-out points in case it was decided to split the 13 mile trip into smaller sections.
Despite Dave’s empty promises of good weather, we met up on a blustery and rain-soaked morning at the Windsor slipway. As we got changed under the conveniently dry arch of the A332 bridge over the river, Pierre told us that he wouldn’t be paddling today due to an injured back, but would instead look to meet up with us at our 2 scheduled food/refreshment stops along the way.
One upside to the rather wet and miserable weather on this day, and the rain for several preceding days, was that there was likely to be a lot of water in the river, and taking a look at the get-in confirmed a strong flow under the bridge. We all decided that given the additional help from the river, we’d do the full 13 mile trip, so Dave, Graham and Conrad headed off to drop the vehicles at the get-out point, which rather conveniently was a pub next to the river in Chertsey. On their return, Dave went through the usual safety briefing, including a warning to be aware of the strong currents and to avoid getting caught upstream of trees, bridge supports, or any other obstructions. We then all got in at the sheltered, still water of the slipway and headed out into the flow, rapidly picking up a fair bit of speed downstream, then paddling briskly to reach the channel to the right of Baths Island.
After the island, we then re-joined the main flow and continued past Romney Island towards Datchet, with Windsor Castle to our right and “No stopping or mooring” signs all along the right bank, which are apparently strictly enforced by the royal staff in blacked-out Land Rover Defenders! The same bank is lined with mature trees, each with several large balls of mistletoe, which looked quite striking in the gloomy light.
A little further on, just leaving Datchet, we came across the Datchet Eel Screens Site on river left, which is a Thames Water abstraction point where they take water from the Thames as part of the water supply for London. The Datchet site is the largest of 10 such sites supplying London’s water. The reason for the rather elaborate “Eel Screens”, which prevent eels (and other fish) from being extracted from the river along with the water, is due to the fall in numbers of the European Eel. The EU has adopted regulations which aim to enable the eel population to recover, and these regulations were brought into UK law through The Eels (England and Wales) Regulations 2009.. If you’re really interested in fish screening, here’s a link to the Environment Agency best practice guide for Intakes and Outfalls.
Moving on, we then went under the Albert Bridge and took the cut on the river right to Old Windsor lock, where the sun made a fleeting appearance, the rain conveniently stopped for a few minutes, and we also stopped for the first of our 2 food and drink breaks, meeting up with Pierre as previously arranged.
Suitably refreshed, we took to the water again, the rain resumed, and Pierre had his first go at being a lock-keeper, operating the lock for us to pass through and continue downstream.
Despite the weather, we saw a variety of wildlife along the way. In addition to the usual swans, ducks, and geese (some with a gaggle of goslings), there were many cormorants, often sitting on posts in the water, and on two occasions we saw the vivid electric blue of a kingfisher darting across the river in front of us.
We passed the site of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, continued alongside the pleasant open space there, then on past Bell Weir, which looked very turbulent, along to Bell Weir Lock, where the sun made a second, and final brief appearance.
After the lock, about half a mile further on, we reached our second refreshment stop of the day, at the flooded slipway river left where Staines and Egham Sea Cadets, and Spelthorne Kayak Club are based, and Pierre was waiting for us, which was a good thing as we may well have gone straight past if it wasn’t for him waving and calling out to us from the bank. A pair of Egyptian geese with their brood of young goslings were less than happy with our arrival at the slipway, as they honked at us whilst making their exit upstream, returning a few minutes later when we’d abandoned the kayaks and installed ourselves on some picnic benches with shelters over them – very convenient, as the rain had returned again!
Having finished our food, we headed off for the final 4 mile stretch. The landscape became more urban as we passed through Staines, soon arriving at Penton Hook Lock, where we had to stay well to the river left, as there was a fair current flowing on the right towards the weir.
As usual, Dave disembarked to speak to the lock keeper. Unlike all the previous lock keepers (including Pierre!), who had been friendly and had no problem with us going through the locks, this keeper thought that we shouldn’t be on the river at all. His rationale was that there were red warnings in effect for the whole river, which prevent normal boats from operating due to strong currents. Obviously a kayak is a lot more manoeuvrable than any motor boat, and the currents weren’t a problem for us. Given that we were going to continue anyway, he reluctantly agreed for us to go through the lock.
The next couple of miles were a pleasant paddle, with us passing under the M3 motorway bridge, and arriving at Chertsey Lock, where we got out and walked the short distance to the pub car park to get changed and load the kayaks.
We then all went into the pub for a chat and a drink, (sorry, a debrief), and to shelter from the now pouring rain.
We all agreed it had been a very enjoyable paddle despite the weather, and that the data-logged 13.22 miles distance which we’d completed in a minute under 5 hours had seemed far less than that, obviously due to the significant flow on the Thames.
Chertsey will be the get in, for the next leg – Stage 13 of the Thames – Chertsey to Teddington, which is the final section of the non-tidal Thames. The group will be paddling this section on Friday 28th April.
I’d like to thank Dave and Pierre for organising yet another successful trip and thanks to everyone who came along. These Thames trips really are extremely relaxing and enjoyable, and if there is any way people can make it on the last Friday of the month, you are more than welcome to come along for a great day out!
Write up by Conrad Chambers