On Friday 30th September 2022, seven Nomads (Pierre, Dave, Sue, Philip (Coco and Fifi), John, Hannah & Jai) continued paddling the River Thames as part of “The Thames Quest”. Hannah and Jai were joining us for the first time; they both booked the day off work to attend.
This section was just over 10 miles downstream, heading south as usual. The weather forecast was awful so we had to be careful – forecast for heavy rain and strong winds from 2pm and we were planning to be on the water at 10.30am and hoping to be off by 4pm-ish; therefore the later part was still something to be mindful of.
(There was an evacuation plan if it was too bad to continue past Goring lock with our shuttle driver Graham, who has been available on all of these Thames trips, on stand by. Not a Nomad member but a great asset, and his sister lives very close to Goring so after the initial shuttle he was going there for breakfast and hanging on until he knew we were all safe and happy. The whole group didn’t know.)
Jai realised his new boat didn’t match his new weatherproof clothing so the complaining started. He thought he had a blue boat!
Anyway, after a safety brief, warm up and discussions we were joined by a vicar and his dog, dropping a tennis ball at Sue’s feet and the vicar asking Sue to throw it in the water. He told us he had paddled the Thames in an inflatable in a week, that’s hardcore stuff! We were on the water at 10.28am and downstream we went.
The weather was calm and the sun was even threatening to come out, but it didn’t as it remained cloudy all the way.
Pierre and I re-ignited the pillbox counting debate, as one was spotted on the bank and that went on as we spotted more, but let’s leave it there as there are so many on the Thames. Lunch was on our minds as we were mindful of the weather and conditions but as we continued we saw a few lovely sights and I got the group to raft up for a photo as what seems to be the norm on all our trips.
Lunch was next. Cleeves lock, a nice grassy area but the lock keeper went on lunch so it was left to me to operate the lock so none of us had to endure a seal launch as the water levels are quite low and the pontoon is a good 3 feet up. It was Jai and Hannah’s first time going through a lock but they smashed it hanging onto the chain for dear life.
Then the wind picked up in our faces and quite strong, looking ahead we could probably see a mile down the river and with dark clouds on the horizon we were paddling near the bank to try to make forward progress as easy as at it can be. Well apart from Phillip, Coco and Fifi, as they were on the river left with the puppies located under bubble wrap to keep warm.
After a short while we arrived at Goring lock where the lock keeper had the gates open and ready for us to pass through. This was great stuff as Hannah and Jai want every lock on the GUC to be manned to save portaging! Onwards and heading south the rain soon started,
During this section we ended up in a maths lesson trying to convert kms to miles. Turned out none of us knew, other than a km is not as far as a mile, and on that note Hannah’s watch decided to stop recording our route. So we decided to take some shelter under a bridge and continue discussing pill boxes and distances while Jai and Sue sorted their hair out.
Nearly there, one more lock just round the bend Pierre said, and three bends later we approached Whitchurch lock. And guess what, no lock keeper so I was out and operating it before you could say the alphabet backwards or work out Pierre’s distances. But we were all through safely and it had stopped raining. Well all through apart from the duty lock keeper (me) who had to haul his boat up and seal launch in from about 3 foot. Another 200 metres and we were at our get out.
The story doesn’t end there folks. Oh no! By this time it was lashing down with rain and I’m so gutted that pics were not taken for this bit, as we were too busy getting changed and rushing. Although she is probably going to kill me for publishing this, I need to share.
Hannah had decided to glamp it up and use the local British Canoeing Dolphin Centre to have a wee and get changed in the dry, while we had to slum it in the rain and make do. To cut a long story short, the staff locked the building and went home at about 4pm, where was Hannah? She was still in the loo trying to get out of her cag. Locked in, oh dear! Unfortunately she didn’t leave a voicemail when she was trying to ring us, and we didn’t have our phones due to the weather but how we wish we did. It all ended well though as Jai ventured round the building and found the resident caretaker in the flat upstairs. They came down and unlocked the door so she could make an exit and we could head home.
All in all, it was a great day, with great people and enjoyed by all despite the weather.
Write up by Dave H