On Sunday December 13th five Nomads led by Matt travelled to Wargrave through teeming rain to get some paddling in after the November lockdown. All of us were keen just for being there in the first place with the weather forecast being continuous rain all day. When we arrived however the rain started to let up and by the time we were ready to put in was only a very light drizzle – maybe even a heavy mist.
The river was a little high so Dan chose caution over valour and didn’t seal launch his newly purchased Axiom, which he was finding a bit tippy compared to the bus of a club boat he used to paddle. Martyn was very ambitious bringing his Necky Vibe and indeed was to have quite a job paddling the upstream leg.
Heartened by the improved weather we set off upstream against a moderate stream toward Shiplake lock. The river looked deserted and apart from occasional dog walkers on the bank there was no one out. Even the boatyard on the left was completely empty of the usual motor cruisers. Ten minutes brought us just below the weir to check it out. We had no thought of playing in it, but Simon made good use of the fast water to practice some breaking in and ferry gliding.
We eschewed the normal portage ramp and took a small set of step to the right of the weir pool to rejoin the Thames above. Still no seal launch from Dan but Matt and Tony were slightly surprised by the height of the bank and few quick support strokes were needed before we headed upstream again toward the Shiplake School corner. Every now and then we stopped to wait for Martyn, who by now may have been ruing his choice of boat.
Another twenty minutes took us to the entrance of St Patrick’s stream where one of the grand old houses had been bulldozed to make room for a concrete foundation platform, Simon supposed for one of the cuboid glass boxes that seem to line the Thames. Relieved to be going with the flow we started down the stream talking about paddles and boats and Dan was encouraged to break out as often as possible to get used to his new found edges. Eddies were many but gentle so Dan did the best he could till we came to our lunch stop.
It was cold but tolerable and thankfully dry and not too breezy as we sat on our boats for a socially distanced picnic lunch and talk of other potential trips. The cold crept up on us though and it was harder than we’d imagined to get our hands back in our gloves and neoprene spraydecks back on to continue the trip.
A few tree hazards and many enjoyable twists and turns followed until we reached the stream entering from the left with the triple arch bridge and mini rapid. The house next to the bridge was well decked with Christmas decorations including an LED space frame Christmas tree in the Garden and three inflatable Christmas bears guarding the garden entrance from the bridge. Very festive!
The bridge’s rapid was mild at this water level, but provided a great opportunity for Dan to practice his edging and breaking in and out and for Tony to practice his ferry gliding. We had a race to see how quickly we could ferry glide across the whole river and Tony soon halved his time by looking where he was going, improving his feel of the boat and taking fewer, stronger strokes. The minimum number of strokes to get across was three (and a half) by Matt, with Simon at a similar number. Much fun was had in the rapid and we hardly felt the cold at all.
Eventually we decided it was time to move on and continued down the residential part of the stream past more glass boxes and the odd Savilles sign. It really was a nice day and it had even brightened up a bit – or perhaps got a little less grey – so we were in very good spirits and thoroughly enjoying being let out at last for a trip. The Thames soon arrived and Martyn had the luxury of going with the current as we took it easy back down to Val Wyatt marine and the get out.
As it was still only one thirty, three of us decided to continue to paddle the Hennerton Backwater down towards Henley, while the other two got dry and warm. After an initial misdirection back out toward the Thames we eventually found the entrance to the backwater at the end of Val Wyatt marine and a low bridge took us into another rural residential paradise of sweeping lawns, private bridges and enormous houses, but nobody was outside enjoying themselves like. Probably a mile brought us to the end of the backwater and we decided to turn around and come back again rather than brave the Thames’ current upstream, which was flowing considerably faster.
A great day was had by all, despite the awful forecast that never materialised. Thanks to everyone who came along and to Simon for his photos.
Matt, trip leader