When: Saturday 25th November
Where: Reading Wokingham Water Centre (RG6 1PQ) to St George and Dragon, Wargrave (RG10 8HY), via St Patricks Stream approx. 5.5 miles
Paddlers: Nigel Atkinson (Trip Leader/Organiser), Ian Walker (Organiser), Mike Quinn, Chris Brown, Britta New, Thomas Carrick, Conrad Chambers, Dan Wickham, Pierre Leon and Sue Leon (Report writer)
We arrived at Wokingham Water Centre on a bright and sunny but very cold morning and unloaded just outside the locked gates (we were not going to be staying here and so it wasn’t worth paying £5 per person for entry and, in any case, the barrier height is such that those carrying kayaks on their roofs would have had to unload first). Cars were driven to the end point and Nigel acted as shuttle driver bringing drivers back to the start.
Everyone had appropriate clothing for the conditions although Mike had brought a supply of pogies just in case (he also had emergency supplies of chocolate and other goodies but they weren’t broken into for this trip! Nigel gave the trip briefing and led a fun warm-up before we prepared to set off. There was an easy seal-launch into the water and we paddled nice and easily in the flow down to Sonning Lock which was marked as Self-service. Ian and Nigel exited at this point to operate the lock while Pierre and Sue attached tow lines to their kayaks to take them through the lock. After a bit of head scratching from Nigel and Ian as they read the lock opening instructions a lockkeeper appeared and gave some help. It was the first time that some on the trip had passed through a lock in their kayaks. Nigel and Ian were reunited with their kayaks downstream of the lock. A quick look at the weir was enough to show the ardent white-water kayakers among us that conditions were not ideal for playing in as the only turbulent water was close to the wall.
We had a photo-stop just in front of Sonning Bridge with the usual fun of getting rafted up before drifting off down the river.
We next came across a post box in the middle of the water which provided some amusement. Other usefully placed boxes on Sonning Bridge (other side to that shown in photo) and high on a retaining wall at Mapledurham have been spotted on previous Thames trips. In case of doubt, the Royal Mail felt obliged to clarify the situation at Sonning Bridge “It is certainly not an operational posting facility”. All good fun! Installation art by local artist Impro apparently.
We turned upstream near the Mill at Sonning for a short ferry-gliding session (water re-enters the main flow here after a short detour around a small island). The strenuous upstream paddle confirmed that the decision to change the start point of the trip was a good one!
The entrance to St Patrick’s stream came up on the right-hand side and as we turned in it was clear that the flow was gentler than on some previous trips and we had little trouble following the meandering path. Ian led the way to find the most suitable route through the overhanging and fallen trees but there were no major obstacles to negotiate.
About halfway along we exited at a convenient but very muddy fishing platform while others found an adjacent spot. We ate our lunches and chatted in the glorious sunshine.
Once back on the water the stream soon widened out for an easier and straighter journey.
A red Virgin hot-air balloon rose in the sky to the left of us and we followed its progress until it descended below view on the opposite side of the stream. The balloon, along with the last of the autumn tree colours, provided another perfect photo opportunity against the perfect blue sky.
We passed the familiar sites of large houses on stilts together with a new one in the early stages of being built which, judging by the metal joist floor outline, will be huge even by local standards – it will be interesting to see it fully built on a future trip!
Passing back onto the Thames we had an easy paddle with some more fantastic photo opportunities to end the day.
The George and Dragon pub provided a useful platform exit and after loading up and Ian shuttled to retrieve any cars left at the start point, we had obligatory drinks in the bar. A relaxing end to a lovely day out with perfect weather and great company – many thanks to Nigel and Ian for organising.