River Thames Section 1a – Cricklade to Castle Eaton – Trip Report

31st December 2022

4.1 miles/6.6 km downstream, Cricklade to Castle Eaton. The reduced daylight hours resulted in the Section 1 trip (Paddle the Thames, Mark Rainsley) being split into two and this is the first part.

Paddlers: Dave Hillier (Trip Leader), Andy (Assistant), Pierre Leon, John Murray, Phillip Gent (with doggie guests Fifi and Coco), Jai, Sue Leon (Report Writer)

We gathered on the last day of 2022 at a small parking area near the Cricklade slipway and the weather was set to be gloomy and wet most of the day, Cricklade is approximately 15 miles/24 km from the source of the Thames at Kemble and so it was more of a stream than a river. As we waited for the others to arrive a few dog walkers passed by on their daily walks along the river and gave us tales of how low the water level had been in the dry spell and how different it now was after all the snow and rain. As usual Dave had sent out the water status report.

After unloading our boats, cars were shuttled to the get-out point with the help of Dave’s friend Graham. Dave gave our trip briefing, warning that we would need to travel in single file where the trees obstructed our passage and to keep our distance from the person in front.  He also assigned Andy, the other FSRT rescue qualified person, as his assistant for the trip.

Once on the water Dave led the way to navigate the best route through the hazards and Andy brought up the rear. The book Paddle the Thames had warned us that under normal conditions this is a challenging section of the Thames because it is “overgrown and fallen trees necessitate innumerable ducks and dodges as well as a number of portages”. In the event, the high water level meant that we only needed to portage once at a bridge, but the trees and fast current provided numerous other challenges and our progress was slow.

After only about a quarter of a mile Pierre was getting impatient and decided that he could probably swim it faster, only to change his mind after entering the water and remembering that he’s not a great swimmer! Dave, at the front, was alerted to the escapade and he and Andy swiftly dealt with the recovery and Pierre was resigned to paddling the rest of the journey in his boat. (Pierre’s video footage later revealed he had been swept into the branches by the current.)

We paddled under most of the bridges on our trip but had to portage around one (no photo) because the surface of the water was almost at the bridge apex. Limbo lessons are advised for all in case we come across a similar situation in the future.

We continued along our journey enjoying the easier paddling stretches where they occurred.

At one point there didn’t appear to be any feasible way through the undergrowth but, fortunately for us, the edge of the adjacent flooded field provided an alternative route provided we didn’t paddle too deeply and add to the farmer’s woes by ploughing the field at the wrong time of year. We were at one with the swans and geese in finding it difficult to distinguish the river from the field, but our trusty leader got us back on track – much to the consternation of the paddlers who were rather enjoying the hazard-free field.

A bit further along Sue, who had been singularly unimpressed with Pierre’s swimming efforts, thought that she would show him how it should be done.  She soon changed her mind after entering the water and quickly realising that it was not as clean and obstacle-free as that of the lido she normally uses. After a swift wet exit and another recovery procedure we were on our way again. (Sue’s video footage later revealed that her front-mounted camera pole had got caught on the tree branches and was the likely cause of her capsize.)

After calls for a coffee break Dave brought us to rest at a sheltered spot where we could see a farm in the distance. Unfortunately, the accompanying fabled country fragrances were not appreciated as perhaps they should have been.

We continued our epic adventures and after a while it was Phill’s turn to get tangled up in the trees and enter the water. Dave and Andy again handled the recovery which was hampered by the position of the stricken longer kayak and Pierre took charge of the girls (Fifi and Coco) until Phill was ready to continue.

Fortunately, we were now getting towards the end of our trip and the water soon became more open and freer of obstacles and we were able to progress at a faster rate and get the cold dogs back to the warmth of the car.

There was a notable sighting of a distinctly white Tawny Owl in the hollowed-out upright trunk of a dead tree,

Dave also pointed out the campsite where he had stayed earlier in the year and which had since become a mudfest. Roll on Spring!

We were pleased to reach the welcoming sight of the Red Lion pub at Castle Eaton where our cars were parked. Phill loaded up and left to get the girls home. On closer inspection the pub was found to be less welcoming as it was closed – possibly getting ready for a busy New Year’s Eve. A passer-by gave us directions to an alternative pub and after loading up we drove to the Old Spotted Cow which had a very welcoming log fire, and we had a debrief over a much-deserved drink. A more difficult and less scenic paddle than we had been used to and Dave must have upset the weather gods on this occasion as it rained most of the day but for intrepid paddlers it’s just another day at the office (or on the sofa for some!).

A special thank you to Dave for organising a brilliant set of Friday trips over the past year and congratulations on your personal kayaking awards and achievements. We look forward to paddling with you in 2023!

A very Happy New Year to Nomad members and paddlers everywhere!

Report written by Sue Leon.

One thought on “River Thames Section 1a – Cricklade to Castle Eaton – Trip Report

  • Ian

    Well done guys for surviving Thames 1a trip with some of you meeting a few hazzards & getting wet.
    Trip 1b was a lot more plain paddling & lucky to get a sunnier day.
    Sue great write-up, love the Tawny Owl sighting.
    Regards Ian Walker

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