River Thames Section 9b – Wargrave to Aston – Trip Report & Video

Saturday 24th December 2022

5.9 miles/9.5 km downstream, Wargrave to Aston. The reduced daylight hours resulted in the Section 9 trip, Reading to Aston (Paddle the Thames, Mark Rainsley), into two and this is the second part.

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

We gathered at the St George and Dragon pub which has a kayak-friendly platform onto the river. Dave had previously sent out the lock status report as shown below (we were to traverse Marsh and Hambledon locks) and so we were expecting a faster flow and this was immediately obvious on looking at the river. We were travelling downstream although a few tandem kayakers seemed to be coping easily with upstream paddling – the power of two! It was warmer than our 9a trip where the temperature hovered around 00C although some fog was still lingering on the water. We unloaded and the vehicles were shuttled to the end location at Aston with Dave’s trusty friend Graham bringing the drivers back to the get-in point.

Chris was set to take over Hannah’s role of Santa on this trip but had to abandon the idea as his hat wouldn’t fit over his helmet and so the aged children in the party were disappointed.

After the briefing we got in at a calm side inlet from the main platform. Jai lost no time in starting a bromance with John much to our leader’s consternation as he thought he was the only one.

The decision was made to use the main Thames channel rather than the Hennerton Backwater. The sun was just starting to clear the low-lying fog pockets as we set off giving a magical almost Christmassy scene (3 kings plus support?).

In festive game-playing spirit Geese had gathered en-masse and played follow-my-leader across the water in front of us.

We soon came upon Marsh Lock and the designated portage route was a long one using a wooden bridge over to the opposite bank of the river. Dave got out and did a survey of the portage and the water conditions on the other side of the lock and, with his knowledge of the experience and capabilities of the group, devised a plan whereby he would open the lock to let us through and then walk to the portage get-in on the other side of the river (this was much appreciated by the rest of us as it meant we avoided the long walk with the heavy boats). He warned us of a strong current on the other side of the lock and told us to keep in single file to the right-hand side and paddle hard and then cross to the opposite bank once it was safe to do so and pick him up there. Pierre led the way towing Dave’s kayak and Chris, as the second qualified trip leader, brought up the rear. The plan was safely executed and Dave rejoined the group.

The following photos show the turbulence of the water – a missed opportunity for those adventurous souls Nigel and Conrad perhaps.

We stopped for lunch at Henley as there was a convenient jetty at the boat hire shop which was closed for Xmas. Going above and beyond the call of duty Dave got out and pulled some of us backwards up onto the jetty while we sat in our kayaks – an early Xmas present!

The steps of the boat hire shop provided a useful seating area for our lunch which was supplemented by mince pies handed round by John who had got up very early in the morning to make them for us. We commented on how good they were and how nice it was to get them in convenient aluminium cases just like shop ones! A group photo at the lunch spot was an opportunity for Phill to show off his new haircut and, not to be outdone, Fifi and Chloe reluctantly poked their heads out from their snug hiding places for the occasion.

When we got back onto the water Dave finally got a good shot of us with a bridge having been unsuccessful on the two previous trips. This time we rafted up in front of Henley Bridge in good time before the current had the opportunity to carry us under the arches. Third time lucky!

We next came upon Temple Island complete with folly. The main significance of the island is that it lies at the start of the Henley Royal Regatta course hence its alternative name of Regatta Island. Fawley Temple was built in 1771 as a fishing lodge for Fawley Court.  The temple was recently restored after wealthy donors bought a 999-year lease on the island for the Regatta.

Henley Reach stretched straight ahead for two kilometres and we had a clear run to Hambledon Lock.

The lock keeper at Hambleden lock warned us of the strong current on the other side and said he would open the lock gates for us on the understanding that it was at our responsibility. Dave got out and assessed the situation and saw that it was similar to that at Marsh Lock in terms of current and so directed us to follow a similar plan except that he would remain with us while the lock keeper handled the gates. We again travelled in single file and kept to the right-hand side with Dave in the lead and Chris bringing up the rear. This was certainly more challenging than Marsh Lock but we all paddled hard and safely reached calmer waters. When we looked back towards the weir we could see that the water was so turbulent that it appeared to be boiling. Unfortunately we were all too busy paddling to get any photos!

At the end we came to a jetty and got out. After loading the cars we agreed to meet at the Flowerpot pub at the top of the lane only to find that it had been abandoned some time ago. A new plan was hatched to find another local on our way back home, but none materialised and so we missed our pre-Xmas drink – better luck on our New Year’s Eve trip!

Another brilliant trip courtesy of Dave. We have an established core group of Friday paddlers (okay so this one is a Saturday) and it’s always great to welcome new faces. Next Friday (okay Saturday!) paddling is on New Year’s Eve where we will celebrate a year of great paddles and look forward to more of the same in 2023.

Write up by Sue Leon

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