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One step closer I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Trip One: Let there be water....and there was a bit.

UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 23 May 2009 | Views [648]

You can't argue with a river, it is going to flow. You can dam it up put it to useful purposes deflect it, but you can't argue with it.

-Acheson, Dean Gooderham


Trip One: Shipton to Finstock.

The masculine mind is never better made up when it is founded more on conviction than sense.  So it that the intrepid duo inspected their sturdy craft that was to be their trusty steeds through the up and coming travails.  When you go off into the unknown on such a journey the bond of trust between man and craft is essential.  One leak can leave you stranded literally miles from the nearest road with only farmers land to trespass upon.  The point is that it is essential to have the finest equipment at your disposal to limit the chance of anything going awry.  The old adventurers maxim suggest a journey should have adventurers with years of wisdom upon their brow and cutting edge equipment to robustly deal with any situation of fortune.

            The canoes in question had recently had an overhaul to bring them inline with the latest innovation in camouflage techniques that involved acute angles of shade and lines of concealment; no errant U-boat that had travelled forward in time and up the Evenlode would pick these boys off lightly.  As important as this addition to the craft was in its evasive or underwater hunters it was rendered largely facile by the colour: bright orange and red.   This camouflage would blend in perfectly at a Mare-di gras festival with the bright gay colours and feather bowyers among which these boats would move with undetectable decorum; not showing up on the radar of any casual peruser. However on the leafy bounty of North Oxfordshire where the river runs as blue as the inhabitants voting habits they would be a rare sight indeed – exotic even.

            The boats are of original construction holding the attributes that had launched the character of kayaking back in the day.  One touring canoe of fibreglass construction that had a deep keel like structure perfect for the open laneways of the wide tidal Thames and one a sportier number that would be perfect for slaloming around a tight course of white water; neither of which the Evenlode provides.  They were however of rather vintage years though well maintained, and reinvigorated sporting their new fashion, ready for the journey ahead.

            Any trip should be thoroughly planned in advance.  Every detail nailed down with nails of logic so no irksome problem can wriggle free and rear its malevolent head no matter how persistent.  Maps, maps are the great paradigm of any great adventure, the reading of which is key to keep these problems at bay.  The only available maps of Terra North Oxfordshire were collected together and studied for the route that would meander the party down stream.  The boon of river travel is that you always know where you are going; you just recline in your thought and follow the gentle convulsions of the course and the map will show your point. 

 As you would expect the precise locations of stop of points, potential hazards, and timing were dealt with in concise and efficient manner.  Craft ready, route planned and spirit high it was time to launch.

            Inhabiting somewhere in a ‘Swallows and Amazon’ book the day was a brilliant spring exhibition; the land awaking from its winter slumber as the warming rays caressed and the land unfurled from its winter stasis. A gently sloping sward reached down to the rivers edge with and inviting fording point that breached the waters of the Evenelode stream.  This was the negligible body that would take the pair down to its larger sibling in the South: The Thames. 




One of the most obvious and disconcerting facts to strike you is the number of holes scrapped into the riverbank.  The river had dropped below the levels of the rivers winter nadir.  The amount that it had dropped allows you to see what was below the waterline in the winter; and presumably is below the water line now.  The whole of the bank had been delved into and holes disappeared back into a dark point.  These busy house builders are apparently the Signal Crayfish that has invaded from North America having worked its way up the Thames in the last 20 years.  The amount construction – or deconstruction – of the river bank tells that their must be 10, 000 of these crayfish in this stream.  The sheer amount that must be found in this stream makes you wonder just what goes on in the murky water below.  There must be legions of these crayfish bulldozing every other type aquatic life that used to be found in this ecosystem.  At the very minimum it will make you think if every you decide to step into the river if there is to be a carpet of these strong clawed invaders.

      Paddling down stream gives you the feeling of achieving more speed than the effort you are actually putting in as the flow sweeps you downstream.  The original pace however was checked by old man willow who belly flopped across to create a blockage.  Many Alders and Willows flank the river.  The Willows having a particular penchant for collapsing into the stream as their roots purchase was eventually eroded away by the winter spates.  This section of river was in bad need a colonic.  These fallen willows create impenetrable dams of flotsam and jetsam that the river carries to this point.  The willows create the original blockage, but this is added to as everything from tyres, lawn furniture, dead sheep and smaller trees mix together to create a disgusting floating barrier to the original Willow.

      This unholy blockage necessitated having to get out and around.  This is not just as straightforward as is it first sounds.  You need to find a place where the bank is low enough to climb and an area of bank that is clear of vegetation.  It also adds an inordinate amount of time onto the journey and saps the strength in this effort to move a couple of metres down stream.  Just think how easy it is to paddle three metres and here it takes half an hour to get around this one blockage.

      Sadly for progress this blockage was not a one off. A Recce ahead – taking further time – showed that this section of the river would have to be bypassed as the canoes where dragged along by its side.

      This was just the start of a series of blockages.  The next one meant having to get out at a point where cattle drank from the river.  The cow’s hoofs create deep pitted and uneven areas that are hard to travel across and the mixing of cows excrement and river mud that oozed over you foot at every step was less the desired.

It was with a dawning realisation that we were never going to reach Oxford in this one day as Charlbury – about a third of the way there – was reached.  A tactical assessment was taken in the pub where all the worlds’ most posing problems are discussed and solved.  The decision was taken to continue to Finstock and get a lift from there.  The weather was balmy as the early summer sun rained down.  This type of weather had brought out swarms of children who were playing in the stream just outside Charlbury. The dual hazard of shallows and kids where problematic needing verbal entreaties and physical strength to get through – you know which way around it was!

A change of landscape through occurred as we went through landscaped park with many Alder trees grinning over the river as the light began descend with the sun.  One more series of Willow intransigence has the two alighting from the river to carry the canoes 200 metres that sapped the strength of weary shoulders. 

A family of swans caused a hold up as they refused to allow us past.  Luckily this was right at the end and the swan posed as the canoes were dragged out; beating his wins and posturing at his alleged victory in forcing us off the river.  Well that’s how he saw it.

            The day ended with our two trying to find a lift back to their transport having misjudged the finish point by about 20 miles.  In this trip the canoes have had the years of wisdom on their brows and the protagonists the fresh faced energy to overcome the days problem.


Summary.  Lost one pair of sun glasses, Broken: one phone; Consumed: one bottle of cider half a gallon of river water; gained:  inoculation against weils disease a thick veneer of river mud; scratched paint work; animals seen; king fisher, swans, ducks, rabid children


Rivers flow but never end.

But who divines around the bend.

Their course set in map predicted

To find that out, we’re all addicted.




Tags: canoeing, rivers

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