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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 Six: The Long One

UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 31 July 2009 | Views [575]

Trip Six:  The Long One

Clifton Hampden – Reading

The last trip of a languid ½ hour jaunt along the Thames was one of enjoyment and pleasure for the two adventurers.  The problem is that enjoyment and leisure do not equate too many miles of distance travelled.  If the finishing line was ever going to be gained other than in the imagination then there would have to be a few more trips of largesse in distance and not titillation.  The distance from base camp that needs to be completed before each individual expedition now demands military planning to hone the hours until each one can be squeezed for its maximum productivity.   Things just got seriouser [sic].

Start

The caravan park that was to be the place of launch provided adequate facilities for various ablutions that are needed before a long trip; where certain conveniences can be rare.  Whether the caravan park agreed or condoned the activities is a moot point better left for others to pick over the niceties of trespass and the like.

The canoes were slipped in under the watchful arches of the red bridge of Clifton Hampden; the geese clacking in the background and the water lapping against the ragged river bank.  The pub that had provided such a nice meal on the last trip looked increasingly inviting under the brooding skies of this rainy summer day.

The prospect of 20 miles of river lying out before a person is daunting when setting out at the very beginning.  The distance is know, the amount of effort needed and the weather provide the unquantifiable anomalies that can turn a trip up on its head.

Clifton Hampden - Wallingford

The military planning didn’t quite extend to having a map that covered the first part of the journey to Wallingford;  using the incisive power of hindsight this probably only going to be a good think.  The beginning is always the difficult part to get through; knowing that the bulk is still ahead.  Constantly checking the map is akin to checking you watch regularly:  the more you check it the less distance you seem to cover.  It is something that should be rationed.  This little trick means that hopefully you are surprised when finally check the map and see how much distance you have finally done. 

The phrase was heard between the two adventurers “are we one the map yet” as if some craven desire to be validated on the map was needed to judge the constant paddling a success.  Whence the two actually made it ‘on to the map’ they were surprised at their position; but not in the positive sense. It looked as though just one insignificant meander had been completed, at about ¼ of the distance – slightly daunting no doubt.

At Benson was an old artillery pill box circa WWII situated on the North bank of the Thames over looking the flood plains to the south.  All the various pill boxes are situated on the Northern bank and the artillery slots that some of them house always face south, out across the Thames and not along its course.  It could be surmised then that there was no fear of the river being used as an actual invasion path itself.   The Thames has long been a heavily defended border being the demarcation between the Wessex and the Anglo-Saxons in the south and the Viking Danes in the north during the dark ages and probably many unrecorded times before; such is the role that this river plays in English history.

Benson was home to boat hiring firm that specialised not in hiring out the twee narrow boats but the gross gin palace types that fill the whole lock when passing through and gives the people on board the height to look down their noses at a more acute angle than even the type of people who hire these boats out are used to.

            Under the heavily suggestive control of a grumbling stomach and flagging energy levels a brief stop was made at the Bridge in Wallingford to stock up on some vittles.  The historic bridge once was home to a Saxon burgh and was an important fording point between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.  The conserved water meadow that now predominated makes a pleasant enough impromptu picnic spot.

Wallingford Bridge stopped to take on vittles, and look on the water meadows.  Now revitalised, having done two hours paddling and only being a third of the way down the map didn’t seem quite so bad to the adventurers.

Wallingford to Goreing

The next section of the journey was where the meat of the journey would be done.  Where the half way point would be achieved; it’s all down hill from there.  In this stretch of the river the Chilterns start to rear up to the north side of the river, they being the first real hills since the Cotswolds were left behind above Oxford.

Time can pass slowly when the monotony of paddling sets in and to ward of boredom turning to dark thoughts every good adventurers need their little game to take their mind off the task in hand.  For our two adventurers it was the ‘The ‘Ow much’ game.  The Thames as you would expect has some pretty impressive properties backing onto it.  They are the sort that even a national lottery winner would struggle to buy and get any change from.  The game basically consists of guessing the price of each waterside property, with the realisation that the money talked about will only be in the imagination of many.  How do you find the worth of a 12 bedroom house looking down the sweeping 3 acre garden onto the Thames?

Wallingford rowing club had their youngest members out for practice.  Three boats lead by a blustery, red faced many casually berating the youngsters for the faults. He was not the most endearing kind of chap.  One you suspects quite enjoys gaining through schadenfreud that slight ego boost that some get from order people around.  All the rowers looked slightly less than enthusiastic at their situation, but the proof is in the achievement one would guess.

            On of the endearing little foibles of river life is the name of the boats.  This tells you more about the people that own them than the actual boat themselves.  The romantics - Sweet Dreams III, Wind in the Willows II; the lovers looking to impress - Mary-Sue, Gladys.   The entertainers -  Aquaholic, Scooby Blue   ; the Honest – mid life crisis; and the penny pinchers – overdraught III, ‘Ow much and the Only Child.  I’m looking our for remortgaged IIIII; I bet its out there somewhere.  The best by far though is the brutally honest of amazingly self incriminating: crime Pays.

Goring to Pangbourne

It was easy on the map to decide that completing and extra meander on the river was a good idea.  When in the canoe and paddling those extra couple of miles the decision doesn’t seem quite so convincing.

Pangbourne to Reading

Expecting the finish to be along the straight, it tantalised until in the distance the crane that signified the boat house where we had parked the car appeared and vigour returned to fatigued muscles as the certain finish line powered tired bodies to the finish line.  The long hours of paddling had meant the bodies had crossed from landlubbers to sea dogs and where not keen to make the return journey onto land in any quick fashion.  They let their disgust known as the venture in to the unknown gait of walking turned slightly comic with some circus cum drunken style reeling and staggering.

The water left at this point will reach our destination in London long before we manage to get there as it pushes on with its inevitable journey to the sea.  The next time there will be more water, the same constant flow to bear us down just as there has been centuries before and will be in centuries to come.

Conclusion

The twenty miles was hard done.  It was an epic that will be retold, and hopefully become more interesting in the retelling, in the future when the generations will wish to know about the twenty mile kayak trip.  Seven hours of continuous paddling doesn’t have many specific rewards when the protagonist is actually in the mists of the endeavour, the rewards come after with the sense of achievement.  When a person knows that they have pushed themselves and come out the other side of the challenge intact. The kudos is well deserved.   Many people have done things more impressive and many people things less impressive.  But it is done: target set and distance achieved; of that there is no doubt.

Having said that, the two will possibly reduce the distance to 15 miles next time.  The canoes just can’t take twenty miles in one go.  Yes the canoe, that’s the reason.  And you don’t want to set the bar too high each time; it will just cheapen the sense of achievement from the first time around.  That is enough of such aggrandising

P.S. forgot the camera on this leg L

Tags: kayaking, reading, thames

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