If you fancy a super-relaxing ,stress-free, multi-day, kayak-camping ,flat- water, ultra-historical, heart-of-Engand kayak trip? And maybe a teeny bit of fishing?Then the Thames is for you.
It’s got it all. In 135 miles from Cricklade to the tidal limit at Teddington (which was my first big trip when I got my first sit-on-top, a Prowler 15, in 2007) it matures from a bottom- scrunching trout stream to a seriously major slab of water . Not quite the Amazon, but good enough.
There’s hardly any grotty bits even when it flows through the dowdy bits round the back of unattractive towns. Like past the gasworks at Reading where the Kennet and Avon canal joins the main river. It’s dodgy for only half-a-mile and then is transformed into the very attractive wooded and hilly approach to Sonning lock.
From a watery point of view it’s noticeable that the weirs don’t smell of disinfectant mixed with washing powder. On most of the other inland rivers I have ventured onto by kayak its as if someone is trying to mask over a horrendous stink with a deodorant. But not the Thames. It’s all unbelievably clean.
Last year’s trip with my brother’s and three chums from the super-clean waters of Scotland was a four day camping trip from Bablock Hythe (great name) just upstream of Oxford, to Boulter’s Lock at Maidenhead.
Given the time limit this seemed like the best eighty mile section to do because it combines some excellent tranquil countryside sections with a few attractive historical towns such as Oxford, Abingdon and Henley. And the two most attractive locks on the river…Sonning and Cookham. And some great places to camp. And a load of riverside hostelries.
I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the concept of two pub meals a day. Well actually we only did that once but the amount we consumed in the evenings, certainly in terms of calories, made up for the fact that on the other days we only had a ‘light’ snack of pies, cakes and cream-laden delicacies at lunchtime. And more for tea.
In fact this is the very first kayak-camping trip I have done where I have had to loosen my belt a notch upon return home, usually it’s adjusted the other way.
So if you like your gourmet comforts, and you enjoy flat water touring, and you don’t want to have the hassle of portaging a heavily laden kayak around any weirs or obstructions, the Thames is for you. Just buy an environment agency license before you go (or be a member of the BCU), and you are entitled to go through the locks. The lockeepers are in attendance during working hours; outside that time you can operate the gates yourself.
Fantastic..about as relaxing as it could be.
Fishing is restricted and I don’t think you are allowed to troll a lure but if you did you might well find yourself battling a feisty Pike like this one which might well jump clean out of the water and make your heart miss a beat as your are reeling it in , and then might bite a hole in your drysuit sock as your are attempting to unhook it. But better than a hole in your foot.
The wildlife encounters on our trip were much beter than I expected, especially the birds. Virtually every waterfowl had just hatched out a brood of ducklings/goslings/cygnets/ and probably had their work cut out trying to avoid their fluffy offspring becoming the Pike’s main course (it would probably consider my drysuit sock to be a dessert, or possibly even an appetiser, like dry toast with pate).
They are all pretty tame so you could cruise along quietly and get very close views without causing too much disturbance.
We had only one ‘difficult’ moment. After a long day’s paddle from Goring (near the pub) to Henley (near the pub) we were keen to set up camp (so we could go to the pub) and pitched our tents on the outskirts of the town. However we were moved on in a very firm but pleasant manner to an official campsite half a mile away up a hill and across the main road. What a fag it was to take all the camping stuff up there! Just to pitch our tents in the corner of a field. The only bonus was watching the Red Kites floating about effortlessly like…er…a kite, matched only by the colossal unfeasible flying bulk of the Airbus A380s stacking up on their approach to Heathrow.
There’s a couple of cracking backwaters between Reading and Henley which provide three or four miles of alternative route down small channels draped in willows, not navigable to larger boats. I remember seeing a load of water voles on these streams when I was a gangling youth….sadly they seem to have all gone.
Of course summer is the time to do this trip.Leave it a month or two.