Hampton Court – Teddington (Finish)
Up at 7 am but no-one about, so go back to bed. Had a very strange dream in the night – the owner was being interviewed by an Australian or Kiwi news team about the people on board his boat. I woke up with a start – it had all seemed very real.
There’s a magnificent wooden houseboat moored across the river – must have cost a pretty penny. I’m told it belongs to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. I can’t see a house on the riverfront, but maybe with a boat like that you don’t need one.
By 9 am I hear movement so get up and pack. Seems everyone has gone except for one guy who’s doing odd jobs in return for his board. The boat is unusual, tall hull, steel built, with a pointed bow and stern. It still has the original wheel and even an autopilot, but no motor. I can’t work out what it might have been originally.
It does however have a very handy platform at water level on the stern, which makes loading up the kayak relatively easy. I’m within striking distance of the finish, so call the hirer and arrange pickup for 4 pm.
Pass Hampton Court Palace, one of King Henry VIII’s favourite homes after it was given to him by the ill-fated Cardinal Wolsey. People are visible behind the railings in the park, so there must be a few tourists about.
The weather is cooler but clear, and there’s quite a fresh northerly blowing, which unfortunately translates into a strong headwind for me. I have to paddle hard to make progress.
On past Hampton Wick and Kingston upon Thames, once the boundary between the old Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia (as was much of the Thames, I imagine).
Apparently my partner was picked up yesterday at Windsor. Our lack of reliable communication meant we could not coordinate properly, leaving each of us reliant on our own efforts. A shame. Next time I’ll take a simpler phone or a battery backup.
I reach Teddington lock at 2 pm, there to encounter a pair of the most unhelpful Environment Agency staff I’ve ever met. My pullout point is The Angler pub, which has a slipway. They tell me it’s upstream of the lock. But after searching around, I find I have to go over the rollers to the downstream side to find the right place.
What a pair of jobsworths! Thank you Environment Agency. Confirms the feeling I’ve had for most of the trip that the old Thames Conservancy did a better job of looking after the river.
But I’ve made it! Finished! Teddington lock, the last non-tidal lock on the Thames. And there’s time for a celebratory beer or two before the van arrives to pick up the kayak.
I enjoy the view over the river from the pub garden. A lovely afternoon, with a continuous stream of people walking over the lock and across the river.
I very nearly ruin the whole venture at this point by losing the kayak. In my exhilaration at completing the trip (it was in doubt for a while), I forget that where I pulled up out of the river is tidal. And the tide is rising.
Fortunately a nearby fisherman rescues the kayak just as it’s about to float away, and pulls it out further. When I return it’s half in the water again – the tide is still rising. Oops.
The man with the van arrives just before 4 pm. I say goodbye to my transport of the last few days – you can’t really be sentimental about a plastic boat – and surrender myself to the mercies of Transport for London buses.
Dirty, scruffy, travelling homewards through a busy capital city seems surreal. My trip is over. I’m tired, glad, pleased to have completed it. The journey was tough, especially on this old body, but I made it.
If ever I try a return, I think it would have to be on a boat with accommodation and a motor. Perhaps with a dog and couple of other companions too.
© Philip Hunt 2020