Slipping down the Thames – Day 3, Tuesday 28/07/2020

Lechlade – Newbridge

Fellow crew with a fully loaded kayak. Note the trolley at the stern – a mistake.

We struck camp and rendezvoused at 10 am with the van delivering the kayak at the Cheese Wharf, just downstream of St John’s Lock at Lechlade. Here, throughout the 18th century, locally produced cheeses were loaded onto barges and taken down the river to London.

We were not such expert loaders, and organising and fitting all our camping gear into one double kayak took quite some time. Setting off around midday, we arrived at Buscot lock for a second time, this time by water.

Buscot is a traditional manual lock (no electricity required) with massive oak beams to open/shut the gates and large iron wheels to operate the sluices. Built by the Victorians to a pattern that prevailed down much of the river, it was a simple but beautifully engineered system. As a child I used to enjoy helping push the gates open and closed on Oxford city locks such as Iffley and Sandford.

However the system is now in use only as far as King’s lock just short of Oxford, where the locks become electrically-operated. The newer locks are more resistant to mistakes in terms of protecting the river (you cannot leave both sets of sluices open), but God help you if you have to try and operate one of them and there is no power – if you are by yourself it can be heart-attack inducing stuff.

Progress downriver was slow the first few hours. We had to get used to the lack of space in the boat with bags packed tightly around our legs, and our paddling techniques synchronised so that we made efficient use of the effort.

The kayak also had to be kept pointed in a reasonably straight line more or less down river. A simple task you would think, but unfortunately the boat seemed to have other ideas, and had developed a pronounced veer to starboard.

Rushey lock – and a typical view.

I blamed my fellow-crew of course. He blamed me, and after some noisy mutual remonstration and a few hours of sulking (paddling all the while) we both agreed to blame the trolley, which was jury-rigged onto the stern of the boat. Certainly it seemed to catch the wind all too easily and push us off course, making onward progress hard work.

Our target for the day was Newbridge. As we came up to the bridge early evening we were in luck – not just one pub but two – one on each bank!

We chose the obvious one, the Rose Revived on the north bank, simply because it had a landing place suitable for small boats. Since wild camping usually involves a fairly basic diet interspersed with sandwiches bought along the way, it was time to stop for a proper meal.

One substantial dinner and a pint of beer later, we were ready to set off. Not before time, as sunset was approaching and we needed to find somewhere to pitch. One outside diner seemed intrigued by our relaunching the kayak so late in the day, and enquired about the dog. Sadly forgotten, I replied, but if we could teach it to paddle maybe next time.

About a mile downriver we found a likely camping spot, and settled in. It was already close to dark. That night wasn’t one of the greatest – a truly horrible chemical stink in the area seemed to seep into the tent, with the result that I had little sleep.

Go to Day 4: Newbridge – Oxford

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© Philip Hunt 2020

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