Books of the ilk of Three Men in a Boat, which everyone knows, and Boogie up the River, lesser-known but a brilliantly-written account of Mark Wallington’s attempt to row to the source of the Thames, have romanticised the notion of river travel.
My occasional longings for such an expedition were realised today. Cycling to Windsor, I met two friends, Tom and Rich, who were on the penultimate day of their bid to paddle down the entire stretch of the non-tidal Thames. Their vessels are origanoes – (I’ve written about these before): the cheap, lightweight alternative to normal kayaks or canoes, although not available for general sale.
At Romney Lock, not far from Windsor, Rich and I exchanged means of transports – he took the cycle, I stepped gingerly into his craft, paddling the mile or so to Datchet. After almost two hours of battling Easter Monday traffic to escape London (particularly hairy around Heathrow and the M25), the chocolate river was a calming, comforting influence.
Here the pace of life slowed down: the sight of a dragonfly landing on the water became a fascination; the occasional glimpse of Windsor Castle through trees a revelation. A dazzling sun shone from a cloudless sky. The world takes on a different hue from the water.
A few minutes later I was clinging to a mooring, my upper body hugging a metal bar, my lower body – with feet still in the boat – being dragged downstream. I ungainly hauled myself onto dry land, my knees scraped and smeared in duck dung. Memories of castles and dragonflies were momentarily forgotten.
After a short break I was back in the boat, this time paddling alongside Rich, with Tom following by cycle. Back on the water, peace reigned again. I travelled as far as Old Windsor Lock – another mile or so, again – before stepping out of the boat for the final time. I waved goodbye and began back to London, envious of their grand, river-borne adventure.