So, we made it: from the official source near Kemble as far as the tidal stretch past Richmond Lock: 150 miles in 7 days.
|Ready for the off (10am Monday 13th August) and a 12 mile run along the Thames Path to Cricklade|
|...and after a pub lunch, it is goodbye to the Upper Thames support crew (Lesley-Anne) and into the Thames|
The Thames has always been part of my life, a fact that only became apparent during my curacy in Beaconsfield - no river! I missed it. Hence, I am very happy to be in the Vicarage at Crowmarsh only 1/4 mile from the Thames. This location brought about a new part of my life as it is perfect for dogs, so Ralph joined our family last springtime. He is my dog and a natural companion for this mini-adventure: he is the reason why I've heard the words "cute" and "sweet" more than ever before, when he stands on the bow sniffing the air like figurehead, or just curled up at my feet.
|Below Richmond Lock, 7pm Sunday 19th August|
So, what did I learn and how will it change me?
1a) Life at 3 mph is possible and has its benefits. This was particularly noticeable when going under the M4, M25 or M3 with the traffic rushing by (or queuing!) overhead. Why do we choose the stressful way and can we challenge the worldview that "Time is money" - something that I certainly lived with as an IT Contractor, but need not apply as a stipendiary priest.
1b) It is not the most direct route: like a labyrinth, a single convoluted path, the meanders of the river allow you to revisit and appreciate the same landmark from different angles. You can go round a huge oxbow bend, only to realise that 20 minutes of paddling brings you almost back to where you started... sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.
2) A renewed appreciation of the natural world:
- the ripples on the water indicating where to pick up or avoid the wind;
- the changing weather, which way the wind was blowing and what was coming next;
- the fish: those darting around in clear water, the skippers along the surface and the big ones that splash suddenly near the canoe, making us both jump!
- the birds: kingfishers, herons, grebe, geese, ducks and swans - how close each type will allow you to come before flying off (or diving for grebes) and the various etiquette of approach and negotiating passage past them, e.g. swans are very territorial on the upper Thames and will normally swim away until the border with their neighbour, at which point we choose opposites sides of the narrow channel and pass... whereas on the lower Thames, even with Ralph on-board, they just saw us another opportunity for begging free food. I took many photos of herons which I can now spot from 300 yards, including the video below where I managed to get unusually close...
- the brown leaves on horse chestnut trees showing that summer is giving way to autumn.
3) The silence and stillness. Being alone under a big sky surrounded by the natural, unspoilt beauty of the Thames Valley on our doorstep is certainly a gift from God.
|Evening of Day 2 /(near Northmoor?)|
|Evening Day 5 (still an hour from Hurley)|
|Evening Day 7: Looking up towards Kew Gardens with Syon Park on the left - relative peace and tranquility in London, but will have to paddle this bit another time...|
4) After the isolation, an increased appreciation for relationships and humanity: the hospitality of Alexandra G. at St Helen's in Abingdon or Chris G. at Hurley Church, dinner and a night back at home with my parents in Old Windsor, or being greeted by some of our best friends (and godsons) bringing beer to the lock and even just hearing their dad's familiar voice giving the commentary on the French Brothers boats around Windsor. Even the bells of the Curfew Tower, where I used to ring regularly, seemed to welcome me back - well, 4 being rung down at least!
But most of all, what it is to be home again and to get a loving hug even though I smell of Thames mud at low tide (but not as much as Ralph!).