Kayaking the length of the Thames for charity

This summer we decided to do something proactive for our last school holiday. We wanted to take the opportunity to travel, but also to take on a challenge and try something out of our comfort zone, so we decided to kayak the length of the Thames. We would kayak from Cricklade in Wiltshire, famously the first town on the Thames, to Richmond in London. Usually this sort of trip finishes in Teddington, just before the river becomes tidal, however we decided to carry on to experience kayaking on the tidal Thames. If we had had a few more days, we probably would have carried on to the estuary, but campsites between London and the Channel were scarce and kayaking the tidal Thames would be extremely difficult.

Fortunately, the School very kindly lent us some kayaks – which were not really built for the adventure we were about to undertake, so the Boat House and the Navy CCF kindly provided us with buoyancy aids. Between us, we had a relatively low level of experience for such an endeavour. James Steers was the most experienced, with a Grade 1 in kayaking, and the rest of us had kayaked a handful of times, but none of us had kayaked for as long as this trip demanded. And so, with the wrong type of kayaks and not enough experience, the odds were stacked against us.

Nonetheless at 7 am on 7th August the five of us (James Hastings, James Still, James Steers, Slade Whittaker and I) met up at a small slipway in Cricklade to set off on a seven-day adventure, where each day would last 8-10 hours and vary in length from 25km to 37km.

Day 1:  Challenges included thick reeds, low branches, a fallen tree across the entire width of the river (teamwork!) and three locks before a night at the Rushey Lock campsite.

Day 2: The longest day – 37 km from Rushey Lock, via Oxford, to Donnington, where a free campsite and pizza helped us recover.

Day 3: We woke to James Steers realising that his tent wasn’t waterproof …and it continued to rain throughout most of our 33km journey. By the time we reached Wallingford, we were soaked, but the campsite was by far the most luxurious and we were able to dry our clothes and have showers. We set up the tents and got changed into dry clothes to go out for a three-course dinner in a local pub, overlooking the river… and met an Old Blue!

Day 4: An early start with blue skies and sunshine revived our spirits, as did the fact that we started recognising parts of the river (Wallingford, Caversham) and were able to stop and spend the night at Blue Coat. We camped on the back lawn, hung our clothes out to dry, and enjoyed dinner at the local Frankie and Benny’s.

Day 5: After a cooked breakfast kindly supplied by Blue Coat’s caterers, Sodexo, we set off in the sunshine on the day’s journey through Sonning, Shiplake, Henley and Marlow (lunch) to Maidenhead. It was interesting to see these familiar areas from a different perspective and also how much the river had changed from its humble beginnings in Cricklade. It was another long day –  35km – but we got to spend a night sleeping indoors at a friend’s place near Dorney Lake – and enjoyed pizza for dinner.

Day 6: Well rested, we found our spirits revived again. The day took us via a view of Windsor Castle and a sighting of a rare Muscovy duck, to Laleham Campsite, where a local fun fair and pizza helped us enjoy our final night.

Day 7: Our final day dawned and we took down the tents for the final time. We pushed ourselves back in the river and set off downstream towards Richmond, passing various landmarks such as Hampton Court Palace. Over the course of our trip we had passed a number of footballs and for our final lunch we stopped at a park and put them to good use. With a goal of a 4pm finish at Richmond Bridge, we carried on to the last lock of the non-tidal Thames: Teddington – then hit the home straight to Richmond Bridge.

We turned the final corner and, with the Star and Garter Hotel  overlooking us, we marched towards the bridge. At the foot of the bridge we regrouped; we all wanted to cross the bridge together. It was 13th August, we had accomplished seven days of kayaking, passed through 45 locks and gone under 48 bridges. We crossed the finish line. It was a fitting finale for a trip that we may never have the opportunity to do again. We have now kayaked the length of the Thames, for no reason other than to accomplish something. In doing so we were also able to raise money for the Alexander Janson Foundation to fight myocarditis. It was a joy to be so independent and run a trip for ourselves. I would recommend to anyone to make the most of their school holidays especially as they are nearing the final few and achieve as much as they can; even if the effort at first seems too great, the result will always be worth the while.

Loic Pohl, Year 13

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