Sunday 11 December 2011

Swim 18 Track - Folly Bridge to Donnington Bridge

Swim 18 Map - Folly Bridge to Donnington Bridge

Swim 18: Folly Bridge to Donnington Bridge

This swim is part of Swim 30 in Michael Worthington's I ♥ the Thames.  It was a winter swim so was shorter than usual at a distance of about 1500m. We met at this car park:

off Meadow Lane, Oxford, second-left after the canoe club. Meadow Lane is the last right turn off Donnington Bridge Road before the bridge from the town side, or the first left from the Hinksey side. The car park is an unkempt wee council number with plenty of bushes for changing in.  It was free when we swam but bring a couple of quid in case.

We walked up the towpath to Folly Bridge

and swam back down.  Note that the slipway where we exited is on private property and you should get the permission of the rowing club first.  There is an alternate exit point a few metres further on at a public slipway.

Be aware that this stretch of the river is used extensively by competitive rowers who are fast moving and have limited visibility.  You should take appropriate precautions.

If done in the warmer months of the year, this swim can easily be combined with swims 19 and 20 for a total distance of 3.8km.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Swim 17 Track - Danger Bridge to Folly Bridge

Swim 17 Map - Danger Bridge to Folly Bridge

Swim 17: Danger Bridge to Folly Bridge

From Danger to Folly.

No really. We started at Danger Bridge at Port Meadow and swum down to Folly Bridge, a distance of 3.1km. The route took us past such exciting Oxford sites as the station! Allotments! Osney Mead industrial estate! Avis car hire! The ice rink! We were also a part of Oxford's great swimming traditions - at Port Meadow, where swimming galas were held in times past, and Folly Bridge, the starting line for the annual police vs. carworkers race of former years.

As the route goes through the city, shuttling is a little more complicated than previously but we met at the Hinksey pool car park off Abingdon Road:

We then shuttled some cars and all swimmers to the Walton Well car park at Port Meadow

Walton Well car park has recently started charging and it is possible that Hinksey has too, so if you're driving bring a pound coin or two. We then swam down to Folly Bridge and popped out onto the main road.

We then had a small walk along Abingdon Road from our exit point to the car so bring something you can walk in - less than 5 mins, but on pavement.

We then had a pub lunch at the Head of the River, a converted riverside warehouse on Folly Bridge.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Swim 16 Track - Trout Inn to Danger Bridge

Swim 16 Map - Trout Inn to Danger Bridge

Swim 16: Godstow Lock to Danger Bridge

This swim marks the start of our winter swims and therefore a shortening of the distances. It also took us to Port Meadow where we claimed to have arrived at Oxford, a milestone worth celebrating. After the last swim's extended leg we started a bit later which gave anyone who wanted to catch up on the Kings Lock to the Godstow Lock section the opportunity to start earlier and then join us at Godstow Lock.

We met at The Perch at Binsey:

We walked up to Godstow Lock and jumped in downstream of the lock:

We swam down to and under Danger Bridge in Port Meadow - that's the Big Jump bridge and a wonderful place for a lazy swim of a summer's afternoon - and got out in the pool just the other side of the bridge:

We then walked back to The Perch for lunch.

This is part of swim #29 from Michael Worthington's I Love The Thames book and is around 2.5km

Saturday 22 October 2011

Swim 15 Catch-up - Cassington Cut to Trout Inn (ish)

It was with some trepidation that I approached the swim today. The main group did the swim two weeks ago and since then temperatures have plummeted and we were expecting a long cold swim. Also, being only the two of us with no support team, there was to be no coffee and cakes at the half way point - just an energy gel stuffed down the front of our wetsuits. But the weather was glorious so spirits were high as we walked to the start point. It turned out to be quite a walk, the Rubberwear Hiking Society getting a good outing. Half way there we met a couple of lads with a dog who looked at us strangely - until I pointed out that one of them had a tennis racket and that was no less weird. Cue much laughing!

When we arrived at the the start point we found a large group of ramblers there and had a long chat about what we were doing. So when we finally started it was already 3:30 - an hour later than planned - and there was some doubt in my mind as to whether we would make it to the end before dark!

Resplendent in full wetsuit, boots, gloves and neoprene hat I ventured into the water and, wow, was it fresh! The beautiful weather made it seem warmer though and the first two kilometres went fast. The sun was shining and we had the river to ourselves - we only saw two boats in total, and one of them was a cool steam powered launch. After 2k we stopped for a break and a gel and then ploughed on. Kings Lock appeared at the 3km mark by which time the sun was definitely starting to set and the cold was seeping through the wetsuits.

Determined to finish, we pushed on and as the sun started to set properly the bridge under the A34 appeared, followed shortly by the Trout Inn bridge. Only it was getting dark and it wasn't clear where we were supposed to get out. There's no obvious exit point by the bridge and the branch towards the Trout Inn was festooned with "Danger" signs. We pushed on again and before long Godstow Lock came into sight and we got out there, with some relief!

Cold now, we rushed back to the car which was in the public car park, not at the Trout, and changed as quickly as possible. As we were changing we met a guy and his kids getting into the water there without wetsuits. Turns out he was acclimatising to the cold water. They only spent a few minutes in, but we had a chat and I suggested he should join us for future swims.

Swim Distance - 4.75km
Time - 2:30
Water Temperature - Really Rather Cold.

And tomorrow it's the next, rather shorter, stage which sees us officially arrive in Oxford!

Sunday 9 October 2011

Swim 15 Track - Cassington Cut to Trout Inn

Swim 15 Map - Cassington Cut to Trout Inn

Swim 15: Cassington Cut to Godstow Lock

The original plan for this swim was to finish at Kings Lock but many people chose to continue on to Godstow Lock so the swim was extended.

We met in the car park of the Trout Inn at Godstow / Lower Wolvercote.  The car park gets busy but there is an alternate car park a short distance back towards Godstow.

From there we walked along the Oxford Greenbelt Way that conveniently cuts the corner of the meandering Thames, skirts the Wytham Great Wood and joins the Thames path at our entry point opposite the Cassington Cut.  If you are doing this as an afternoon swim, don't underestimate how long this walk takes or you may end up finishing in the dark!

We passed the joining of the Evenlode tributary (you can notice the cooling effect on the water!!) and stopped for late elevenses at a kind of beach about half way, just before an S-bend in the river.

We then carried on to the our exit point at Godstow Lock:

We then walked back along the tow path to the cars at the Trout and had a spot of lunch outside on the terrace in the glorious sunshine.

This swim corresponds to the remainder of swim 27, swim 28 and part of swim 29 in I Love The Thames and is about 4.75km.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Swim 14 Track: Pinkhill Lock to Cassington Cut

Swim 14 Map: Pinkhill Lock to Cassington Cut

Swim 14: Pinkhill Lock to Cassington Cut

We met at the car park at Swinford on the north side of the Thames:

Be aware that a number of spaces in the car park are reserved. Pay the bridge toll booth operator for your parking. We walked upstream to Pinkhill Lock but you can shuttle (5p at the ready) up to the housing estate at Meadow Way, if you prefer:

We jumped in at Pinkhill Lock and swum down towards Swinford, under the Georgian Toll bridge, skirting Eynsham Lock, and on to an exit on the south bank and the Thames path, opposite the Cassington Cut. This is where the Wytham Great Wood, on the south bank, starts receding from the Thames Path:

We then walked back to the Swinford car park, got changed, (shuttled drivers to cars left at Meadow Way (More 5p at the ready)) before putting the Landlady at the nearby Talbot to the test. This swim corresponds to Swim #26 and part of #27 in I Love The Thames according to Michael Worthington and is around 3.4km.

Tell the lockkeepers!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Swim 13 Track: The Ferryman to Pinkhill Lock

Swim 13 Map: The Ferryman to Pinkhill Lock

Swim 13: The Ferryman, Bablock Hythe to Pinkhill Lock

Another access issue. We met at The Ferryman

and swam down to Pinkhill Lock and then walked back to the pub for some nosh. Alternatively, if the weather is chilly, you can park in Farmoor village by Farmoor Reservoir which is a ten-ish minute walk from the lock. Be careful not to flash the locals, they don’t like it!

We stopped for a warm-up where the path rejoins the river a little over 1km from the lock, at the site of Skinner’s Weir.

The swim is 3.8km, and is swim 25 from I Love the Thames.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Saturday 10 September 2011

Swim 12 Track: Northmoor Lock to the Ferryman, Bablock Hythe

Swim 12 Map: Northmoor Lock to the Ferryman, Bablock Hythe

Swim 12: Northmoor Lock to the Ferryman, Bablock Hythe

The secret to this one is leaving your car on the same side of the river as the Ferryman pub. That is the left bank. Your satnav will probably take you to the right bank if you're not careful.  It's only 50 yards as the crow flies, but it's a good 20 minutes by car via the nearest crossing at Newbridge!  The Ferryman is another big pub with an ample car park. Accommodating to swimmers if a little grumpy with it.   We met in the pub car park and walked back upstream to the start at Northmoor Lock.

The distance is 2.5km, and is swim 24 from I Love the Thames.  This marked the end of our first 6 months and David Walliams' first day.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Sunday 28 August 2011

Swim 11 Track: Rose Revived Inn to Northmoor Lock

Swim 11 Map: Rose Revived Inn to Northmoor Lock

Falange of Boboons

With a teacher like Tuckett, it looks pretty certain that OSS Swim the Thames will be selected to represent Team GB in the 2012 synchronised swimming display. The aquadynamic synchro instructress managed to develop a splendid routine with the novice team within minutes. Using stylised moves honed over an impressive career for one so young - from inspirations as diverse as sky-diving, the sex-lives of great apes and flood defences - Tuckett's team were ready to perform the move known as Thames Barrier, before effortlessly rearranging into the Falange of Bobboons by their arrival at Northmoor Lock. Onlookers were startled by their proficiency and the purity of their water-borne display. Captured on camera by onlookers, the synchronised display will dazzle you with its sheer expressiveness. The powerful Thames Barrier even managed to halt the flow of the river for some minutes, a credit to the rigid fitness regime that the team are following. Some experts have compared the team display to a hybrid meeting of the Spanish Civil War and the BBC's light entertainment department. Team member and swan wrangler, AdamknownasAndy, highlighted the poignant synchronicity between the synchro display's original nine members, creating ten channels, and its proximity to the tidal defence's nine piers downstream.

By all means try this at home: Thames Barrier, horny gorilla, left stroke, right stroke, left backstroke, right backstroke, left kick, right kick.

Swim 11: The Rose Revived, Newbridge to Northmoor Lock

We camped at Northmoor Lock which meant we could park at the campsite.  Make sure you arrange the camping in advance.  Heartily recommended – only one shower at the lock, but it’s a lovely shower, and Cathie Camp will bring you logs to your riverside pitch. Otherwise shuttle and walk or there is a small amount of space to park at the lock itself. It’s tricky to find – look for the small sign ‘Lock access only’ off the road to the Appleton tennis club from Appleton Village.

We walked back upstream to the start at the Rose Revived and swum down to Northmoor. We stopped at Hart’s Weir footbridge for the break. This swim is equivalent to 22 and 23 from I Love the Thames and came as sweet relief for veterans of Swim 10 which we did the day before - a mere 3.6km.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Saturday 27 August 2011

Swim 10 Track: Shifford Lock to Rose Revived Inn

Swim 10 Map: Shifford Lock to Rose Revived Inn

Swim 10: Shifford Lock to the Rose Revived, Newbridge

Some of us camped at Northmoor lock so we went there first to set up tents.  Make sure you arrange the camping in advance.

We then met in the car park of the Rose Revived in Newbridge.

Leave your cars there and shuttle as few as possible to Chimney Pieces car park, or as close as you can get. Then walk to the start at Shifford Lock.

This swim is equivalent to 20 and 21 from I Love the Thames and comes in at 4.25km. We stopped at a bit of a difficult scramble point close to Thames Side Farm. At the finish get out right into the beer garden at the Rose Revived for a hearty feed. The pub has a big car park and is accommodating to swimmers. There are ‘steps’ to the water from the pub garden, or a platform for punts a bit beyond.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Monday 22 August 2011

Not so early birds and performing swans

Swim 10 Shifford Lock to Newbridge throw-down
August 21st 2011

Thames swimmer Sharon took to the waters ahead of time to complete Swim 10, with shore supporter Charles, thereby demonstrating the benefits of a quiet swim. All without a wetsuit.

Three kingfisher sightings, one grey heron, three swans, three boats, one powered punt, one poled punt, one canopied rowing boat, one canoe, one magnificent sunset, one ford. One swimmer, one walker (the wonderful Charles).

We approached Shifford Lock via Duxford ford. The water was about 8 inches deep across the ford, with a slippery concrete surface.
Shifford Lock
The most original question of the day was from the canoeists, who unlike all the other boat occupants, did not shout "Isn't it cold?" but instead asked, "How far to the nearest pub?".

The third swan encountered (0.5 mile downstream of Shifford Lock) was most unusual. Firstly, it was not mute but did seagull impressions. Rather good seagull impressions, just not as loud. I kid you not. Secondly, rather than the usual swan behaviour of keeping to one side of the river as I kept to the other side to pass it, it seemed to think it a personal duty to keep fifty yards ahead of me and shepherd me all the way to Newbridge. Once we were within sight of the bridge, it turned round, started an immense flapping and ran on the water to take off, and made it, this immense bird airborne, flying back in the
direction of Shifford.
Swan escort
Two of the kingfisher sightings consisted of a bright turquoise flashin the distance as a bird shot out of the reeds area and headed for cover.  The other sighting was as I swam breaststroke gently just past
a big clump of reeds, only to find a bird with a bright orange breast sitting on a branch extending out over the water, just a few yards away. I sculled quietly in position for a while, trying not to let the
current take me further along. The kingfisher looked at me for awhile, and looked around, showing me its characteristic long sharp beak, and then after a short while, flew off.

I had started at 4.30pm for an early evening swim, and the sun made the whole thing glorious, going from bright sunny sunshine to fantastic dappled effects and long shadows as it got lower in the sky.
There was a magnificent sunset going on after I got to Newbridge and the Rose Revived.
Sunset at Newbridge
By the way, for future reference, there are a couple of getting out points at the Rose Revived. One is a small steeply-angled concrete ramp just below the grassy area with all the pub tables, which looks
feasible if you turn round and sit on the ramp with feet towards the water, then reverse up the bank. However, I didn't fancy providing entertainment for the pub-goers, so I used an exit point further along
the bank, just past the punts/rowing boats hire place. There's a sort of low concrete raft attached to the bank, which you can either haul yourself up over, if you're feeling strong, or get someone to help
you, or at the upstream side of the raft, it is thigh-deep (but muddy) there and easy to get out without assistance. An added plus is that the concrete raft is much less overlooked by people so makes a good
place to change.

There are also lots of points along the route where there are shallow entry/exit points so if you are getting fed cookies from walkers this is easy to manage.

The river temperature felt slightly higher than in previous swims, and I made it to the endpoint half an hour earlier than expected, compared to previous swims. I don't think I have improved my speed that much, so I think the current must have been a bit faster in this stretch of the river - possibly due to the rain a few days ago?


Sunday 21 August 2011

"Don't I know you off the telly?"

Radcot Lock to Tadpole Bridge Swim 8 catch-up
Sunday August 21st

Platypus Pam reports on an eventful day on the river...

17 fishermen, two exceptionally hospitable boats, three very undignified exits and one rude, hateful landlady.  Four fabulous OSS swimmers in wetsuits and three supporters. (Tracy, Chloe, Paul and Pam plus Vicky, Silas and Bob). The first acknowledged use of training fins

The dreaded Swan landlady shouted at us across the river as we set off to the lock that
     "You can’t swim in the river”
     “Why not” (Tracy)
     “There’s a fishing competition today downstream” (Swanlady)
     “Does that stop the boats coming through then as well” (Pam)
     “Well in any case there was a sewage leak up at Faringdon yesterday” (Swanlady)
     Muttered “Nothing’s stopping me”  (Pam)
     “and you can’t leave your cars in my car park.”

Naturally we ignored all the above.  However, there were three fishermen near The Swan but they were from the Radcot angling club and not part of the competition.  Tracy made it her business to chat up every one of the 14 competing fishermen who were spread out along the riverbank downstream of the lock and even asked to inspect the organiser’s catch of tiddlers.  They were mostly very chatty and no one accused us of ruining the river. 
Swimmers fleeing sewage
While we were being abused at the Swan we saw a boat with a lady with very blonde hair.  The boat passed us and, later, was moored with another boat. I nearly fell off my perch when Tracy asked the blond lady to make us a cup of tea. On went the kettle, out came the mugs and biscuits on a plate and we spent a happy half hour chatting to them all about why they were cutting up the river bank with a rusty saw. Hiding bodies was my theory. No, they were trying to dig up worms to fish with!  Tracy refused to get out of the river and entertained us with a demo of aquaerobics and how to fall backwards off an underwater ledge holding a mug of tea without spilling a drop.  Photos will be coming our way.  She exchanged details with one of the mad sawmen. Tracy also uttered the unoriginal line "don’t I know you from the telly” to the blonde lady.
Would you invite these people to drink tea while you worm? (Note: evidence of fins)
Thus fortified, we were further cheered to find Bob, Vicky and Silas waiting for us near Rushey lock.  More tea and Mars Bars and choccy biccies. Fins put on by one swimmer (my lips are sealed) and a pleasant final pootle to Tadpole Bridge where we couldn’t find anywhere to get out. Eventually, despite intending to make a low key exit, we were so hysterical that the whole garden at the pub was watching as Paul helped three ladies heave ourselves seal like on to the jetty.
These swimmers are crazy (tap tap tap)
Lunch at the Rose Revived.

We were anything but fast but we kept together, saw the birds, the flowers, the cows, the reflection of the sun dappling the willow leaves and just had a wonderful day.


[Ed: allegations have been made that fin-wearing was widespread at this event. A steward's enquiry will take place.]

Sunday 14 August 2011

Swim 9 Track: Tadpole Bridge to Shifford Lock

Swim 9 Map: Tadpole Bridge to Shifford Lock

Swim 9: Tadpole Bridge to Shifford Lock

This swim is from Tadpole Bridge to Shifford Lock a distance of 5.6km and is equivalent to swims 18 and 19 of I Love The Thames. We parked some cars at a car park at Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve and shuttled to Tadpole Bridge. The carpark is a mile walk or so from Shifford Lock.

We swam down to Tenfoot Bridge where we got out – on the right bank – for a warm-up stop. The next stretch is shorter and more doable. All in all this stretch is one of the most beautiful, with woodlands and wildflowers coming right up to the bank. And then you get to the Shifford Lock Cut which is a long straight stretch – don’t be fooled by the sign for ‘Lock’ – you’ve still a while to go.  Make sure you know the way back to the car park!

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Saturday 13 August 2011

Swim 8 Track: Radcot Lock to Tadpole Bridge

Swim 8 Map: Radcot Lock to Tadpole Bridge

Swim 8: Radcot Lock to Tadpole Bridge

This stretch is 4.9km, a combination of swims 15, 16 and 17 from MW. We parked in the layby at Tadpole Bridge.  Despite booking for lunch at the Trout we weren't allowed to use their car park.

We walked up to Radcot Lock for the start and swam down. We had a break at Rushey Lock, with about a third to go. When you finish, you can have a pint at the Trout at Tadpole Bridge for your collection. If you’re allowed. And if you can get out. We were able to scramble out where there are some underwater rocks by the pier of the bridge at the right bank, into the garden of the Trout. There is a slightly easier exit on the left bank before you get to the bridge.

Tell the Lockkeepers!

Saturday 30 July 2011

Swim 7 Track: Grafton Lock to Radcot Lock

Swim 7 Map: Grafton Lock to Radcot Lock

Swim 7: Grafton Lock to Radcot Lock

This is a distance of 3.4km equivalent to swims 13 and 14 in Michael Worthington's 'I Love the Thames'. We met at the car park on the island across the river from The Swan at Radcot. The landlady is sadly cut from another cloth than those so far, and may yell at you.

We walked upstream from the car park to Grafton Lock, jumped in and swim back down, past the The Swan and on to Radcot Lock. From there we walked back upstream to cars, got changed and had lunch at the Swan. This is before the swanlady went feral on us. For those who would like a shorter swim, you can get out at the Swan instead of swimming on down to Radcot Lock. Some of us stopped there for cakes and warm drinks.

There is a campsite at the Swan which was useful and pleasant but the swanlady threatened to close it while we were there due to travellers, swimmers and the like. You'd be advised to check in advance and not announce your intentions if you plan to stay!

Sunday 24 July 2011

Swim 6: Buscot Lock to Grafton Lock

This is the Middle Thames, and there’s a bit of boat traffic now, out of Lechlade. Make sure you’ve got a bright hat on and that you can shout at your mates if boats are approaching. We met at the visitors car park at Buscot which is within a few hundred yards / metres walk of Buscot Lock.

We then took a couple of cars, with clothes to change into after the swim, to Kelmscott - which is about half way between Buscot and Grafton Lock. (Access to Grafton Lock by road is problematic).

Alternatively, if you have a small group, you can go straight to Kelmscott and walk to the start along the Thames Path.

The stretch is 5.4km.  The river is, supposedly, fast flowing along this stretch but it wasn’t when we went. We arrived at Grafton Lock and walked back to Kelmscott and ate at The Plough in Kelmscott. Some people had a good experience, some people didn’t. There is a Tea Garden at Buscot in case anyone is still hungry after lunch!

Tell the lockkeepers!

Sunday 12 June 2011

Enter Elvis...

Swim 5: Round House to Buscot Lock
Sunday 12th June

How locky we are
So here we are at Buscot Lock. Cold, because it has been raining all day, non-stop angled rain that hammers in rods into your eyes so that goggles and hats are absolutely necessary. And of course so is our new mascot, Elvis the duck, securely fastened to Jeremy's zip.

More bacon, courtesy of Chris, fueled this 3.9km Sunday swim (8 & 9 of 'I Love the Thames'). It rained all night long on Camp OSS and everyone feels so damp anyway they might as well be in the water. After a few waits and forgotten gloves, we trot down to the bridge at Inglesham and swim this wide part of the river around through Lechlade. The rain doesn't let up, and some of us are tired, from yesterday's swim and from the hovering helicopter that woke some campers while other slept merrily on, sleep arguing with their demons, or just snoring. Angela distracts the swans with bits of biscuits, at least two dozen of them (swans, not biscuits). The big bridge at Lechlade is the only shelter we get and the open pasture land of the sides of the river just add to the exposure. Officially, this is the first miserable swim and where possible Sef reverts back to extreme wading.

At least it starts that way. After we stop at St John's Lock, for cakes and sweet drinks, it's with a great summoning of energy that we reenter but everyone is in good spirits. The river beyond the lock is narrower and more enclosed despite it having been joined at the lock by the River Leach. It becomes more sheltered, with great willows shielding us from some of the rain. Nevertheless, for most of this stretch we are in head-down crawl, eager to get out and back to the Trout for lunch. We get out into the still heaving skies, pose on the lock and head quickly into Buscot where we change in machine sheds.

The Trout at St John's Lock, Lechlade, where we camped, has put us in a nice little side-room in its warreny heart and its wonderful to warm up here. Formerly known as the John the Baptist's Head, giving its name to the adjacent lock, this old hostelry has been around for a while and has a well-deserved reputation for riverside fun dating back a few years. Baskerville remarked in 1690 on it as "a very good inn for entertainment, and they have commonly strong march beer in bottles to sell, and pretty good wine." Prosaically renamed perhaps, the tradition continues and outside, a mini-music festival has drawn a lot of young folk for whom the constant rain appears not too distracting. Inside, we are tired but happy.

Swim 5 Track: Round House to Buscot Lock

Swim 5 Map: Round House to Buscot Lock

Swim 5: The Roundhouse, Inglesham to Buscot Lock

We met at Riverside Park after having shuttled a car or two down to the public car park at Buscot.

We swam down – almost all swimming so you can get away without feet. This is the stretch that Walliams started at. The distance is 3.9km, equivalent to swims 9 & 10 from I Love the Thames. We stopped for a warm up drink and snacks at St John’s Lock, Lechlade, then swam on to Buscot Lock. We then returned to the Trout for a well-earned pub lunch in a room they had kindly reserved for us.

Tell the lockkeeper ahead of the swim that you will be swimming. Usually he will call ahead to let the next lock know and magically boats in between the locks will know to look out for you. It’s just good practice and courtesy too.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Pirate's picnic

Swim 4: Hannington Bridge to Inglesham Round House
Saturday 11th June
We are camping this weekend at the Trout Inn, St John's Lock, near Lechlade. After we've pitched Camp OSS, by the river, and scoffed some bacon sandwiches, we head to Riverside Park, Lechlade. We then shuttle to Hannington Bridge. This is swim 8 of 'I Love the Thames' and a long old 5.7km. Angelina B is again diverted with the Thames Path and our pit-stop might require a little inventiveness on her part. The swans are out in force: Adam wrangles a whole team of them who decide to follow us for a while like menacing hoodies. Or maybe that's what we are. There's much more swimming and very little extreme wading or commando crawl. We swim by mostly lightly wooded banks, quite steep and very lush. Just as we're getting cold and hungry we come across a man in a rowing boat trying to fish out a log.
Logs in the river are apparently worse downstream
Chris and Adam help with direction and the log is pulled out by a tractor. Beyond, a skull and crossbones is flying from its pole, and Angela is beneath it with our lunch. There's a party going on for the farmer and they seem happy for us to join for our picnic. A proper pirate raid of 11 swimmers.
When we get back in, recovering from the cold takes a while, but we start to meet boats coming up from Lechlade - we are approaching the reaches of other leisure-users of the river. We pass the meetings of the River Churn and the Severn and Thames Canal and form here on the river begins to resemble the Thames that we are more familiar with. In fact, we have entered the Middle Thames. The infant Lower Thames with its adventurous crawling, wading, swan attacks and nice landlady is behind us. What awaits us beyond its pirate-infested banks.
Have you seen our boat?
A well-spoken landlubber greets us from the bank. He owns the former mill we are swimming by - a beautiful vernacular property in Inglesham. We invite him in. 'Good god no. I haven't been in for 30 years, not since I built my swimming pool.' He declines our offer to join him in that. Some of our number are heard to mutter that riverside properties should be confiscated from non-river swimmers.
An house that is round
Then the Round House is visible, the cylindrical dwelling of the canalmen. It is a startling property which seems to have a wedding in it today. The tired swimmers get out here, pose by the no-swimming sign, and head back to camp.
You can't swim here. Where these swimmers were swimming.

Swim 4 Track: Hannington Bridge to Inglesham Round House

Swim 4 Map: Hannington Bridge to Inglesham Round House

Swim 4: Hannington Bridge to Inglesham Roundhouse

We met at Riverside Park car park, across the river from Lechlade.

We then shuttled to Hannington Bridge where there is very limited parking.

This swim – and it’s mostly swimming, certainly after the first third or so – is a distance of 5.7km, equivalent to swim 8 in I Love the Thames. The Thames path does not follow the river for the duration of this swim so if you want to get out before the end, this may require a bit of field hopping and navigation. It can be done, but we were lucky and our support trespassed with permission. More reliable might be to take your picnic in a waterproof sack. Swim up to the bridge at Inglesham Roundhouse and scramble out on the right bank and walk along the river to Riverside Park.

We camped at the Trout Inn, Lechlade, which is also the third pub on the Thames (try and stop at the Riverside, Lechlade, for the full house).


Monday 30 May 2011

Last of the Extreme Waders?

Swim 3: Castle Eaton to Hannington Bridge
Bank Holiday Monday 30th May

We meet again at the Red Lion on a cool, rainy May day and slip in again into the still shallow waters. Hannington Bridge is a healthy 4.6km away, with no clear exit points.
Canoe way out
Angelina Ballerina takes the Thames Path but we won't see her again (she has the flasks and biscuits) until the path meets the river again some 3km away at Blackford Farm. We have elided the end of swim 5 and swim 6 and 7 from Michael Worthington's book. Ambitious maybe, but the getting out point at Kempsford Church would involve 14 of us garden-hopping through someone's very elegant garden. In the water, the rain loses its annoyingness. We are just part of the water in and out and this becomes a very cheery swim. There is plenty more wrangling for Adam to do, and we are able to sneak peaks into beautiful riverside properties. But by the time we spy Angela everyone is happy to get a few warm gulps of sweet tea or mulled apple juice and some flapjacks. Most of us get back in for the final stretch to Hannington Bridge, past an enormous 'S.C.A.C.' (South Cerney Angling Club) sign across the river and plenty of fallen trees both those completely submerged and therfore not found until somebody smacks right into them, and those that seem to almost bar the way as they lay across the river.
Making waves
When we arrive at the pool before Hannington Bridge we have a blissful float enjoying the achievement of this stage, before exiting from the bank just under the bridge, having slid inelegantly across the fast-flowing stones below it. We change in the layby - bearing a resemblance to enthusiasts of another sort and a few nettle stings later, our shuttlers have borne us back to the Red Lion for another slap-up lunch.

Swim 3 Track: Castle Eaton to Hannington Bridge

Swim 3 Map: Castle Eaton to Hannington Bridge

Swim 3: The Red Lion, Castle Eaton to Hannington Bridge

We met at the Red Lion again, with permission from the landlady with the promise that we would stay for lunch.

We shuttled a car down to a layby at Hannington Bridge in order that we would have warm dry clothes at the end and we could get back without having to walk.

The Thames is deep enough here to swim along longer stretches, but there are still very shallow parts where wading is unavoidable. We combined the end of swim 5, swim 6 and swim 7 from Michael Worthington's book and covered a distance of 4.6km. It’s a long stretch but there are issues along this stretch with trespass-free exit points. The Thames Path now diverts from the river and the bank is private land. If the going gets too tough, there are scrambleable exit points at approximately 3km where the path touches the river again. Get out just after you have passed under Hannington Bridge on the right bank on to land that is public access and up out by a gate just to the side of the bridge. Rubber feet are essentials again.

Sunday 15 May 2011

The Swan Whisperer

Swim 2: Water Eaton to Red Lion, Castle Eaton
Sunday 15th May
We meet at the Red Lion in Castle Eaton. The pub is on the riverbank and we fill up the carpark with the promise to lunch there later. It is officially the first pub of the Thames, and this is going to be a long old pub crawl. We decide to adjust our plan to lengthen the route to end here, the first pub of the Thames. We walk up to the footbridge, a conspicuous train of rubberclad figures plus dog (Noodles) following the Thames path. Eleven of us slip into the river at Water Eaton and set off sometimes swimming, extreme wading, commando crawling. The commando crawl was developed by Pam and Jo in order to avoid wading. At this point there are deep schisms in the group between those who believe wading is not on and those who have set up the splinter Extreme Wading Society. We manage to find common ground. Or water. There is more water, but the level is still low after a winter and spring of drought. 'Reedy-narrows' (so termed by Tracy) offer fast-flowing flumes where the reed beds have crept across the river forcing the current to flow through thing courses. We lie down and let the river flush us through. 

The swans are still angry and as they rush at us, Sef launches herself in pure cowardice into the bank, leaving Chris and Adam (known as Andy) exposed, but here, Adam's skills as a swan-wrangler come to the fore and he calms the swans in an unwordly way that the rest of us just cannot understand. 

When we get out, most of us are a little chilly. Andrew is warmed by women who undress him, rub him and feed him cake. They are already all toasty by the time those bringing up the rear emerge, elegantly, using the canoe-launcher's ropes, into the Red Lion's garden. Melody Lyall, landlady of this hostelry, has made a strong early claim on the title of best pub landlady on the river. And the draft Otter is certainly worth the trip.

Swim 2 Track: Water Eaton to Red Lion, Castle Eaton

Swim 2 Map: Water Eaton to Red Lion, Castle Eaton

Swim 2: Water Eaton Footbridge to the Red Lion, Castle Eaton

This combines swims 3 and 4 from MW and covers about 3.2km. We parked at the Red Lion car park at Castle Eaton:

We rang in advance and promised to eat lunch there at the end of our swim.  The landlady was super nice and accommodating.  We walked up to start here, as above:

We then waded, occasionally swam, down to the pub at Castle Eaton. A bit of a slog but doable. You can get out earlier, as per MW’s instructions. At the Red Lion there is a launch for canoeists with rope holds. You can haul yourself out on these. The Red Lion is the first pub right on the Thames and the grounds go down to the river so must be part of the Swim the Thames experience. This stretch also needs ‘feet’. There are bottles, rocks, bits of old car, dead crayfish, and other assorted goodies on the riverbed. Also watch out for branches, logs etc that have fallen into the water and may be concealed as even here the river is quite dark.

Monday 2 May 2011

Enter rubber ducks, exit rubber ducks

Swim 1: Cricklade bridge to Water Eaton House
Bank Holiday Monday 2nd May
We walk along the bank from Water Eaton to a small slipway just outside Cricklade, where we walk upstream to High Bridge at Cricklade where we stopped our walk. This section combines swims 1 and 2 from Michael Worthington's 'I Love the Thames', a book that has inspired us and that we will use as a guide, and put to the test. Sef has two rubber ducks dressed Hawaiian style, purchased fortuitously on a trip to swim in San Francisco's bay. These travellers are set forth from the bridge and, albeit upside down, find the river's current to float them. We have to wade as the water is not even up to our knees for much of the route. 
The riverbed is hazardously strewn with bottles, bits of cars, old clothes, dead crabs and stones so we're glad for our rubber feet. The only other hazards are the swans. They are nesting, and one pair deem us perilously close. We squeeze close to the bank trying to show the brooding mother, and panicky dad that we aren't a threat. Sef considers reigning in the ducks, but the current looks like it will sweep them past mid-river. But suddenly they eddy, chose another flow and float straight into the side of the beswanned nest, right themselves and stay there. We must ask David Walliams to collect them on his way through. 
Sometimes the river is waist deep. Sometimes you take a step and mid-sentence find yourself up to your neck. Your comrades laugh. At Water Eaton footbridge, 3km from the bridge, we get out after a swim in a deep, but strongly currented pool. 

Swim 1 Map: Cricklade Bridge to Water Eaton House

Swim 1 Track: Cricklade Bridge to Water Eaton House

Swim 1: Cricklade Bridge to Water Eaton House

This was the first "swim" in our attempt to swim the length of the Thames. This stretch combines swims 1 and 2 from I ♥ the Thames, and covers just over 3km. We parked at the Town Hall car park in Cricklade:

From there we shuttled down to the end point at the footbridge near Water Eaton House - parking is limited in a layby close to an angler’s car park. (If no fishermen are present, it makes for a good outdoor changing room. Shhh, don’t tell anyone).

We walked up the road towards Castle Eaton and took the Bridleway to Water Eaton footbridge.  We walked back up to Cricklade along the Thames Path allowing us to survey the river for obstacles from the safety of the bank. (Recommended practice from Mike's book and particularly relevant for these early sections of the river).  To avoid any gymnastics at Cricklade bridge we got in from a slipway just outside Cricklade:

We then walked upstream to the bridge and then turned round and walked down to Water Eaton house. There were occasional pools to swim in but mainly this is a wading section in these days of dry weather. Cricklade has pubs, Castle Eaton has the best pub, the Red Lion.

It would be foolhardy to attempt this without a decent pair of 'feet' - a pair of surf boots with thick grip soles or cheapy beach shoes of the petrol station / supermarket / bucket-and-spade shop type with a pair of wetsuit socks, or even a pair of old trainers.

It should also be noted that the banks of the river on the stretches leading from Cricklade to Lechlade are often owned by angling clubs.  In order to avoid negative interaction with anglers it is recommended to do these stretches out of fishing season.

Friday 22 April 2011

Walk 1 Map

Walk 1 Track

Walk 1: Source to Cricklade

The (alleged) source of the Thames is close to Kemble in Gloucestershire. The first part of the Thames is not swimmable (although there may be paddleable parts), so this first stretch is a walk of approximately 12 miles from the source to Cricklade. On reflection it would be perfectly possible to walk in the bed of the Thames for long stretches whether wet or dry. We met at the Town Hall car park in Cricklade. This car park gets busy, so make sure you get an early start!

From there we shuttled up to the source, leaving cars in Cricklade for the finish. We parked at the lay-by on the A433 but there is another layby closer.

From there we walked along the road to the source

before following the Thames Path to Cricklade. The finish point of the walk is on the West side of the bridge on Cricklade High Street:

Check the weather reports before the day so you don't bring too much/too little clothing and of course dig out the sensible shoes. Consider minimum swim gear in case you decide to start swimming early.