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.