Saturday 30 June 2012

Swim 28: Shillingford to Carmel College

This is a swim of 5.1km and is approximately swim 39 and 40 in the I ♥ the Thames book.

We met at the hard standing at Carmel College. This is private property and you should, like we did, seek permission before parking there. The gates may be locked without warning, so don't say you weren't:

We then shuttled up to the road opposite the Benson Cafe:

From there we walked upstream to the entry point near Shillingford:

We then swam downstream, being careful to avoid the weir at Benson. At the bridge in Wallingford there is a small beach where we stopped for coffee and cakes:

The exit point is at the old Boat House at Carmel College. There is an alternative exit point on the bank opposite (not fully scouted by our team) in case you fail to secure permission to exit at Carmel.

Swim 28 Track - Shillingford to Carmel College

Swim 28 Map - Shillingford to Carmel College

Sunday 17 June 2012

Swim 27: Day's Lock to Shillingford

This is a beautiful stretch of the Thames with no specific hazards and is about 5.4km long. It constitutes Swims 37 and 38 and a little bit of Swim 39 from Michael Worthington's I ♥ the Thames.

We met at Shillingford Bridge Hotel:

We parked in the hotel car park, changed and organised shuttle cars/personnel carriers, but if it's a nice day you can walk to the start.  We left our dry clothes in a vehicle that stayed at the hotel.  We then shuttled cars to the lay-by on Henley Road, Dorchester:

We then walked to the start at Day's Lock (a little under 2 km) but if you are feeling lazy, you can try to find a parking place by the church at Little Wittenham close to the start:

Please wear appropriate foot protection for the walk.  Days Lock is the main gauging station for measuring the flow of water in the Thames. Overlooking the lock is Little Wittenham church. Twin hills rise above the church which are known locally as Mother Dunch’s Buttocks or locally as Berkshire Bubs (from I Never Knew That About The Thames by Christopher Winn).

We stopped for tea and cakes at a small beach near the shuttle parking.  Note that this is the final getting out spot before Shillingford Bridge:

We then continued on to another small beach opposite a prominent stone built wall approximately 500m downstream from the bridge:

We then walked back to the hotel to change and stayed there for a spot of lunch. 01865 858 567

Shillingford Bridge, built in 1827, is exactly half way between Windsor and Lechlade and between Reading and Oxford ( from I Never Knew That About The Thames by Christopher Winn).

Tell the lock keeper!

Swim 27 Track - Day's Lock to Shillingford

Swim 27 Map - Day's Lock to Shillingford

Saturday 16 June 2012

Swim 21: Kennington to Sandford Lock. 25 march 2012.

Another beautiful sunny morning saw us meet at the Kings arms car park near Sandford lock for our last winter swim. Allegedly it would be spring next month, but apart from the freezing waters, it has been a wonderful winters swimming.

We walked to the beach near Kennington where we exited swim 20 and took a little time to enjoy the setting, which was beautiful.

The sun was shining and we could feel its heat, so some swimmers were wetsuit free today, although the water was in a double figure number finally. A cool 10 degrees. Dave the Shark, joined us again to protect us from those nasty swans.

                                                      Off went most of the group.

                                       Dave the Shark is doing his job. No swans anywhere.

                           Just look at this gorgeous day and location. This is why we come.

As we passed the Four Pillars Hotel, we all feel a stream of warm water and a familiar smell of washing detergent and a suspicious wholesome stink. No swallowing at all guys. BLURGH!!.
The proper authorities were notified instantly.

                       A strange looking Joe 90 summer house distracted us from the stinky bit.

And at last we arrived at the Kings arms where one of our  swimmers makes a very entertaining exit at the steps with help from fellow swimmers.  Well done Sharon.

                              And finally we change and have another wonderful lunch and natter.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Swim 26: Clifton Lock to Day's Lock

After meeting in Clifton Hampden, a cloudy but initially dry day, we trooped off along the Thames path in the upstream direction towards the lock. Neil, meanwhile, bearing in mind the difficulties of yesterday's swim, took a shortcut, heading downstream early to make sure he got to the midway refreshments point in advance of the fastest swimmers.

At Clifton Lock, at twenty-five past eleven, we got into the water, which produced assorted yelps and gasping, mostly from the hardy three without wetsuits: Adam, Lesley and Sharon.

The swimmers get in at Clifton Lock. Lesley and Adam can be seen near the steps, in only speedos and rash vests.

Although we didn't know it when we entered the water, the river temperature had dropped significantly from yesterday, and was now down to 14.2°C.

Somehow, Colin managed to get his toe injured. I hasten to add that this was not because it got bitten by a pike (Adam's rumour); the latest and best rumour is that it was the result of a particularly vicious concrete wall at the lock.

The current was still flowing nicely to assist us, and we half bobbed, half swam through Clifton Hampden, admiring the strong lines of the fine red brick architecture of the bridge rapidly disappearing into the distance behind us.

The view from the bridge at Clifton Hampden, from the point of view of the bank support crew.
The last of the swimmers can be seen vanishingly rapidly in the far distance.

A little past the bridge, a flotilla of Canada geese swam purposely into the middle of the river as if to claim all of its full width, and then suddenly they all took off! Quite a sight, a row of geese bums with furious side flapping, all in synch. I hate to admit it, but they made a better Thames barrier than we can manage.

There were some swans out too, but the river is much wider than in the Upper Thames, where we had problems with swans a year ago, and we could circle to avoid them easily enough without recourse to Adam's swan wrangling skills.

Further on, Pam pointed out to us her dream house, a beautiful old redbrick house with cream roses climbing up a trellis, in a lovely garden backing onto the river, even with a metal ladder on the bank for swimmers.

Later Pam managed to find a large log, and bumped into Tracy with it; cue lots of jokes about Pam's floating log and how big it was.

Meanwhile Neil had found a good midway spot for a refreshments stop, and he and Angela busied themselves with copious coffee delivery, cookie dispersal and chocolate doughnuts distribution (thanks for the doughnuts, Naoko!).

Chloe gets coffeed and cookied, whilst Neil looks on.

This beachy spot was better than Neil had initially realised: not only was there a shallow mud shelf near the bank to assist getting out, but when getting back in again, the mud shelf's sudden steep drop-off made for some comical swimmer re-entry trajectories. We hope the bank support crew were amused as much as our dignity was lost.

Freshly fuelled, off we all went again, initially quite speedily, but then the pace started to flag a bit for the last kilometre or so, until Harry spotted a tennis ball floating along in the current. Anyway it turns out that it's surprisingly feasible to play piggy-in-the-middle even whilst you're all (Claire, Chris, Harry, Sharon, Tracy) swimming downstream. However you might like to note that if the upstream participants keep throwing the ball so that it falls short when tossed to the downstream participants, then the downstream participants (Tracy, in this case) are likely to complain that you are making them swim further. Ahem.

Throughout the swim, we had seen a fair few boats, many decked out with Jubilee bunting, and we said hello to many of the boaters. At one of the last of the narrowboats encountered, Tracy spotted some more people, shouting out "Hello narrowboat dwellers!!". Trying to cadge tea and cakes again, our Tracy. But this didn't look promising when one man yelled back "Hello, crazy people!!". Then Tracy pointed out that he was the one with an axe in his hand... "Fair point.", he said.

This time, the current stayed with us until right up to Day's Lock; unlike yesterday, there was no horrid canal without a flow for the last part of the swim.

Day's Lock is as pretty as folks say. However on the upstream side of the lock, it only had one ladder, which looked like it had lost a heated argument with a narrowboat. We were recommended to get out the other side instead.

Katia arrived first and instinctively chose the muddiest spot to get out at:

One of the newbies got out, put his shorts on and ran across the fields, was he perhaps training for the Blenheim triathlon? The rest of us clambered up a grassy bank without getting too muddy in the process.

Jeremy arrives at Day's Lock. Behind him, the Thames Piggy-in-the-Middle team are approaching the lock after a hard training session.

Afterwards, we repaired to the same pub as yesterday, for more good food and company.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Swim 25 (and Camp): Culham Lock to Clifton Lock. 4th June, 2012

Monday was dry and sunny when we met in the car park next to Culham Lock. Unlike early last week towards the end of the mini-heatwave, when the river temperature had been more than 19°C, the Thames was now down to less than 16°C:

A couple of swimmers who were time-pressed got in around eleven o' clock, and the rest of us had one of Adam's safety briefings:

The assembled masses of the Extreme Bobbing and Wading Society.

We then started getting in at ten past eleven:

Colin follows Chris into the Thames.

Shortly after the lock, we butterfly-ed under the Culham bridge, and joined the main flow coming from the weir near Sutton Pools.

Swimmers in the distance just downstream of Culham Bridge.

Here found ourselves handily assisted by the current. This wasn't quite as much assistance as we'd had a fortnight ago when we were whooshed through Abingdon, but it was still enough to impress Pam, who had not been there for the previous swim, and she much enjoyed bobbing along without actually having to do any swimming.

Neil had been stung by a jellyfish - not in the Thames, we hasten to add, it was whilst holidaying somewhere hot and exotic (well it sounded hot and exotic to us) - and his wound hadn't healed sufficiently yet, as he was very happy to show us, so he was forming part of the bank support, along with Bob and Charles.

Adam had told us to expect a getting-out spot just after the railway bridge, approximately halfway, for refreshments, but this spot failed to materialise. It's probably just as well, as just for once, the bank support were having difficulties keeping up with the swimmers, due to the strength of the current!

Indeed even the bank support known as His Vanness who was driving to the end point had had difficulties keeping up: despite a fairly direct route by road, he only just managed to get to Clifton Lock in advance of the first of the swimmers, who arrived at ten to twelve.

Katie arrived second, and promptly pulled a face for the photographer.

Meanwhile, back near the railway bridge, as we went past we were experiencing waves. Waves? Surely we hadn't reached the Thames estuary already? You sometimes get chop in the Thames, and some small temporary waves if a boat is passing, but these were much bigger, as if some giant boat was passing us hundreds of metres away to our right. There was a boat that had gone past, but it was now a couple of hundred metres downstream and surely couldn't still be causing this.

The answer, not obvious when in the water, was easier to spot from the bank: there was an outflow joining the river which then passed by a promontory to create a giant whirlpool effect, from which came the waves.

Later on there was a weir on the right, which Adam had strenuously warned us about in advance since there were no danger signs, it just sluiced off from the right-hand bank of the river, and so we had to keep left. It turned out that there were two danger signs, one lovely big red one (but only visible from downstream of it), and the other was a very small yellow sign affixed to the weir itself. The sign is problematic though: if you are close enough to read what the sign says, you are already too close to avoid going over the weir!

The weir took with it the lovely current, so at this point we got a bit bored, since the scenery wasn't that interesting, just trees and overgrown mooring spots and signs prohibiting mooring, so we just made for the lock without lingering.

Hywel and Paula(?) arrive at Clifton Lock.

The last of us were out at a quarter to one. With a swim of nearly 3 miles, doing it in that time was still quite a current assist!

We made for the Barley Mow pub at Clifton Hampden, and enjoyed a nice hot meal. At the pub, Adam gave us another of his briefs, this time revealing to us the hitherto-secret camping arrangements.

Those of us camping travelled in a convoy to the grounds of Carmel College, near Wallingford. This turned out to be something of a Scooby Doo experience: we were in the grounds of an abandoned college with many derelict buildings, that hadn't had pupils since the mid nineties, complete with security guards, dogs and a janitor!

Chloe, Claire and Sharon look at the derelict art gallery in the college grounds.

However, unlike Scooby Doo, the janitor was very nice. We were told he lives in this boathouse:

The boathouse, just opposite from where we camped.

Once we'd had a look around the college, we put up our tents on a lovely green patch of land. Paula had some nice festive Jubilee bunting suitable for the occasion:

Bertie arrived with Sef and Angela, and we all sat round and had a good natter:

The campsite was right next to the Thames, and just before sunset, we had a full moon swim. We were going to wait for the full moon but decided it would take ages to rise sufficiently above the horizon, and by then we'd be colder and we didn't have a roaring fire to warm ourselves by, only a couple of small barbecues. The inflow from the little stream on our right was significantly colder than the Thames itself, where the current was pretty strong.

Just before sunset, looking upstream from our camping grounds at the swimmers.

Indeed it was difficult to make much headway (on indeed any headway, for some of us!) upstream. After 20 mins of swimming in one (admittedly very pretty) spot, we gave up and returned to the muddy getting-in spot.

After the swimming of the day, we ate very well: there were plenty of burgers, sausages, veggie burgers and buns (Adam had fetched an enormous pile of baps). There were also chocolatey things, and Sharon had brought Gulab Jamun for dessert. She explained that these were an Indian dessert where sponge-like balls are soaked in syrup, which is traditionally flavoured with rose water, but she likes to use alcohol! Half were soaked in a Malibu syrup and half in a Kirsch syrup. Delicious!
We slept well that night, some of us on cosy airbeds. The campsite was green and lovely, and its peace and quiet was only occasionally interrupted by the sound of distant cuckoos. We woke in the morning to the sounds of the megaphones urging on some rowing crews, who were training just a few metres away in the Thames.

Friday 8 June 2012

Swim 20. Iffley lock to Kennington. 19th feb 2012

On yet another sunny winter morning, we met at the health centre car park opposite the tandem public house in Kennington.

We exchanged stories and waited for the stragglers before setting off on our way to the start of the days swim.

                                                      Across the marshy field.

                                   Along the river bank upstream. What's Steve got in his bag?.

                                                         Further and further we go.

                            And there it is. The muddy quagmire which is our entry point. YUCK.

                                                   Its no good looking at it, get in.

                                                      URGHH!!, its horrible.

                                                        Its like glue, we're stuck.

                                                              At last, open water.         

                                                Just a little further and we can swim.

                                                  Thats more like. This is brilliant.

                                            What a beautiful place, its a joy to be here today.

     The first appearance of  "DAVE THE SHARK". Don't worry, he's a friendly shark. I hope.
                                    Watch the blog for report from DAVE THE SHARK.

                                  No boats, no swans, just cold open water beautiful views.
                                                               Thanks DAVE.

                                    Flanked by our trusty shore crew armed with coffee and cakes.

                                         In full flow now, and flying along at a good pace.

                                            Swimming past the quaint local landmarks.

                                And we reach the beach near Kennington, very very cold indeed.

                                                          More swimmers join us.

                                                  And more blue gloved swimmers.

                                                                    Thats better.

                                After a walk across the fields back to the car park, we get changed.

                                            We study the new calender of swims for 2012.

                                                                And here it is.

Another wonderful swim completed, we retire to the Tandem public house for lunch and a good natter.