Sunday 26 August 2012

Swim 34: Thames Valley Park to Shiplake College

We did this swim on the Sunday of Reading Festival weekend but there were no issues - you would have never had known it was on.

We met at Shiplake church (there is limited parking along the road opposite the church, which is obviously a potential issue on a Sunday). 

There is alternative on-street parking available on Mill Lane, here: 

We left as many cars here as possible here. We also called the college and got permission to leave a few at Shiplake College boathouse with our dry clothes.

We then shuttled to Thames Valley Park for the start of the swim.

We swam down to Sonning Lock where we stopped for a snack, then down to a beach just past the 'Wires' for proper refuelling and stopping for anyone who wanted a shorter stretch before continuing down to Shiplake College for a total distance of just over 6km.

Swim 34 Track - Thames Valley Park to Shiplake College

Swim 34 Map - Thames Valley Park to Shiplake College

Friday 24 August 2012

A Swim #1 catchup - Cricklade to Water Eaton

Sunday the 19th was one of the most glorious days in August 2012, the temperature forecast to reach 27°C. We were four swimmers: Sarah, Paola, Sharon and Tim, plus one walker, Charles.

On the slipway at Cricklade. "So if you find a submerged log, do one of your karate chops on it, ok?"

We got in from the little slipway next to the car park at the end of Abingdon Court Lane in Cricklade, and found ourselves in 18 °C fast-flowing water that came up to our chests. Some locals informed us that the water wasn't usually this high; typically, the water came up to the end of the slipway, but today, the water at the end of the slipway reached up to our belly buttons, approximately 1m above normal.

The current was lovely! Unlike far downstream sections of the Thames which have been flowing at "can just about tell which way is downstream" speed for several weeks now, here we were whooshed along nicely, at about swimming speed, i.e. going upstream was not an option!

There were a lot of weeds, drifting along the river surface, most of which we could glide over quite happily. After a while the forwards swimmers gave up shouting weed warnings to those further behind, finding it much more efficient to only give advance notice of the non-weedy patches. As we went further along, the water deepened, to approximately 2m, and the weeds did get noticeably less intrusive, so we could spend less time avoiding weeds and more time swimming freely and enjoying the surroundings.

The sunlight on the river was just glorious, rendering the bright green weeds below shot through with gold, mixed in with occasional red-stemmed weeds. So we spent a lot of time just gazing downwards and watching the weeds whizz past...

Sharon looks down at the weeds.

...and bobbing...

Paola and Tim float along.

...and generally relaxing.

Sarah floats on her back.

We made a certain amount of entertainment for ourselves: Sarah treated us to a rendition of the song on the Battle of Agincourt. We also found several trees growing in the middle of the river that were too tempting to pass up, and so we climbed and hung off various branches. Once we were all into sloth or other interesting positions, we hollered for the photographer, who was nowhere to be found (later he claimed the Thames path didn't go near the river at that point). In retrospect, perhaps it is best that there are no photos of that part of the swim!

Halfway along, we stopped for some delicious chocolate-cherry brownies, baked by Sharon, carried by the fabulous Charles.

We all thought that this swim was the best (or one of the best) swims we'd ver had. You can tell from the smiles on our faces.

We also did a fair bit of diving down to look at what was to see under the surface. Sarah got down close enough to the sandy bottom to be within arm's reach of a crayfish. She was going to bring it up to show us, and then realised that as crayfish had pincers, maybe she'd better not risk it. So she told us about it, and got the impression that we didn't believe her. On the contrary, we believed her all too well, and when diving down, took a good look around and kept our hands to ourselves!

Later on, Sarah shouted to the rest of us, further ahead, and she seemed to have got something. We thought she might have got another crayfish for us to look at, so we all grabbed hold onto weeds to stay still for a bit whilst Sarah caught up, and she proudly displayed her catch: a golf ball!

Sarah with her trophy.

We also saw a few swans along the route. Unlike the swans I had encountered on Swim #2, who had all panicked upon seeing us and fled down the river, these swans were much better trained, and knew exactly what to do. We had no trouble easing past them quietly and gently, keeping close to the opposite bank.

The well-trained swans let us slip past.

That is, until we got to just shy of Water Eaton, where we encountered the first daft swan from Swim #2 again, who, despite being in a very wide part of the river, as far away from us as it could possibly get, again could not get the hang of letting us past and fled away from us downstream.

The swim ended all too soon, and we got out, in the glorious sunshine, and walked the couple of miles back to Cricklade.

On returning to the car park, most of us couldn't resist the blackberries that were growing nearby, and went picking. As a result, I can now offer these top tips for Thames blackberrying:

  • There are lots of nice blackberries growing near the car park in Cricklade.
  • The locals know about them too.
  • You look silly picking blackberries in swimming gear, until you pick the blackberries that are only accessible from the water.
  • With swimming gear on, you are better equipped to reach the water-accessible blackberries than the locals are.
  • Some of the locals don't mind getting their clothes wet in the slightest.
  • If it stings you, it's a nettle. If it stabs you, it's a bramble, but at least you're on the right plant.
  • Try bending down and looking upwards to spot more blackberries hiding under the leaves.
  • A "I love the Thames" swim hat makes an excellent impromptu container for blackberries.
  • Swimsuits are less resistant to thorns than silicone swim hats.
  • The box you brought the cookies in makes an excellent blackberry container to keep tipping the contents of your hat into.
  • The Thames itself is very handy for rinsing out the silicone hat afterwards.
  • Silicone hats rinse well, with no purple-black berry stains left at all!
  • Try to choose fellow swimmers who aren't interested in picking blackberries, that way you get more for yourself.
  • Blackberry and apple jam is The. Most. Delicious. Jam. Ever.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Swim 33: Tilehurst to Thames Valley Park

As per swim 32, this swim is also longer than usual at 6km due to our desire to make it through Reading before festival weekend.

We met at this carpark at Thames Valley Park, Reading:

We left as many cars as possible here at the end spot and shuttled up to the start at River View in as few cars - leaving dry gear at TVP.

We then swam down past the site of Reading Festival which was being set up. At the first bridge, we made sure we went through the left hand arch as the main channel is through the right. After the bridge some people went under the pedestrian bridge leading to a restaurant and others went to the left of the island through the little marina.

There was then another island. Again, some people went to the right which is the shorter route and the main channel and others went left which is longer but with less boat traffic.

Immediately after the second bridge we swam to the right of the river to aviod the weir and stopped for a break at Caversham Lock.

We then swam on and got out at the car park at Thames Valley Park.

Caution:  We encountered significant numbers or large river craft on this swim.

Swim 33 Track - Tilehurst to Thames Valley Park

Swim 33 Map - Tilehurst to Thames Valley Park

Saturday 11 August 2012

Swim 32: Pangbourne to Tilehurst

Swims 32 and 33 were slightly longer than usual as we needed to clear Reading before the festival weekend. This swim is just short of 7km.  We met at Scours Lane:

We then left as few cars as possible at here - which is the end of the swim - with all dry gear and shuttled the rest up to the beginning of the swim at Pangbourne River Meadow Carpark, as per swim 31.

From Pangbourne we swim down to Mapledurham Lock (which is on the right side of the river) for a munch stop, and then on down to a little dock just short of the meeting point.

We then got changed and shuttled back up to Pangbourne for lunch.

Caution: On this swim we started to encounter significant numbers of large river craft.

Swim 32 Track - Pangbourne to Tilehurst

Swim 32 Map - Pangbourne to Tilehurst