Looking at the thermostat would not have given you much of a hint, but indeed it was already May and the first bank holiday weekend had arrived. Alex had just come back from his first overnight schooltrip in Norfolk and i had promised him a canoe trip and time in the countryside, which he adores.
Early, early start…
I booked the early train to get us out of London an into Oxford before 9am. I had a feeling that putting the Canoe together would take a while… I was spot on!
The train station is pretty close to the river and perfect to put in a folding canoe (if you don’t mind the puzzled looks of people trying to figure out what you are hiding in this huge green bag). I must have fiddled with the canoe for more than an hour, repair a part of the frame that had snapped and found it generally not that easy to assemble the Ally 15DR canoe given low temperatures (skin not very elastic) and different to last time (Elbe paddle (day 1): Usti n. L. to Decin) i was alone to do it.
Anyway, by 9.30am we hit the river and the adventure was underway.
Get you license sorted
To paddle the Thames requires a boat license for the part that is regulated by locks (GBP10 for a weekly one for unpowered canoes). Closer to the sea and in London you can go without, but for paddlers the tides can be a nuisance. You can sort everything here: www.gov.uk/environment-agency
Day 1: Oxford to Abingdon
We managed 17km down the river taking in the amazing scenery of Oxford along with its rowing club that was rather busy that fine Saturday morning. We chatted away with lock keepers (we had several on day 1, including the Thames’ largest lock at more than 9ft drop), watched a motocross race and plenty of wildlife – mainly birds such as geese, swans, ducks, herons – as well as the idyllic architecture of Oxfordshire. English countryside at its finest. All culminated with a big lunch at the Nags Head in Abingdon before we explored the cosy town and got some shopping done.
Since Abingdon camping was full, we went for a night of wild camping further down the river. We pitched the camp just in time to escape the rain mid afternoon. A cold night with temperatures as low as +1 degrees lied ahead of us, but it turned out ok.
Day 2: Abingdon to Shillingford
We started the morning with sunshine and to the noise of early Sunday rowers passing by. Quick breakfast and off we went.
It was again pretty fresh, but alex enjoyed himself wrapped in a blanket and lying on my inflatable mattress instead of sitting on not so comfy plastic canoe seats. We managed another 16km before his attention span run out and we were hungry. So we stopped in Shillingford where you have camping and restaurant right by the bridge.
A word of advise, don’t land your boat on the upstream side of the river. It is private property (the Boathouse) and the owners are nasty. They stole our paddles and only handed them back on the threat of police getting involved. What a bunch of miserable people.
In the afternoon we had time to stroll around and wandered over to Warborough with its famous and stunning Six Bells pub (both the village and the pub featured in the British detective drama Midsomer Murders). A cricket match was on too!
Once back in camp we all enjoyed the above mentioned episode with the owner of the boathouse, but the subsequent evening was lovely. The canoe incidence helped to get to know Pippa & Garry (and of course their dog Pepsi). They treated us to finest English hospitality over BBQ & drinks and we had some really entertaining conversations (later also joined by another couple that gave them a surprise visit to the campsite). Thanks for the evening.
Time to head home … so canoe into the bus & back with the train. Pretty easy after all to travel around with a canoe ;o)