England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿: Paddling the Thames in Oxfordshire

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time to head home … so canoe into the bus & back with the train. Pretty easy after all to travel around with a canoe ;o)

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London: Home sweet home, school & sightseeing

It was nice to be back in London after a month up North in Scotland. Sleeping in your own bed is just different than in your own tent. But it was busy. As usual when i am back home there is a host of things to take care of. First up cleaning all the gear!

Alex was staying over as usual and brought loads of homework with him on top of his busy club schedule – piano, scouts, russian school, football, sunday church… You name it. There was also a new person to be met for all of us… My lodgers girlfriend. We did it in style over a good raclette dinner.

For laura it was the second time in london, but the first one with a bit of time at hand to explore london. Arguably far from everything. But we managed Greenwich & canary wharf, cycled through the west of town, camden lock market, the regents canal by boat, buckingham palace, natural history mueseum and explored tower bridge and its surroundings. I also manged to show some of my favourite hangouts – in particular the world’s best pizza at the Oak in Notting Hill.

Time went past in a heartbeat before laura returned to colombia and i made my way to vienna to start cycling the sultan’s trail (more of that in my next post).

Outdoor season can begin

Almost three weeks back in London are over. Busy as hell to be frank. DIY in Alex house completed, motorcycle license in my pocket, some great time catching up with friends and neighbors, trips to Devon and Liverpool and of course loads of exciting football at home or nearby pubs. Congrats to France. With Alex school also over, the outdoor season can begin… First up is a canoe trip from Usti nad Labem to Cuxhaven on the Elbe.

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Catching up with friends

There were a few this time whether in the Tiroler Hut with Arndt, David and Isaac, in Liverpool with Steve (see here for a little background), at Lord’s cricket ground with the old Morgan Stanley gang, with Jane and Dom over some tasty BBQ, my godson and his parents, Minna & Ed’s summer party or over one of the many world cup games with Alex, Hubert and the boys from the hood. Busy.

Motorcycle license: Tick

After CBT and theory during my previous visit in London, I spent 4 days practicing and testing on the big bike. Passed both tests without problems, but still got a bit of the test anxiety. It was also good that the tests worked out first time, as the DVLA center is pretty busy and the next slot wouldn’t have been before late August. Now I can begin to think about some motorbike trips. But let’s leave that for another day.

DIY done: Tick

Alex flat is back in order, all damp spots removed and new terrace built. Monster job that kept me busy literally all moments that i wasnt training for the license. Good to have it fixed. Makes for an accomplished feeling going into the canoe trip.

London: Happy birthday Alex!

It was nice to be back for a little longer after my time in Amsterdam had come to an end. But it was busy. Alex’ 8th birthday, Champions league final, DIY job at Alex house (terrace done … yeah) and lots of tutoring in Russian, Spanish & Dutch and history classes (first up the Saxon’s history in England between 5AD and 9AD). So I managed just a few catch-ups with the local Maida Vale crowd and some friends. Now it’s time for Berlin, Barcelona, Ibiza and St. Petersburg before London has me back early July. 

Happy birthday Alexander: He was counting down the days to this important day and would tell me every morning how many days were left (literally the first thing he said when he woke up). He was also not shy to remind me how much he wanted to have a Nintendo Switch including writing messages into my language class book (just to make sure ;o). Well, he got one and was mega happy (less so the case for his mum). It’s a cool device and very practical for travelling and playing at home / via TV alike. An app lets you further control how much he plays. I also got him a life vest ahead of my Elbe river tour in summer, for which Alex would like to join for a few days. In the evening of his day I fulfilled another of his wishes – racket with mum & dad. He has truly become a racket lover. The party with his friends took place later, but was megacool. We visited the trampoline park Flip Out in Brent CrossFlip Out in Brent Cross with  13 other kids and let it bounce. Pizza & an excellent birthday cake as well as the mandatory party bags made for a great event. Thanks go to Rob for hosting us free of charge! 

DIY – terrace done: I left it a little late to order all the material I needed for the job and delays came on top. Still, I managed to build the new terrace in just two days and think it looks really neat. Alex loved to help out here and there and is really glad to have his outside playing area back. Same goes for his dog Charlie – who did’t hold off to baptise it with a good pee. Sadly, the plastering job inside has to wait for the special plaster to arrive … useless company, but then restoration plaster to avoid damp issues in the future is not so easy to come by here in England. Well, they can do it while i am away and then painting is next.