All the best plans are made in a pub..., and what better way to keep you children out of mischief on a bank holiday weekend than to take them canoeing from pub to pub along the Thames!
So on Friday after work we set off for the 1 hour 30 min journey to Lechlade on Thames. A total of 13 people joined the trip with ages ranging from 4 (Abigail) to 69 (Sorry Peter!) Those of you who have been on James™ adventures before know that the organisation tends not to be much more than "turn up at the Trout pub in Lechlade on Friday night". This can be quite alarming for first timers and this time was no exception for Peter who turned up first only to be told that the camping had been canceled and there was no way he could possibly stay! Eventually the landlady was called and remembered the booking and all was well. By this time the children had all disappeared off around the campsite and made new friends. We settled in for some good pub food and folk music from Edd Donovan and the Wandering Moles. Finally at about 1am James who had been working late arrived with the canoes in tow. We were all set for an adventure.
After a leisurely breakfast on saturday morning we were joined by Sue who had come up from southampton. We set off down the Thames. The upper Thames at Lechlade is very quiet with hardly any boats even on a bank holiday weekend. We slowly drifted and paddled downstream, even Helen and Paul who had not paddled for 5 years had no trouble keeping up with the leisurely pace. Out in front Zara (8) was leading the way in the little Old Town Heron Jr determined she would be first. After about an hour we came to our first lock of the Thames. We rafted up, and with some trepidation sent the children to operate the lock gates. 240,000 liters of water later we were 6ft lower and as the lock gates creaked open we picked up our little lock keepers and set off down the river.
The leisurely pace was continued interspersed with people swapping boats and playing games. We stopped at the Plough for a picnic lunch and managed to clean the pub out of bottled beer in the process! Eventually at about 5:00 we arrived at the Swan at Radcot where we pulled our canoes out to camp on a grassy island. Tents were pitched and we headed off to the Swan for dinner. We all enjoyed dinner though the landlord of the Swan is so grumpy it's almost comical. At one point he refused to serve anyone tea. (If you ever visit, do ask for tea just to cause trouble.)
The next morning we woke to find Sue had disappeared! To the warmth and frothy coffee of Starbucks it later transpired. After a shared (and slightly random) breakfast of cereal, malt loaf and boiled eggs we packed up the tents ready for the final leg of our adventure. After playing musical boats the older children, Alice (10) and Ben (8), ended up paddling the kayaks and the ever dauntless Abigail (4) sat in a kayak being towed by her mum and dad. The day continued much as the previous day with picnics, locks and baby swans. We arrived at the end of our journey at the Trout at Tadpole Bridge and loaded the canoes back on the trailer for the trip back to the Trout at Lechlade. After dinner together, we spent one last night camping before heading back to the club the next day.
This part of the Thames has to be one of the nicest rivers to paddle in the UK and all the better for having been able to share it with friends and family.
‘Ben, do you want to come sailing for a few days?’ Long pause as my son considers the offer. I wait patiently, but secretly excited at this opportunity to do some proper sailing. Finally he shakes his head and says ‘I’m not really sure I want to, Dad.’ Not to be discouraged (I hide my crushing disappointment) I enquire as to his reasons for not wanting to go. His reply, ‘We will get stuck out at sea if there’s no wind.’ I suggested that the boats would also have motors so if the wind stops we would be able to still get around. ‘Oh,’ he says ‘well OK then, I’ll go.’ And with that we are joining the Drascombe Rally.
Organised with a level of military precision (certain members bringing their career skills with them I think) we had the communal square marked out and a request for us to pitch our tents in lines. However the civilians (most of us!) pitched in a more random affair. Our campsite had their own festival toilets and running water – the outdoor shower was particularly worthy of mention.
Morning briefing was 9.00 sharp each day and crew was allocated, boats sorted and we were on the water in no time. Ben and I found ourselves crewing for day 1 on the Muckle Flugger (I pronounced that wrong a couple of times!!!) and enjoyed the day with light winds completing the treasure hunt around Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island. Ben’s first sailing trip comes with the quote, ‘It was very fun and I enjoyed it a lot!’
Wednesday found us on our very own club boat ‘Little Dipper’ with a crew of 6 in total – including a baby. This trip found us heading out to open sea, past the chain ferry and heading West up the coast. Well we reached a quiet area of the Sandbanks beach at least. We met up with Kittiwake and the children (and a couple of adults) swam in the sun drenched toasty sea – ahem, please excuse my small exaggeration.
Friday turned wet unfortunately and whilst some decided to brave the weather we planned to head off a little earlier but not before a visit to the Dorset Waterpark. Phil S. and family joined us and we had a fab time slipping, sliding and jumping off things into water.
The evenings are worth a mention, first night was a little cheese and wine to set the mood even if Phil S and I ended up missing most of it whilst fighting traffic so he could bring Little Dipper round to the creek we were camping beside. Our Hosts also organised an evening at the races (hobby horses at the ready), a BBQ site each evening and an evening sing along. We finally drank the evening away congregating at the impromptu club HQ.
All in all an excellent first ever Dracombe Rally and one I was promised would be repeated in a couple of years – sign me up.