Today was a B I G day - It's B I G for two reasons:
- Firstly, it's the first day of the SUP Thames Challenge
- Secondly, it's (supposed to be) the longest paddle of that trip!
Mike and I head in the morning towards the source of the Thames just on the edge of Cotswold Nature Reserve. To our surprise, the water level was dangerously low that we had to drive slightly further down the stream to find a suitable place to launch.
After 5 min drive, we have arrived at the famous Cricklade where a local lady directed us to the perfect launching spot. Even there water level wasn't enough consistent and with the amount of weeds, rocks and strong current had to decide to approach the first section without the fins. Have I ever paddled without the fins? Nah but hey hoo if we wanted to complete the full length of the Thames as we planned we had to be persistent and figure out the way of starting our challenge as close to the source as possible.
Finally, an hour later without the fins, we have started our challenge, 320 km down the stream completing the length of the Thames in 9/10 days. As a person who mainly paddles the Thames around Reading, I found it extremely surprising to see these little narrow stream swirling between country sides like a snake which eventually transform into the big and wide river that I know.
Broken branches and overgrown trees made this journey an entertaining one. We had to be quick to adjust our course and believe me without the fins in fast-flowing water it's not an easy task. Well we definitely had the opportunity to practice our navigation skills hehe
There were times when we could squeeze between brunches, or slide over them by balancing weight on the boards from one and to another but sometimes when we had to get out on banks of the river with mud up to our knees and cross over unexpected obstacles.
14 km later we came across a lovely couple who was relaxing on the side of the river and believe me or not they get there with their little boat who confirmed that from now on we can safely put our fins on! From this moment we started to bump into other people on sup or kayak enjoying the beautiful weather. Thanks to the Paddle Logger team, who have created a live progress map using their PaddleLIVE® technology, we were able to share our live location with everyone who decided to support and follow our journey. However, as we know, technology is energy-consuming. Bixpy 100% waterproof power station was a lifesaver as without it our live location would disappear from the map.
As the river slightly open up and we left the jungle section of the Thames we came across another obstacle, pure hellish 45km/h headwinds! Hard work has been rewarded with beautiful views and amazing sunset.
Towards the end of our day, approximate 2/3 km away from the final destination my nerve in my left arm got trapped. The level of pain was unbearable. Every stroke, especially on the left side felt like someone was putting a very long and wide needle into my arm and shoulder.
You wouldn't believe the happiness when I saw super Steve walking towards us as I knew that we are almost there. He was our hero of the day as on this day we were struggling with the transport. There was no tax service available and no public transport accessible. He fetched us from the Tadpole bridge and take us back to the starting point. Moreover, he had an amazing idea to leave our inflatable boards at the pub - thanks to covid restrictions service were sonly possible outside hence the idea was viable.
Finished in pure darkness by the light of the moon at the Troutt at Tadpole Bridge, dining room with a few bedrooms, who kindly agreed to storage overnight our beloved boards, Sic Maui RS Air and Bluefin Sprint Carbon.
A comfy bed with a nice warm shower and a much-needed cup of tea was waiting for us at Oxford Courtyard by Marriott hotel who kindly support our initiative by providing their hospitality and allowing us to recharge after a very long day.
Paddling without find is possible
We are an expert at drifting a 14-foot board around trees by now
This section of Thames is perfect for little jungle adventure especially in a proper canoe but even in SUP you can have lots of fun!
Quick change of temperature can make your nerve spasms/trap
Starting point: Abingdon Ct Ln, Cricklade, Swindon SN6 6BZ
Endpoint: the Troutt at Tadpole Bridge, Buckland Rd, Buckland Marsh, Faringdon SN7 8RF
Time: 10,5 hours
Tip - If you wish to explore this part of the river please avoid summer/very dry times of the year as the water level is extremely low making it very challenging or event impossible to paddle the high section of the Thames.