240Km by Stand Up Paddle Board along the River Thames in 4.5 days.
It’s been 1 week since I pulled up to the bank in the shadow of Putney Bridge at the end of my trip along the River Thames.
230km over 4.5 days, fully self supported by Stand up Paddle Board.
There’s so much a I love about self powered river journeys but this one is particularly brilliant as it is so accessible and achievable for anyone to take on.
If you’ve been inspired to give it ago or have been thinking about it for a while then I encourage you to put aside what ever has stopped you and get out there. Be it for an hour or day; 1 mile or 100 go and make it happen.
Here’s a little bit of information of how I did it and what I took with me.
At this time of year (after a relatively dry Winter and Spring) there is very little flow and movement in the river meaning it is great for people of all levels of experience. I had hoped to start from Cricklade but there was barley enough water to get by toes wet, alone float a paddle board. If you are looking to go from as close to the start head for Lechlade and the Trout Inn. Give them a call before hand and ask about using their access ramp to the river and if you need it, they may even be able to let you camp the night before you start as well (just make sure you head in for a meal as well — their food is well worth it)
For paddling on the non tidal section of the river (Cricklade to Teddington) you need a licence, This can be either a non powered pleasure craft license available from the environment agency here or you can do what I did and join the British Canoeing Union (BCU)
No mater how far you plan to travel or when you go you will need at least 2 basic things; a board and a paddle. Purchasing a board will set you back several hundred pounds but there are lots of places that will let you hire a board for a day, week or even longer if required.. Being inflatable means you can roll it up, put it in a backpack and jump on a train to your starting point. My board was kindly lent to me by the team at active360 / Active360 in London. They have been working for over two years in conjunction with comedian Bill Bailey to develop a bespoke touring paddle board (yeas really, Bill Bailey — he’s a huge SUP fan!) As well as being incredibly sturdy, well balanced and fast in the water, The BillboardSup is packed full of small, brilliantly thought out details which make SUP touring that little bit easier and more delightful. Quick access luggage straps, small clips on the front and rear for lights to keep you visible when paddling at night, super comfy to hold handles at every position you would ever want one and a pressure release value incase the air inside the board expands too much to name but a few. Add in to that the fact the board comes in stealth black (or white) means it regularly turned heads on the river and was a frequent conversation point.
The board could not be more different from the one I took on the Danube last year and how I wish I could have completed that trip on a Billboard as well.
There are over 44 locks on the Thames and, far from being an annoying interruption to paddling I generally looked forward to them as a place to meet people, a target to aim for and sometimes the unexpected discovery of a tea shop or ice cream stall. There is huge inconstancy between locks as to whether paddle boards are allowed into the locks with boats or not. There was only one lock who categorically told me it was not allowed and I would have to porterage around but, the best conversation came at a lock just outside of Abingdon.
As I approached the lock with my well rehearsed routine of big smile and a cheery “room for a little one? he lock keeper looked at me and said “we’re not allowed paddle boards in the lock; but that’s not a paddle board. What is it?” not wanting to miss the chance of getting into the lock and having to porterage round I simply replied “correct, it’s not a paddle board; it’s a Billboard!” That seemed to satisfy his curiosity and I paddled on in to join the other boats.
You may not have enough time to paddle the whole river but, one of the great things about the Thames is that for large parts it flows close to the Great Western Mainline train route. This means you are never more than a short paddle from a handy station where you can deflate your board and jump on the next train home.
Being summer I was able to keep gear incredibly simple and compact. A lightweight summer sleeping bag, sleeping mat, bivy bag and small emergency tarp (in case of some delightedly British Summer rain.) I did carry a small stove and food to cook but, in reality I could have got away without. There are numerous river side pubs and tea rooms along the banks where you could easily keep yourself fed and watered. The further along the river to London you are, the more frequently these appear. Aside from a few spares and clothes the only other things I had with me were a book (which I didn’t read,) a solar panel to charge my phone (which I never needed) and a first aid kit (which again thankfully, I didn’t use)
Everything was transported in 2 water proof bags (with additional dry bags inside them just to be safe) which were kindly supplied by Aquapac — 100% waterproof protection. Most of these were with me on the Danube as well and are still brilliantly water tight and going strong.
For water I took 2 x 1ltr bottles which I was able to fill up at most locks for the tap reserved for river users. I did take a Water-to-Go filter bottle as well incase I needed to drink form the Thames but that proved to not be required.
If you are thinking of heading to the river make sure you’re fully aware of the rules and regulations of being a river craft. Make sure you have the proper safety equipment with you and make sure someone knows what your plans are and where you will be. Paul and the team at Active360 have a wealth of knowledge about both SUP and the River thames, as do The British Canoe Union or, you can always get in touch with me and i’d be happy to answer any questions or offer further advice.