‘There’s nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats’, so said Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows – set nearby on the Thames.
For novices at Reading Canoe Club it can seem a little far away this ‘messing about’, as you are encouraged to join time trials and circuit training, core focus and rowing machine sessions to carefully calibrated rock music.
The offer of a ‘Gentle Social Paddle’ with a pub lunch sounds just the ticket to adjust the balance.
As usual for RCC the proceedings started at the crack of dawn. We were ordered to be at the club by 9 for drill with our paddle and life saver.
A friendly and expectant crowd milled around at the corner of The Warren where the club is located. Boats were loaded, lifts were arranged, satnavs coordinated. Suddenly the trailer rushed off – to deliver the boats to the start point and then to be parked by the finish at Abingdon. Several minutes later a very handsome canoe was brought to the road for loading. O dear! Too late! Back to the shed! I didn’t realise at the time this was ‘my’ boat.
North of Oxford the Thames is split into several streams and one of these near Wolvercote is our start point. One of the first to arrive spotted kingfishers flitting around the water by the bridge.
It was here I learned that, because a boat had been left behind, three of us would be allocated to a boat with two seats.
One of my co-canoers was desperate to get going – maybe to claim one of the two seats, so I felt obliged to join him. We floated around on the water, quite comfortably while others threatened us from the bank.
When Nigel was ready we floated off, pushing hard on the paddles. These Canadian canoes are steered by the person sitting at the rear. Me, I sat in front and just kept at it. I never saw what my steersman (or rather, steerswoman) did, but I could detect a little critical banter between our midshipman, perched on a pile of life vests in the middle of the boat, and the boss in the back. Eventually we got rid of the dissenter when he climbed over to another boat with three seats.