Thursday, 12 June 2014

Going Just Some of the Wey: A Mini-Expedition Row

Expedition rows can come in all shapes and sizes. And fond as I am of more epic challenges, there are only so many of those you can plan and fit into a year. 

But that still leaves the odd spare Saturday when a short, slightly out-of-the-ordinary row can be fitted in. And so it was that a small party of just six of us, including two who had only been rowing a single-figure numbers of times, set off on a 14 mile round trip up the Wey Navigation Canal in Surrey.

Oh, and did I mention it basically involved going to the pub?

The plan was straightforward: to skiff from our club, Thames Valley Skiff Club in Walton on Thames in Surrey, via the Wey Navigation canal, to the Anchor Pub in Pyrford. And then back again. Maybe with a wee stop for refreshment at that turnaround point. 

The group had varied levels of experience: some of us had done numerous skiffing trips including "meanders" down the entire, 123-mile non-tidal Thames, and so for us, this was literally a picnic. Or perhaps a "skiffnic"? But two of the group had only started skiffing 6-8 weeks earlier, and for them, the prospect of the trip was a real voyage into the unknown, a challenge which one had rightly identified as being at least as much mental than physical. 

And it was their achievement that qualified this little trip as an expedition row according to the third element of my definition:
  • Takes at least the best part of a day? Check. (Especially after substantial faffing around at locks.)
  • On a piece of water you don't usually row on. Check.
  • You get a sense of achievement just by completing it. Check for them, and it was a pleasure for the rest of us to help (as well as being a pleasant little trip too).

Slow, slow, slow, slow, slow (note there is no "quick, quick" in that)
The cheery lock keeper, hard at work.
That faffing I mentioned... There were various reasons why the coming of the railways spelled the end for canal transportation, and one of them was that canals were slower. Which is one of the attractions of them when it comes to leisure use. 

True to form, when we arrived at the first lock, the lock keeper had put up a sign saying, "Tending to weir. Back soon." Just in case his definition of soon was different from the one we had in mind, we went to find him, purchased the required licenses, were given the special lock-winding handle that we'd need because, after this first one, none of the locks on this waterway are manned (it's just too small a canal to justify that), and were eventually released eventually to rise up through the lock.

Despite not needing to find multi-tasking lock-keepers at the other three locks, these weren't any quicker, not helped by some less-than-competent boatmanship and sluice management by a couple of narrow boats, and we rather missed the presence of chains to hold on to, which you get in Thames locks. Ah well, served me right for forgetting to bring ropes.

The little black thing at the top of the gable
is a cormorant. Honest.
But when the pace of life is slower, you have time to see things you might otherwise miss, and at Coxes Lock, whilst simultaneously clinging to wet, green stone steps, and eating plums, we spotted a cormorant drying its wings on top of one of the converted mill buildings, and shook our heads in a superior manner at the sight of people pounding on treadmills in the gym there. I mean, it was a  beautiful English summer's day (i.e it only rained for about five minutes): what a waste to spend it exercising indoors, not out in fresh air!

Botanical ignorance
The Wey Navigation is a water world quite different from the busy, wide stretch of the Thames we usually train on. The canal is wide enough for two boats to pass but that's about it, it's heavily shaded by trees, and the atmosphere is cool and tranquil, in contrast to the energetic bustle back on the main river.

A poor photo of Himalayan Balsam. (Fortunately, I'm
better at rowing than I am at photography).
"What pretty pink flowers!", I remarked to my crew-mates, eyeing some tall plants that lined a long stretch of the bank. One of them, a good friend whose wide knowledge kept me entertained on our meander earlier this year, gasped in horror, before explaining that this was Himalayan Balsam, a dangerously invasive weed, only slightly less evil than Japanese Knotweed. I had heard of it, but had no idea what it looked like, and now I do. 

All of which only supports my theory that you always finish up learning something on an expedition row that you couldn't possibly have expected.

Moving on
With narrow bridges to negotiate, and a broad range of back gardens to peer into and evaluate, the miles just flew by, and soon we were there! 

And then, after suitable refreshments, not only of the liquid kind, we set off back, enjoying ticking the landmarks off in reverse order.

All in all, this was a very peasant little trip, requiring minimal planning (sometimes this is a relief after the numerous checklists required for more ambitious expedition rows), enjoyable for all of us, and a great way to initiate two new novices into the Honourable Order of Expedition Rowers. 

Next time, we'll go "all the Wey" to Guildford. I'm quite sure they'll be up for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment