Message from the four intrepid adventurers:
Well, we made it, as you have probably seen from the photos! After nearly 100,000 strokes, 135 miles, 47 locks, 35 bananas, 5 pubs, a couple of arguments, one broken oar and some extremely cross swans, we rowed into Putney just as the dusk was gathering on Thursday 29 September, bang on schedule.
Most importantly, due to the generosity of lots of people, we have managed to raise over £3,000 for Sam! We really appreciate everyone’s contributions and messages of support – it is truly humbling. The money will go towards a partial body weight supported treadmill that will help Sam’s leg muscles to develop and get strong.
We set off from Lechlade full of enthusiasm, after a rousing send-off from Sam, Neil, Kazumi, our families and dogs. The Thames at Lechlade is little more than a big stream and for most of the day we saw far more cows and sheep than people. We safely navigated our first lock, watched by a small audience, but didn’t get any points for artistic merit!
Approaching our first stop at Babcock Hythe, the heavens opened and we got our first indication that the ‘waterproof’ roof of the skiff was anything but. We made our way to the Ferryman pub, where we optimistically pitched the tent and prepared the boat for camping. However after a few pints, the landlord kindly took pity on us and offered us a berth for the night. The pub was extremely friendly and we were inundated with donations from complete strangers, which was extremely touching. We had rowed a respectable 22 miles on the first day.
Our second day started off with bright sunshine as we headed on past the dreaming spires of Oxford. Avoiding a near-collision with a tourist steamer in the middle of Oxford (it was in the wrong!) we pressed forward down towards the picturesque town of Abingdon. Nearby we began to look for the Plough Inn, our stop for the night. Then things went a little awry. The Plough was supposedly a short row up a tributary, but in the gathering gloom, we managed to row straight past the mooring for the pub and the next thing we knew, we were in a scene from Apocalypse Now, with my brother on the bow with torch in hand, trying to work out where on earth we were. James had an argument with a bush and the mood amongst the crew was not good! Luckily, we managed to find the pub, where the landlady was celebrating her 60th birthday. Despite having finished dinner for the evening, she very kindly cooked us dinner for the night and we were all set for sleeping under the stars. Alister and I decided to share the boat, with the other two in the tent. The night passed without incident, although in the morning, Alister and I both expressed great astonishment and admiration for our respective wives, after the snoring started to reach several decibels!
Wednesday was our toughest day. At Pangbourne, it bucketed it down with rain and we got absolutely soaked. In the book, Three Men in a Boat, they abandon the trip at this spot and catch the train to London. Tempting as it was, we pressed on, only to snap one of the oars coming out of Caversham Lock. We made it through Reading and stopped at the very pretty village of Sonning, where we found the warmth of a hotel to get some much needed drying out. Alister’s parents had been following us all day with much needed support and words of encouragement and it was great to catch up with them in Sonning, where they very kindly bought us dinner.
We left early the next morning, intent on getting to Windsor by nightfall. We rowed down the famous Henley Regatta course, but we were going against the wind and it was like rowing through treacle. It was more Vanessa Redgrave than Sir Steve Redgrave! From then on it is very picturesque, going through places such as Marlow and Windsor, with the castle looking amazing from the river. We made it to Datchet (31 miles for the day), where we found a delightful B&B run by a Slovakian, and then found a great Italian restaurant for dinner, run by Albanians! We never knew that Datchet was so cosmopolitan!
The final day dawned and we were set for our run into London, a total of 33 miles. The river was becoming very wide now and you could really feel that London was dragging us in – although our limbs were aching with tiredness. We were just rounding the river bend by the magnificent Hampton Court when we heard a holler – it was Toby’s father-in-law, who had come to greet us with a welcome shot of whisky and hot coffee, which was much appreciated.
At Teddington Lock, we left the relative safety of the upstream Thames and hit the tidal stretch. It becomes a completely different river with very strong currents and eddies and you really need to have your wits about you. The tide was rushing out as we hit Richmond and you are really able to get up a good head of speed. So much so, that at Barnes bridge, we stopped at the University of London rowing club, as we didn’t want to arrive in Putney before our many supporters (mainly our mothers) arrived.
And then sadly it was all over. The floodlights of Fulham football ground came into view and Putney Bridge appeared around the bend of the river.
We are planning to row from Putney to Southend Pier (the official end of the Thames) next year and are also looking to enter the Great River Race. We will return!!
Thanks one and all for all the support – it has been great.
Toby, Edward, Alister and James
Watch this space for the final total announcement soon! s4s