Day 4 : The welcome coffee

04 November 2015

Day 4 : The welcome coffee

I have no idea what time I eventually woke up but after six coffees, a slice of toast and several energy bars I somehow found the strength to get myself up and ready for the day ahead.

Wishing Paul and Leslie the best with their floating cattery I stepped back onto my board and began to paddle. My board and I were become one - sweet harmony. The weather was good with very little rain, the only thing missing really was a flow to aid me on my way, but that was O.K., as, having spoken to author and adventurer Robert Twigger about my Nile challenge and gleaning as much information as possible, I had learnt that I could expect large sections of the Nile to simply meander along. Also in comparison I could expect some fairly gnarly rapids and extreme currents.

With very little going on and the countryside slowly passing me by, I decided to plug in my mp3 player to listen to some on-board entertainment. The problem was that it had taken a bit of a dunk the day before and was now playing parts of random songs at a variety of volumes. I put up with it for a bit but finally it got too much. Still on the board I laid my paddle down and allowed the Thames to take me at a more gradual pace while I dismantled the player, giving its electronics a good clean up and a couple of blows for good measure. I didn't really expect it to do any good but I had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, after re-assembling the unit and switching it back on music began to play. And when I say play I mean complete tracks at the volume I set. It was fixed. I felt quite chuffed with myself and I hadn't had to climb onto the river bank at all.

A couple of miles from Lechlade is a tiny village called Buscot. There's really not much there - however it does have a certain English charm about it. As I portaged at the lock I noticed a sign pointing the way to the Buscot tea rooms. 400 metres, it said.

First things first though - I needed to get my kit and board off the water. It sounds easy but trust me it’s not. The weight of the pack, coupled with the weight of the board, plus the inherent suction of the water against the flat bottom of the board makes things a tad more difficult than you might imagine. It took a couple of attempts to lift everything up onto the mooring prom. In doing so I quite heavily knocked my left knee. Dropping everything back onto the water, but still holding on tight to the leash, I began hopping around like a demented pogo stick. A sharp pain shot up my thigh and into my hip and pelvis. Having regained my dignity again, after a few choice words, I did eventually manage to free the board from the grasp of the Thames and pulled everything out and up onto dry land.

I would need to perfect my technique in this area somewhat. I was also feeling a little dehydrated and a little hungry so I decided to leave my kit beside the lock and headed off barefoot to see if I could find a nice warm mug of coffee. I wasn't even sure if it would be open, due to the time of year. Places such as this tend to rely on passing trade and as we were now approaching the winter months I was almost expecting to see a closed sign on the door. Much to my delight the lights were on and a friendly smile welcomed me through the door.

With a little grin and a slightly confused look the lady behind the counter asked what she could do for me. "I think we'll start with a coffee" I replied. Picking up the menu I began to look through the delights on offer. Home made cake, sandwiches and all the usual suspects. As I did so I mentioned how I'd met a couple of dog walkers on my first day, whilst sitting on the Thames path, and how they'd asked if I had any bacon or sausages cooking on my stove. From that moment I'd craved bacon. That was four days previously.

"I have bacon" she said. The menu was soon forgotten as I looked up. "You have bacon?" I said, my mouth beginning to salivate. "I would do anything for a bacon roll" I said, "No problem - take a seat" came the reply.

I was still wearing my buoyancy aid and so as not to appear overdressed I took it off and made myself comfortable. It was the best bacon baguette I have ever tasted. Food becomes something different when on one of my adventures. It's often taken for granted by so many during their daily routines, but when wild camping and doing any form of outdoor activity food becomes something special. It could be anything from a packet of crisps to a roast chicken. It didn't matter, for that particular moment it would be the best packet of crisps or the tastiest roast chicken in the world, ever. On this occasion I was blessed with the best bacon baguette I had ever tasted, complete with a complimentary salad covered with the best dressing ever.

Feeling considerably better and more refreshed I decided it was time to set off once more. As I left the quaint little tea room the lady behind the counter wished me luck and said I was the most unusual and interesting customer she'd ever had. I took that as a compliment.

With my bacon cravings now satisfied I headed back to the lock and finished my portage of the lock. Back on the river I soon got back into the tranquil rhythm of paddling along the slow moving waters of the Thames, following its age old route as it wound through the countryside passing fields of sheep and cattle.

The light was beginning to fade as I reached Grafton lock. Again I portaged my board, this time a little more carefully than before. I was now facing the decision whether to continue on in the hope of finding somewhere ahead to camp - and, judging by the landscapes I'd passed this was unlikely, or to find somewhere nearby to stop. I had a good scout round.. I noticed a sign on the lock keeper's hut saying free mooring. I knew that under normal circumstances this would have meant some kind of boat, however I had been travelling along the Thames on a kind of watercraft. O.K., so it wasn't your normal choice of vessel for navigating the entire length of a river but it had got me this far. There was also another sign with some safety information relating to "camping" at the locks. Did this mean that camping at the lock was free? I decided to try and find out. I knocked on the lock keeper’s cottage door to see if anyone was about to ask. No reply. I was going to have to risk it, and if confronted use my charm to smooth things over.

At the far end of the lock was a small clump of trees where I would be out of sight and wouldn't disturb anyone. It was a perfect little site to set up home.

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Current Adventure

Paddleboard the Nile

The challenge is to paddleboard the longest and most dangerous river in the world, the River Nile, all 4265 miles, from its furthest source in the Nyungwe rainforest in Rwanda, through Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and finish at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt. Live tracking will be made available online, along with updates using satellite technology. It will be an extreme interactive educational adventure, bringing awareness of other cultures, our effect on nature, and, the determination of man. It should take between 7 and 9 months. Experience has taught me, however, that such expeditions can throw you a curveball at any moment!

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