Hidden Gems of Lower Thames

We paddled down the Thames countless times, day time or night time, we would go with the tide marvelling at how wide, fast, and exciting the river is. 

This time however, we set to do something different. We joint our friend Ian, who has done this trip before, and relying on his local knowledge we approached the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide with good faith. 

We started by the Diver. We’ve seen him many times before when returning upstream from Gravesend, always handing there, partially submerged in the water or mud. The concrete barges have been here even longer, since 1953, as an extra protection during floods. Amazing structures, once floated, used during WW2. 

We launched and crossed to the other side, the south side. This time we decided to stay very close to the shoreline to explore. We didn’t need to wait for long, as we passed the yacht club in Erith, strange heaps of mud came into view. But of course, it wasn’t mud, it was what the heard about some time ago, the petrified forest, thousands of years old. We could see few tree trunks  and many root balls. We will definitely be back at even lower tide for closer inspection. 

Our next stop was the mouth of the river Darent, tributary to the Thames, we paddled as far as the tidal gate surrounded by walls of shiny mud, supervised by a turnstone (according to Ian). Sadly time was pushing us, and if we wanted to get to our planned destination, we had to turn and continue downstream. 

We wanted to visit Broadness Harbour, a little tidal harbour on the tip of Swanscombe peninsula. I never heard of it, but few times while going past Broadness Point to Gravesend I glimpsed some boats stationed there. The creek leading into the harbour was dry but mud was firm enough to let us land and go on shore. What an amazing place: highest pylons in the UK, Met Office weather station. The wind moving through long grass with ramshackle houseboats and huts behind reminded us of Aleutian Alaska. 

We crossed the Thames here and turned to go upstream with the tide. At Purfleet we briefly peeked into the mouth of river Mar Dyke, but the flood gate threatened to open any time, so we decided to proceed. However we spent some time admiring the remains of the old quay. In the late 18th century this place was used as a natural harbour, and a quay was built to land gunpowder for the magazines in Purfleet.

From here the wind and tide pushed us back past the Coldharbour Lighthouse back to our launching place.

HOW I BECAME AN ADVENTURER

With Michal gone, there’s no one left to drive the car but myself. Having had driving licence for 20 years, not driving really since we moved to London, makes me someone, for whom making car to leave a perfectly fine parking place is a rather uneasy task. However, needs must and errands had to be accomplished.

I planned this very carefully, selected the time and plotted the route. I took navigation and map with me, as one can never be too cautious about these. The destination was the whole 3.4miles away with a long dark tunnel in between. They say that with true adventures, it shouldn’t be just about the end goal, the journey should matter, too. However, were I was concerned, the end goal was the main reason I put the gear in one, indicated right, and pushed down on the gas.

I was off on my expedition, by definition a journey with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war. Yes, this felt like all of these options.

From previous long trips and holidays I remembered the feeling of butterflies in the stomach at the beginning of each trip, the uncertainty of how it all will be, the anxiety whether it was a right decision. And yes, approaching the four lanes roundabout, I had similar feeling of fight or flight moment. I also learnt that soon once the routine kicks in, the butterflies settle.

black-and-white-car-interior-gear-89693The Blackwall Tunnel, was a complete different matter. It reminded me of long open crossings. You know it will finish at some point, you know you will eventually reach the land, you know, you just need to get on with it, stroke after stroke to get there. The relief, when a land is spotted, when it becomes clear that the calculations were correct, and that indeed, it would be accomplished at some point, was comparable to finally seeing the light at the end. Only then, did I realise I was holding my breath, and let go. There, who was I to self limit myself, to think I could not get to the south side of the river by other means than kayak, bike or public transport.

A short feeling of victory was replaced by the realisation, that soon, the car would have to be parked. And that is an issue.

As a true explorer, I planned wisely, and chose the earliest possible time as soon as the opening hours allowed. Yet it took several minutes to choose a place from which one can leave without reversing, park without reversing, and without the need to be too close to any other cars. As I circled the car park for the second time I could just see myself circumnavigating an island looking for the best or rather only available place, where to land and stay for a night after a long long day. Only to realise it to be the same place first dismissed in the hope of finding a more suitable one. Never mind.

I run my errand, filled the boot, and felt positively empowered for the way back. What an amazing, unusual, exciting and without a doubt daring experience – a true adventure.

 

London has it all!

We’ve lived in London for many years now. When we moved here, we knew we were moving into the capital city and a very busy town with people, roads, tube, buildings, pavements and all. We also knew that London was on the river Thames, however, at that time, it didn’t have any significant meaning to us, because after all most capital cities we knew had a river, Paris with Seine, Prague has Vltava, no big deal at all.

It was only later, when the river became our almost second home, we understood its the importance in the past and nowadays. Then, one day, we realised something even more significant. London isn’t just an ordinary capital city of a country; London could be viewed as a Mecca for outdoor sport, or at least where water is considered.

For a sea kayaker the tidal river Thames is a great place to paddle, we wrote about this many times. The changing landscape due to tide, standing waves under bridges, surf behind boats, powerful workout against tide, and smooth rides with it, we have spent countless hours going up and down through London. It is always different and we can’t have enough. With the conditions varying from mirror flat to wild fast flowing and confused water with waves exceeding meter in high it is an amazing place to learn and improve. Learning is an interesting and complex process. There and now it is important to change ones’ approach and try something new, something different. In the end what could be better than trying and applying the existing skills through different concepts of paddling to explore new levels and then bring this back to the original discipline.

So what role does London play in all this? It is the choice of opportunities. The possibility to do white water canoeing, flatwater freestyle, tiderace paddling or playboating within few days and in close proximity to London.

P6260037P6260042White water OC in Lee Valley. 

13558787_10209965853292395_1197877465244621623_oP6280084 (1)Free style boaters at Shadwell Basin.

13603400_10209998273702885_6307197631366317922_o13528227_10209998275502930_5332193559667065624_oSelsey Bill tide race (2 hours from London)

_DSC0037_DSC0078Olympic course in Lee Valley. 

Last week, there could have been hardly a be better place to work on your paddling.

Wave Machines

There are many things London has to offer to a visitor: architecture, scenery, history, just to name a few. Through all this the river weaves its path and attracts attention with its amazing views into the naval history, the beaches or water splashing over the railings, and of course the strong tides. Large numbers of boats pass up and down through the city at any time of the day. For me, however, the ones that create the beautiful wake to surf are the most interesting.  We call them Wave machines.

The feeling of excitement if a wave machine appears travelling in the right direction. Then, all what’s needed, is to check all is safe and paddle closer. To get the most of the waves and prolong the ride, it is best to surf diagonaly in the same direction as the chased boat. It is very easy to turn to much towards  the boat or to be too, aggressive in correction, both result in loosing the wave. Sometimes the first wave is not the best one, and it pays to wait for the third.

Last weekend we went for short paddle and made a little clip.

XTRA Launch

I don’t know how those things happen. Or should I rather say that I don’t know how human mind, and more precisely, how my mind works.

There are moments when an idea appears in my head, almost like a picture. It stays there, and doesn’t want to leave. Sometimes if the idea is too stupid, I manage to force it out but most of the time the best way to deal with it, is to have a go.

Few weeks ago I could see this picture in my headxtra R

and I could not get it out…

London is on fire

London. For some it’s just a town where they live. For many it’s an exciting place, one of the most visited in the world. They come here and leave again. For some it’s a place they never leave. But most of them will say that London it’s a buzzing city, where buildings are everywhere, traffic, people, noise, commotion and more.
However, even within this town there are places where it could be calm, even quiet. Yesterday we went to one, and discovered that sometimes we don’t have to leave, that in the end the outdoor facilities in this City are rather above average.

 autum fires 12autum fires 1 (1)autum fires 10autum fires 2 (1)autum fires 8autum fires 1 autum fires 11autum fires 2 autum fires 7  autum fires 9

And that’s what we love about it.

Wozzit or Bubble-wrap?

After long time of thinking I decided to treat myself to a new boat. Originally it looked that it would be a long wait, but that suited me fine, since I had my other new boat to play with anyway.

Then an email came and everything was happening fast. Rather too fast, within a week I became owner of new boat. Not wanting to upset my other one, I took time, and really there needs to be a bit of fuss if something is to be unwrapped; and this one came in bubble-wrap.photo-3

However, not wanting to leave in unattended for too long I took it for a spin or rather roll.

wozzit (1)

wozzit (2)

Later I decided that if one can roll a bubble-wrap, one should be able to paddle one, too.

wotsit 4

One can, but it is hard work, since bubble-wraps are not really watertight.

wotsit 5

wotsit 6

wotsit 1

But is there any other better place to uncover a new boat than with Tower bridge as a backdrop? Probably yes, but this place suited me just fine.

wotsit 3

wotsit 2Pace Tour 17 is my new boat.

 

GREAT BRITISH SUMMER HAS STARTED

We acquired the bag long time ago, somewhere in Wales, on our way around the Island. Surprisingly it stayed with us and has been used every time we went kayaking ever since. Even the trustworthy people of Scillies did not manage to part it with us when it had not arrived on Scillonian on our last journey from there to Penzance. The bag still made it home couple days later.

20130718-212309.jpg

It was at the Scillies, one warm dry evening in early June when we came with the idea of holding a picnic on a beach on our home waters.
The idea was born and the name was found: The Great British Summer Picnic.
And since our home waters are the major part of the city, it was held on the sandy beach of Thames, right opposite the Tate Modern, to be be precise.

Some time ago, while visiting Gravesend, the Paddling Gourmands Club was established. I won’t bore anyone with details but since this wasn’t first outing some firm rules were laid down.
The food had to arrive by kayak. Some members went further and even brought the food by bike.sb picnic 29

The food was strictly Great British Food. Some members, however foreign, showed effort and made Scotch Eggs,traditional with twist and veggie. Food had to be posh. Some members went far and even made organic, hand-picked, home-made Elderflower champagne. And so on the story went.sb picnic 24

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

sb picnic 18 DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPRO
Paddling that day was not easy, we had to go against the tide both ways. It was our home water which we know very well, yet we discovered some new unseen corners of the Thames.

sb picnic 12sb picnic 4sb picnic 1

Wonderful!