Canoeing the Thames

Saturday 31st March 2012

1986 saw the end of the Greater London Council. A banner was mounted on County Hall, where those across the river in Westminster couldn’t miss it: ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ it read.

My teenage son, Gaius, and I attended the last night party in Jubilee Gardens, having paddled down the Thames by canoe. Well, some of it.

The ruse began when, on an earlier London visit, we’d discovered iron gates erected across the entrance to Downing Street. Police permission was needed in order to gain access.

“We could get a petition together,” Gaius suggested.

So we did: from the people of Stroud, opposing the abolition of the GLC. We collected several hundred signatures, loaded our Indian canoe with camping gear, and set off from Cricklade. Thirty miles a day seemed manageable.

The first night we slept in a pill-box, near Radcot: not the most pleasant of bedrooms.

It being March and the locks unmanned, we had to disembark at each, portaging canoe and contents like 19th century explorers. Well, we were going to meet a Livingstone.

Wind and rain made progress to Oxford slow. Already well behind schedule, we paddled deep into the dusk. At Osney Lock, Gaius slipped and fell in. The canoe nearly ended up going over the weir.

The Westgate Hotel on Botley Road, opposite the railway station, is welcoming and reasonably priced, even if you arrive at 9pm, bedraggled and carrying a canoe. Back then, the proprietors also offered to let you dry things in their boiler room.

The following morning a friendly cruiser towed us to Iffley, but something approaching a gale force south-easterly defeated us. Exhausted and embarrassed, we phoned friends who kindly came to pick us up, take us home and promise not to tell anyone the adventure had been abandoned.

We hitched up the M4 instead. Ken was there at the agreed time, though a bit disappointed to see us arriving on foot. I’ve a photo somewhere, taken by Gaius, outside the open door of Number 10, with a bemused security bloke accepting our soggy petition.







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