(Lockdown muses to keep the club folks entertained)
Went on a kayak paddle from Chiswick Pier to Kingston Bridge and back with Kiki and Harvey on Wednesday.
Did the usual sprays and cataloguing boats taken. Noted that yet another pair of pigeons were building a nest in the Yellow Scorpio. So they are now on the second rack, there was a new pair on one of the other kayaks. So think netting quite important as it creates a mess of nesting and pigeon droppings inside the kayaks, which is not really hygienic. There was already a strong incoming tide, which I hoped would help us. It was a windless intermittently sunny day mainly overcast. We got on the water at 10. For some reason Harvey and Kiki wanted to go in front ways which I was not keen on and cautioned against, as it damages the sea kayaks and we had a strong current. I went in from the side and felt the powerful embrace of the current. Harvey was last off the pontoon but capsized mainly due to front entrance as the strong current took the bow sideways. Nevertheless he was calm and stoical and apparently used to the cold water from whitewater trips. He took the boat to the side unaided (keeping with our safety guidelines) as it was low tide. It was good practice and I was impressed it had not dampened his enthusiasm for the journey ahead. It did make it concerning if the victim needed rescuing as this would mean contact. Our section at the pontoon is not ideal for rescues during high tide with a strong current as there are plenty of hazards (moored boats etc). Worth having a plan for this eventuality. After searching fruitlessly for Harvey’s prized blue cap we headed off.
We got on our way and encountered a lot of birdlife. A website with a listing: http://www.pla.co.uk/Environment/Key-Bird-Species-on-the-Thames-Estuary
Clearly the birds had been busy mating whilst lockdown reduced boat traffic and human traffic on the river. It was a baby bird boom! There was no wind and the water reflected magically on the surface of the murky waters with blue green algae (what more threats are we to encounter?)
We ventured on past Kew, Brentford and Richmond bridge and towards Twickenham and came across the wild man of the river? – the elderly gentleman who welcomed us (from a distance of course) would not say his name and was quite evasive.
He had various platforms, makeshift houseboats, boats, rubber tires all tied together. Some created quite amazing vegetation, it was an unusual garden worthy of the Chelsea flower show.
What I observed was how approachable the birdlife was which clearly had a close relationship with the owner who had lived there at least four decades. Meanwhile Kiki was engrossed in a long conversation about world adventures with the man whose head was strangely sticking out from the huddle of haphazard, protruding material (wood, metal, plastic) It seemed like he had been decapitated. He was also camera shy unlike the birds!
Whilst we waited for Kiki which seemed like an eternity, we became mesmerized by a Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and its four young chicks. Only three chicks were allowed to piggyback on the mother’s back at any one time. So there was a constant competition for the privilege.
Some background on these majestic and fascinating birds for bird lovers: “Elegant resident diving water bird, once hunted for its feathers and almost to the point of extinction. Well known for their elaborate courtship display in which they rise out of the water heads wagging.” RSPB: The plight of the Great Crested Grebe was one of the main reasons that the RSPB was originally set up. Victorian egg collectors had taken their toll and the bird had been hunted to near extinction in the UK for ‘grebe fur’. That’s the skin and soft under-pelt of a grebe’s breast feathers, which were used as fake fur. At one stage the birds were down to just over 40 pairs. The Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) has distinctive ornate plumes of feathers on its head in the summer. In winter the fancy plumage is lost and the head is white with a black cap and eye stripe. It is the largest of the grebe family. The head and neck feathers form a ruff during the breeding season.
The bird’s courtship display involves a number of stages, with a pair meeting on the water, shaking their heads and dipping their necks. The display will culminate in a ‘weed dance’ where both dive underwater and collect weed in their beaks before rushing towards each other, low above the water’s surface, then rising upright to meet face to face. (source © RSPB)
On we paddled past the Eel Pie island, famed for its resident inventor Trevor Baylis who sadly died in 2018. Baylis was a much loved resident who invented the wind-up radio in the early 1990s but due to flawed patent laws at the time he received little money, as it was much copied and he received no royalties. I felt mixed emotion as I had distributed wind up radios and torches in Sudan to remote village during the civil war, they certainly appreciated his work as did thousands without electricity.
He lamented: “The (British) economy is dying simply because inventor’s ideas are being stolen – this economy is dependent on these great ideas.” Though undeterred he went on to invent over 250 products including a mobile phone charging shoe! He was on the list of British history’s 50 greatest inventors.
Always excited with life (even pre-lockdown) he complained: “Young people are not doing so much sport, or exercise, they are becoming obese because they are spending all day in front of the TV. When I was young I could make things out of Meccano before I could speak.” See: www.trevorbaylisbrands.com/
At least we were out exercising but then we are no longer young people!
Eel pie was also a hive of activity during the 60s where a hippy commune thrived. Legendary British bands like The Who, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones performed on the island on the rickety Eel Pie Island Hotel which sadly burned down in 1971 putting an end to its 140 years history, I used to do Yoga classes in its new reincarnation. Presently there are still 50 houses, a museum, boat yards, and artists workshops with 120 inhabitants on the island which still has a thriving community. I used to love the Eel pie pub on the mainland when I used to live in Twickenham. Amazing Black adder beer by Maulstons https://mauldons.co.uk for beer lovers! Though now of course we have local Twickenham brewery which produces a wide range of beers which are well worth sampling. www.twickenham-fine-ales.co.uk – PS they do home deliveries!!!
We passed by St Catherine’s high school with its famous Alexander Pope’s Grotto in its grounds which dates back to 1720. But we did not get a chance to see his vision: “I have put the last hand to my works… happily finishing the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru’ the Cavern day and night. …When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture… And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms… at which when a Lamp …is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.”
Though here are some images of the hidden grotto (worth a club visit?):
We finally reached Teddington lock as the sky was getting gloomier. The lock was closed so we portaged our boats through the sophisticated pendulum system.
We next passed the exclusive Lensbury club built in 1920 owned by Shell. We decided to take a side trip around Trowlock Island and past the Teddington Walbrook Rowing club. A few rowers sneered at us. I have never understood these scullers, paddling backwards without even having mirrors!
As we neared Kingston our arms getting a touch heavier. Lightning began to light up the sky and thunder reverberated ominously in quite close succession, implying the lightning was not too distant and a bit of a threat. I at first took shelter under Kingston bridge whilst I noticed that Harvey and Kiki’s protruding bows indicated they had opted earlier for the sheltered entrance to a small block’s pontoon bridge. The rains became monsoonal. I was not alone under Kingston bridge a fishing boat was lurking in its shadow and we chatted briefly, apparently they had caught a massive Perch and seen our seal from the previous weeks. (local intelligence always useful).
I then joined Harvey and Kiki, the latter was very keen on leaving the increasingly dangerous water which could have conducted a nice power supply to our vulnerable bodies and maybe given her a new Mohican hairdo. I felt it was safer where we were, but Kiki was adamant and single-minded, she headed to the mooring area around. The reason I was not keen was there was little shelter and more importantly the pontoon was quite high so challenging entering and exiting boats which was more likely to lead to a capsize. Had this occurred there was no easy exit point. But Kiki being Kiki she was already getting out of her boat. I followed suit, as did Harvey. At least this provided the opportunity of putting on a cag, in my case a neoprene waistcoat.
We hopped back into the boats, the lightning and thunder had stopped and we got on our way. By the time we had our late lunch picnic at Teddington Lock the rains stopped and we had a lovely journey back.
I later did a bit of research on thunderstorms as British Canoeing did not seem to cover in their safety guidance and frankly I have never really had much discussion the subject.
I have compiled my own guidance on this dangerous but natural phenomenon.
Return journey was relatively smooth, slightly aided by a very small amount of current, Kiki and Harvey did really well considering they had not paddled this far on the Thames. I was very impressed with their stamina. By the time we arrived back at our pontoon the light had cleared and there was even a bit of sunshine, what capricious weather we have. It was 4.10 pm. A nice 6 hrs paddle. 20 miles round trip.