Falling Down the Thames Blog 32, 22nd October 2014
Mole Meets the River Thames
Thirty years ago, while working on my university studies, I had a friend named Kevin. I studied gulls and cormorants, and Kevin studied pelicans.
Whenever Kevin felt stressed, he reached up to the bookshelf above his desk and pulled down a copy of Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind in the Willows. After reading a few pages Kevin would feel better about the world and could get back to work.
The Wind in the Willows was published 106 years ago to great popular success and critical acclaim. The book describes the adventures of a series of animals that lived on or near a river. There is every reason to believe that Grahame had the River Thames in mind when he wrote about these adventures.
The book begins as a mole grows tired of spring cleaning his home, and runs away. When he approaches the river, Mole spies a water rat, and the two become friends. Rat introduced Mole to the joys of paddling a boat, for instance. Enjoying a wonderful day on the river, Mole admits that he has never before been in a boat. Rat finds this astonishing, and asks what Mole has been doing with his life.
“’Is it so nice as all that?’ asked the Mole shyly.”
“’Nice? It is the only thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. ‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing – about – in – boats; messing…”
Mole and Rat go on to have other great adventures, sometimes in the company of other animals such as Toad and Mr. Badger. Early in the book, Mole finds himself tired after running along the river bank, and sits on the bank to rest. While Mole rested, “the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” In paddling more than four hundred kilometres for the head of the River Thames to the insatiable sea, Krista and I will have plenty of opportunity to listen to stories told by the river.
Although The Wind in the Willows is considered to be a classic book for young readers, I feel that readers of all ages can take away from it a sense of joy and awe. There are lessons to be learned about friendship, ambition, and the need for relaxation. Next week I will tell you about the underground home of Mr. Badger, and how that relates to the River Thames paddling adventure of Krista and I.
Photo credits: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard; plush Toad, Badger, Mole and Ratty – River and Rowing Museum, http://rrm.co.uk/product/plush-toad-badger-mole-ratty-characters
Falling Down the Thames Blog 31, 15th October 2014
Our Paddling Repair Kit
They say that admitting you are a gear junkie is half the battle. Well, I am pretty sure that volunteering to assemble our field repair kit served only to fuel my addiction to all things designed for the outdoors.
Glen and I are hardly going to be in the backcountry when we paddle down the River Thames and around the north and east coasts of Kent. Having said that, it is important to always be prepared for any scenario involving a medical, safety or mechanical crisis, whether you are 300 kilometres from help or 300 metres from a five-star hotel. Our first aid and safety kits will be described in later blogs. Here I will detail the contents and assembly of our Paddling Repair Kit.
I considered what items might suddenly be in need of in-the-field or on-the-water repair or replacement. These include our canoe trailer (including its inflatable tires), the body of the canoe and sea kayak, the canoe seats, any part of the kayak rudder and foot rests, the kayak sprayskirts, the bow or stern lines, our outerwear, paddles (our solution is to have 1-2 spares), our PFDs, our shoes/boots, our packs, our glasses, the GPS unit, our headlamps, and our cameras.
As with most outdoor gear choices, we wanted the items to ideally be of high quality, lightweight, compact and reliable. We also wanted to minimize redundancy, so including an item that could serve multiple purposes was a huge plus. Finally, the gear needs to kept in a sturdy waterproof container and be organized such that each item could be easily located and retrieved.
The contents of our repair kit are, from top to bottom, left to right:
- plastic cover from a flexible 3-ring binder to patch a hole in the boat. It also makes a great cutting board;
- Petzl headlamp;
- waterproof mini flashlight;
- travel watch repair kit;
- travel sewing kit, including two extra large needles for penetrating spray skirt material;
- alcohol swabs to clean surfaces prior to repair;
- sand paper, both medium and coarse grains;
- alcohol hand sanitize;
- used pill vial containing Aquaseal, Crazy Glue, Seamseal, safety pins, and elastic bands;
- PC Marine epoxy putty, which works on wet surfaces;
- nylon fabric adhesive patches;
- nine metres of duct tape;
- Gear Aid Tenacious Tape;
- Tide travel laundry detergent;
- premoistened lens cleaners;
- small pack towel;
- nine metres of polyethelene utility rope, 4mm diameter, to use as spare rudder cable;
- nine metres of polyester floating rope to use as a spare bow/stern line or throw rope;
- daisy chain;
- accessory straps with buckles. Pictured are Sea to Summit Accessory Straps;
- thin cord, 3mm x 9m. Pictured is Sea to Summit Reflective Cord)
- waterproof thick vinyl cut from a Dollar Store poncho, 40cmx40cm to use as a kayak hatch cover in case original is lost;
- one metre of shock cord, 2-3mm to secure a makeshift hatch cover, and cord lock;
- pair of shoelaces;
- Swiss Army knife;
- multitool with pliers (Leatherman Skeletool);
- mini carabiners, made for climbing;
- waterproof matches;
- spare batteries for headlamps, GPS unit, and water purifier;
- Sharpie permanent marker; and
- a pencil
In the photos, the gear is sitting on an All Weather Emergency Blanket (I take this with me on all outdoor excursions. It is waterproof and fabulous to use as a ground tarp, an over-the-head tarp, an emergency blanket, and to place under a sleeping bag for additional insulation. Not pictured are: Gorilla Tape, waterproof notebook, dental floss (for sewing, etc), spare nuts and bolts for rudder, bandana, extra plastic buckles.
Since many of the repair items are cylindrical rather than flat, I found that traditional first aid bags did not work very well. Instead, I used two small Insight transparent accessory bags purchased from the travel section at Mountain Equipment Co-Op. One bag contains our quick-reach items (multitools, matches, pack towel and flashlights), and the other bag contains the remaining items. I found that both bags fit perfectly into a Pelican watertight case (size 1150). For additional storage, I glued a small zippered pocket to the inside of the Pelican case for storing the waterproof notebook, pencil and indelible marker.
Finally, the 30m-long ropes are stored in a small mesh bag, along with our bow and stern lines. The All Weather Emergency Blanket is rolled up and stored in a small ditty sac.
We would welcome your comments on the above items, including what gear has made it into your own field repair kit. Watch out for our later blogs detailing our First Aid Kit and Safety Kit.
Falling Down the Thames Blog 30, 08th October 2014
Music to Paddle By
The year 1717 didn’t start well for King George I. He had been on the throne for just three years, but a certain someone was keen to take the seat from him. There was tension between George and his son, the Prince of Wales. It seems that the prince had gathered the support of many influential men in London, and that this support extended to Parliament, which impeded the work of the King’s ministers. George’s son was being a pest. It was time for George to take action. He needed to make a mark. He needed to throw some parties.
For the rich and famous residents of London, the summer of 1717 was marked by three months of festivities, including extravagant receptions at Hampton Court. The beginning of this merriment was a concert on the River Thames. Not just any concert, but the performance of special work composed for the occasion.
Or perhaps not. It is not clear whether George Frideric Handel composed Water Music specifically for the King’s party, or whether he cobbled together an assortment of pieces that he had been working on. Regardless, Handel’s Water Music was an instant success.
It was first performed on the evening of Wednesday 17 July, 1717. King George and a substantial retinue of English nobility took to barges on the River Thames at Whitehall, and sailed upriver as far as Chelsea where they stopped for a meal. The party then sailed back downstream. According to biographer Anthony Hicks, His Majesty arrived home at St. James’s Palace at half-past four in the morning. A report in the Daily Courant explained that one of the barges contained fifty musicians who provided a magnificent presentation of the suite of movements: “which is Majesty liked so well, that he caus’d it to be plaid over three times in going and retuning.” The Prince of Wales was not in attendance.
I close my eyes, and try to imagine the scene. Trumpets, oboes, bassoons, recorders and horns, all bellowing out into the night. It is said that double the usual number of violins and woodwinds were employed so that their contribution wouldn’t be lost in the open air. Upriver on a floodtide, and then back downstream on an ebb tide. The work was so appealing that it was soon heard in London’s theatres, concert halls, and even taverns.
Even now, nearly three hundred years later, I suspect that the Water Music’s Alla Hornpipe from the Suite in D / G major would be recognized by almost everyone, if only because it has been used in so many television advertisements.
Krista and I chose the Common Kingfisher to be our mascot for our 2015 paddling adventure, Falling Down the Thames. We have chosen Handel’s Water Music to be our musical accompaniment.
By my reckoning, there is distance between Whitehall and Chelsea is just shy of three kilometres. Krista and I will be paddling that section of the River Thames on Wednesday 29 April. Krista will be listening to me whistle a medley of movements from Handel’s Water Music. What a lucky girl.
Photo credits: King George I - www.nndb.com; George II, Prince of Wales - www.apollo-magazine.com; George Frideric Handel – www.classicfm.com; Handel discussing Water Music with King George I and his retinue, on the royal barge – painting by Edouard Hamman, found at karina-lumeanoastra.blogspot.com
Falling Down the Thames Blog 29, 01st October 2014
Annus Mirabilis and Annus Horribilis
Falling Down the Thames will require nearly three weeks of padding. By itself, greater London is so large that it will take several days in late April and early May of next year for Krista and I to pass through it. In doing so, our River Thames adventure will take us through one of the most recognizable landscapes on Earth. After the Eiffel Tower in Paris, I suspect that the Palace of Westminster and the great clock tower housing Big Ben facing the River Thames is the world’s most recognizable landmarks. London is, I believe, one of the world’s truly great cities.
But as for people, cities have good years and bad years, London included.
The Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway and now part of the London Underground, opened for business in 1863, making that a pretty good year for the capital city. And 1605 must be considered a particularly good year, and least for King George and members of the House of Lords who were not blown to smithereens by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators. Residents of London celebrated with gusto in 1953 for the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Each of these was a good year, an Annus Mirabilis.
London went through a particularly bad spell in 1665 and 1666. At that time the last of the really awful outbreaks of bubonic plague killed off about 100,000 people, followed quickly by a fire that left almost everyone in central London homeless. In Latin, it was an Annus Horribilis.
Then there are years in which nothing particularly noteworthy happened in the city by the Thames, and 1717 was one of those years. I had to dig deep to find anything at all.
Botanist and book collector Emanuel Mendez da Costa was born that year. The first ballet ever staged in England, The Loves of Venus and Mars, was seen by Londoners. Catherine Sedley, the Countess of Dorcester, and one of the mistresses of King James the Second, died in 1717. A maypole that had been constructed in 1661 was dismantled in 1717 and given to Isaac Newton to be used as a base for a telescope. The steeple of the church of St. Mary le Strand was completed that year under the direction of architect James Gibbs. King George threw his son out of the royal household in 1717, and Free Masons founded the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster… Nothing terribly riveting. A Mediocris Anno.
With one exception. Next week I will tell you about composer George Handel and a wonderful piece of music with an intimate connection to the River Thames.
Photo credits: the Palace of Westminster & Big Ben – www.exploretravelphotography.com; The Great Fire of London – www.hearthtax.org.uk; St. Mary Le Strand - partleton.co.uk
Falling Down the Thames Blog 28, 24th September 2014
Our Mascot “Alfred”
When Glen and I were tossing about ideas for our Thames adventure, we decided it would be fun to have a mascot join us for the aquatic voyage.
We were already very fond of the kingfisher thanks to its residence along many parts of the River Thames, and due to the fact that I am an amateur bird lover and Glen is a professional bird lover. We stared at the kingfisher on our logo and decided that would be the perfect mascot.
Now we just had to find a plush Kingfisher big enough that it could be viewed by observers on the river banks as we paddled down the Thames.
As it turns out, kingfisher plush toys are hardly ubiquitous. But thanks to an intensive Google search, we came across a beautiful handmade kingfisher being sold by a young woman in the Netherlands.
Karin was selling the bird on the wonderful online artisan marketplace, Etsy.com, through her business Stitched Creatures. We contacted Karin and after describing our upcoming trip and our mascot needs, she agreed to make us a custom kingfisher using the colors which appear on our logo: bright blue, deep orange, and deep yellow.
After two weeks and a series of back-and-forth emails from Karin in which we applauded her fabric selection, Alfred was born. Standing 14 inches tall, and composed of a precise patchwork of brightly-coloured felt, corduroy and flannel, he looks majestic and sports an expression that says “Ready for adventure!”. He even has a small fabric loop behind his head, allowing us to clip him to our backpack or the deck of our boat, and a small fish in a front pouch.
Alfred will be experiencing every inch of the Thames and every moment of our voyage, including our visits to pubs and to elementary schools. We now just need to find him a suitable lifejacket.
Photo credit: Common Kingfishers – www.waterpark.org; “Welcome” – www.stitchedcreatures.com
Falling Down the Thames Blog 27, 17th September 2014
The Good and the Great
As Krista and I paddle from one end of the River Thames to the other next year, we will be accompanied by a plush kingfisher named Alfred. We will be sure to make Alfred feel as secure as possible; we wouldn’t want to lose him in the swirling waters of a weir.
When Krista first suggested the name “Alfred” for our kingfisher, I thought that it might have been a tribute to Alfred Russel Wallace, the great English naturalist whose work Krista and I both admire. Instead she explained that the name is a tribute to King Alfred the Great, considered by some to be the first king of England. Also known by the name Ælfred of Wessex, Alfred was born at the Royal Palace at Wantage approximately 1,165 years ago. He is the 32nd great-grandfather of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
Not that Alfred took a direct route to the throne. When his father, King Aethelwulf, died in 856, next in line was Alfred’s older brother Aethelbald who reigned for just four years. When Aethelbald died, brother Aethelbert took over, and was on the throne for six years. Then brother Aethelred I got to be king for four years. By the time his third brother died in short order, I have to wonder if Alfred even wanted the job. Luckily for him, Alfred lived for an additional twenty-eight years before shuffling off, leaving the job to his son Edward.
In his time as king, Alfred accomplished some rather amazing things. He learned to read and write Latin in his late 30s, and assisted in the translation of scholarly books from Latin to Anglo-Saxon. Alfred’s forces defeated the Danish army in 878 at Edington, in 884 in Rochester, and again in 886 in London. At this point the Danes were probably getting a little tired of Alfred. He is credited with establishing a permanent army and naval force, and built a series of fortifications to help defend the kingdom. Alfred also initiated the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a record of British history, which begins with the words: “The island Britain is 800 miles long, and 200 miles broad.” In 893, the Bishop of Sherborne wrote a biography entitled The Life of Alfred the Great, and the title stuck. As travel companions go, Krista and I will be in good company.
When we paddle into Oxford, Krista and I might walk Alfred to a street just a couple of hundred metres from the River Thames known as Alfred Street. We will be about ninety kilometres into our journey at that point. Perhaps Alfred would like to join Krista and I for a pint of beer at a thirteen-century pub on Alfred Street called The Bear Inn.
Photo credits: King Alfred the Great – www.news.com.au; The Bear Inn – www.lovetravelengland.com
Falling Down the Thames Blog 26, 10th September 2014
A Wealth of Kingfishers
As described last week, the symbol for the 2015 paddling adventure of Krista and I is the Common Kingfisher. It is a shy but beautiful blue-and-orange bird which we should spy along many segments of the River Thames.
Krista’s father, Jørgen, gave me his copy of a book published in 1955 entitled Fugle I Farver. This translates from Danish to English as Birds in Colour. From Fugle I Farver I learned that:
“Ret sjælden ynglefugl, almindeligst i Østjylland. Isfuglen bliver her hele året. Den styrtykker efter småfisk, vandinsekter g krebsdyr. Den bygger rede i åbrinker, hvor den hugger det lange vendrette indgangsrør og redestedet ud med næbbet. Æglægningen finder sted i maj. De 6-7 glinsende hvide æg bliver lagt uden underlag, blot omgivet af en krans opgylpede fiskekogler.”
And just in case you don’t speak Danish, this translates roughly as:
“A rare breeding bird seen most commonly in East Jutland. The kingfisher is a resident. It feeds by swooping on small fish, aquatic insects and crustaceans…”
But the online translation program I used had a bit of difficulties with the fourth sentence, offering:
“…The nesting åbrinker where the chipper the long turn right inlet and the nesting area out of its beak.”
I then learned that breeding takes place in May. Six or seven glistening white eggs are laid without formal nesting material, but rather surrounded by a wreath of regurgitated fish bones.
I got additional information about the Common Kingfisher from a 1943 British book in my collection entitled A Bird Book for the Pocket. I gather that we will be paddling down the Thames at just the right time of year to see both parents-to-be excavating nest burrows in steep banks. We should expect them to pass us swiftly, low to the water. It seems that these birds, while hunting, are even capable of hovering motionless before plunging into the water.
Finally I consulted the Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Birds of Britain. It offered a little factoid that I had not come across before. “The kingfisher,” I read, “is seldom preyed upon by other birds, as its flesh has an unpleasant taste.” Perhaps that is a result of eating so many fish.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, we don’t have to worry too much about the plight of the Common Kingfisher which is considered to be of “Least Concern.” It has a huge distribution across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Its current population is estimated to be about 600,000 individuals. But before celebrating the abundance of our kingfisher, it is important to remember that there are fewer of them, spread over a vast range, than there are humans living in Greater Bristol.
Photo credits: Fugle I Farver - www.arnoldbusck.dk; Common Kingfisher - ibc.lynxeds.com
Falling Down the Thames Blog 25, 3rd September 2014
A Bird Fit for a King
In an earlier blog, Krista explained how we came to have a kingfisher as the totem for our great 2015 paddling adventure, Falling Down the Thames. To us, kingfisher are the bold, cheerful and colourful embodiment of the River Thames.
But the bird used on our logo isn’t just a kingfisher. It is the Kingfisher. You see, the British have a habit of using common names for birds that imply that theirs is the only one that really counts. I offer as evidence the Nightjar, the Blackbird, the Martin, and the Dipper. You can trust me on this matter – there are lots of types of nightjar, a wealth of blackbirds, piles of martins, and plethora of dippers. And there is myriad variety among kingfishers.
Indeed, there are no fewer than ninety-two species of kingfishers in the Family Alcedinidae. Other than far northern North America, Europe and Asia, and the Sahara of Africa, kingfishers are found almost everywhere. The African Dwarf-kingfisher is aptly named, being only ten to twelve grams in mass. At the other end of the scale, thirty-five times more massive, is the Laughing Kookaburra. I often hear these birds calling raucously outside my office window in Australia.
If one attribute sets kingfishers aside from other birds, it is their long, straight, murderous bill that they use to impale fish, insects and other small animals. Most species are residents of forest and woodlot, and they seem to prefer habitat near water. Kingfishers have short legs, are brightly coloured or starkly patterned, and prefer classical music to pop.
Actually, I made that last bit up.
There are two species of kingfishers in New Zealand, four in Argentina, five in Mexico, six in Russia, nine in Ethiopia, eleven in China, and twelve in India. Some types of kingfishers are broadly distributed and well known to the public. At one time the Belted Kingfisher of the Americas was featured on the Canadian five-dollar bill. Australia has depicted eight species of kingfisher on its postage stamps.
Kingfishers have also made their way into our business culture. The firm KingFisher Boats of Vernon, British Columbia, specializes in the design and manufacture of heavy-gauge aluminum watercraft. In Europe and Asia, Kingfisher home improvement stores attract six millions shoppers each week. According to its corporate website, Kingfisher beer is the best selling Indian beer in the world. The Canadian firm Kingfisher sells German-made medical lasers. Clearpath Robotics sells an unmanned water craft, powered by differential jet propulsion, called Kingfisher.
In terms of birds and their conservation, kingfishers are doing reasonably well. Most, but not all. The Bougainville Moustached Kingfisher of Papua New Guinea and the Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher of the Solomon Islands are both in danger of extinction. Things are worse for the Tuamotu Kingfisher of French Polynesia, and the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher and Sangihe Dwarf-kingfisher of Indonesia which are all critically endangered. Worst of all, the Guam Kingfisher was driven to extinction in the wild by introduced snakes, although some remain in captivity.
In the next blog, I will tell you about our kingfisher, the Common Kingfisher.
Photo credits: African Dwarf-kingfishers - migrantbirdsinafrica.blogspot.com.au; Laughing kookaburras – Ian Montgomery, birdways.com.au; Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher – www.monitoringmatters.org
Falling Down the Thames Blog 24, 27th August 2014
When and Where
Krista and I have been making plans for our great British paddling adventure, Falling Down the Thames, for the past year. As each component of the trip has consolidated, the trip has achieved greater clarity. The day on which we begin the journey is now less than nine months away.
Both Krista and I have been on lengthy wilderness paddling adventures in the past, but this journey is something quite different. Four hundred and sixteen kilometres from Kemble in Gloucestershire, we will cruise through Oxford, Reading, Henley and Windsor, through the heart of London, all along the length of the River Thames and then the Thames Estuary, and finally along the north and east shores of Kent. We will visit eight counties, pass under 130 bridges, and navigate almost four dozen locks.
This past week, our planning reached a milestone. We are pleased to report that we have settled on an itinerary. We can now say with a degree of confidence when we will arrive at each new station in our journey. Perhaps reading our schedule will give you a small thrill.
Day 1: Tuesday April 21 – Kemble to Cricklade
Walking /Paddling distance 17.12 km / 10.64 mi
Day 2: Wednesday April 22 – Cricklade to Tadpole Bridge
Paddling distance 34.47 km / 21.42 mi
Day 3: Thursday April 23 – Tadpole Bridge to Oxford – Folly Bridge
Paddling distance 33.43 km / 20.77 mi
Day 4: Friday April 24 – Oxford – Folly Bridge to Pangbourne / Whitchurch Lock
Paddling distance 50.26 km / 31.23 mi
Day 5: Saturday April 25 – Pangbourne / Whitchurch Lock to Henley Bridge
Paddling distance 25.36 km / 15.76 mi
Day 6: Sunday April 26 – Henley Bridge to Boulters Lock
Paddling distance 23.53 km / 14.62 mi
Day 7: Monday April 27 – Boulters Lock to Penton Hook Lock
Paddling distance 26.38 km / 16.39 mi
Day 8: Tuesday April 28 – Penton Hook Lock to Teddington Lock
Paddling distance 24.12 km / 14.99 mi
Day 9: Wednesday April 29 – Teddington Lock to Westminster Bridge
Paddling distance 24.27 km / 15.08 mi
Day 10: Thursday 30 April – Westminster Bridge to North Woolwich
Paddling distance 16.33 km/ 10.15 mi
Day 11: Friday May 1 – North Woolwich to Gravesend
Paddling distance 29.8 km / 18.5 mi
Day 12: Saturday May 2 – Gravesend to Sheerness
Paddling distance 33.7 km / 20.9 mi
Day 13: Sunday May 3 – Sheerness to Whitstable
Paddling distance 22.4 km / 13.9 miles
Day 14: Monday May 4 – Whitstable
A day of rest at the Whitstable May Day Festival
Day 15: Tuesday May 5 – Paddle to Maunsell Sea Forts from Whitstable
Paddling distance uncertain
Day 16: Wednesday May 6 – Whitstable to Margate
Paddling distance 27.9 km / 17.3 mi
Day 17: Thursday May 7 – Margate to Richborough
Paddling distance 30.8 km / 19.1 mi
Photo credits: hand-drawn map of the Falling Down the Thames route – Dr Krista Halling; Folly Bridge, Oxford - Daniel L. Johnson (www.danlj.org); Westminister Bridge - nexttriptourism.com; Maunsell Sea Fort – hdwallpapersfactory.com
Falling Down the Thames Blog 23, 20th August 2014
The Old and The New
In last week’s entry, I indicated that Krista and I would be passing under something like 130 bridges as we paddled the length of the River Thames in 2015. I realize that this isn’t any sort of world record. According to a study by Professor Bob Regan, there are almost 450 bridges in the American city of Pittsburgh alone.
Even so, there are a lot of opportunities to cross the Thames. These include Gosditch Bridge, Hailstone House Footbridge, Old Man’s Footbridge, Black Potts Rail Bridge, and Summerleaze Footbridge.
I am particularly looking forward to passing beneath two bridges along the River Thames; the very first and the very last. These two must count among the oldest and the youngest structures to cross the river.
When Romans invaded Britain nearly two millennia ago, they quickly established a series of paved, all-weather roads. The longest of these roads at more than 350 kilometres was Fosse Way, stretching from Lincoln near England’s east coast to Exeter in the southwest. Fosse Way passed through several major communities including Bath, Leicester and Cirencester. The Romans were great surveyors, and some of their chosen routes are still used today by motorways as major as the A2 and A5. The A433 is a twenty-seven kilometre long stretch of road which follows Fosse Way for about three kilometres just north of the community of Kemble.
Krista and I travelled to Kemble earlier this year to visit the spot traditionally recognized as the head of the River Thames. We walked across the A433/Fosse Road bridge, the very first of 130 bridges that cross the Thames. It is a near certainty that when we go back to the spot next year, we will be dragging our canoe under the bridge, not paddling it. Except at time of very high rainfall, that part of the Thames is dry.
After something like 270 kilometres of paddling, and 128 other bridges, Krista and I will come to the very last bridge over the River Thames. First opened to traffic in 1991, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge is the only road crossing of the tidal portion of the Thames outside of greater London. It connects Dartford in Kent to Thurrock in Essex. It is a toll bridge, and in excess of 130,000 vehicles cross each day. Nearly 1.5 billion crossings have been made since it first opened. Including its approach viaducts, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge is over 2800 metres and length, and when we paddle under it, the bridge will soar about sixty metres over our heads.
A teeny old bridge, and a huge new bridge – we will pass under both.
Photo credits: Glen on the one of the earlier bridges over the River Thames – Dr Krista Halling; Queen Elizabeth II Bridge – Martin Smith, www.mrsmithworldphotography.com; Queen Elizabeth II Bridge Marker – Richard Kindersley, www.kindersleystudio.co.uk