Thames Blog 6: Everything I Know About Kemble

Falling Down the Thames Blog 6, 23rd April 2014

Everything I Know About Kemble

As a travel companion, if Krista has a fault, it is that she is not quite as silly as me. Silly, certainly, just not quite so foolhardy as her paddling companion. Goofy, but with a healthy sense of self-preservation.

Pelican perches on a crocodile

Whereas I would willingly hop on any airplane with at least one wing, Krista might check if the civil war raging at the flight’s destination might be as bad as everyone says it is. Even though she is an accomplished surgeon, and can reattached body parts to other body parts, Krista is likely to look for saltwater crocodiles in a muddy river before losing a major limb. I leap first. And as far as I know, Krista has never risked a jail sentence by eating a critically-endangered creature. I envy that sort of sensibility.

And it is Krista’s slightly sensible side that could make all of the difference to our trip down the Thames. For instance, when I asked her to decide where our journey should start, Thameshead near Kemble or Seven Springs in the Cotswold Hills, Krista quite rightly suggested that we scout out both sites and then decide. Canoes are heavy, awkward bits of kit, and if the train station at Kemble is miles and miles away from any navigable stretch of water, then Seven Springs might be a better alternative.

But that isn’t enough to stop me from investigating the two potential starting spots from a distance. And so here are all of the really important things I have discovered about Kemble:

- Kemble is, officially, a village.

- It is six kilometres from Cirencester, a town. Towns are larger than villages.

- Kemble has a pub known as The Tavern Inn. It is situated next to the train station.

The Tavern Inn Kemble Small www joinin com

And that is really about it. When I turned to the Domesday Book, compiled in the 11th century, I found that the population of Kemble had been thirty villagers, six smallholders, twelve slaves and fifteen others. It isn’t a lot to go on. I am not even sure that the current Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland knows that Kemble exists. I certainly couldn’t find any demographic details of the community, neither how many people live there, nor what they do for a living.

So here are all of the considerably less important things that I have discovered about Kemble:

- Trains depart for Kemble once an hour from London’s Paddington Station. If you travel off-peak, and buy your ticket sufficiently far in advance, it will cost you £16.70.

- All Saints Church in Kemble has a Norman-era door. Holy Communion is offered on Wednesdays at 10:00, and Morning Prayers are said on Thursdays at 07:45.

- Kemble’s primary school has about 100 students, and the school boasts “a challenging, balanced curriculum, together with a caring, nurturing environment.”

- The village has a combination store and post office, open from 08:00 to 13:00, and 14:00 to 18:00.

- Kemble’s postal codes begins with GL7.

- The Kemble and Ewan Garden Club can be reached on 770449.

Perhaps it is time to investigate Seven Springs.

- Glen








Photo credits: Pelican standing on a crocodile – Margherita (; The Tavern Inn –; Thames Path -

Thames Blog 5: Two Friends, A River, An Adventure

Falling Down the Thames Blog 5, 16th April 2014

Two Friends   A River   An Adventure

When Glen and I first started talking about Falling Down the Thames, we pictured the aquatic voyage itself. But those thoughts quickly expanded into peripheral activities and by-products. We decided with excitement that we needed a logo.  “Surely we can’t do a source-to-sea adventure without a logo!” we exclaimed.

That’s all well and good, but how does one go from “We want a logo for our trip!” to the fully finished design?

Fortunately I had already been through this process for some other businesses I am involved in. I knew that we could begin with a general concept (i.e. an abstract idea) or we could start with tangible elements that we wished to be included in the logo. Or we could go with a bit of both.

Glen and I wanted our logo to evoke a sense of adventure, while reflecting the natural history of the River Thames. We agreed that the logo should be simple; even minimalistic. The graphics should be stylized, rather than highly detailed. Less is more.

I contacted Angela Wagner, graphic artist and owner of Inspired Design, a Toronto-based graphic design studio. Angela and I had previously worked together on the design of three other logos for my veterinary and outdoor gear businesses. From the creativity and quality of her earlier work, I was confident that she would come through for us on Falling Down the Thames.

Glen and I discussed our ideas for the content. We both wanted the River Thames to be depicted. A canoe or, at the very least, a paddle would also make sense. “Finally,” Glen added, “we should include a kingfisher. It is important to reflect the local fauna.”

We approached Angela with these ideas. Her feedback was enthusiastic, as she explained that the more clear and precise we could be about the content of a logo, the easier it would be for her to work. “Some clients,” she said, “only know conceptually what they want, while others can tell me such high level details as wanting the design to show a dog balancing on an exercise ball.” We fell into the latter group.

It was not long before we received our first round of logos. A swishing blue flow of the Thames, over a stylized kingfisher, all in bright happy colours. Below were the words: Canoe. River. Birds. Two Friends. Angela explained that in attempting to accommodate images of each of our requested components on one logo, the design quickly became crowded and unsightly. So she used her creative license and incorporated a tagline for the parts not visualized. Brilliant.

Our vision was coming to life. It was taking form, and we could not be more excited. But this was just the first draft. As great as it looked, certainly we couldn’t stop at the first draft. There must be ways to make it even better.

Glen and I sat at a bistro table in a downtown Toronto Starbucks and stared at the logo over lattes.

“We’re paddling from west to east, so let’s show the river starting as a narrow trickle on the left and widening on the right.”

“The viewer might not know that the colourful swish is meant to be a kingfisher. Let’s make him a bit more detailed.”

“The kingfisher would look energetic and determined if shown in flight. Let’s make him fly from west to east.”

“Let’s consider other words for the tagline.”

We sent these thoughts to Angela. Off she went again, armed with our requests for modifications. A few weeks later we received the following:




Falling Down the Thames

While Angela’s kingfisher is stationary rather than in flight, he had an air of adventure and determination. We immediately adored both designs. We could easily picture the blue block introducing a video clip. The stylized kingfisher on a river branch could appear on clothing, a flag, perhaps bookmarks. The opportunities seemed endless…

The graphic identity of Falling Down the Thames was born.

- Krista

Thames Blog 4: Parrots? In England?

Falling Down the Thames Blog 4, 9th April 2014

Parrots? In England?


Of parrots there are 332 species, and each one of them is beautiful. The family includes giants, like the Hyacinth Macaw of Brazil at a metre long and 1.7 kilograms in mass. At the other end are minuscule representatives, like the Red-breasted Pygmy Parrot of New Guinea, twelve times as small and 300 times less massive. Somewhere in the middle is the Ring-necked Parakeet, sometimes known as the Rose-ringed Parakeet. Native to a band of north-tropical Africa and the Indian subcontinent, these pale yellow-green birds are most notable for their red beak and pink-coloured collar. They inhabit deciduous woodlands, and eat fruit and seeds. Ring-necked Parakeets are well known among the caged-bird fraternity, and come in a number of desirable colours not usually seen in nature, including albino, cinnamon, grey and blue.

Ring-necked Parakeet

So why, in a dialogue about a journey down the River Thames in southern England, am I writing about a species of parrot from African and India? It seems that once a creature is taken into captivity, it is only a matter of time before it escapes. I call it the Jurassic Park phenomenon. Whether intentionally or by accident, Ring-necked Parakeets have been introduced to such far-flung locales as Mauritius, Hong Kong, Singapore, and, you guessed it, England.

According to the Lonely Planet guide to London, it is possible to find a colony of these parakeets on an island in the Thames. At least I assume that the authors were writing about the Ring-necked Parakeet. Not known for their ornithological acumen, the guide’s authors describe colonization by flocks of “feral parakeets.” But since the only parrots known from the British Isles are Ring-necked Parakeets, my species identification is a pretty safe bet.

The LP guide describes the section of the River Thames that flows from Petersham and Ham to Twickenham Bridge as one of the most attractive in London. Just before reaching Richmond Bridge, Krista and I should come across Corporation Island. And there we should find parakeets. After all, has the LP guide ever been wrong in the past?

Hands up – who thinks that Krista and I need to stop our journey at Corporation Island, long enough to see the parakeets?


According to the Tidal Thames Recreational Users Guide provided by the Port of London Authority, Corporation Island is a sliver of land just two miles downstream from Teddington Lock. This is the final lock on the Thames, the place where the Thames becomes tidal, and the spot at which Krista and I will need to switch from a canoe to an ocean-capable kayak. I promise that I will take my camera along, and will  post photographs when we find the parakeets.

- Glen


Photo credits: Ring-necked Parakeet -; Dr Krista Halling -

Thames Blog 3: The Head of the Thames

Falling Down the Thames Blog 3, 2nd April 2014

The Head Of The Thames

Each journey begins with a single step, or, in the case of Krista and I, with a single stroke of the paddle. But exactly where should Krista and I plonk down the canoe to begin in our journey down the Thames?

There are some rivers where the exact location of the head is obvious. When Lisa and I visited Croatia, friends took us to a spot where water wells up furiously from under a mountain range. This upwelling is indisputably the start of the Cetina River, the spot from which the watercourse begins its one hundred kilometre journey to the sea.

However, the Thames is not like the Cetina. It doesn’t begin with a massive hole in the earth, full of roiling water. So where exactly does the Thames start?

Glen in Greece

When I want information about Britain, I turn to the reliable, authoritative, somewhat antiquated perspective provided by the third edition of The Blue Guides tribute to travel in England. Edited by Findlay Muirhead in 1930, it is a wealth of information in very small print. After all, the guide provides a 49 page introduction to the study of English monuments, and a list all of Britain’s sovereigns from Egbert to George V. Even if the guide is a little behind on the times, surely the head of the Thames is exactly where it always has been.

And there, in the teeniest of fonts on page 254, under a brief entry for Cirencester, are the words: “Thames Head, about 2 m. further on in this direction, is generally regarded as the source of the Thames.” The closest community to Thames Head is Kemble, a community so small that Muirhead allowed it only this insultingly short entry: “Kemble is the junction of branch-lines to (4¼ m.) Cirencester (Town Sta.) and to (7¼ m.) Tetbury.” When your village is known only for its proximity to two other communities, you know that you are in trouble.

Thames Head Pub

Surely, then, Krista and I needed to head for Kemble, and look for something called Thames Head. But maybe not.

On page 262, Muirhead includes an entry about the Cotswold Hills and Seven Springs, claiming that the springs are “the source of the Churn and considered by some the true head of the Thames” before blathering on about a small Norman church with a fabulous view near Birdlip Hill.

Internet sources tell us that there is a plaque on a monument in the middle of a field at Thames Head, proclaiming it to be the true source of the Thames. Additional sources explain that there is a similar monument at Seven Springs.

Seven Springs

So what shall it be? Where do we start? Thames Head or Seven Springs? Decisions, decisions. I think that I will leave it up to Krista.

- Glen


Photo credits: The Thames Head Inn,; Seven Springs,

Thames Blog 2: Facts and Factoids

Falling Down the Thames Blog 2, 26th March 2014

Facts and Factoids

A fact is something that is true. A factoid is something that sounds like it is true, but isn’t. I have never been certain which of the two is more important. It is, for  instance, a widely accepted fact that persons with a vegetarian diet are at a lower  risk for cardiovascular disease. It is a factoid that vegetarians live longer than  meat-eaters; it just seems longer.

Here are a series of cool facts and factoids about the River Thames, the length of which Krista and I will paddle in 2015. Feel free to write and correct me if I have mislabelled any of them.

The Thames in London

Fact: More than 175 rivers have lengths in excess of 1000 km. The River Thames is just 350 km long.

King John

Factoid: Size doesn’t matter.

Fact: Magna Carta was signed by King John on an island in the River Thames in 1215.

Factoid: Actually this fact is a factoid. John applied his seal to the document, but didn’t sign it.

Fact: The version of London Bridge completed in 1831 was sold to Robert McCulloch and moved from the River Thames to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1968. After the Grand Canyon, it is Arizona’s second most popular tourist attraction.

Factoid: London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

Fact: As the River Thames passes Kingston-upon-Thames, its average daily flow is 5,700 million litres.

Factoid: Students at England’s universities drink a combined average of 5,700 million litres of beer each year.

Fact: Early Celtic people in England referred to the River Thames as Tamesas, which can be translated as “Dark Water.”

Factoid: English actress Tamsin Greig was conceived on the banks of the Thames.

Tamsin Greig

Fact: Over 100 species of fish are known to live in the River Thames.

Factoid: Some of them are edible.

Fact: There is a strain of yeast known as Thames Valley Ale.

Factoid: There is a brand of edible underwear known as Thames.

Fact: There is a river in Ontario known as the Thames. It is a Canadian Heritage River.

Factoid: The Thames River in Ontario attracts as many as twenty visitors a year.


- Glen

Glen in the Philippines



Picture credits: Thames at night,; King John, Google images; Tamsin Greig,

Falling Down the Thames Blog 1, 19 March 2014

Silliness Loves Company

I had never had a particularly good grip on my common sense..

Cheeky Glen ..and when it finally got away from me, I felt the need to get it back as quickly as possible. I jumped on it, and wrestled it to the ground. Using a length of stout rope I tied it to a park bench, but when I came back for it a couple of hours later it had slipped its bonds and fled. I never saw my common sense again.

For many of my closest friends and relatives, this probably explains a lot. My life is full of silliness. I have recently allowed myself to be bitten by a crocodile in Jamaica, wrestled a killer tree in one of the last remaining pristine jungles of south-east Asia, and camped with cavemen in a remote corner of the Philippines.

These behaviours are all perfectly silly, but my latest idea for adventure leaves silly far behind, visible only as a rapidly-shrinking figure in the rear-view mirror. Having enjoyed danger in some of the most remote spots on the planet, it was surely time for me to get into trouble in one of the most urbanized, heavily populated spots on Earth. And so begins my quest to paddle the length of the Thames River from its highest headwaters to a spot on the English coast far beyond the river’s official mouth.

I have several friends who are far more adept at expedition-style paddling than I, but would any of them be willing to hop into a watercraft with me? Canadian biologist Rob Higgins is probably a little less than enthusiastic about paddling with me since I guided our canoe over a waterfall. Hungarian architect Klarinka Farkas hasn’t spoken to me since I described our paddling misadventures on Loch Lomond in my book The Attack of the Killer Rhododendrons, also known as The Last Place You’d Look for a Wallaby. I would trust Canadian outdoorsman David Kay with my life, but I wasn’t sure that I could trust him to be silly.

She owns more bicycles than earrings.

KristaI felt that I could trust Krista Halling, not only to be silly, but also to keep me alive. Krista is a veterinary surgeon practicing her craft at an animal hospital in Mississauga, Ontario. She owns more bicycles than earrings, and if I got my right arm hacked off in a horrible boating accident, she could probably stitch it back on. Best of all, when I suggested the expedition to her, she said “yes.”

And so, if all goes according to plan, Krista and I will plunk ourselves down in a canoe in April of 2015 to paddle down the Thames. This is the first of our weekly blogs, designed to serve as a record of our progress toward the expedition. Stick around as Krista and I go Falling Down the Thames.