Chainsaw powered canoeing

When I accepted the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group’s invitation to join the Maidenhead Canoe Cavalcade I imagined a brief half-hour paddle down a benign stretch of water to Bray.  What I was not expecting was an adventurous battle through the Maidonian rain-forest.  But that, and a fun-packed morning, is kinda what I got.

Invitations to the Maidenhead Canoe Cavalcade in early September were once again extended to members of Marlow Canoe Club in 2015.  Having missed out on this little adventure for the past few years I was determined not to miss out this time around and scribbled it onto the household calendar well before anything else could get on there.

All thirteen of us gathered at Green Lane near the town centre.  I was welcomed to the put-in by Alasdair Pettigrew from the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group, who also doubled as our intrepid leader for the day.

Our mission was to paddle from Maidenhead to Bray Lake just 2km away, what a doddle eh?  Except that which we were about to paddle was Maidenhead’s old flood relief channel; a waterway that has fallen into disuse and that nature has started to reclaim. Now we were about to do our bit to try and take it back for all Maidonians.

01 The put-in

I must admit that I was not enthused by the put-in, what with it being a near vertical muddy slope adjacent to a freely flowing drain-water outfall pipe.  Alasdair explained that the difficulty of the put-in demonstrated why proper landing stages and so forth were required as part of the restoration project.  Just upstream from the put-in the diggers had already moved in to re-open Maidenhead’s York Stream, with that phase of the scheme due to be complete by 2017.

So down the muddy cliff I went, fully expecting to have to wade out to the boat at the bottom.  However, Alasdair had planned ahead and had co-opted an assistant equipped with full-on waders, and his help made it a real doddle just to step into the boat and set off with nice dry feet.  Lovely.

Four of us were in solo plastic kayaks with the remainder spread across 4 open canoes.  Well I say four in kayaks but you could say five since one of the kayaks piloted by Shaun Baker, notorious for his exploits chucking himself in a plastic vessel over huge waterfalls, also contained a passenger in the form of Shaun’s large black dog.  Shaun is also well-known for holding speed records in his jet powered kayak but wisely decided to leave that at home for this trip.

03 Woof

02 The intrepid group

And so we were on our way and into the lovely semi-rural landscape that was to define the entire route.  Right from the off I got a taste of what we were in for when in the canoe ahead of me John Morgan, technical lead on the restoration project, produced a pair of loppers from the boat and started attacking the shrubbery as and when it offended him.

05 No need for loppers yet

Now on Marlow club trips about the only tool we usually require is a windlass and even Adrian Cooper does not usually take gardening equipment with him.  But as we progressed downstream the loppers came out more and more often as we reached various obstacles.  Indeed all the open canoes seemed to have packed cutting equipment and I felt very under-equipped for this mission.  Certainly taking my favoured long sea paddle was proving to be a big mistake in the tanglement of reeds and tree branches.

After about 1km Alasdair called a halt at what seemed to be an obstruction too far.  Earlier in the week Alasdair and John had done a pilot run down the waterway and cleared the worst of it and this was as far as they got.  By this time I was a bit surprised to be stopping as I was fully expecting someone to produce a machete or chainsaw from at least one of the boats.  But, undeterred, the kayaks managed to break though and that cleared the way for most of the canoes to follow us.

By now Shaun had taken the lead.  Along the way, in between jungle clearance operations, he took the opportunity to collect a few items for his sports collection including both a football and rugby ball.  Somehow he managed to squeeze it all into his dinky kayak which, lest we forget, was still part occupied by his doggy.

06 Lopper time

Progress was such that there was no risk of ever breaking sweat.  Every so often I found my keeled boat bottoming out on sunken branches or shallow mud but I only really got properly stuck once.  A bit of hip jiggling soon got things moving again and this at least provided some physical exercise.

We were almost at Bray when we encountered a mass of branches that appeared, to me at least, impenetrable.  But with the goal so close you could tell Shaun was having none of it and, with assistance from one of lopper squad in the opens, they broke through what eventually turned out to be several metres of twiggy mesh.

And so, after circa an hour and a half of paddling, we made it to Bray Lake where a welcoming cuppa was waiting for us.

07 Mission accomplished at Bray Lake

In the post-paddle debrief at the cafe, John Morgan told me that this was probably the most overgrown he had seen the route down to Bray Lake in recent years.  It never takes Mother Nature long to do her work and it is a compromise between having enough tree cover to suppress the reed growth, without then ending up with an excess of broken branches in the water.

This trip was definitely different.  It was great fun taking on Mother Nature and winning and I will certainly be going again if the opportunity is repeated next year.  There is also the potential to extend the trip by paddling the short distance from Bray Lake out onto the Thames and then down to Windsor or back up to Maidenhead.

But next year I will take a shorter paddle and possibly my telescopic loppers.  But not the dog, sorry Tina, you can stay at home.

For more information on the Maidenhead Waterway Restoration project visit http://www.maidenheadwaterways.org

Rodney Casbierd

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