Leicester De Montfort 500 Thames Challenge 2011 Diary

Well, how do you get 10 generally unfit tablers from their comfort zone in Leicester to the source of the Thames River and then back again 3 days later from Teddington lock, coupled with the added logistical complication of paddling 146 miles through 42 locks, oh yes and the small matter of raising 10K for Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough?

Quite easy really ‘You just have to ask!”And that is exactly what I asked of the tablers of Leicester DeMontfort 500.

On February 1st 2011, LDM500 held their first Thames Team Leader meeting at Past National President Bennett’s, Oadby retreat. It was here that the challenge date was set for the 7th – 10th July 2011. So we had a date to aim for, now for the small matter of actually doing it. In order to streamline our approach team leaders looked after various disciplines.

So there it was, 5 months to assemble our paddlers and support crew, find the necessary equipment and convince anybody we could to part with their money.

Being Tablers we then descended on those who would feed us, Chateau Boddices was the stop for our next meeting, here besides a copious amount of alcohol and cheese and biscuits the virtues of how we should traverse the waters of the Thames was decided upon. Having debated the advantages of using two man kayaks, as opposed to rowing boats, dragon boats or a paddle steamer (this is table!) the decision was made. Two man kayaks it was to be.

We actually managed 6 team leader meetings, mostly around Chateau Boddices in which the highlights were fish ‘n’ chips, chilli, cheese and biscuits and some challenge business of course!

Then of course there was the small matter of learning how to paddle. For this we descended on the Leicester Outdoor Pursuit Centre (LOPC), spending many a Saturday morning on (and in) the river Soar. We also achieved our level 1 star awards into the bargain.

Fundraising began in earnest at the May Glenstock Music Festival in which £1200 was raised. A fabulous auction night on the 4th July also hosted by the Forge, Glenfield realised a further £1400.

Challenge date 7th July 2011

The challenge starts from LOPC on the morning of 7th July, with kayaks in tow making our way to the first camp site in Bedford’s Battle Bus, President Ward, the Logistics team leader and myself.

The Land Cruiser as supplied by Farmer and Carlisle of Loughborough ferried everybody else in extreme comfort.

We arrived at the Bridge House Campsite in Lechlade at 2pm, where we then proceeded to put the kettle on and have a rest, until we realised that we needed to erect the tents as well. So here started our one-with-nature experience, using a one man kettle and burner. Who was entrusted with supplying equipment? Still the logistics team, very thoughtfully put us bang next door to a local hostelry, visits to similar establishments becoming a nightly trait throughout the challenge.

Thinking perhaps we should make a start in doing what we had actually come all this way to do, we eventually ventured down from the source of the river to find the first point we could float the kayaks. Armed with Google Maps the challenge was afoot. We arrived at Cricklade Bridge, ‘place by the river crossing’ and managed to launch. We then proceeded to paddle to St Johns Lock where we had our photo taken by LDM500’s official photographer, Foz Matthews (the only one with a camera!) and then stopped to ponder what we had let ourselves in for. With our first stretch of eleven miles under our belts the local pub was calling.

That night it was a visit to Lechlade’s local, a mixed grill coupled with a few pints and the Atlantic Ocean could be ours.

Challenge Date – 8th July 2011

Well I guess it was only fair that the Chairman was first in the water at 6am, after all it was his daft idea, and so IPC and I accompanied by Messer’s Moss and Lomas were off. I’m sure some of our members didn’t realise there were two 6 O’clocks in one day, given we didn’t see them until mid morning, contentedly full with McDonald’s breakfast!

Paddling took us through Radcot Lock where Oliver Cromwell is said to have fought a ‘skirmish’ in 1645 and Rushey Lock whose lock house was previously a guest house, providing a peaceful retreat for famous names such as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. 41 club members you’ll know who they are!

Support soon arrived in the form of LDM 41 Club and LDM 850 Ladies Circle at the Shifford lock, TDM was heard to remark, ‘tea never tasted so good’. Our support crew then proceeded to head to our Friday night campsite, Bride Villa Caravan and Camping International, Wallingford to erect tents.

Later that day paddling took us through Godstow where there remain the ruins of a nunnery dating back to the 1100s. Deep in legends of scandal, it was in the nunnery that Henry II met his mistress, Rosamund Clifford. Later the nunnery became notorious for its ‘hospitality’ towards the young monks at Oxford!

On that note, our ‘hospitality’ arrived in the form of Ladies Circle at Abingdon Lock where they had prepared a very welcome late lunch with Tiger beer arriving, courtesy of Mark Newman and the Everards Brewery.

Challenge Date – 9th July 2011

In the water at 6am again, at Culham Lock, the somnolent JC, Weller, Richardson and Wardy got the day off to a start. In contrast a spirited support crew very shrewdly having booked themselves into 5 star non-tent accommodation met us at Cleeve Lock about mid morning.

Saturday presented us with its own trials, locked gates proving most challenging, and resulting in 1 to 2 mile hikes before kayaking could commence. Times like this made us thankful we did a lock survey! Still President Ward thought he would keep our spirits up by assigning us nicknames! And so 10 tablers duly became, the Wham Sisters (so named for their moisturising tendencies), Laurel and Hardy, Crystal Tips and Alistair, Little and Large and Victor and Margaret.

Being table, the opportunity to swag and acquire some property was too good to miss. So if anybody knows where this small buoy lives please let us know!

Paddling took us through; Goring Lock, where we received £5 from a total stranger (who in recognising Round Table, instantly knew we all had to be mad).

Henley on Thames, why did this stretch take so long? (Perhaps the ‘fit’ women along the bank had something to do with the speed of the paddlers) and Marlow Lock. Marlow’s original prosperity was brought about by the Knights Templar who had a house at nearby Bisham and built the first bridge over the Thames here.

Paddling by this time was taking its toll. Our 41 club chairman, suffering muscle spasms booked himself into a well earned three course meal and a proper bed that night.

Saturday saw myself and Ash finish at approx 9pm at Marlow Lock, to be greeted by the team stumbling out of the local pub. So that night, burgers and kebabs would set us up before heading for Laleham Camping Club, Thameside.

Challenge Date – 10th July 2011

Starting at Marlow Lock 6am were Crystal Tips and Alistair and Little and Large. The end was in sight, Teddington Lock here we come.

Along the way £50 was gratefully received from a boat full of happy holidaymakers from Guernsey in Boveney Lock . This just proving that Round Table can both touch and stimulate generosity among people near and far.

Paddlers that day passed by Windsor Castle and through Bell Weir Lock which is upstream from Runneymead where the Magna Carter was signed. Finally emerging at Teddington Lock at approximately 7pm the challenge was complete.

Moving forward to September 2011 in support of LDM500, Leicester St Martin’s 41 Club Chairman Jeff Newton and their members held a charity dinner, in which the guest speaker was Ed Stafford, the first man to walk the Amazon. What common ground I thought LDM500 shared with him. This realised in excess of £600 towards our final total for which we are extremely grateful.

My personal thanks go to everybody involved in making this challenge a reality. Yes it was hard work, but it was a pleasure. We are well on our way to raising a staggering £14,000 which is tremendous. Not bad for 10 generally unfit tablers!

You can still support this challenge, by visiting the website at: www.demontfort500.org.uk where you will be able to contribute through the ‘donate online button’ or by contacting LDM500 directly.

Simon Riley
Chairman LDM500

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