Sarah: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

After our twice round Oxford trip it was time to step up the distance. We wanted something travelable to by train as it makes it easier to plan and I don’t have to drive afterwards.

The Cam between Cambridge and Ely was our ideal plan. However the rowers had other ideas. On the day we planned, a big section was being used for a race and others can only use the river under control of race marshalls. Standing on the bank in the cold for an hour wasn’t in the training plan, so we replanned.

We decided to paddle the river Stort to its confluence with the river Lea and then onwards to Cheshunt. We have paddled sections of this but it was time to join it all up. You can see a map of all the obstacles on our route here:

We took the train out to Bishops Stortford having packed up as little kit as we could. Getting on and started was easy. It was going well until we hit the ice. We’d got to a stretch where we there was repair works to a lock. The stillness of the water meant that the river had frozen. We bashed through a bit but it was not good for our soft PVC pakboat so it was time for a carry round. I hate boat carrying.

We were finding it tough with the cold and the amount of portages round locks so an extra long carry was not welcome. We kept on, and despite losing time early on, picked up speed. Then it started to snow. Big flakes of snow. It settled on the bags and the bottom of the boat. And us. Brrrrrr.

As the snow fell, the reflection on the water made it look as though it was coming down and heading upwards again. It was only going to get stranger. We made the miles pass with an A – Z of what we could have for tea tonight. It got a bit silly towards the end of the alphabet although Dan did need to know that Sag Aloo does not start with a P, even if it is made with potato.

Around the locks we were trying to have very minimal time off the water. We were getting good at the portages until we hit the Lee. The locks on the river Lee have been designed to take industrial traffic and where a lot of the Thames has been adapted to provide lower portage points for canoes and kayaks these are lacking. A lot of standing up in the boat is needed and some of the portages required me to lower myself down into the boat from the bank 4 foot above. I find this really tricky – having had balance issues in the past I find boat to land transfer tricksey. Dan holds onto the boat as I get in and I may have tested his temper a little with my hesitancy and apparent need to tip the boat up. Ho hum, I’m sure the friendly fisherman appreciated my yelling at Dan.

We kept paddling and despite being slowed by tricky portages we were still on time for our get off. We were aiming to be off at 4pm and at 3.50pm we pulled in. The boat was quickly disassembled (without being dried – oops!) and we headed for the train station. A quick change of trousers was in order on the train as mine were soaked and Dan struggled out of his dry suit standing next to the luggage. We were soon home. Paddling close has its benefits.

This paddle was 29 km. Getting on at around 09.35 and off at 15.50 – 6 hours 15 mins. It’s a bit slower than we would have liked, but with no flow, getting stuck in ice and portages to suffer, I think it was still a solid run. Dan had a slightly different point of view


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