In March 2004 my son Sam completed a solo row of the Atlantic, covering 3,000 miles in 59 days. In doing so, at the age of 23, he became the youngest person ever to have rowed any ocean and won the solo race. The previous summer he had taken delivery of his specially crafted boat at Henley and, with his friend James on board, rowed it to Newark along the linked canals and rivers. I had walked alongside collecting sponsorship. This was an 11 day trek over a distance of 215 miles.
En route Mum telephoned me. As often when someone rings a mobile phone her first question was: ‘where are you?’. Now, Mum didn’t realise what we were doing, so she was somewhat surprised when I replied: ‘well Mum, I’m in the middle of a field of head high thistles and stinging nettles – and I’ve got a dustbin on my back’. I then went on to explain that what I had thought was a simple matter of a stroll along towpaths involved some pretty scary diversions, one of which I was in; and the dustbin was meant to collect donations from all the people we would encounter en route. Unsurprisingly there were no donors in this field. I had got myself into this predicament as it had seemed a better option than a field with a bull in it. Upon encountering the bull I had crawled under a barbed wire fence, chucking the dustbin over first, and come to this. I then had to waste more precious minutes ferreting around for those few coins that had been in the dustbin. As I couldn’t see above the undergrowth to gather how far it stretched there seemed nothing else but to press on. Going back would have meant more of the same. Of course, I hadn’t got a clue where I was when I eventually emerged, so I knocked at the nearest house for directions. The woman who answered the door took one look at me, dashed inside, and bolted the door. When I reflected that, quite apart from wearing nothing but sandals and a pair of shorts, and being covered in bleeding scratches, I was sporting a dustbin, I began to see her point.
Just to add insult to injury, t-shirt-and-shorts-clad Louisa and her friends, in a couple of hours outside Nottingham’s waterfront pubs, collected far more money than I had managed on my magnificent effort.
Sam took delivery of the specially designed rowing boat at Henley on Thames, and off we set on a fine Summer’s afternoon around the time of my 61st birthday. He and his friend James took the boat, whilst I walked along what I had hoped would be the footpath. I soon discovered that the banks of the River Thames and the Oxford Union canal were not as smooth and foliage free as that branch of London’s Regent’s Canal alongside which I had trained for the event.
The stretch along which I followed this couple was plain sailing in comparison with what I had to battle through when talking to Mum.
Elderly lock gates, green tresses dripping with possibly unsavoury water, were to be a regular feature of the journey. This was quite useful, as it gave me an opportunity to catch up.
Waterfowl were plentiful;
a woolly goat, or perhaps a sheep, suckled its young;
slightly older horse riders ambled leisurely along;
and yellow ochre lichen clung to knobbly branches.
Numerous bridges were to be negotiated.
This house is one of those in which I enjoyed a peaceful overnight stay. The story of the most notable exception will follow.
These fields were probably located in the vicinity of the above house.
Further stages of this trip will occupy the next few episodes of this Knight’s tale.