Kempsford to somewhere near Buscott 5th June 2023
Day two began with a somewhat late start. In fact by the time we had packed everything taking into account troubleshooting and changes from the day before (and had a delicious breakfast of nut and berry porridge made by Theresa) it was 11.20am.. we had hoped to be away by 9...i think the best explanation is just that we were still getting into the swing of the expedition and had not developed any kind of a routine or system. Theresa of course was much better at that than me as her kit had been designed around use on expeditions- mine was at least partly drawn together from the equipment I take round schools- so that's something to bear in mind for the future!
We were still being helped by the current but there were far fewer problematic trees to deal with. We met up with Sally- Ann and Prof. Linda Hurcombe just before Lechlade for some filming- they managed to capture some really lovely footage of us and we were able to voice some of our observations from the first day. Looking back, it was quite lovely that we had the river to ourselves for most of the first day, and half of the second. It felt like a sort of honeymoon- shut away from the world with our new boats and very few distractions. Both myself and Theresa felt that although the first section had been a tricky beast, and had slowed us down considerably the trip would not have felt complete without it.
We passed the milestone of our first lock- St johns where the stature of old father Thames in the form of Neptune watches over multitudes of powered boats, canoeists and even a few sailing Dingies! I doubt he'd seen many like us pass by!
We stopped again at the riverside pub, Lechlade for another interview with Sally and Linda and briefly joined the Bronze age for a pint of beer ( and some chips). Although in some ways it was tempting to be complete purists about the trip it really wouldn't have served much purpose. Yes we wanted to test the boats, and yes we wanted to use a lot of conjectural stone age kit, but without engaging with people, enjoying peoples interest and excitement and taking the opportunity to film, record, give interviews the whole thing would have become more of a dry academic exercise, and it was never supposed to be *Just* that- it was an adventure!
There is Experimental archaeology, where a given hypothesis can be questioned, and supported ( or disproved) through carefully thought out experiments, controls and repeat tests. This was not experimental archaeology in the strict sense- it is EXPERIENTIAL ARCHAEOLOGY - where trying out a craft, skill, situation in a fairly realistic setting can suggest things to investigate further. But more than that- it is about PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT - and since we were 'heads down and paddling hard' it was absolutely a godsend having the support of Berrycroft hub for the first few days. You can see a lot of videos and interviews about the trip on their Facebook page Up to this point it is more difficult to work out our exact daily travel- the river winds and wiggles so much. However on the river Boating the Thames website / river Thames App there is a chart giving the distances between all the locks, and cumulative distances. Day 1 we covered 7-8km, day two we covered around 14, from our start just above Kempsford, to just below Buscot lock. By then we were both tired. Theresa had been battling to keep her canoe on course all day against a stiff headwind. My canoe, (which i should call by its proper name Coralix), although longer, wider and theoretically with more wind age, had a slightly V shaped hull which seemed to grip the water better. Theresa's Canoe, while far more neatly constructed, was very flat bottomed. This made it incredibly stable in terms of tipping, but not very directionally stable. Neither of us had a lot left by the time we got through Buscot Lock in the gathering dusk and the banks were depressingly vertical - which is no good for our canoes, they need to be carefully lifted, not slid.
With an increasing sense of desperation we headed for a potential spot Theresa had noticed where a gap in the reeds led to a possible campsite. We unloaded the boats onto a dried out mud bar, leaving some things concealed under a tarp and tramped ashore, already stung to hell by the palisade of Nettles, our bare feet stabbed by last years reeds
Someone had been there before us- and whoever it was, I salute them. Apart from the cleared ground, there was not a single sign of their passing- no fire scar, no litter. Singing legs aside it was a nice campsite- inaccessible except from the water, shelterd, and with adequate firewood. Before you ask, I won't be giving out details of our camping places- I have seen what happens when word of a perfect spot gets out- and it makes me despair of humanity.
We got camp set up pretty quickly, and Theresa, exhausted by battling the winds was asleep fairly early. Maybe it was the instant tingling of all 10,000 of my nettle stings, but I couldn't sleep and stayed up stupidly late cooking a stew with what was left of the big joint of meat in my replica of the Mildenhall bowl. Since I'd forgotten to fill the water cans at St johns and the next two locks didn't have taps, i had to actually boil river water after first filtering it through a t-shirt. the water was relatively clean ( compared to lower down the river) and we suffered no ill effects. It did reinforce our decision to use the taps at locks though- boiling stew in a neolithic vessel is fairly efficient, but boiling water is a pain!
A minor experiment in 'extending the life of fresh food' was a success; I covered the cool cooked food with wilted water dock leaves picked the day before, and then added the rawhide cover tied in place with some string. This stew did us for three days before we admitted defeat and threw away the remnants somewhere near Didcot.
Looking back I think this was probably the one of the hardest days mentally- and it had little to do with the distance traveled. I think the delays were playing on both our minds, as well as all we were learning about the boats. To top it off because we weren't making the same distances ( or anything like) as me and mum back in 2020 i was getting worried about camping spots if we weren't hitting our planned milestones. Believe it or not, we had yet to pass the spot where mum and I camped out first night- we were more than a day ( 20-30km) behind.