This was a meander in two parts: a mini-meander to take the three Centenary boats up to Keith’s, with a slap-up Indian buffet in Sunbury to set the tone for the optimistically-billed Indian Summer Meander. This was followed by the main event a week later: to Godalming and back, down the Wey navigation.
We set off from Shepperton on Friday 4th October, fortified by tots of rum from Keith. With a weather professional (Paul) among the party, we were full of confidence that the promised Indian Summer would indeed be forthcoming.
The Wey is a very beautiful stretch of water, and we soon had a smooth system for cranking the sluices of the many picturesque locks. After a few showers in the morning the weather settled into meteorological perfection, ending in a gorgeous golden autumn day.
The Anchor at Pyrford provided the first pints of the trip, with those who had obeyed Russell’s sandwich instructions nibbling their own food and others feasting on classic ham egg and chips. Meanwhile RR took the first bites of his now-legendary pie – the foodstuff that keeps on giving, as it was still going strong on Sunday. And we all enjoyed a slice of ginger cake made by John’s wife Phyllida.
Our destination was Guildford rowing club, but by the time the Travelodge hove into sight we were weary skiffers and the extra miles didn’t appeal. Moments later we passed the Guildford Sea Cadets and their roomy pontoon, and as there were people about we decided to chance asking for moorings there. They were extremely hospitable, and after a donation to funds the Chief invited us to return any time.
Noodles and beer filled our evening in Guildford nicely, before we rested our tired limbs.
Diligently following the performance-boosting regime recommended by most Olympic coaches, Ricardo joined the party on Saturday morning after an evening of many pints and a 2.30 bedtime. But it was OK because he had a whole banana for breakfast, so was raring to go.
Off like a rocket we went, reaching Godalming early and dongling until a very low bridge suggested we should go no further. Further ham egg and chips was washed down with cider in The Sun, where RR and Ricardo decided that the word ‘Fortitude’ was far too neglected in modern life and deserved a comeback – resulting in a competition to mention the word as often as possible.
This stretch of the Navigation is rather full of narrow boats, many in the charge of novices. We were most alarmed when a great metal hull loomed within touching distance as we cowered in the reeds by the bank, waiting for Sam Lewis to be crushed to matchsticks. Fortunately the narrow boat driver managed to locate reverse just in time.
Our destination for the evening was the New Inn at Send, where we hauled the boats onto a grassy bank and left the oars tucked into the pub’s back garden. The pub had saved us a long table in a separate room. This was just as well, since the evening was very convivial and, after a certain beer, wine and amaretto combination, fairly loud. It was lovely to be joined by Nicky for the meal, a very enjoyable evening and great food and hospitality from the pub.
After a night at the Woking Premier Inn we returned to the Navigation with reinforcements – Mary and Sarah joined us at the oars for the last, glorious day.
Russell had thoughtfully built in time for cultural and educational visits as well as exploring a few backwaters. The National Trust museum at Dapdune Wharf proved interesting. Later we weaved among the willows and alders with a sense of intrepid adventuring, and pulled up for a visit to Newark Priory. After wandering round the ancient ruins we decided to take a group photo, but unfortunately our enthusiastic shouts roused a large group of young bullocks who immediately started a stampede. Or as John put it, likening the adventure to a trip up the Zambesi, “it was clear to me that the wildebeest were very worried about the crocodiles waiting for them in the river, which is probably why we did not see any crocs ourselves, though I felt sure they were there”.
Fortunately we made it back onto the boats in one piece and carried on skiffing with fortitude (that’s 11-10, Ricardo). A leisurely afternoon break at another pub, then it was back through Thames Lock in time for the 6pm curfew.
To paraphrase our very own Meander Maestro, “Definitely the Best Indian Summer Meander…EVER!”
Many thanks to Russell for all his efforts from fellow meanderers Jane, John, Viv, Martin, Sally, Sarah, Mary, RR, Paul, Chris and Ricardo. Also thanks to Keith and Hilary for the fortified send-off, the moorings, and the beautiful stripy lock key (and refreshments for the re-stringers); and to Michael for lending a classic touch of elegance to the first day by accompanying us in his slipper launch.
Note for future reference: take long ropes as most of those locks have no chains.
Don’t forget to check out the Gallery for photos of the trip.