A two day paddle organised by the Stour Trust encompassing the whole of the Stour from the Granary Quay at Sudbury to Cattawade Bridge where the river meets the sea.
Some 25 miles of river to paddle in total, though not all navigable in the strict sense of the word with some stretches so shallow it is necessary to get out and walk resulting in soggy shoes and a few more microns shaved of the bottom of the canoe. Other stretches so narrow the canoe had to be squeezed through. The Stour is a curios river some parts are broad and spacious, whilst others are narrow and shallow barely resembling a river at all. All of course picturesque, with a real essence of peace and tranquillity, that is to say until 300 canoes, kayaks and other paddlable craft, not to mention a handful of corricals descend upon it sending the quite back water into shock. Just imagine 300 plus people trying to portage 300 boats (I say 300 plus because many of the canoes where double or more) around a lock or weir, which is normally lucky if it sees 3 or 4 on a sunny weekend. With all this activity and some paddlers regarding it as a race on which their life might depend, the river would be trashed beyond saving, not a bit of it Mother Nature is stronger than we give her credit sometimes. The river seemed to swell to cope with us all just as a snake might in order to swallow a particularly large meal and then return to her normal quite self as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, except for a quite gentle burp.
Day one saw us booked in along with our fellow paddlers at the Granary Quay before ferrying most of the cars along to the camp site at Rushbanks Wissington and then returning to the Granary at Sudbury for the start of our trip. A sight of well ordered chaos met our eye’s with everybody trying to sort out their kit, get paperwork in order, find somewhere for the car’s and all this before actually getting the boat anywhere near the water. I must say at this point all those involved in organising this event, as well as those on the ground making everything run smoothly and gently ushering us all along in our bewildered state did a remarkable job, many thanks.
The first obstacle we encountered along the way was the Lock at Cornard Sluice which was manned by R.S.T. volunteers tackling the massive job of locking through 300 canoes, this resulted in a tail back of the sort you might expect on the M25 at the end of a bank holiday weekend. This is in no way a slight on the people operating the lock, they were working as hard as they could and must have been glad to see the end of us and a welcome cup of tea. After successfully tackling several more busy portage’s, the banks by now becoming wet and slippery and watching others not willing to queue try to manhandle their craft down the weir’s not all successfully though most providing entertainment for those of us waiting our turn to get back in. Lunch was had at Bures Recreation Ground, a busy spot as you can imagine the place awash with canoes of every shape size and colour. A BBQ had been arranged for those without food and a welcome opportunity for the toilet. There was also a check point to make sure none of us had expired along the way and possibly some of the more enthusiastic, which I referred to earlier hadn’t jumped in a van and finished, thus securing first place.
The afternoon passed very pleasurably, encountering the portage at Bures Mill and Worminford Mill, before camping at Rushbank Campsite at Wissington. Once again checking in and confirming our intention to continue the next day. The people in our group where Dave, Becky and Helen in their Canadian, James and Grace in their Canadian Jonathan, Ben and Alex in their Canadian, Pat Paul and Tilly in our Canadian, Charles in his Single and Graham in his single.
After tents where pitched, everyone settled down to a sociable evening with plenty of food and the merest splash of alcohol, topped off, with Ben’s birthday cake, before retiring to bed.
Sunday morning started reasonably early with the task of taking the tents down and packing up as well as moving cars to the finish at Catterwade, before we could consider staring the days paddle. This being the longer of the two days at approximately 16 miles. According to the rules we had a window to depart, between 8.30-10.00, so we had no time to waste.
Once again we had a very enjoyable day, passing the triple weir at Wissington Mill, Nayland village and the tunnel under the road before reaching Boxted Mill, here our guide notes ask us to keep to the path in big letters, whilst pointing out the portage route is through a private garden, asking no one to use the garden as a toilet and No scrumping. I have to admit I would not want 300 plus people to go to the toilet in my garden, the mountain of toilet paper alone would be mind blowing. Having successfully passed, without relief and not a single apple in the boat (all joking apart I do sympathise, this is a huge number of people to pass through the garden and not everyone is as careful as they could be) we headed on to Langham flumes.
Lunch was had at the pumping station at Stratford St.Mary and the last check point before the end. Next came Dedham Lock and Flatford Lock. Now into Constable country we stopped at the Dedham tea room for an Ice Cream courtesy of Dave. The last part of the river opens out into flat land, with big reed beds and now a steady head wind, making us work for the finish. I would like to say congratulations to all who completed the trip, especially the two girls Grace and Helen, who worked really hard, paddling the whole 25 miles. Everyone received a certificate, even Tilly our dog. A big thank you to all who were involved in the running of Sudbury to the sea 2011. All that’s left to say is thanks for the company, and I’ll see you on the next one!