Thames Source to London Stand Up Paddleboarding Trip – 20 Questions and Answers

THIS THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING BLOG POST IS BASED ON MY VERY LIMITED PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. I AM NO EXPERT. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH BEFORE YOUR TRIP.

Paddleboarding, like all things in life, can be dangerous. Several people died paddleboarding on rivers in the UK this year. That said, a very large multiple died in bed or crossing the street. So don’t be put off. Doing a Thames source to London stand up paddleboarding trip is a lot of fun and it can be done safely.

My buddy Markmeister and I have recently completed our Thames Source to London Stand Up Paddleboarding Trip. We split it into three legs. The first leg was four days in blistering heat in July. The second leg was three rainy days in September. The last leg was one and a half days in October with both air and water temperature just above 10C.

Q1 –WHAT’S THE DISTANCE, DOING THE THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON?

A1 – It is common to start a source to London or source to sea trip at Lechlade, which is where the Thames officially becomes navigable. The distance from Lechlade to London is 203.5km.

Q2 – HOW FIT DO I NEED TO BE TO DO THE THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING ADVENTURE AND HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

A2 – You should be a confident swimmer. Other than that, there is no minimum level of fitness, really. Neither my mate nor I are particularly athletic. My stand-up paddleboarding instructor Mirko, who has been paddling for many years and is very fit, did the Source to London in 6 days. We decided to take our time and do it in 8.5 days.

Q3 – CAN I JUST LET THE RIVER DO MOST OF THE WORK?

A3 – Don’t make the mistake of relying on the river’s current. On most days there is next to no current on most parts of the river. We regularly saw debris like leaves or small tree branches float upriver, unaffected by the current and only propelled by light winds. You’ll often notice no difference between going upriver (for example when you’ve missed an exit) and downriver.

Q4 – WHAT SPEED CAN I EXPECT TO GO AT?

A4 – It depends on so many factors. We’ve already dismissed the river current for the most part. Your level of fitness and the effort you’re willing to put in, matter.

Skill level, technique, type of board, weight, muesli bars

Your technical skill level and employed technique are very relevant. What type of board are you using? A racing board will be at least 1.5x as fast as a regular board. How much weight are you carrying and how easy is it to portage with it (i.e. to walk around the locks)? How many muesli bars will you eat (you can’t paddle and eat at the same time), how many photos will you take?

4km/h is going to be your likely speed if you’re pushing it

We found that if we were not taking any breaks and really pushing ourselves, 4km/h including portaging, 4.5km/h without portaging (portaging slows you down) was the speed we were able to consistently maintain on average.

You might be on the water for 6h and more, so you’ll need breaks, and that will slow you down

One day we did 38.5km. We paddled hard for nearly 10h. All breaks and interruptions added up to slightly more than 2.5h. 40mins lunch break and little breaks and interruptions here and there. It took us 12.5h from start to finish that day.

Q5 – ARE THERE TRAFFIC RULES?

A5 – Yes. The main one being: stay on the right side of the river, as far to the right side as possible. At least when there’s traffic. As one of the weakest and slowest types of vessel on the water, in essence you should always give way. Sometimes that means you stop paddling and let others go ahead first.

On the tidal Thames, the Tideway Code applies. It looks rather complicated at first glance, but you’ll get your head around it eventually.

Q6 – IS THE THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING TOUR DANGEROUS?

A6 – In hindsight we had been worrying way too much before we started out. Were we going to accidentally go over a weir? Answer: no chance. Not in the river conditions we encountered, anyway.

There are always big warning signs around weirs and plenty of them. There are also typically (but not always) barriers around weirs, usually metal chains going from wooden post to wooden post at the water surface level. So you could grab one of those in a worst case if you’d be drifting toward the weir by accident.

Just make sure you never get close to a weir. This goes for either side. Upriver AND downriver. A weir can potentially suck you in and pull you under the water from a downriver position. The Code contains important information about the potentially very dangerous Richmond Lock and Weir. Be prepared.

Currents near weirs

We’ve only encountered noticeable currents towards a weir on two occasions. Both times there were big signs warning us of strong currents. When we went paddling, the current around the weirs was negligeable on all other occasions, like on the rest of the river.

Red boards and yellow boards – no boats or no unpowered boats allowed on the river

Make sure you check the river conditions on the Environment Agency’s website and on the Port of London Authority page. Red boards means no boats of any kind are allowed on the river. Yellow boards means unpowered boats like stand-up paddle boards are not allowed on the river.

There is a separate indication for each stretch (lock to lock) on the river. You’d perhaps be surprised to learn that yellow boards are not uncommon. Half the time we were on the river there were yellow boards on at least one part of the river (not the one we were navigating at the time).

The last leg of our trip nearly had to be rescheduled. On the evening before we were going to start, there were yellow boards on several sections above our entry point. They were getting closer to us hour by hour with the river’s current. There were also yellow boards on one of the sections we were going to pass through on our first day. Luckily, when we checked again in the morning, all yellow boards had been lifted.

Speeding

We only witnessed ‘speeding’ boats on half a dozen occasions and even then they were going no more than 35km/h and in a very safe distance from us. 99% of boats stick with the rules and the 8km/h speed limit on the non-tidal Thames. Many of them go hardly any faster than stand up paddlers. At times we were paddling alongside tourist cruise boats for several hundred metres before they overtook us. Life is slow on the river.

Narrow lock ‘cuts’

The ‘cuts’ or canals towards the locks are regularly very narrow, even when you get closer to London. Often they’re just big enough for two narrowboats to comfortably pass by each other. Closer to Lechlade, even the main river can be narrow at times. We always found boat operators to be extremely considerate in these situations. They make an effort to keep space between you and them.

Day-time drinking

It is not uncommon to see boat operators drink alcohol from around lunchtime. Factor that in and be even more alert. Don’t get gazeeboed yourself. You’ll just dehydrate yourself and put yourself at risk.

Stay away from rowing boats

Keep a safe distance from rowers. They go much faster than the other boats and they hate all other people on the river. Moreover, they all have blind spots, even if they have a spotter. Especially on the tidal Thames there is a serious risk of being skewered by a rowing boat, if you don’t watch out or don’t follow the Tideway Code.

Quite often, rowers do not comply with the Code. We’ve seen rowers side by side spread all over the width of the river, all going into the same direction. In situations like this they will always have one or more accompanying boats and they will direct the rowing boats around you.

Getting lost

Sounds ridiculous, but we had initially had some concerns about getting lost, ending up on a canal rather than the river, missing exit points, etc. Truth be told, we did miss a couple of exit points, but it’s so easy to paddle back upriver once you’ve realised you’ve gone too far.

Thanks no, we want the Thames, not a silly Channel

Initially we were also rather confused by the “Channel” signs that occasionally greet you when the river forks up. Our thinking was “We don’t want to do any channels, we want to stay on the river.” Turns out that “Channel” just refers to that arm of the Thames river that is being used to channel all the boats there. So you always want to follow the “Channel” signs.

No signage around canals

Yes, there are plenty of canals, but they are nearly always a lot smaller than the Thames. Even where they are rather big, it will be obvious which way the river goes. The canal will go off to the side. There are no situations where the river makes a, say, left turn, and the canal goes straight ahead. Signage around canals does seem to be non-existent though.

The remainder of this article discusses various further risks such as cold water shock, heat stroke, or injury from sharp objects on the riverbed.

Q7 – WHAT ABOUT THE LOCKS?

A7 – Sounds very silly in hindsight, but my buddy and I had been a bit worried about the locks and the portaging before our trip. Were we going to get caught up in heavy traffic around the locks, maybe squeezed between two boats on the way to the portaging point? How hard was the portaging going to be? How difficult to get the gear out of the water and back in?

Queuing, etiquette

Nearly every boat captain we encountered was extremely conscientious, considerate, careful, and courteous. Even when there were a dozen boats waiting for their time to go through the lock, there were never any hectic moves. Make sure you are as well-behaved as everyone else and you’ll be fine.

Separate portaging points

Around stretches with a lot of rowing clubs such as Oxford, Henley, Windsor, and London, you will often have portaging points designed for the rowers. The portaging points are nearly always right next to the lock. In the few cases where they are up to a few hundred metres away, the signage will be very clear. In those cases there are usually two ‘cuts’ or canals, one for the lock and one for the portaging.

Not worth the trouble

We tried a few of those portaging points and only two of them were somewhat acceptable (yet still unpleasant) for stand up paddleboarders. This is because they are designed for rowers. They involve slides and very shallow, often seaweed-infested, muddy water. Neither of which works with paddleboards, as they have fins.

Stay rower-free where you can

My recommendation is to portage straight alongside the lock. Instead of 20 metres, you might have to carry the board and gear 100 to 200 metres. In return, everything is clean, trouble-, and most importantly: rower-free.

Going through locks

We found that some lock keepers, or in absence of lock keepers some boat owners, don’t mind letting you go through the lock. Typically portaging takes between 8 and 12 minutes with luggage, if you are seriously pushing it, easily 20 minutes and more if you take it easy.

 

10 minutes or more per lock

Going through the lock, including the time to let the boats going upriver out of the lock, letting the boats going downriver into the lock, for the operator to close the upper gate, lowering the level, letting everyone else out before you go out, takes at least 10 minutes.

Always position yourself upriver inside the lock

You should always be in the most upriver position inside the lock in the extremely (!) unlikely case there is a malfunction of the lower gate with a sudden drain. Always sit down on the board and firmly hold onto one of the vertical metal chains inside the lock.

Portaging is quicker

If you’re in a hurry, always portage. If your main concern is comfort, then by all means, it might even be worth waiting 10 or 15 minutes before you can go into the lock. Make sure you ask the lock keeper first, if he’s okay with it. About half of them will decline your request. The Environmental Agency advises against allowing stand-up paddleboarders into the locks, but leaves the final decision up to the lock keepers and boat owners.

Re-entry points below the locks

In many cases the embankment below the lock where you’re re-entering the river, is more than 1m and up to 1.5m from the water surface. We found the best way to get the board and the gear back onto the water is to pack everything safely onto the board before you lower the board back into the river. Make sure you do so very carefully, as the board can easily flip upside down otherwise.

How to get the board & gear back safely onto the water from a tall embankment

The best way to do it is in a 90 degree angle to the embankment. Gradually push your fully packed board, back first, over the embankment. It’s typically a platform made of concrete, brickwork, metal, or wood. At some stage the board’s back will lower onto the water, leaving your board at a possibly quite steep angle downward from the embankment. Keep holding your board close with the rope. Don’t let it go all the way immediately. Wait until it stabilised.

Don’t be gentle on the last metre of pushing the board over the edge, go hard!

Next, push the board slowly further into the river, pointing straight away from the embankment. The flat bottom of your board, which gradually moves over the level embankment, will keep the board from overturning. Once only the last metre or so of the tip of your board rests on the embankment, give it one quick final push. If you go slow then your board loses stability once the tip of it reaches the edge and it will turn over. Always have your board tied to one of the posts on the embankment while you are doing this.

Q8 – HOW DO I PLAN A THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING TRIP?

A8 – Part of this goes back to A1 (how fit do I need to be) and A3 (speed). You need to assess how fit you are, how much you’d like to push yourself, and how fast you are likely to be. Are you physically fit and willing to push yourself? By all means, do the Thames source to London paddle in 6 days, why not. We decided to do it in 8.5 days, as mentioned. All you need to do then is to look at a list of lock-to-lock distances.

Lechlade is the usual starting point

My buddy and I decided, like most people, to start our trip at Lechlade, which is where the navigable Thames officially begins. For stand-up paddleboards a large part of the river between Lechlade and the source is doable in most river conditions, but certainly not all of it. There is a good chance your fin will get caught by submerged tree branches, roots, seaweed, and the like every now and then.

Putney Bridge is the usual finish point

Unless you have passed two Port of London Authority certified courses, you are not permitted to paddle downriver from Putney Bridge. Authorised activity providers are exempt.

Even if you have completed the courses and you’ve passed the tests, you can’t just be on your merry way to Southend-on-Sea. You have to travel in groups with walkie-talkies and are limited to certain times.

You’ll be paddling more than 200 kilometres

When you add up the lock-to-lock distances from Lechlade to Putney Bridge, you’ll arrive at 203.5km. Let’s say you decided to take 8.5 days for this trip, then you simply divide 203.5km by 8.5 days and you’ll arrive at 24 km per day.

Easy maths

All you need to do now is to split up the lock-to-lock list of distances of the Thames source to London stand up paddleboarding tour into 8 equal 24km segments and a final 12km segment. In most cases the border between segments won’t run along the locks, but that’s fine. You’ll know that you’re looking for, say, a B&B roughly 3km downriver from Romney Lock or whatever.

It’s perfectly fine if the daily distances vary. Ours varied from 16.5 to 38.5km (for the full days), which is probably more extreme than you’d want to aim for if you like consistency. Your main concern should be to find B&Bs ideally directly on the river or at least reasonably close to the river.

Choose B&Bs close to the river

Our best experience was being welcomed at our landing spot by the B&B owner upon our arrival. We were then shown where we could store our fully-inflated boards and hang our wet gear to dry in a shed by the river.

Q9 – WHAT ABOUT FOOD AND DRINK?

A9 – One of the biggest take-aways for us was how important it is to be fully self-sufficient during the day (between B&Bs). Especially upriver, but also as far downriver as the stretch following Henley-on-Thames, there are next to no pubs on the riverbanks. You might be paddling down the river for hours, desperate for a cold drink or a bite, and you see hardly any signs of civilization. Maybe after 4 hours you do finally spot a pub, but it’s closed for renovation.

Next to no drinking water taps along the river

Equally we had expected that there should be water taps with drinking water at all locks. Instead, you’ll be lucky if one lock per day has drinking water taps. If that lock is the first or second lock you pass through, while your bottles are still full, then good luck to you for the rest of the day. There won’t be any further water taps.

Bring your own food

People can do a long time without food, but paddling is hard work and you’re here to enjoy yourself. So you want to make sure you’ll have plenty of food with you.

Q10 – IS IT COMFORTABLE STANDING UP ON A PADDLEBOARD FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME?

A10 – Stand-up paddleboarding is a very low-impact sport, so the short answer is: yes, reasonably comfortable compared with, say sitting on a tiny narrow racing bicycle seat or rolling around on inline skates. On the other hand, depending on your specific trip schedule, you might be on the water for 8 hours a day or more. My buddy and I usually switched between sitting down on the board and standing upright.

Patent pending 😉

I also purchased a few kickboards which I attached to each other into a solid block using a luggage strap. Different from the majority of people I find sitting on flat ground very uncomfortable. Having this seat to sit on made a huge difference to my level of comfort. The kickboards also made for a reasonably comfortable backrest.

Q11 – I’VE ONLY GOT THE STANDARD STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING KIT. WHAT OTHER EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?

A11 – First of all, you’ll need a rope for your Thames source to London stand up paddleboarding excursion. Tie it to the front handle of your board, so you can always use it to tie your board to a tree or post on the embankment.

Waterproof bag and drybags for inside the bag

You’ll also need an at least 45 to 60l, robust, waterproof bag and ideally two or three 15 to 25l drybags. I found that the enormous 79l drybag for inside my big trekking backpack was just as handy as actual waterproof bag.

At the very bottom of this big bag I would put a tightly sealed smaller drybag with only air in it. This was in case the bag would fall into the water, to assist with the uplift and floating.

With regards to the other dry bags, I largely used them to separate my gear. They also add another safety barrier against baggage flooding to your set-up.

No ankle leashes

You should never use an ankle leash on a river. Even on a relatively slow-flowing river like the Thames, there were several near-fatal incidents involving ankle leashes within a six-month time frame in 2020, for example. They all involved the leash getting caught in an obstacle like a buoy. In all cases, the paddleboarders were then dragged under water and unable to quickly remove the leash from their ankle without help.

Additional deck rigging

Many boards come with very little deck rigging, in which case you should look into purchasing a so-called deck-rigging kit and attach some more deck rigging to your board. Please note that usually those kits don’t contain the glue, so you’ll have to purchase the glue separately. You’ll also find that a few extra straps and even shoe laces can come in handy when attaching your gear to the board.

Buoyancy aid, rubber shoes

A life vest or at least buoyancy aid will come in handy, possibly also a wetsuit. You’ll definitely want to spend a tenner on light, thick-soled rubber shoes, as there will be times when you’ll wade through the river near your respective entry or exit point. The riverbed can be quite rocky and even contain sharp-ended roots, tree branches, or glass shards. So going barefoot is not a brilliant idea, usually.

During the colder months, you’ll want neoprene socks and cold-water rubber swim shoes. There will be times when your shoes will get wet.

Clothes, sunglasses, first aid kit

On a sunny, cloudless day, especially in summer, the river will reflect the sun like a mirror. You’ll get burned from all sides like a broiler chicken. On sunny days we were wearing big hats and military-grade, proper sunglasses (don’t be cheap).

We were wearing snoods and clothes that covered nearly all of our skin. Despite this, we used lots of sun lotion several times a day and still got a good tan.

As a matter of fact we narrowly escaped heat strokes at some stage during the first leg of our trip. Temperatures that day had risen to 32C in the shade. On the river the temperatures were much higher.

It makes sense that at least one of you carries a first aid kit, just as a matter of good practice.

Otherwise, same kit as on a multi-day hiking trip

Do bring your waterproofs. However, if you’re going during the warmer months like we did for the most part, then chances are you’ll be better off just getting soaked and then letting the clothes dry again on your body.

During the summer season, it’s usually not worth the trouble tying your board up on the embankment, getting your waterproofs out and putting them on, then reverse the same process again when the rain has stopped. You definitely don’t want to wear waterproofs when the sun comes out again on a hot day, as it’s way too hot. Wear easy-to-dry sports gear and have fleeces with you in case it gets cold.

Don’t bring too much gear

Go light-weight, to the extent you feel comfortable with it. Every extra kg will make a huge difference when portaging, and you’ll portage a lot. Some locks are just over 1km apart, typically the distance is 3 to 6km.

Considering the heavy weight of water and how hard (or often impossible) it is to find a place to refill your bottles during the day, I’d recommend getting yourself a water filter bottle. Not necessarily for everyday use, but as a back-up in case you run out of water. I’m using a Water-to-Go bottle and always had three litres of water with me in refillable aluminium bottles.

Q12 – WILL I HAVE TO DEFLATE AND RE-INFLATE MY BOARD EVERY DAY?

A12 – It really depends on the choice of B&B. We were able to keep our boards inflated about one third of the time. B&Bs right next to the river often allow you to store it in one of their sheds.

Even if you have to deflate your board, it’s worth asking the B&B operator if they have a shed where you can put the gear for the night. If you can avoid it, don’t bring the wet and sometimes not entirely clean gear with you to your room. If you do have to bring the gear to your room, then store it in the bathroom, not on the carpet in the main room.

Q13 – HOW EXPERIENCED A STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDER DO I NEED TO BE TO DO THIS?

A13 – Not very experienced at all. Stand-up paddleboarding is one of the easiest sports to get your head around. Personally, I took only one introductory lesson, then I purchased my board. Next thing I was doing the Thames source to London. The usual recommendation is that you should have done a fair bit of stand-up paddleboarding beforehand and feel comfortable doing longer distances.

Q14 – DO YOU FALL INTO THE WATER A LOT?

A14 – I’m probably the clumsiest person I’ve ever met. I did fall into the water once during my introductory session, but not a single time on my Thames source to London trip.

There are a few things you can do to avoid falling into the water. If you see several big boats approaching, throwing up waves, just go back into a sitting position. Same approach if you spot a lot of seaweed or submerged tree branches ahead of you. Both of them can catch your fin and once they do you’ll take a dive.

Q15 – DO I NEED A WETSUIT?

A15 – This very much depends on the time of year you’re doing your trip and on your personal feeling towards cold water. Due to my lack of prior experience paddling longer distances I had been expecting to fall into the water a lot, so I played it safe and wore a wetsuit on the first day. Then I decided that I don’t need one and I packed up my wetsuit.

The river temperature might be a lot colder than the air temperature

The river temperature is likely to be colder than you expect, even during the warmer months. Yes, the air might be 26C, but the river is still only 15C. This is a temperature at which cold water shock can occur. And if it occurs, then it occurs immediately when you hit the water.

You can check the water temperature here. Just because the water temperature happens to be 16C at Shiplake Lock at the time it was measured, doesn’t mean that it cannot be 15C where you’ll be paddling that day at the time you fall into the water.

Dangers of cold water swimming

If you are going during the colder months, I’d definitely recommend a wetsuit. You should also familiarise yourself thoroughly with the dangers of cold water swimming.

Yeah… I know… you are not planning on doing any swimming. Fair enough. But should you fall into the water and should the water be 15C or below, then you will have to be prepared to stay afloat in so-called ‘cold water’. Possibly for several minutes.

Before I spent a few hours reading up on this topic, watching Youtube videos, doing an online course, and getting advice from experienced friends, I had no idea how dangerous cold water swimming is.

From gasping reflex, via total disorientation, the afore-mentioned cold water shock, and hypothermia, to crazy things like the ‘afterdrop’, the list of serious risks is long.

Q16 – WHAT ABOUT SHORT-CUTS AND GOING UP LITTLE SIDE STREAMS TO REACH B&Bs, TRAIN STATIONS, OR PARKING LOTS?

A16 – We’ve been quite adventurous on this end. 4 out of 5 times we regretted it afterwards. Those little side streams are often very shallow and your board’s fin gets stuck. Once locals recommended taking a short-cut through a canal and 400 metres in, we see a small weir.

The weir itself was probably 1.5m high from the riverbed, but due to the large amount of water flowing over it, the water only involved a 30cm drop. There was enough space for the fins of our boards to go over the weir smoothly. Still, too much excitement.

Don’t get lost on tiny canals or streams

The worst ‘short-cut’ experience was the last bit of our second leg. Again, it had been locals that had recommended paddling along “Abbey River” to get within short walking distance of Chertsey train station. The tiny little stream got narrower and shallower by the minute, until our paddleboards were literally stuck between walls of reed. All kinds of vicious insects everywhere.

At some stage we hopped off our boards and were nearly swallowed up by bottomless underwater mudholes. We decided that going back was too much of a hassle. So we climbed the embankment and waded through tons of stinging nettles to get to a walking path.

A ‘short-cut’ can easily add two hours to your trip

It took us another 90 minutes to reach a place from where we could call a cab to the train station. It involved more walking through stinging nettles, getting lost, climbing and throwing our gear over a fence, and walking along a dual carriageway.

Just because locals are local does not mean they know everything

It’s always sweet if locals share advice. However, most of them won’t have stand-up paddleboarded the stream or canal they recommend. They might have talked to someone who’s done the trip on a kayak, which doesn’t have a fin, or similar, or to a stand-up paddleboarder who’s been going the first few hundred metres, but not the rest.

Q17 – DO I NEED TO GET ANY PERMITS FOR THE THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING TRIP?

A17 – Yes, you have to be registered with the Environmental Agency. Directly or indirectly. We joined British Canoeing (about £50 per year). The membership includes the permissions required to stand-up paddleboard on Britain’s inland waterways (including registration with the EA).

Q18 – WHAT WAS THE WORST EXPERIENCE DURING YOUR TRIP?

A18 – You’d think the above experience on ‘Abbey River’, but no. By far the worst experience was when my stand-up paddleboard backpack broke simultaneously on several sides on the morning of the first leg of the trip. In hindsight this had been my fault, as I had overloaded it.

Don’t overpack your SUP-bag, treat it with love & respect

I managed to put some straps around it, but the only way to carry it henceforth was horizontally in front of my chest. In order to keep anything from falling out I had to have a tight grip around the bag. It happened to be during that leg of the trip, where we had to carry our gear more than 1km up a hill to the B&B.

Boy was I swearing. I would’ve made any merchant sailor within earshot faint that evening. Luckily my buddy was out of earshot as we’d decided it was best for him to make a head-start and order some food at the B&B before the kitchen closed.

Q19 – WAS IT FUN, THOUGH?

A19 – Hell yeah. A whole ton of fun and more. Mark and I are already looking into paddling down the Severn next, then maybe the Moselle afterwards. I can’t recommend this experience high enough. So easy to do, and a real treat.

Q20 – WHAT WAS THE MOST FUN EXPERIENCE DURING THE THAMES SOURCE TO LONDON STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING TRIP?

A20 – Oh.. that’s a hard one. Getting up at 5am for an early start, then having the first four hours on the water completely to yourself, with not another soul stirring the tranquillity. You’ll see very big fish breaching the water, kingfishers shooting through the sky, some red kites circling above you, giant dragonflies hunting for prey, and there won’t be a sound.

Seals, dolphins, and seahorses

We had been hoping to spot some more exciting wildlife like otters, ospreys, or lampreys, but no complaints from our side. It takes some luck to spot those more exotic species. The Thames even hosts seals (which we spotted on a separate occasion near Kew Bridge), dolphins (seen as far upriver as Richmond), enormous catfish (up to at least 1.8m long), and seahorses (within central London, even though almost impossible to spot). Check out our post about Thames Trivia if you’d like to learn more.

We’ve also written about rollerskiing, downhill skiing, canoeing, canyoning, mountain-biking, caving, gentle and white-water kayaking. Equally, you’d be welcome to check out our posts about our fine-dining experience near the North Pole (Spitsbergen), our jump from an airplane mid-air, our day in Lisbon and our day in Dubai.

 

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36 Comments

  1. Stand up paddle boarding always looks like so much fun … from a distance. I am sure I would be ok on the board. But if I fell off, I might never get back on. So I am not surprised people had a lot of questions about your doing this on the Thames. Especially about whether you can just float along … for 9 days!!!! And the locks are another thing I would not have thought of. What a great experience and guide for others wanting to follow your path.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Linda. Yes, I’m sure you’d have just as much fun as my buddy and I had on the Thames paddle. I hope you get a chance to give paddleboarding a shot. There would be so many great spots for it in Canada (or on all your travels worldwide of course).

  2. Patent pending for stand up paddle board seat. That was actually going to be my question – did you stand the whole way hahaha. Looks like a fun (and slooooow) adventure and glad you didn’t roast like a broiler chicken.

  3. I had to familiarise myself with some of the lingo. 200 odd kilometres seems like a long way to go with speeds of 4km per hour. I’ve had bad experiences with short cuts in the car but I didn’t know they happened on canals too. Your encounter with insects and nettles sounded less than great. But all in all another cool experience that I love to hear you get up to.

    1. Thank you, John. Ten days after my return Ellie still doesn’t allow me to wear shorts outside the house. My bitten, stung, scratched legs just look too horrific and could cause nightmares to innocent bystanders haha…

  4. Fascinating information, especially considering I don’t think it’s something I’m ever going to do, but you never know when this knowledge will baffle someone. Although, the most likely bit of knowledge I’m going to retain is “rowers hate all other people on the river.”

  5. Great tips, though I’m not sure I would try it! My balance is terrible, and I’m not the most active type. But I never say no to a trip to the river 🙂

  6. Congrats on an epic journey! That is impressive to do around 22 km a day. I’m not sure if I could do that much. Haha. This is the perfect guide for paddle boarding down the Thames answering every question I’d have. Love hearing your stories about getting stuck in the reeds or having to carry your stuff uphill. I think that is the only part I wouldn’t like, having to haul my stuff to a B&B! Would like to try this one day and you should patent that kickboard seat!

    1. Cheers, Vanessa. Oh yes, getting stuck was quite something haha… I’m still not allowed outside the flat with shorts because Ellie thinks people would faint if they see my bruised, stung, bitten, scratched legs. 🙂

  7. Wow! I had no idea about paddleboarding beforereading your post. I’ve seen people paddleboard around manatees in Florida, but I didn’t know there was a whole other world of multi-day paddleboarding, that the board was inflatable, that you needed a permit to cruise down waterways, and all that gear. Just something new I need to try, but I’ll start with an hour or two.

  8. Wow what a fantastic journey. And certainly some great tips and advice. I would of thought it would be lined with pubs and places to eat I would of imagined stopping off every few kms would of been possible, so carrying food is a must.
    I would never of thought of the canals and streams I’d be bringing Google maps

  9. This is such a cool experience! Loved all the FAQs on your Thames Source to London stand-up paddle boarding trip. And pure genius on your kickboard set-up! And 203.5 km is so impressive! I’m pretty sure my experience paddle boarding wasn’t even 1 km!

  10. What a comprehensive guide to Thames Source to London stand up paddle boarding. I did laugh about rowing boats hating everyone else on the river. You did amazingly well, I’d be in the river more than on the board!

  11. I think one of the highlights of this trip (aside from accomplishing this challenge) is the opporunity to convene with nature (big fish breaching the water, kingfishers shooting through the sky, some red kites circling above you, giant dragonflies hunting for prey) as well as with the flow of time. One can never be in the same river twice, as an old chinese saying goes, but one can always be on a paddle board many times!

  12. Great post – this sounds like it would be so much fun! I’m surprised that there weren’t more pubs. I was thinking that might be my downfall if I tried to do this haha Good luck with the last leg!

    1. Cheers, Paul. Yes, it very nearly would’ve been our downfall haha.. That day when Mark & I nearly got ourselves struck down by heat strokes was also the day when we had been desperately searching for pubs for hours on end to no avail… 🙂

  13. What a great experience, Stefan! I love stand-up paddling and tried it on lakes, rivers and sea but I haven’t done a multi-day trip until now. My biggest surprise was how much harder it was to paddle downriver than upriver on a windy day Looking forward to read more after the third leg of your trip.

    1. I’m impressed, Anda. So you’ve done A WHOLE LOT of stand-up paddling, wow!! I guess you’d be perfectly prepared for any multi-day trip adventure out there.

      And yes, I totally agree. The wind makes all the difference as your body in essence turns into a sailas soon as you stand up on the board. The current on many rivers like the Thames, however, makes almost zero difference.

      I think my next SUP post will be about SUPing the Severn. 🙂

  14. This sounds like an epic journey! My husband and I brought SUP’s to Sicily with us, but I’m not sure we’re ready for a multi-day trek such as this! Bravo! My favorite quote has to be “rowers hate all other people on the river” LOL.

  15. What a completely brilliant experience and such a lovely way to travel. We’ve never tried stand up paddle boarding but it looks like tremendous fun. What’s great about this comprehensive and very practical guide is how it could be adapted for other vessels – a canoe or a kayak. Shame about the lack of pubs though! Hope that stages 3 and 4 prove to be as thoroughly enjoyable as the first two.

    1. Cheers, Mitch. So glad you found the post useful. We’ll actually only have one last leg (two relatively short days), and my buddy Mark and I are very much looking forward to it. Next up: probably the Severn or the Moselle, depending on travel restrictions. 🙂

  16. A really interesting post, Stefan, with lots of useful advice. I have had one short attempt at SUP and think I could take to it. I want to practise without an audience though! Not sure I like the idea of locks and weirs so will stick to the lake in the first intance. Kudos to you for taking this on though. Well done!

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