Laughing with lock-keepers – the 27th British Rowing Tour raises everyone’s spirits

A hundred rowers from 19 clubs rowed 57km from Henley to Weybridge on the British Rowing Tour along the Thames on 4-5 September. Ruth Ward asks participants about their highlights

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Wind the clock back two years, and the 26th British Rowing Tour was a wet but wonderful weekend in the Northern Lakes – including rows on Ullswater, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake. And 2020 was of course a complete washout for different reasons. So, stakes were high for the organisers of the 27th British Rowing Tour, which took place on the Thames in early September.

Starting at the finish of the Henley Regatta course, the tour covered 57km and took in 14 locks on its downstream route from Henley-on-Thames to Weybridge in Surrey, home to Weyfarers Rowing Club and the tour organisers John and Caroline Turnbull. On a warm September weekend, Environment Agency lock-keepers on route worked marvels to ensure the touring boats and the many cruisers and leisure craft kept moving. I took the photo above at the first lock, Hambleden, where the lock-keeper managed to fit all 16 boats in the lock!

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A hundred rowers from 19 clubs stretching from the Tyne to Christchurch and the Yare to Minerva Bath and from Ireland took part in the two-day tour. Although it started at the heart of British competitive rowing, the tour offered a rowing experience with benefits for everyone. Crews included a wide range of ages from 40 to nearly 80, rowing backgrounds and abilities and the feedback is that everyone had a brilliant time.

Four of the tour participants share their experiences below, highlighting the tour’s positive impact for both new and experienced touring rowers.

1 – John Hill is a “chronically competitive masters rower” from Falcon Boat Club

“I’ve been coaching adult beginners in Oxford for 25 years, the last 10 at Falcon where we have a growing group of touring members. As a chronically competitive masters rower, I have long envied the sociability of touring rowing – similar to that shared by the kayak and canoeing side of Falcon. For that reason, I was a keen first-timer on this year’s tour.

“I am now even more convinced that touring provides an activity that should be embraced by all those who paddle our waterways”

“It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it so impressed me that I feel I have let myself down by not trying it sooner. The combination of good company and wonderful scenery made all the rowing experiences I’ve had so much more worthwhile. This year’s tour may have been flattered by the weather, but I fully expect that less ideal conditions would have delivered equally valuable experiences.

“I was already adjusting my approach to new Falcon beginners by promoting stable boat rowing as a target, rather than merely a pathway to develop into competitive fine-boat rowing. I am now even more convinced that touring provides an activity that should be embraced by all those who paddle our waterways, either as a speciality or as an alternative to their competitive rowing.”

2 – Rose Murphy from Broxbourne Rowing Club took up rowing in her late 50s

“I am a primary school teacher. I took my first tentative steps into rowing at Broxbourne six years ago at the age of 58. I never dreamt then that rowing would take me on adventures all over the country with so many new friends. I have now been on several British Rowing tours.

“The combination of exercise and relaxation in a beautiful environment soothes away worries”

“I kept reasonably fit during lockdown thanks to Noelle Stallard from Phyllis Court Rowing Club, who organised a virtual row around the world. I will never again take for granted the opportunity to get out and about in the real world.

“The combination of exercise and relaxation in a beautiful environment soothes away worries. What a treat it was to see places like Henley and Windsor from the vantage point of the river. Along the way we got many cheery calls of: ‘What’s it in aid of?’ We could answer ‘It’s for fun!’”

3 – Judith Phelan from Phyllis Court Rowing Club relished the chance to explore downstream

“This was my first tour – I’d never heard of them before – but as this one was leaving from my own rowing club it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. Of course, I have rowed up and down the Henley regatta course, but this was a great way to start the tour and to bask in the reflected glory as others experienced it for the first time.

“It really was a breathtaking experience of beautiful stretches of river”

“As we headed downstream on the first day, our default club row turns at the entrance to Hambleden Lock, so it was a novel experience to row into it and then raft up with the 15 other boats.

“Rowing under Marlow Bridge was a particular thrill having watched Baptiste recently and seeing its sibling, Budapest’s Széchenyi Chain Bridge, several times. It was great to row past The Compleat Angler (the first stop for Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat) and see the church tower at Bray (of the infamous vicar) and then on past many smart houses and riverside parties to our first night stop at Eton Excelsior.

“The sun came out properly on the second day and it really was a breathtaking experience of beautiful stretches of river, Windsor Castle and Runnymede, paddle boards, gin palaces, sailing yachts, riverside lunches and lots of families enjoying the September sunshine.”

4 – Graham Hall from Christchurch Rowing Club carried fond memories of rowing at Henley in his youth

“I started rowing aged 15, competing in my school’s first eight at Henley Royal. I continued rowing at Loughborough University and then Llandaff Rowing Club, but dropped out of rowing aged 25 due to a bout of illness and family and work commitments.

“Looking around for a non-impact activity with a low-risk of injury that I could do with others, so the commitment and companionship would keep me going, rowing was the obvious choice”

“In those days there was little opportunity for recreational rowing, it was all or nothing. So, I started playing golf, going sailing and eventually spending a lot of time looking after a garden. However, by my late 60s my waist was expanding, my weight increasing, and my relaxed pulse rate had gone up from around 48 in my rowing days to 72 – so something had to be done!

“Looking around for a non-impact activity with a low-risk of injury that I could do with others, so the commitment and companionship would keep me going, rowing was the obvious choice. I began rowing at Christchurch, beautifully located on the River Stour, and offering both coastal and river rowing and a specific recreational rowing section.

“With the benefit of a medical check-up and a rather painful first outing, I have progressively regained reasonable fitness without pushing myself to extremes. My resting pulse rate is back down to the low 50s and I have taken part in rows of up to 25 miles a day in France and the UK.

“The Thames tour was a wonderful opportunity to explore a beautiful stretch of the river, particularly to revisit Henley, Marlow and Maidenhead where I had competed many years ago and also to make new friends.”

Get involved in recreational rowing

If you’d like to find out more about touring or recreational rowing in general, then you can find out more here.

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