Thames Pub Crawl: River Gypsies

Dispatch No. 5 from a 150-mile bar hopping paddle down The Thames River

River gypsy hospitality at its finest.


C&K Correspondent Mark Anders and his two cohorts attempted to paddle 150 miles down The Thames River with a pair of kayaks and a standup paddleboard, stopping at every bar they could find. This is the fifth and final dispatch from the (mis)adventure. Click HERE to read the first, HERE for the second, HERE for the third, and HERE for the fourth.

By Mark Anders

We’ve all come to grips with the fact that London is way out of reach. It was our original destination for this Thames River pub crawl, but we’ve been enjoying the pubs more than the crawl, I guess you could say, and we’re more than 80 miles shy of our goal. It’s all good though. Only problem is that we’re due to meet a friend of Martin’s (the photog) at the prestigious, and decidedly high-brow, Leander Rowing Club at Henley-on-Thames. His name is Dan Marett; he’s a rower and local hero on the Thames, an eight-time winner of the prestigious Henley Regatta.

The author at the helm while their new friend rocks out.

At the pace we’re making we won’t make it to Henley-on-Thames by nightfall so we resort to an age-old tactic: hitchhiking. On any normal summer’s day on the Thames, there’d be plenty of traffic through this stretch of river with all of the pleasure craft and canal boats (something like floating RVs). But as I mentioned before, the river level is still rising and the Thames has been “red boarded,” with all traffic urged to stay off the river. And so the Thames is essentially empty. And hitchhiking ain’t easy.

But just when it was looking like we’d never get a ride, a guy who could only be described as a Thames River pirate/gypsy came cruising up driving a ratty old grey and black cabin cruiser. He was wearing a red bandana and cranking an old Santana song. I stuck out my thumb and within minutes we were tying up our kayaks to the back of his boat and were headed together downriver. Our new friend (he called himself “California Joe”) turned out to be the wackiest, most interesting guy imaginable, and something of a virtuoso guitar player. My favorite moment as we steamed towards Henley was of Joe jamming loudly on his electric guitar (he asked me to captain his boat) while we floated past some of the poshest mansions I’ve ever seen. The surprised–and annoyed–looks of the rich, uptight folks watching us from the riverbank were priceless.

We ended up keeping a good pace, landing at the Leander Club in the nick of time, and in the grandest of river gypsy style.

Hitch hiking on The Thames.

Click HERE to read Anders’ first dispatch, HERE for the second, HERE for the third, and HERE for the fourth.

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