Cruising down the river

scoutsandguidesboatrace1980sEnjoying the peace and quiet of a recent stroll along the River Evenlode between Shipton and Ascott I recall how, one sunny afternoon back in the late 1980s, the peace was shattered by the local Scouts and Guides racing each other on homemade rafts. The footpath followed the riverbank and the river was fairly deep with a fast flow, so with paddles it was possible to move the rafts along quite easily. The river was regularly dredged by the local farmers whose fields ran down to the banks.

Large plastic containers, pallets and plenty of rope and knots were used to build the craft, with guidance from parents and leaders. I suspect that Terry Pearson and John Fenton helped the Scouts, and there must have been keen dads to assist the Guides. Maybe you were one of those helpers or participants and can remember more details?

The start of the race was at Shipton bridge where the boats were literally thrown in and the children scrambled aboard, four to a raft, and we’re off! We did have lifejackets, borrowed from the Scout Wychwood District Campsite at Heythrop Park, but no crash helmets and certainly no Health and Safety rules to contend with. Parents strolled along enjoying the noise and excitement of the event and were on hand to help if needed. At one point the Guides’ team became stuck against the bank and the girls could not free it. One dad, Chris Newitt, stepped into the water to help and they were on their way again. What he did not reckon with was the depth of the water at this point which came up to his neck; Chris is a tall chap, over 6′, so you can imagine how deep it was.

During a period of drought the water was only about 4″deep in places. The problem was easily solved by lifting the rafts from the water and carrying them to the next point deep enough to float again. Luckily it was on a wide bend in the river so cutting across was actually a short cut. Maybe a little cheating went on but it was nothing serious; all part of the fun! Re-lashing the rafts together again when the knots failed, and they were coming apart added to the urge to win.

At times the path left the meandering river and we briefly lost sight of the crews but we were always able to hear them so knew they were safe. Waiting round a bend and cheering on our team as they came into view added to the excitement. Paddling the boats along was hardwork, but the kids learnt a lot about teamwork. They were all very competitive and the aim was to win come what may, but it was all good fun.

Again my memory fails when it comes to getting the boats back to Shipton. Did we turn round and paddle, haul them out of the water and put them on the roof of a car or the back of a trailer? Someone must remember; if so please remind me. I am sure that one year the Scouts decided to paddle back and went right up to Bruern. That’s boys for you.

One memory I have, and I know the girl’s name but will not embarrass her, was when we ended back at my house. What do you do with wet, muddy girls dripping all over the kitchen floor? We got them out of wet clothes and gave them hot drinks and biscuits while they towelled themselves down and put on dry clothes. The girl I have in mind was appalled at the state of her feet and I found her in the bathroom washing the mud off in the hand basin!

Happy memories of youngsters having fun together whilst striving to win the race and parents enjoying a stroll on a sunny afternoon. A good time was definitely had by all so thanks for the memory.

Christine Halliday

August – September 2020