THAMES PATH TREK
On 17th September a group of nine personnel from RAF Benson and four cadets from Oxford University Air Squadron (OUAS) set out from RAF Benson with the aim of hiking the Thames Path from it’s source in the Cotswolds back to Benson. The catch was that they had only allowed themselves two days to complete the trek, which meant that they would have to cover 40 miles per day!
As well as being a challenge (and hopefully an enjoyable one!), it was hoped that the trek would provide a means to raise money through sponsorship for the John Masefield House, part of the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity, located close to Benson at Burcot near Abingdon.
Setting off from Benson in the SIF minibus at the unfriendly hour of 0530, after a quick stop for a coffee and a bite to eat, the first group, who would be aiming to complete the full distance, were able to start walking by 0715. This left the remainder of the group, who would be aiming to cover 25 miles per day, free to move on to their own starting point in Cricklade.
After a chilly start walking through green fields, with the Thames but a small trickle, the first group of three made good time to meet with MAcr Steve McDonnell, one of the three support crew for the event, about five miles west of Lechlade. After some welcome Haribo and a top-up of water, it was onwards towards lunch. In the meantime, the second group of 8 had also done well, reaching their half-way point by just after midday.
As the afternoon wore on, both groups enjoyed the good weather and tranquil nature of the path, continuing to make good time towards the first day’s finish at Newbridge. Despite being nearly thwarted by un-signposted road closures which necessitated at 20 mile detour, the support crew still managed to meet both groups at regular intervals, providing a welcome sight for the approaching walkers. Day 1 finished well with both groups reaching Newbridge within 20 mins of each other, to be greeted by FS Paul Moss offering some well-deserved beers to help dull the pain of weary feet!
After a short minibus ride to the overnight accommodation at RAF Brize Norton, all were ready for a shower and food – morning thoughts of an evening in the pub were quickly abandoned in favour of a descents night’s sleep ready for the next day’s fun!
After an early breakfast, it was a repeat of the previous day’s routine, with those attempting the longer route getting dropped off at Newbridge, while those doing the ‘shorter’ route getting dropped off to the north of Oxford. Again making good progress, this time supported by Paul Moss and FS Sue Bedborough, by lunchtime both groups had passed through Oxford and were approaching Abingdon. However, fatigue was starting to take its toll and the rest stops were becoming more and more welcome, as blisters became more and more painful! As the afternoon wore on, it was clear the gap between the two groups was closing, and it would be touch-and-go as to who would finish first…
Mid-afternoon provided a good opportunity for everyone to remember why they were walking, as both groups passed John Masefield House, where they where cheered on by Mr Ian Brown (a volunteer at the home) and some of the residents. After approximately 10.5 hours the end was now in sight, with Benson Marina coming into view. Thinking that they were home and dry, it was a rather annoyed group of six (two of those taking part were only able to do so on the first day) who were caught by the 3 x 40 milers with only 200m left to run (stagger)!
After the obligatory congratulations and photos, the now combined group was met by Ian Brown who joined us for the final effort back to RAF Benson’s Main Gate where we had a chance to reflect on a tiring, challenging but very enjoyable two days, and to spare a thought for those we are hoping to help through the funds raised.
If you would like to support either the John Masefield House, or learn more about the Leonard Cheshire Disability in general, please visit the following websites: www.justgiving.com/RAFBensonTPT/ and www.leonardcheshire.org.