Then as I headed off to university life lead me down a different path and I gave up paddling. It was ten years until I sat in a kayak again.
Gradually I got better and found myself in there with the big boys, taking part in the annual Blastathon competition that seemed the natural successor to the slalom competition and soon I found myself heading down to the weir several times a week between spring and autumn.
Over the last ten years I’ve found myself paddling at Abingdon weir probably more times than any other piece of water. Whether paddling by myself, with Kingfishers or helping with Pathfinders, Abingdon has always been there even if just for a quick five minute play stop whilst paddling around Swift Ditch.
I’ve spent many an enjoyable summer evening or day at Abingdon but it also provides a much needed summer venue for other paddlers. Often people will come from around the Thames Valley to use it when no other weirs are running. At the Blastathon this year people travelled from Bristol, Essex, Hertfordshire and Warwickshire to take part.
The local clubs still use the weir for training purposes in the way they have since I was a young member of Pathfinder Youth Canoe Club.
Between them Kingfisher Canoe Club and Pathfinder Youth Canoe Club have well over 100 members. Many of them will have learnt or will be learning to paddle at Abingdon Weir. Between April and October the clubs will be paddling around Abingdon two or three times a week, and over the years the two clubs must have introduced hundreds (if not thousands) of nervous paddlers to their first taste of whitewater at Abingdon Weir.
Twenty years later it’s now me rushing off to play in the weir whilst newer members of the club practice ferry gliding in the weir pool waiting for the day they feel confident enough to test themselves in the mighty ‘Don. And it always gives me a small thrill to see the same look of fear and then the thrilled expression that I had the first time I took the plunge.
This is all under threat now. An application for a license to extract water from the weir has been applied for by a group called Abingdon Hydro Community Interest Group. They are planning to develop a hydroelectric generating station at Abingdon Weir which, if it gets the go-ahead, would certainly destroy the features that make it attractive for paddling.
This, I think, would be a real shame.
Any comments or objections should be lodged with the Environment Agency quoting reference number NPS/WR/005499, at Permitting Support Centre, Water Resources Team, Quadrant 2, 99 Parkway Avenue, Parkway Business Park, Sheffield, S9 4WF or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than 5th October 2011.