Looking backwards – and forwards

AbingdonNo this isn’t my latest coaching tip – although being aware of what is going on all around you is certainly a paddling plus – but thinking back over the past 12 months inevitably leads to thoughts for the future.

For me 2015 has been dominated by the Thames. Yes, I’ve paddled elsewhere but the Thames is my local river and I seem to have spent more time and covered more miles on it this year than any previously. Whether it’s been touring, racing, coaching or simply playing on the weirs, 2015 has given me more opportunity to see ‘old Father Thames’ in all its moods than ever before. The year began with frosty starts and ice filled lock cuts, night paddling on red boards while race training, spring saw a gentler pace with warm days ideal for coaching and skills courses at clubs and centres up and down the river, high summer brought a multi-day canoe camping trip and the autumn more courses and some wonderfully breezy days canoe sailing on some of the river’s many broad reaches.

During the year, I’ve enjoyed sights of wildlife a plenty. There’s been scarcely a day on the river when I haven’t spotted at least one kingfisher, streaking electric blue low across the water. I’ll never forget how I jumped last spring when a cormorant emerged from the water alongside the boat to be followed instants later by perhaps a dozen others on either side, many of them with their breakfasts held firmly in their beaks. Nor the sight of what was probably a mink swimming across the lock cut at Cookham or the day this autumn when I paddled for a quarter of mile or more surrounded by thousands of Canada and greylag geese, perhaps new arrivals planning to over-winter here in the UK.

People too have figured large during the year, the companionship and opportunity to get to know people chatting during tours, the enthusiasm of the many young and not so young coaches that I’ve met on coach education courses and the laughter and delight of the epileptic and parapaddlers that I’ve been privileged to work with on the Thames and elsewhere in the last 12 months.

And looking ahead? More days on the Thames certainly, but another trip to Europe beckons as does more exploration around England’s south west coast and perhaps a visit to the Scilly Isles. And I’m looking forward to meeting more amazing people this year: people who achieve things that they never dreamed of previously, people who delight in learning new skills and exploring new places, and the many other paddlers who inspire me with their stories and their abilities and help keep this fantastic sport of ours alive and buzzing. Whatever 2016 has in store for you, I hope it’s a good one.

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