Paddlesport that is. As the year end approaches I look back on another fabulous 12 months of canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding with more new friends, in more new locations and with more wonderful experiences. Regular readers will know I try to blog each month about someone, something or somewhere that’s made an impact on me in the preceding weeks. This December I’ve looked back again at the full year and drawn out those memories that didn’t quite make the first cut but so easily could have done so…
January is probably the most reliable month of the year for snow in the Thames valley and this year provide a fully-fledged blizzard during an early season coach training course. One minute we were enjoying a beautiful crisp, clear sunny afternoon and the next we couldn’t see the centre buildings just a hundred metres or so away. Did that stop the fun? Of course not, it just added atmosphere to the session.
If January might bring snow, February is usually our most reliable month for white water. 2019 was no exception and I was able to enjoy a number of excellent days out in both Devon and South Wales. There really is something special about manoeuvring a traditional open canoe down a tricky stretch of white water without swamping or swimming. Here we can see the exhilaration on Rita’s face as she nears the bottom of Lover’s Leap rapid on the Dart Loop, upright and in control.
March saw the first of my British Canoeing Paddlesport Instructor courses running to the new two-day programme. The ethos of the course is very much about providing a safe and fun introduction to paddlesport and these candidates threw themselves wholeheartedly into the challenge of experimenting with trim in a canoe.
Easter brings the Devizes to Westminster marathon canoe race to my part of the Thames and this April I was part of the team marshalling the overnight race at Marlow lock. Our evening was enlivened by the discovery of ‘unexploded ordnance’ (an old grenade) by some magnet fishermen which led to the police closing the road and the river at Marlow bridge and our having to manage a temporary additional portage through the town. In all the excitement we didn’t have time for photographs but here’s one of Pete enjoying the start of longer days and the resumption of mid-week evening sessions at Marlow Canoe Club.
May took me to the Outer Hebrides for a cycling holiday but it would have been rude to have travelled all that way and not sampled the local paddling. A huge thanks goes to Chris at Clearwater Paddling for giving Liz and me for great company and an amazing day out exploring the waters between Barra and Gighay where we saw more seals than we’d seen in years and our first sightings of eagles – magnificent white-tailed (sea) eagles – here in the UK.
I’ve not shared an image from a paddleboarding trip in this post yet but there were plenty to choose from for each month from January onwards. Early June saw my first paddleboard trip of the season around St Patrick’s Stream and the Hennerton Backwater. Of all the routes to be enjoyed on this part of the Thames, the St Pats/Hennerton combination is my top choice and being with a good crowd and taking time for lunch at the George & Dragon at Wargrave made for a highly memorable day.
Students finishing exams and schools starting to wind down for the summer holidays bring plenty of opportunities to help with taster sessions and activity days through July. It’s always rewarding to work with newcomers to paddlesport even when there’s more swimming than paddling involved and this seems to be especially true when paddleboards are introduced into the mix! On hot, lazy summer days it seems SUPs have been designed just for messing about on. If they’d been around a hundred years ago we’d probably have read about Ratty and Mole’s adventures with them too.
This summer’s main adventure for me was an expedition on Canada’s magnificent Yukon river (which was covered in an extended blog The call of the wild). A trip to Canada could also have involved some sea kayaking but on this occasion it was the opportunity to explore some of Vancouver’s English Bay on a paddleboard that caught the eye and gave an enjoyable morning on the water against a fascinating urban back drop. It also enabled me to complete British Canoeing’s August Paddle Challenge target of 120 miles on a SUP.
Back in the UK, September presented an opportunity to combine SUPing and a river clean up in another urban(ish) setting. The Windsor Plastic Patrol yielded an impressive (or depressing depending upon how you look at it) haul of plastic and other litter from the short stretch of Thames between the leisure centre and Romney weir. Two plastic garden chairs, a plastic step ladder, assorted plastic bottles, crisp and snack packets and similar debris were soon rounded up, recorded and bagged ready for the local council to pick up.
In October I was in North Wales for the Open Canoe Symposium. I’ve already blogged about the glorious day we had on the Mawddach estuary (Autumn highlights) but the previous day a tandem canoe skills session with Tom and Anna Sibbald on Bala Lake had produced another unforgettable image – rafted canoes under sail bearing down on us with OCA training co-ordinator Richard as a figure head or – perhaps more seasonally, Santa – in the bow.
After another good summer it’s been something of a shock to have the Thames on red boards for over two months now. This autumn’s rains led to high river levels and fast currents which have curtailed most coaching and guiding activity on the river and limited there and back training sessions in race boats as well. November however saw a fast downstream run from Marsport back to Marlow for a small group of us in K2s and having the river to ourselves made it rather special.
The white water season started well with a couple of good introduction/improver weekends on the Dart in November. I was back there on the first weekend in December where it was really good to see the progress made by the paddlers I’d been working with on the earlier weekends. Increased confidence, water levels and sunshine all combined to give a couple of great days’ paddling.
Thanks to everyone who helped make my 2019 paddling year so memorable; I’ve loved every moment. Here’s looking forward to 2020.
Happy New Year to all!