Paddles with a point

Paddling is always great – anytime, anywhere. Whenever I’m on the water I feel that sense of freedom and release from the day-to-day. But paddling with a clear aim or focus is even better.

I was reminded of this basic point last month while my wife and I were out enjoying a paddle on Coniston Water with some old friends. We hadn’t met up for a while and it was really good to share news of what each couple had been up to and how their move to the Lake District had gone. And inevitably, we couldn’t avoid talking about how coronavirus has changed life, work and holiday plans either.

The opportunity for a socially distanced catch up would have been purpose enough for our day on the water, but we had other motives too. We’d previously agreed that we wanted to visit some of the places that had inspired Arthur Ransome to write Swallows and Amazons and its sequels.

So it was that we met early in one of the car parks on the east side of Coniston. It was a clear, still September morning with only a breath of wind and hardly a cloud in the sky. Dow Crag and the ridge around to Wetherlam was silhouetted sharply against the blue sky. We launched our two canoes and made our way north along the shore to Fir Island as Captain Flint’s houseboat (the National Trust’s Gondola) steamed south. Wading and punting our canoes through the narrows between the island and the mainland transported us even more firmly into Ransome’s imaginary world. Emerging from the undergrowth we aimed across the lake, straight towards the sunny uplands of Kanchenjunga clearly visible ahead of us, and then turned to head back down the lake.

The wind was beginning to get up, blowing down the lake from the native settlement. We kept our distance from the shore where savages could be seen amongst the trees. As we began to make our way back across the lake, the wind now aiding our journey, the shape of Wildcat Island slowly emerged, gradually becoming more distinct from the wooded slopes of High Greenland beyond. The island’s cliffs rose steeply from the water but we knew of a Secret Harbour and, as we rounded the tip of the island, its entrance appeared.

Was that a leading mark in the trees? We couldn’t be sure but steering carefully, keeping a straight line between the jagged rocks, saw us safely onto a small beach. The island would have been a delightful place to camp with its mossy dells between the trees but that wasn’t in our plan. We made do with lunch in the lookout above the harbour, keeping a close eye out for marauders who might have made off with our boats.

We didn’t lose our boats, and nor did we lose our childlike wonder and sense of adventure as we continued our game through the afternoon paddling south to the mouth of the Amazon and the Octopus Lagoon before returning to our cars. What had started as a simple catch up during a paddle and chat had been transformed by adding a purpose. Our journey around Coniston Water had become a paddle with a point.

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