Well, we made it. A few ‘that’s not very far!’ suggestions were tongue-in-cheekily thrown in Sarah and my direction when we announced that we were going to Stand Up Paddle between Bath and London, and in all fairness, the 150 miles didn’t seem to offer any stature alongside some of our past trips.
But, you know what, I’m knackered! Almost as soon as you start paddling with endurance in mind two catchwords become regular visitors to your vocabulary. ‘Flow’: the speed at which the water travels, and ‘Portage’: where you must leave the water and carry your craft around an obstacle.
So with that in mind, we set out on our early June venture, with three days of paddling along the Kennet & Avon canal which seemed proud to offer no flow and over 90 portages, and then we scuttled onto the Thames with our hearts-a-bounding and our hopes were quickly dashed, for the water levels were down and the river crept slowly towards the Channel. In other words, we had a fair bit of work to do.
Let me introduce my paddling partner, Ms Sarah Outen. She has more world records than Mr Guinness, single handedly rowed across the Indian Ocean in 2009, consumes more chocolate bars per hour than any human I’ve ever met, and amongst all this still manages to be quite a nice person. Sarah and I went to the same school - Stamford in Lincolnshire - although we didn’t know each other due to the fact I’m an old fart and she’s a young whippersnapper, but at some point the establishment must have dished up some brussel sprouts laced with steroids and enthusiasm, because we’ve both ended up choosing a life of adventure. That was certainly not on the curriculum.
Although this expedition was raising funds for our selected charities, the AV Foundation and CoppaFeel, we were embarking on this cross-UK paddle as Ambassadors for the Blue Project, a Climate and Oceans initiative designed to encourage passion for the environment through sport. Both Sarah and I share very similar beliefs to Blue and push their message of participation and engagement and every step, Jaques Cousteau said ‘People protect what they love’ and that is especially eveident here. We Blue’s flagship community project, the Blue Mile, asking people to travel a mile without a motor on or beside the water.
Supporting us on the way were George, Sarah’s cousin in law, with us the whole way driving our Spaceship Campervan and making good use of her camera. Also involved for a good dea of the trip was Simon, who has followed me with his camera on previous trips, my lady Em with her clipboard and phone, Ann Slator who was official supplier of lads from Devizes Canoe Club(!) and polar explorer Alex Hibbert, who caught the all important pics on the final day.
Our path through southern Britain was touched on several occasions, ironically, by serendipity (also the name of Sarah’s boat when she rowed the Indian Ocean). On the Henley Straight a cruising boat broke down and we exchanged our paddles for a £20 donation. Past Newbury a schoolteacher who had written to Sarah the evening before appeared from a wood bearing gifts in the form of a bag of Percy Pigs(!), but most importantly an envelope full of paddle signs and good luck messages from Class 3K, to whom Sarah spoke a while back. Finally, on Day 5 dusk was falling and we just happened to be passing when a lady fell off her boat. The banks were high and she was struggling to reach the edge. It took Sarah and I three minutes to lift her out, we daren’t think what might have happened had we not been there. Wonderfully, the lady found us online later and made a £20 donation.
On our Blue Bath2London venture we invited members of the public to join us for a Blue Mile (or fifty) and had a marvellous response. Kayakers from Devizes Canoe Club (special mention here to Edd Dobson who totted up 50 Blue Miles including the last bouncy stretch into London), Stand Up Paddlers (thanks very much to Felipe Allard and Gerard Gray for paddling well over 20 Blue Miles and raising over £350 between them), the official Bath2London support team clocked up endless miles between them and plenty of others joined us en route.
Despite Charley Boorman popping down to wish us good luck, we were nearly denied a triumphant finale. As Sarah and I (and Edd and Mike in their K2 Kayak) approached central London on schedule, the Thames Harbour Master made it clear he wasn’t happy with us paddling in the choppy conditions, which had been made worse by construction work on the bridges and therefore required boats to pass closer to each other. Devastated, Sarah and I pulled over, Westminster and the London Eye already visible. We hauled our boards onto our shoulders and began a three mile walk towards Tower Bridge - if we weren’t going to paddle, we were sure as hell going to walk!
Thankfully, by the time we reached the London Eye the Harbour Master had changed his mind and sent out a boat to escort us - on the water- to our designated finish line. Our delight was quickly masked with the realisation that yes, the Thames in central London is hideously choppy. How neither of us plunged into the grey is beyond me, but I suspect it had something to do with Tower Bridge, lurking a mile down the straight when we began our final leg and finally sucking us beneath its beautiful span. The resulting images, I’m sure you’ll agree, were worth the wait, stress, and yes, even all of the standing up!