We were like sitting ducks, floating around in the middle of the lake, oblivious to the storm that was fast approaching. We heard shouting in the distance and we turned to see a man on a paddle board, signalling for us to head back the other way, back towards the base. Just as we turned and began paddling in the opposite direction we heard a huge clap of thunder. The black clouds that were in the far distance just a few minutes ago were now almost over us. We had a long way to paddle, and only a few minutes to do it.
I was taking part in National Go Canoeing Week, an event designed to promote paddle sports and encourage participation. Between 27th May – 4th June the event hopes to clock up 30000 of paddled miles and participants can register their miles on the Go Canoeing Week website (link below).
When it comes to canoeing and kayaking I definitely fall into the beginner category, but with each time that I have been out on the water and paddled I have enjoyed it more and more. On several occasions I have casually perused the kayaks for sale on eBay and thought about trying to get into kayaking as a new hobby, but that thought has never moved past the eBay procrastination stage though and accessibility is one of the reasons why it hasn’t. When it comes to paddle sports, for the majority of us, it’s something that we might do on holiday, with rented gear in a controlled environment on a sunny day. To go kayaking on a more regular basis and move away from that ‘holiday one-off’ category doesn’t seem as easy, and opens up lots of questions that seem hard to answer.
First of all you would have to buy your own kayak, paddle and buoyancy aid (apparently that’s the correct term for what I would call a life jacket) because renting a kayak each week would turn into a pretty expensive hobby quite quickly. Most of the places that I’ve been to that rent out kayaks and canoes are well aware that they are in the market of the sunny day spenders and are priced towards tourists who are happy to splash the cash for a one-off experience. Paying these prices week after week wouldn’t be easily sustainable so purchasing your own would become more cost effective. If you’ve got as far as thinking about buying your own canoe or kayak you’d probably have a fair idea of what kind of craft you want, and there are quite a few guides available on the internet that will help you make the right choice of size and shape, so parting with a big chunk of your hard earned cash to purchase your first boat is the easy part.
The hard part is understanding exactly where you can and can’t launch your craft on her maiden voyage. There are rules to this, and for the most part, a lack of transparency on the dos and donts.
Can I head down to my local reservoir and paddle away? Can I pop into my local park, move the ducks out of the way and spend an afternoon in the big pond? What about rivers, can I go there? Canals? All of those incredible lakes in Cumbria and Scotland, can I just go wherever I want?
There are some barriers when it comes to canoeing and kayaking, which is why I was keen to take part in Go Canoeing Week to see if I could break some of them down and understand paddle sports a little more.
This week summer arrived in the UK. Almost everybody was talking about the weather, mostly complaining that it was too hot, after months of complaining that it was too cold. Supermarkets ran out of burger buns and ice cubes as everyone rushed home from work to fire up the barbie for the first time since last August. The smell of charcoal filled the suburban air and the almost constant drone of lawnmowers drifted through open patio doors as everybody in the street realised that the grass had grown 4 inches overnight. With a bank holiday weekend looming the news channels warned of traffic jams on all motorways that head in the general direction of the coast as about 25% of the country decided that they quite fancy an ice cream with a flake in it and a walk along the sea front. I counted down the days left at work and day dreamed about paddling across a calm and tranquil lake, worrying only about how pink the back of my neck was turning.
Saturday morning arrived and I woke to the sound of rumbling thunder and torrential rain, I looked out of the window and saw just how bad the rain was and then climbed back in bed. It took me a good 15 minutes to convince myself to get back out of bed and carry on with the day’s plan. After all, it was only a week ago when I wrote about making sure that weather forecasts don’t stop adventures. By the time I had showered and eaten breakfast the rain had stopped and there were patches of blue appearing from between the clouds. It wasn’t looking as bad, just a typical bank holiday kind of weather day. Sun and showers.
The motorway was clear as I headed north towards Staffordshire, with most people heading out of the Midlands for the weekend, not into it. I drove straight to my brother’s house, Dave (pictured above) was also keen to give canoeing a go, and had only done it once before, many years ago. We switched cars and he drove the rest of the way, stopping only to grab coffees in Leek on the way to Tittesworth Water.
There are centres taking part in Go Canoeing Week all over the UK, but we had chosen Tittesworth Water in the Peak District as it was somewhere that we had seen from high up on the surrounding hills but had never visited. We were also planning to take a quick hike up to The Roaches after the canoeing. With Tittesworth being so close to other great spots in the Peak District it would be rude not to throw in another adventure.
We kitted up and got our canoe into the water and then spent a good 10 minutes trying to get going in the direction we wanted to go. The wind was fairly strong and pushed us into the shore on a few occasions. Luckily, there weren’t too many people around to watch us incompetently trying to paddle out, bickering in true sibling fashion and doing what could only be described as our best Chuckle Brothers impression, shouting “to me, to you” at each other as we tried to find a way to move the canoe in any direction other than into the shore. Eventually we did get going and we paddled straight into the wind, labouring against the incoming waves and barely gaining any momentum, like I said, we are definitely beginners.
We got the hang of it after a while, and we picked a spot on the opposite side of the reservoir to aim for, a little sandy beach in between the trees that looked like a perfect spot to pull the canoe up and sit and have a rest and a drink. It was slow progress, going completely against the wind, but we kept going and made it almost all of the way before we heard a voice shouting us in the background.
“Make your way back towards the base building please” shouted a man on a stand up paddle board, gesturing with his arms that we needed to go in the opposite direction.
We were unsure why he was shouting that, maybe we had gone too far away from the building and out of the controlled area. We hadn’t been told anything about where we could or couldn’t go though.
A huge clap of thunder came out of nowhere and rumbled on for a few seconds. I glanced to my left and saw dark black clouds heading straight for the lake. I really didn’t want to be in the middle of the water if there was going to be any lightning.
“Let’s go” I shouted to Dave. “We need to get moving”
As we got nearer to the guy on the SUP, he shouted “We’ll all be getting off the water if the storm hits”
No need to tell me twice on that one I thought as I dug my paddle into the water and dragged in backwards. The water was calmer, and it was easier to paddle. We gained some speed and momentum. The wind had all but disappeared, the calm before the storm. Within ten minutes we made it back to the shore near the rental building and we jumped out and pulled the canoe up. We had about 30 minutes left of our allocated time, we could wait out the storm and head back out on the water, or call it a day and go and watch the storm from the comfort of the visitor centre cafe with a coffee in hand. We chose the latter.
Ten minutes later we were sat in the cafe with a coffee. It rained for all of two minutes before the storm rolled away into the Peak District, the sound of thunder moving further and further into the distance. The storm had just missed us and we could have stayed out on the water after all, but that’s the way it goes, especially on bank holiday weekends, the weather is always unpredictable.
I still had unanswered questions, Go Canoeing Week has succeeded in getting me out on the water and thinking about paddle sports, but those barriers were still there and I still wasn’t sure how you can really get into this sport.
I’ll definitely go kayaking again, but I’ll have to pay tourist rental prices and stick to the confines of a designated area.
When I have a spare weekend, the mountain bike sat in my garage that I can go anywhere on and not pay anything to use, will be a much easier option. I’d like that to change, I’d like there to be a kayak sat in my garage as a great option for a sunny weekend. The Go Canoeing organisation would also like that to change, and the event this week is the first step to promoting the sport. I’m more interested in what that next step is though, and I’ll be keeping a closer eye on all things kayak related to try and figure that part out.