National Go Canoeing Week takes place every May; encouraging people of all ages and abilities to get out on the water. I work for the Go Canoeing team at British Canoeing, so it would have been remiss of me to not jump in a boat.
I didn’t want to just go out for a gentle paddle however. If I was going to join in I wanted to do something which challenged me and added another string to my adventurous bow.
Finding the Right Challenge
Over the years I have been in canoes and kayaks on a fair few occasions. From school trips to gentle loch paddles and even a kayak through the Kong Lor cave in Laos, I always enjoyed being on the water but didn’t feel as if I had done very well. At staff canoe club (yes, that’s a thing when you work for British Canoeing!) it felt as if I was the slowest to learn and skills did not come naturally.
The great thing about canoeing and kayaking though, is there is always going to be something for you. Part of my job is to write up new trails and challenges for paddlers to take on. We launched the Trent Loop Challenge last year and it is based right on my doorstep, here in Nottingham. It is a 13-14 mile loop on the River Trent and Nottingham and Beeston Canal.
Could I Do It?
Working for a sports governing body means working with a lot of sporty people! My colleague, Craig, is a keen paddler and he and another colleague, Steph, were already top of the leaderboard for our Three Lakes Challenge.
I wondered if he could help get me round the Trent Loop in a K2 (two person kayak). Craig kindly agreed to take me out on the water for a practice. If I didn’t cause us both to fall in we could take it from there.
Turning up bright and early at Nottingham Kayak Club, Craig announced to me that we were going out in ‘the Titanic of boats’. I sincerely hoped this was a joke.
Our first paddle went surprisingly well, covering 3.6 miles in just over half an hour. With only a couple of weeks to practice, we only managed to get in two more practice runs before the big day. Our third time in a boat saw Craig trying me out in a faster but less stable, Mirage K2. Again we stayed upright, so this was to be our vessel for the big day.
The Trent Loop Challenge
Craig and I chose the Tuesday of the week to give our challenge a try. Not many people have taken on the challenge so far and the fastest time on the leaderboard was 3hrs 18mins. Our training run times had us on track to beat that but there were some extra twists on the route to contend with.
The Trent Loop takes in some portages. This is when you have to get out of the boat and run with it to get around an obstacle. We would have to do this three times on the day; once off the Trent and onto the canal, once around a lock and once back onto the Trent. Meaning three extra opportunities for me to fall in!
A towpath runs around the entire Trent Loop, making it easy for you to take a support crew if required. Our colleague, Amelia, volunteered to follow us on her bike, becoming our supporter, nutritionist and photographer.
Go Go Go
We set off, with a slight wobble, in the early afternoon and made good progress, up the Trent, to the first portage. This involved getting out onto a raised platform, going up a ramp and getting back into the boat on the canal.
I admit that I thought we would be walking with the boat at the portages but competitive Craig had other ideas. I’m an ok runner but carrying a kayak does make things a little trickier! It was a relief to get that first portage out of the way and be powering our way along the canal, into the centre of Nottingham.
I have run this route many times before but sitting in a boat gave a whole new view of the area. It is possible to be so much closer to the flora and fauna and see details you just don’t spot from land. The Trent Loop winds its way from countryside to city centre and back, giving a great mix of sights and sounds. It’s possible to really appreciate buildings, such as Fellows, Morton and Clayton, which were once part of the thriving canal industry.
Jamie offices are right beside the canal, so he popped out to cheer us on through our second portage. After that it was a case of powering on for the next few miles to reach Beeston lock and weir.
Just Keep Paddling
Arriving at Beeston, my arms were starting to ache. My hands had also started to seize from gripping the paddles but generally I felt pretty happy. Craig was in charge of steering and setting the pace, all I really had to do was attempt to keep in time with him.
One last portage bought us back onto the Trent with six miles, or so, to go. My watch told us we were on 1 hour 20 minutes. For this final part we would be travelling with the steady flow of the river and there were no more stops. My initial mental aim had been to complete in under three hours. Now I wondered if we could make two and a half.
As you set back out on the Trent you get an impression of how the river once would have looked. Many years ago the Trent was a much wider, shallow river. Here, as it sweeps round bends, with trees dipping their branches, you can imagine yourself back in that time.
These thoughts kept my mind from the burning in my shoulders as our arms span the paddles. The wind had been against us for the first part of our journey but now blew gently at our backs. I was pushing hard but keen to break the journey by chatting. Craig was less keen on the chatter.
We picked off the bridges along the Trent and passed landmarks including famous sporting venues. Once under Lady Bay road bridge (originally built as a railway bridge), I knew we were on the home strait. A quick check of the watch told me we were doing better than I could have hoped.
Cheers from colleagues greeted us as we approached the final landing stage. “Please lets not fall out of the boat as we finish.” I begged Craig.
I stopped the clock at 2 hrs 13 minutes. Over an hour faster than the previous registered time. What a fantastic achievement! It turns out I really do like paddling after all.
This experience really showed me how much fun paddling can be. It was also great to do it with Craig and Amelia. There is no way I could have made a time like that on the Trent Loop without Craig. I am also aware he could do it a lot faster with a more experienced paddler.
As much as I am proud to be at the top of the leaderboard for now I don’t want to stay there. I am just throwing down the gauntlet for someone else.
Take a look at the Trent Loop Challenge for yourself; will you be next to the top?!
National Go Canoeing Week 2017 runs from 27th May to 4th June, so there is still time to join in. To find out how you can take part and log your miles head to the website here.
If you are reading this after June 4th, fear not! There are still lots of ways you can get out on the water on the British Canoeing website.