I’ve been really privileged this week to work with a fantastic group in preparation for a Gold DofE canoe expedition. Some had done a fair bit of paddling before (one had done his 2 star award with me a couple of weeks ago), while others were completely new to it.
On Monday, we took a short trip to the Shropshire Union Canal at the Lion Quays Hotel. With their consent, we accessed the water and spent the day in and around their marina. The aim of the day was to introduce some basic paddling strokes and get them working together as a team, particularly in their pairs. A number of games helped to break up the day, and only one boat capsized – the one controlled by the 2 start paddler!
I had two aims for Tuesday. Firstly, I wanted to take them on a journey to get them to practice going forward and straight efficiently. The canal seemed to obvious choice for an introduction. Secondly, I was looking to spend time working on rescue techniques, so some deep water was needed. Ellesmere was the place that offered both with the canal passing through, and The Mere for the deep water stuff. From Ellesmere, we paddled up to Colemere with varying degrees of efficiency. While some pairs were generally cruising nicely, others ‘pin balled’ across the canal for a while. Similarly, some got the hang of an efficient stern rudder, while others had to be encouraged not to rely on back paddling.
After a quick drive across Ellesmere, and a brief lunch break, it was back on the water for rescue drills. We played around with a wide variety of scenarios involving one or both paddlers out of the canoe, the canoe the right or wrong way up, and even got as far as an ‘all in’ rescue with all 10 paddlers in the water and all 5 canoes upside down. They were pretty shattered by the end, but it was an ideal opportunity to practice these skills in a safe and controlled environment before getting on the river.
Wednesday was the start of our three day practice expedition. Having double checked all the kit, sorted the shuttle of vehicles and a quick look at issues specific to rivers, we finally got on the River Severn between Welshpool and Pool Quay for about 12.45pm. The water level was the lowest I’ve seen it on this stretch of river, exposing new and interesting short sections of grade 2 water. There were also a number of trees down across the water which, although passable, needed to be handled with care. Along the way, we had one boat capsize and a swan crash into a tree when it failed to gain enough height on takeoff – thankfully it seemed fine. Five hours and about 15km later, we arrived at Llandrinio, where the water level dropped by about a meter as the river passed under the bridge, creating some entertainment to finish off the day’s paddle.
Thursday saw us heading on down to Montford Bridge, another 21km downstream. The sometimes stiff easterly breeze made it fairly hard going, but the group made good time, completing the trip in 6 hours including breaks. We often found ourselves per suing swans down the river. On one occasion we came up behind a group of 12 swans that seems intent on staying in front of us. However, after about 30 minutes of being followed, they decided to take to the air – straight towards us. By the time they had enough speed to get airborne, they were only about 15m from one canoe and only reached a height of 2-3m as they passed over a pair of ducking paddlers. It would have been an amazing photo if I’d been quick enough!
We had a short day planned for today, to give us plenty of time to get back and sort kit as well. So, after negotiating our way around The Isle, we got out onto a friendly farmer’s land and hauled the boats up to the trailer which I’d dropped their on Wednesday morning.
It’s been quite a long week, but very rewarding to see novice paddlers develop and take on a 3 day / 2 night expedition as well as they did. Well done everyone. Best of luck with your DofE canoe assessed expedition later in the Summer.