Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race

Posted: 29th April 2022

Months of arduous training brought us to Devizes Wharf, on the morning of Good Friday, as our five determined pairs set off on the grueling 108-mile route. Starting in Devizes in Wiltshire, the race travels eastwards along the Kennet and Avon Canal, through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, through Hungerford, then Newbury, then Reading, where the canal joins the river Thames, which it then follows towards London. Despite being a canoe marathon, a considerable amount of running is involved due to the 77 portages – points at which the boats must be lifted out of the water and carried around the locks.

On the chilly morning of Good Friday, we all began paddling, setting off beneath the famed Devizes Bridge and out along the canal. Nerves soon settled, and the paddling became easier as we settled into our rhythm. With most of the portages falling on day 1 it was a day of constantly hopping in and out of the boat until eventually we arrived exhausted but elated at Newbury, 34 miles from where we had begun almost 7 hours earlier.

Both mornings of the race we were woken by the sounds of clattering pans, alarm ring tones and the shouting of the campsite Marshalls. Amidst the frantic packing up of the camp, a substantial breakfast was needed to be had, which consisted of porridge pots, bananas and cereal bars.

Day 2 was similar to day 1 in its number of portages and the distance however this was the day we reached the Thames at Reading, where the river opened up to fabulous riverside houses with boathouses containing top end craft. While this provided much-needed new scenery it also presented the challenge of side wind and turbulence, but all crews made it through to the end of day two at Marlow, and another night under canvas.

By the final day every mile began to feel like five, but the thought of finishing kept our spirits high. Our bodies were in remarkable shape considering what we had gone through but it was now taking longer and longer to get back into the boat and leave our support crews after each portage. Pushing through the fatigue, every crew made it over the final finish line at Teddington in good time.

Even our blisters had blisters, aches and pains merged into one and unfortunate mid-river capsizes caused additional difficulties for some. But despite the odd moan and look of despair, the Mount Kelly team had met the challenge, and stood out as a high-spirited, highly motivated and dynamic team.

The final positions of the Mount Kelly crews were:

  • Barney and Jack: 17th out of 62 boats (10th in the Junior Boys category)
  • Annabelle and Emily: 18th (2nd in the Junior Female category)
  • Finlay and Arwen: 21st (8th in the Junior Mixed category)
  • Ella and Ben: 41st
  • Felipe and Alex: 47th

As a squad, we decided to raise funds for the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Appeal, and are proud to have raised the grand total of £2,186.

Without the invaluable help of our parents and supporters, our achievements simply would not have been possible. But above all, we must recognize the unwavering dedication, expertise and enthusiasm of our coaches, Mr Francis, Mr Hayden-Davies and Mr Reid. Their commitment, driving long hours, encouraging us through wind and rain, organizing everything, and pushing us on, gave us the best possible chance to complete what back in September seemed nothing more than a distant dream.

DW is often described as the most mentally and physically demanding challenge open to anyone under the age of 19, and it certainly was the hardest thing any of us have ever done, but I know we’ll all look back on it with great pride and satisfaction.

It was an extraordinary experience, and one none of us will ever forget.

Article by Barnaby and Arwen, Year 12

More photographs can be found on Facebook.

Categories: Expeditions