Paddling the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Challenge

Over the Easter Weekend Robbie Hayes (StA), AJ Richardson (L), Holly Kunzer (N) and Major Mansergh took two kayaks to the 70th annual 125 miles Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon along the Kennett and Avon Canal and River Thames.

The race, which has been held annually since 1948, starts at Devizes wharf, and follows the Kennet and Avon canal for 54 miles to Reading, where it joins the Thames. After a further 54 miles it reaches Teddington Lock, and ends at Westminster Bridge 17 miles later. The race takes place over four days, requiring competitors to portage their boats around 77 locks.

The two Oundle crews prepared for the challenge undeterred by rain or snow throughout the autumn and winter with weekly Sunday morning training sessions on the River Nene. Their diligent preparation helped them get through the first 35 miles on day 1 of the race when they had to contend with heavy rain and chilling easterly winds.

When they woke at their campsite at 5.30am to begin day 2, the prospect was not promising. The Environmental Agency had raised the flood warning to Red for the River Thames, with continued rain and fast flowing water presenting challenging conditions. The paddlers set off and finished 20 further miles to reach Reading, where the organisers decided that the river levels were too dangerous to continue on to the Thames.

Despite the disappointing end to the race, the teams’ persistence in the face of adverse conditions helped raise £2360 for their chosen charity, Mary’s Meals.

Mary’s Meals provides meals for children attending school in the world’s poorest communities. The promise of a single meal while at school alleviates chronic hunger and encourages children to pursue an education and follow a route out of poverty. The donations raised from 65 supporters will provide meals for 168 children for a year.