Paddlesports is one of those activities that is just brilliant for everyone; young, old, male, female, child, adult. There really is a place in paddlesports for all and it may be easier to get started than you think.
It can be quite daunting trying to figure out what you need and how on earth you´re going to pull it off. So many questions can be floating around in your head like ‘How do we get us all safely in and out of the boat?’ ‘What if we get tired?’ ‘Where’s the best place to get in?’ ‘How do I keep the kids entertained?’ ‘What do I really need to take with me?’ ‘Where can I find out about where’s best to paddle?’ It’s certainly a lot to be thinking about and hopefully I can put your mind at ease with many of these questions.
One of the most important things is to first of all decide where you want to explore (there are some sites at the bottom of this post which will help you find suitable routes). Treat it as an adventure because it is! Taking to the water allows you to experience somewhere you may know well from a whole different perspective. Let’s take the Llangollen Canal for example as it’s such an iconic waterway with the beautiful Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (a World Heritage Site) and its long, dark tunnels. This is a must for any paddler to tick off their list! What makes this a great trip to start with is the fact that is remarkably easy to get onto and off the canal in many different places. This means you can make the trip as long or as short as you like. I’d strongly recommend making sure you hit both aqueducts and both tunnels though. They are such an experience not to be missed!
Here are a few tips to help you get started and maybe get you out exploring this stunning waterway.
A map on a river? Do I really need one of those?
It can be extremely useful. It doesn’t have to be a full OS Map with a compass and the ability to read 6 figure grid references, it can be a downloaded map of the canal (check out Canal and Rivers Trust Wales for this trip – link at the bottom of this article) which will give you really useful information about where you can get on and off the canal and will usually have some other useful information such as car parks and cafes etc. This also allows you to decide whether you want to go one way and leave a car at the other end to pick up the kit or go so far and come back to where you started from.
Who is on my trip?
It may sound odd but it can really decide how long your trip will be. I paddle with my now 4 year old a lot and he’s been in a canoe since he was 2 and has grown to love the water. We couldn’t have done an 8-10 mile trip when he first started though whereas now he can happily go that far. It also depends what craft you´re in. If you have a couple of people paddling a canoe it´s going to be easier for you than the poor souls paddling themselves along in a kayak! Do you have anyone with mobility issues? It can be tough on the old legs and back sitting down for so long so you’ll need to factor in how long you/they can be comfortable for and think about some breaks to stretch the legs along the way. The latter is relatively easy on a canal and there are plenty of places for you to get out.
Safety equipment and suitable clothing
But I’m only on a canal I hear you say! We’re not talking ropes, carabiners, slings, helmets, dry suits, flares, gps phones here. We’re talking the very basics. Although canals are relatively shallow and sheltered they can cause injury and worse if you fall in and don’t have the correct personal safety equipment on. This is one area you really don’t want to cut corners on. At the very least you should have suitable footwear (non slip, a decent grip) and a buoyancy aid (also referred to as a BA or PFD). BA’s/PFD’s will help keep you afloat which will help you get to the side and out more easily. For children who can’t swim then a life jacket is a more suitable option. This is because they have a collar on the back that makes the swimmer float on their back, thus allowing them to keep their head above water. You can get some really cool ones for the kids – check out the Peak UK Sproglet and Sprog!
With regards to clothing although the air temperature may be warm, the water can still be absolutely freezing. You want to avoid cold water shock at all costs so dress in layers.Go Kayaking have a good range of paddlers thermals! If you have wetsuits then feel free to wear them and a cag but if not try to avoid things such as jeans and woolly jumpers. You want light clothing, thermal layers and many layers (depending on the time of year). Remember you can always cool down by removing layers but it’s hard to warm up adding layers when you’re already cold. Make sure you have a phone with you in a waterproof case so that you can call for help should the need arise. A small, basic first aid kit will be really useful too.
If you’ve got children with you then this is probably the single most important thing to consider when planning a trip. Take a look at what you’ve packed for them to eat, now quadruple it! Seriously, it’s better to have way too many snacks than a crying, grumpy, angry child/teenager. I’ve been there, it’s not fun! You’ll also need a few snacks to keep your own energy levels up too and don’t forget plenty of fluids! You can even pop a nice flask of coffee/tea/hot chocolate and sandwiches etc in there and have a nice civilised picnic along the way!
This is super important, especially if you are going in ‘normal’ clothing ie not a wetsuit, dry suit, dry cag etc.
Trips in the rain can be exhilarating but they can equally be miserable. To that end it’s always best to plan your trip when the sun is shining, it’s warm and you know you’re not going to catch hypothermia! Wind is another factor to take into account. Paddling into the wind is no fun. A gentle breeze is ok, especially on this canal as it’s mostly quite sheltered but remember you’ll be going over a huge, high, open to the elements aqueduct and you want to be able to stop and get those all important shots of you looking over the side (it’s got to be done!)
Do I need a license to paddle on a river or canal?
The short answer is yes. These are available through British Canoeing or the Canal and Rivers Trust. British Canoeing also offer lots of other things along with the license within a yearly membership fee whereas you will only get the actual license from the Canal and Rivers Trust.
So you’ve got your kit, you know where you’re going to get on the canal, you’ve got suitable clothing, snacks, a picnic, the sun is shining…all that’s left to do is get on the water and enjoy! If you get stuck, just ask a paddler. We’re a really friendly bunch of people!
Some sites that may be useful when looking to choose a route;
https://www.pontcysyllte-aqueduct.co.uk/ for information and a map of the Llangollen Canal
https://gopaddling.info/paddlepoints/ great for finding out where to access canals and rivers
https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/ for checking the weather before you go!
https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/ for a license and journey ideas
About the Author
Emma Kitchen has been paddling for 3 years and her young boy has recently got involved too and they both love it! Emma has a love of everything outdoors and thinks paddling with her friends is the best way to be outdoors. Often exploring the countries canals & lakes and gentle whitewater.