Can I learn to love kayaking?
- By Helen Craig -
- May 02, 2012
Looking out of my office window the rain has stopped - I can even see a tiny bit of blue sky! However, I quickly realise this means absolutely nothing as it's April and I’m in Britain. The reason I am particularly interested in today’s weather is that I'm off Kayaking near Hampton Court with Virgin Experience Days. I have a mission to find out if this zero carbon experience is a great way to see the Thames…
Last time I was in a Kayak I’m sure I said the words “I hate Kayaks, I’m never getting in a Kayak ever again”. It was perhaps a little unfair to blame the boats themselves for a jellyfish stinging incident and some bad timing with the tides, so I am willing to give it another go. Thankfully the Thames is not known for stingers and I’m really excited about seeing London from a completely different perspective.
As we arrived, we were greeted by our smiling instructor and guide, Dan, from London Kayak Tours, who had got our lovely red Kayaks ready for us. After getting strapped into our buoyancy aids and practicing getting in and out of kayak on dry land, the heavens opened.
By this point I had resigned myself to that fact I was going to fall in, so getting drenched by rain was the least of my worries. According to Dan the trick is to not lean on one side more than the other (cannot guarantee that happening if I see a jellyfish) and to keep your hips flexible to steady the boat when the water gets a bit bumpy. Sounds simple enough but if you have ever seen my “Hips Don’t Lie” Shakira impression, you’ll understand why I had to really concentrate!
Amazingly I made it into the Kayak, with no problems and it was so much easier than I remembered and drifting down-stream meant I could practice my paddling technique without too much effort. Dan had mentioned that we would be going down some “rollers” but I didn’t quite appreciate that we were actually going to be sliding down a metal see-saw contraption to reach the river past the weir – eek! My adrenaline junkie friend Philippa went first (of course) and landed safely. With help from Dan, I made it down safely without a massive sploosh incident – scary bit over!
As we drifted down past the beautiful Hampton Court, I really started to relax as the sun started to peek through the clouds. A great crested grebe popped back up for air right next to Philippa’s kayak – I’ve seen them so many times but never that close, it was amazing! Still in bird spotter mode I saw a cormorant, swans, lots of mallard ducks and a nesting coot feeding its chick! Check out the super cute picture below!!
Even if you’re not particularly interested in the wildlife, there’s plenty to admire including all of the amazing houses on Ditton Island - imagine what it would be like to commute by Kayak to work! After rounding off the island we headed back up stream, which is where the work out really begins. The tide was in our favour and Dan thankfully let us stop to catch our breath a few times and appreciate the peaceful surroundings.
Whilst admiring the golden Hampton Court gates shining in the now scorching sun we passed back under Hampton Court Bridge and onto our next kayaking challenge - using the lock. After years of safety messages about the danger of locks, it felt strange being in one in a kayak. However, we felt completely safe with our instructor who was there to explain what to expect, how the lock is run and hold onto my boat whilst I tried to take some last minute photos!
As we neared the end of our 90 minute tour I realised that I had one final challenge to overcome – getting out of the kayak! It perhaps wasn’t the most glamorous exit (just imagine an action dive in very low budget film) but I made it without falling in – hurrah.
Doubts cast aside by this Virgin Experience Days adventure; I am a complete kayaking convert. I take it all back – I love kayaks and can’t wait to go again!! It is a great zero-carbon way to experience the river, its sights and get up close with some fantastic wildlife.
So if you want to try something a bit different for a stag/hen party, birthday or even a date, this one is for you. There is a range of other Kayaking experiences, including tours on Regents Canal, around Winsdor and even coastal adventures – just search for Kayak at www.virginexperiencedays.co.uk.
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