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Blog: Women's Paddling Ambassador Emma on the Desmond Family Canoe Trail

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Last week we told you about the new Desmond Family Canoe Trail which officially launches at the end of August. Leading up to the big unveil are a series of relays across the country, reaching from Goole to Liverpool, the length of the new English coast to coast route. 

To celebrate, women's paddling ambassador Emma Kitchen took on the trail in two different ways this month... Firstly by helping fellow women's paddling ambassador, Jo, cross the finish line on her stand up paddle boarding #2MinuteBeachClean, where Jo became the first woman to SUP the trail start to finish, and secondly by joining one of the relays... take a look at Emma's blog and find out more about the trail here.

Take it away, Emma!

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The Desmond Family Canoe Trail is a privately funded youth engagement project run by the Canal and Rivers Trust and also the longest paddling trail in the UK spanning 162 miles from Liverpool to Goole! Crazy right? Even crazier is the reason I found out about it is because one of my fellow British Canoeing Women’s Paddling Ambassadors, Jo Moseley, decided that she would become the first woman to paddle it on a Stand Up Paddleboard. But for now I'll talk about the launch of the trail and the events leading up to it...

The idea of the launch is to paddle different segments of the trail in a relay, with both sides meeting in Burnley in a week or so’s time with a big festival to celebrate. Sadly I was only able to help out on the first leg from Goole to Whitley Bridge but if you know me you’ll know I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go paddling!

The Relay

We arrived at 8:30am on a bright but fresh Wednesday morning with smiles on our faces which instantly grew bigger when we saw breakfast had been provided for us! Bacon, sausage or egg butties plus buckets of tea or coffee before we paddle? Oh go on then!

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After that it was time to grab our CRT t-shirts, get kitted up, pin our relay numbers to our PFDs and cheer as Danny and Liz gave a wonderful speech to send us on our way. It was lovely that so many locals – and not so locals – had come along to cheer us off and also provide bankside support along the way.

We were led by the lovely Jed, an instructor from Carnegie Great Outdoors (who have provided excellent instruction and leadership along all legs this side of the trail – Thanks guys!) and with 5 open boats we set off along the Aire and Calder Navigation! The team was made up of Jed leading, I was assisting and we had a third experienced paddler called Dave from another club I’m part of. The rest of our group were all novices having paddled no more than 1-2 miles ever, so 12 miles was going to be a challenge but they were all ready for it.

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With a southerly wind and a relatively warm day, the conditions were definitely in our favour and we set off at a great pace. Everyone was really excited and most of us were enjoying the peace and quiet until Nathan decided to play DJ with his phone. How technology has changed the way we paddle! We covered the first couple of miles with relative ease and stopped for a breather at Rawcliffe Bridge where Liz was on hand with MORE food and water. I don’t really eat when paddling (bar the odd jelly baby but they are obligatory of course!) but some of the others were really grateful for the extra grub…especially the kids!

This stretch of water was completely new to me and I have to say it was fantastic to get out and explore somewhere new! To say you set off from somewhere as industrial as Goole you are soon out into beautiful, peaceful countryside. The only noise comes as you pass under the M18 and the M62 motorways.

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Those motorway bridges are great for getting out of the rain and having a breather! Thankfully we didn’t get much but it’s always nice to take shelter! As you can see from all the photos everyone was having a wonderful time. Two of our paddlers, Grace and Toby, are both 13 and Grace had never done anything like this before. She was utterly smitten with canoeing and now wants to get more involved back in Sheffield. She was an absolute powerhouse on this paddle, even out powering me on several occasions! Her words to me were ‘This is fantastic! I’ve never done anything like this before but it’s brilliant! You just have to give it a try and then you realise how great it is! I want to do more!’

We had a bit of wind to contend with at one small section of our paddle but everyone rallied round and dug deep to get through the worst of it. It was a great opportunity to teach our more novice members about looking at the water and choosing the most sheltered part to paddle in (rather than the middle of the canal!)

We saw cormorants, moorhens, coots, swans, ducks, geese and a heron as we were paddling along. Everyone was smitten by the ducklings and baby moorhens though. You can’t beat a bit of the cute factor on a paddle!

By 13:30 we were up to 6 miles…halfway! The pace had really dropped off as people started to get tired. So we had a bit of a swap around, rafted a couple of boats up and went on our way again with the knowledge of a fish and chip lunch keeping them going!

At this point we had to make the decision to trim down the number of boats we would take on from this point as the weather was turning and at 15:30 we really needed to pick up the pace. It was decided that some would walk the tow path and others would jump in the cars and vans. That left 4 boats with an experienced paddler in 3 of them and the amazing Ali in the 4th who had been a brilliant novice paddler throughout and allowed us to then take one young person in each boat with us.

Now, on this last leg of the paddle, it started to get slightly more mentally and physically challenging for some as we had to portage two locks. When you’ve already paddled 8 miles, open boats suddenly become REALLY heavy!

I’m pleased to say though that everyone worked brilliantly as a team to get the boats round both locks and everyone back safely on the water. When you’re tired and energy is failing then it’s really important to take your time, work together and double check everything in order to keep everyone safe. Everyone was really sensible about this and it meant that we were all still dry, smiling and ready to paddle again. 

After that last portage (port-ij if you’re from Yorkshire, por-tarje if you’re feeling well-spoken) we were nearly there! The last mile flew beneath our boats, spurred on by the prospect of crossing the finish line.

We crossed the line as a team with massive grins on everyone’s faces and cheers from our support crew. The looks on the faces of our young people when they realised what they had achieved filled my heart with happiness. These young people have never done anything like this before and they took on the challenge and worked as a team to complete it. This is what this project is all about and it’s been an honour to help get these guys on the water. They are going to be amazing paddlers!

What. A. Great. Day!

Want to read more from Emma? Follow her blog here.
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