Captivated by this week’s Olympics kayaking? Then why not try it right here in the manor. Yes, it usually conjures up images of adrenalin-fuelled white water rafting, but the other weekend, I was pleasantly surprised by what was actually a delightful meander along the tranquil Regent’s Canal in a small, relatively stable boat.
Built in the early nineteenth century to allow the transportation of commercial goods in and out of the capital, Regent’s Canal is, of course, a popular recreational highway. For those seeking an almost tangible experience of the waterway Camden Lock’s Pirate Castle offers two hour kayak tours for twenty or so brave souls.
The strong novice contingent in my group was a relief, all just as clueless as I was. Alongside the first-timers were those who were clearly committed regulars, identified by their professional attire. My own apparel seeming woefully inadequate (note: do not wear jeans).
Once equipped with our paddles, a double-blade differentiating it from its close relative the canoe, we faced the challenge of actually clambering into the water. Fortunately, the high instructor-to-novice ratio meant a helping hand was never far away, and we were soon off.
We paddled westwards from the safety of the Pirate Castle, observing the magnificent Primrose Hill houses, their gardens teetering onto the edge of the canal, complete with enviable private moorings. We glided past London Zoo’s aviary, bunting-clad narrowboats, and historic bridges, the trees catching the afternoon sun.
The journey wasn’t without its challenges. As with driving, it’s the other vehicles you need worry about: we would occasionally descend into something like a game of bumper cars. More danger emerged from the many narrowboats, drawn out by a beautiful summer’s day, and we found ourselves clinging precariously to the edge as they passed by. My main concern was the water itself, its murky depths making me all the more determined to stay stable.
At Avenue Road we turned round to return the way we had come, somehow arriving back at the Pirate Castle with a 100% capsize-free success rate.
We had only explored 3km of Regent’s Canal’s 14 km stretch, but arguably its prettiest part. Back on dry land I felt a real sense of achievement, having combined exercise with an exploration of one of London’s most valued assets. And, yes, my arms are still aching.
Adult classes run at the Pirate Castle, Oval Road, Saturdays 11.30am – 1.30pm, and Tuesdays and Thursdays 7pm – 9pm all year round. Price £6, concessions £3.
Words & Pics: Clare Healy