Monday, February 23, 2015

Paddling to Jerusalem

A mid-life crisis can be handled in different ways, some people change their careers, others take a lover whilst David Aaronovitch decided to paddle around Britain.  Not an easy objective for somebody whose previous paddling experience was limited to a none to positive introduction to the sport on the Bedfordshire Ouse over Easter 1966.        
The decision to paddle around England came to him whilst paddling a large green plastic canoe across a lake at Center Parc’s.  Possibly not the most stimulating environment but one which proved inspiring.  The description of David Aaronovitch is not one which inspires confidence as an able outdoors person.  His observations on the cliental of gyms are particularly wry.  If his description of the kayaking tuition he received is accurate then the future of the sport is not on very secure ground.
Against almost universal advice he decided to embark upon the journey and a route through the heart of England evolved.  He chose the Pyranha Orca sea kayak as his craft and the route linked the canals and major river systems of England.  The Thames, Trent and Severn plus the Grand Union, Leeds – Liverpool and Shropshire Union Canals provided the liquid highways.
To most paddlers this would appear to be a particularly drab choice of route if compared to more dramatic popular sea kayaking regions.  Numerous writers, from Defoe onwards, have for hundreds of year described the journeys they have undertaken though the heart of England.  Some have proved to be accurate observers of the state of the country and Aaronovitch is one of these.
Heading through some of the major cities of industrial England, by kayak, is not everybody’s idea of a classic paddle.  What it does allow though is a different perspective on life in Britain at the end of the 20th century.  He is looking at England through the backdoor, roads and footpaths tend to show the front of buildings, canals the rear.
His “camp” on the first night of the journey was the Hotel Ibis near Heathrow Airport, not on the main sea kayaking route, not a particularly auspicious start.  Another bleak moment was his arrival in Burnley, not many hotels in the world would have the temerity to place the following sign above a bed; “We respectfully request that you do not iron anything on the carpet, as it will melt.”
In contrast to these somewhat depressing descriptions there are numerous positive encounters.  Unfortunately his wrists didn’t last the pace and he was forced to abandon his paddle close to Gloucester and he had to finish his journey to the Millennium Dome at Greenwich on foot, following the tow path of the Thames as opposed to benefiting from the rivers free ride as it heads towards the sea.
Overall this is an optimistic book and it offers hope for all of us who will never see the younger side of 40 again.  In contrast to so many sea kayaking books which are written by paddlers hoping to be writers, this is a book which is written by a writer who is becoming a paddler. It is well written, informative and amusing.  He didn’t really get to paddle on the sea but the use of sea kayaks doesn’t have to be restricted to the salt water environment.  There are many miles of inland waters which are suitable for sea kayaks and this book will help open your eyes to some of the possibilities which exist.  A delightful book, well worth searching out.  

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