VIDEO – Stand Up UK Weston-Super-Mare to Southend-on-sea

Mikey spent 7 days with Charlie, filming him and driving the support vehicle. Below is Charlie’s account of his epic paddle:

Stand Up Paddle Coast To Coast

As a professional paddle boarder I felt like it was time to challenge myself. Usually racing over a 2 – 3 mile stretch, it was time for something different and to push myself further than ever before. I’d been pondering over different trips but I wanted do do something that no one else had ever done and that would take me to parts of the country that I would never normally see, this is where the Coast to Coast journey began…

Planning the trip wasn’t easy and there was a great deal to be considered but the journey would start at Weston-Super-Mare on the west coast and the entrance to the river Severn. We would be paddling up river, moving onto the Avon and onwards through Bristol. It would take us through Bath and onto the Kennet and Avon Canal. All the way through Wiltshire and up to Reading. I would then join the river Thames for what would become the the most daunting experience I’ve had! The final day would be a massive push through some extremely busy waterways to reach my goal at Southend-on-sea on the east coast.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/31432548[/vimeo]

My friend and I walked down the beach at Western through the mud and thick fog, looking out and waiting for the tide to turn. We were anxious to get going and the tide seemed to take forever. An hour later than planned we finally took to the water, the sun came out and the fog quickly burned away and seemed like a good omen for the trip. The waters of the river Severn are notoriously powerful and we soon experienced this first hand. As we paddled, the points and the bays of the estuary seemed to fly by. We made it onto the river Avon and paddled through the Gorge, under the Cliffton suspension bridge and into Bristol with the sun setting behind us on mirror flat water, ending the first day on a high. We were both excited about what was to come for the rest of the trip.

We woke up the next day and paddled through the centre of Bristol. The Harbour Master briefly stopped us to ask what we were doing but then wished us well on our way with the best of luck for the trip. We saw the SS Great Britain and other historic sights on the way. As we paddled through town the locals looked at us with surprise and great interest. The buildings fast turned to twisting and winding woodland and countryside as we headed east. After being invited into a friendly rowing club for a cup of tea along the way, we made it to the historic city of Bath where we joined the Kennet and Avon canal, and where we would start our assent to Devizes. As we joined the Kennet and Avon we were greeted by a flight of locks. Having to portage each one soon started to drain our energy. After a very long day we made it to Bradford-on-Avon, arriving in darkness. We pitched our tent and went to bed knowing we would only have a few hours sleep before an early start the following day.

At 8am we were back on the water with lots of interest from the local canal boats. We pushed on to a landmark I had been looking forward to, Cane Hill Locks. We turned the corner to see the huge flight of locks making their way up the hill ahead of us and stopped for a moments reflection. With regret it was at this point that my friend was forced to leave due to a nagging injury, and with some apprehension I prepared to go it alone. The next few hours in the blazing heat were long and hot and tested me to the limit physically and mentally. It was with great relief that we made it to a canal side pub where I was able to recover in the shade. As the day cooled down and feeling refreshed I carried on paddling to reach the long and dark Bruce tunnel. The final stretch for the day was a milestone as I started my descent back down to sea level, finishing up at Great Bedwyn for the night.

With the railway running beside we I paddled through Hungerford and Newbury and onto Reading, trying hard to make up some lost time. As i was paddling the clouds grew ever closer finally catching me at Reading.

When I entered the Thames the next day the scenery changed from cottages and canal side pubs to extravagant houses and gardens. As the river snaked it’s way towards Henley the recreational activities on the water grew. I passed by a number of rowing clubs who were all very intrigued to see what I was doing. The tranquil riverside turned to bustling town, with the sound of traffic and busy day to day life. An hour or two later and I was staring at the amazing grandeur of Windsor Castle and the land that surrounds it. It was a good landmark to reach because I knew that I was close to London. As I paddled onwards the sounds of the city grew ever louder with the roar aeroplanes coming from Heathrow passing low overhead. The goal for the night was to make it inside the M25 stopping in Staines.

From Staines we went to Walton-on-Thames where the river became rather touristy. Huge boats chopped up the water making it a difficult paddle to Teddington. This was where the tides would come back into play and planning the next few days around them was crucial. I waited for the tide to turn and set off again trying to cover as much ground as I could before darkness fell. I reached Putney Bridge as the sun fell through the arches leaving a golden sky. I went to bed that night knowing the weather could be against us the following day but still hoping to paddle.

We awoke early to see the tide change, however the head wind soon increased and with it creating impossible conditions to paddle against. Frustratingly I knew that the decision not to paddle that day was right, but the weather conditions forecast for the following day looked much more favourable to finish the paddle.

Once more we got to the water early and watched the sun rise over London. This time I knew it was right. I set off knowing that the day would be the most challenging yet, I was full of fear and in trepidation. The conditions were perfect glassy water but I was nervous. The water soon turned from almost silk to a mass of refracting waves. I passed all the landmarks of London with the rush hour traffic moving around me on water and on land. As I moved further east the water started to calm down and the landscape turned more industrial with the passenger ferries turning to enormous cargo ships, dwarfing me on my paddle board. I was thankful to make it to land at low tide just past Dartford after covering over 28 miles in five hours; I still knew I had one more demanding section to go later that day.

After a few hours rest I once again waited for the tide to slacken. I set off on the final leg of my journey with the tide and wind behind me. I knew this leg would be testing on body and mind with more enormous ships and an estuary crossing to face. I was lucky enough to have the Port Authority greet me and escort me over the shipping channel in the estuary taking a huge weight off my mind, they wished me on my way. I continued paddling out of the estuary with the waves slowly building from behind making for some great and exciting downwind paddling. The end was in sight. With my back-up team in contact on the phone anxiously awaiting my arrival in Southend. The last few miles seemed to last forever but with the sight of Southend Pier protruding into the water I could finally see my goal. Only as I reached the beach did I realise the enormity of what I’d set out to do and the relief that I had made it!

One Fanatic Stand up paddle board and One paddle, 6.5 days of paddling, 15 metre tides, 120+ locks, 6 counties,240+ miles and 5kg flapjacks eaten and that was Stand Up Coast To Coast.

Charlie Grey

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