The drive to Lancashire is a harrowing adventure in its own right.
Just as I announce proudly how nicely tied our vessel on the roof rack lays, we hear a loud noise and the yellow coracle (Aka: HMS Menyn) is barely hanging by the side of the car. Athina finds this hilarious and can’t stop laughing. While I try to secure it back in place she eats a whole box of strawberries. Lesson learnt: An X-figure is the safest tying method for a coracle.
We make it to Tewitfield Marina, enter the reception and ask the only man standing there where the overflow parking is. He points at a piece of paper in his hand and asks in broken English: ‘…Booking???’ An awkward silence follows as we stare at each other confused. It turns out he’s a fresh arrival wanting to check in.-
Our plan is simple: paddle inside a coracle 323 miles from the Northest UK point to the Southest. Athina will cycle by my side and our family pooch will join us too. We have four weeks to complete the challenge and everything looks promising except for finding a support crew for such a lengthy trip. We accept that we must carry all our own gear and find somewhere to sleep on-route. It’s a raw, fearless plan with soul. We seek novelty, to exercise our minds and we look forward to the life lessons that await us.
For once I take adventure planning seriously. I examine the route carefully for this incredible journey, invest on good equipment and even practice the famous figure-of-eight paddling technique. Admittedly, there is a strong chance of failure, but hey, I’ve built stubborn faith that this will work.
It’s a raw, fearless plan with soul. We seek novelty, to exercise our minds and we look forward to the life lessons that await us.
It’s a late start. Standing at the beginning of Lancaster canal with all the gear laid out, it appears a lot more than I’ve wished for. Two heavy bags, a coracle and a paddle. We take one final examination for what comes and what stays, but other than a coconut oil pot, everything else is essential. Athina wears both a smile on her face and her own backpack while Little-Miss-Shadow sits inside the bike basket unaware of what’s to come.
The phone rings and my canal contact raises his concerns about navigating the Ribble and Douglas rivers. The water is moving fast and the flow is against me. I explain that our intention is to walk on the side of it. ‘There is no towpath’ he says and suggests I find a support crew to transport us 7-9 miles utill the river meets the Leeds-Liverpool canal. I thank him for the call and decide to go ahead with the plan. Forty miles later I will have figured a way to avoid the rivers.
Wild camping is not allowed in England. We rely on the friendly canal folk to camp on their patch of land and failing this, find the closest camping site. There is a slight buzz of concern in the back of my mind, the pressure of finding somewhere to camp daily or reaching a campsite (if any?) adds an extra burden of weight. Sometimes I carry it well, but others the strain is tougher. Unless you are a fellow adventurer, you probably see a crazy person but I’ve always maintained that to master life we must illuminate it and create fresh difficulties.
Not surprisingly, soon after we start, things begin to go wrong. There isn’t enough time to cover the 11.5 miles at my paddling speed by dawn. The water is shallow and the coracle touches the rocks; the fabric will soon be torn. I get out and try to speed things up by pulling the vessel but the vegetation is tall and the rope gets tangled up in the bushes. A broken tree lies across the canal. I refuse to be beaten by the complexity. I take everything out the water and decide to carry it. With a coracle on my back, two bags and a paddle in my hand I ask myself ‘How hard can this be?’ The answer is: ‘Too hard for a little lady who’s not particularly into weight lifting.' :)
The most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by my failures. This must be what Jesus felt when carrying his cross…Jeez, 202 locks of this… I switch to intense concentration. My silence is a give-away; Athina knows me all too well. ‘Mummy, we can walk the canal instead’ she says. I love how outside adventure has taught her to deal with dilemmas and to think creatively. We find a bench and sit down to discuss this plan. Negotiating the terms with Athina and being honest about our abilities is paramount to achieving together. The reality is that without a support crew the issues around portaging and where to sleep, remain the same.
Unless you are a fellow adventurer, you probably see a crazy person but I’ve always maintained that to master life we must illuminate it and create fresh difficulties
We agree to turn around and after 8km on the canal we’re back to where we started from. We drive to a camping site; we need our sleep. Tomorrow is a new day for decisions. Its half past ten at night, our headlights are switched on and we waste no time in setting up the tent. A man approaches and says kindly: ‘Here, take this. You can return it in the morning’ and hands out a lantern. I thank him and say it’s alright we’re used to the dim light but he insists.
In the morning we phone one of our best friends; Andreas, to discuss the situation. We’re lucky to have people in our lives who ‘get us.’ Despite being somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales fell running, he makes himself available and helps us consider our options.
Abandoning the canal challenge was a tough choice to make. - I hope to give some kind of answer to the question: Why not try again the next day? As you may have guessed, there is no neat answer. There is a point at which we evaluate a situation and have the courage to stop if necessary. We measure what we want to achieve next. Nature and sporting adventures is part of our lives. I am very proud of how excited Athina gets about adventuring. Working as a team with my daughter is the best feeling in the world. Sharing dreams, making mistakes and discovering the world together is to us an ongoing education. We accept that this family adventure isn’t going to be completed the way we wanted and doing less is not an attractive option.
A lesson for both that to do things our way and take on challenges of this epic scale we need a support crew and a safe place to sleep. But we’re born passionate and have a great penchant for adventure so we’re off to celebrate the goodness of life. We’re heading to the Scottish Hebrides for trekking and wild camping. A gateway to a thousand treasures for imaginative minds.