Kayaking: BCU Star 1 course

I kayaked a couple of times as a teenager, which I remember pretty fondly, especially one sea kayak trip on Angelsea. Unbelievably this was a school trip and I had no previous experience, obviously something that would never take place now.

26 years after my last kayak trip, the idea has sprung up again, this time inspired by microadventures such as this one by Alastair Humphreys or full on 1000 mile expeditions like this one by Dave Cornthwaite. One step at a time though, best to get a bit of training first.


I looked around at several commercial watersport centres in London. They looked ace but were all generally pretty pricey. What looked like a much better fit for me was a kayaking club, in particular the beginners course at Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.

So every tuesday for the last few weeks i’ve been going down to Shadwell Basin (part of the old London Docks) training for my British Canoe Union Star 1 certificate.

I found myself being really nervous when I turned up on the first night, partly because I wasn’t sure what to expect, but also because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Obviously I was fine – the people at the club were very friendly and the others on my course were a lovely bunch and really supportive of each other.


It goes without saying that I had forgotten anything I may have known about kayaking and as a complete rookie struggled with the most basic of maneuvers – going in a straight line. To be fair, everyone struggled with this, especially at the start.

We ended the first session with an exercise that I was slightly dreading – the emergency exit from the boat. This involved tipping the kayak upside down, tapping the bottom and then slipping out. I can’t say that I was cool enough to tap the bottom, I was over and straight out. This october was generally pretty mild and while it WAS cold, it was far from bitter and I’m counting myself lucky.

I’d survived the first session and was pretty pleased with myself and the course. Bring on the rest!

Over the next few weeks I felt I was making some good progress. I could go in a straight(ish) line both forward and backwards and maneuver around mostly in the direction that I wanted. We even enjoyed lively games of tag and water polo.

On the final night we were assessed by a senior club member and put through our paces. Nothing too strict, but enough to make me want to impress. Afterwards we had a discussion on safety and other areas of kayaking and then we got our certificates. I am now officially a BCU star 1 kayaker!

What next?

Well, I’ve made a decent start but I think I’m not quite there for going off on my own yet. The obvious next move is to join the club (a bargain at £100 a year). I can do the star 2 course as fast as I want to (there is no set timetable) and then join in expeditions, probably next year.

Feels good, can’t wait to do more.

Expedition: Black Mountains, Brecons

Each year, my friend Andy and I go forth to conquer and explore somewhere wild in the UK. This time we thought we would try the Brecon Beacons.

Things have been incredibly busy of late and I’ve not had tons of time to plan the trip. What has been a huge help though is Bing Maps. I have to admit to never really taking much notice of Bing with Google being my go-to online map but they have one killer feature – an Ordnance Survey map layer. This is incredibly handy!

Black Mountains 2015

After a slightly late get away from London we made it to a mountain road at one end of the Black Mountains (part of the Brecon Beacons) at nearly 4pm. We quickly made for the hills knowing that we only had, at most, two hours to get into the wilderness and make camp.

Black Mountains 2015

The weather was a bit grey and there was a bit of nip to the air but it was still ace to be up in the hills. The general plan was to follow the route of the ‘Beacons Way’ as far as we could and then head back along the same path. We made it as far as Foel Fraith and made camp on a flat but boggy piece of ground half way up. The ground in this area was either boggy or rocky (or both) which made finding a tent sized pitch quite a struggle!

Black Mountains 2015

Black Mountains 2015

The night was fairly mild and it was pretty cosy inside, despite the howling wind and lashing rain. The morning, however, gave us a blanket of mist and sporadic showers and we were in no rush to emerge from our den of warmth.

Black Mountains 2015

Eventually we bit the bullet and in a small break in the rain quickly struck camp and got on our way. I’m sure the vista was superb, however, we will just have to assume that as we couldn’t see any more than a few feet in the fog.

I’m pretty pleased with my navigation skills as we spent the entire morning following compass bearings with hardly any features to go by. This is adventure!

Black Mountains 2015

Black Mountains 2015

We did come across some wildlife on our journey, some alive, such as this lovely frog but quite a bit dead, such as the many sheep bones we found. i have to say that it was quite macabre walking across a misty heath stumbling across piles of bones. It did make me think about ‘American Werewolf in London’ – ‘don’t leave the road’, ‘beware the moon’ (seriously, there was a full moon that night).

After 7-8 miles of low visibility I was pleased to only find myself a few hundred metres off of the path as we descended down into Llanddeusant. This did mean negotiating our way through a farm where we were sarcastically (and possibly harshly) asked ‘can’t read a map?’ by the farmer.

Black Mountains 2015

It was still raining heavily so we sheltered in the porch of the (closed) Youth Hostel. At least this allowed me to brew up a coffee and have a dry(ish) lunch. We also assessed our options. Head back the way we came and trust my navigation was going to work on the way back or head back via the road?

We were soaked through and andy had some bad blisters so the prospect of slogging over the hills (with no view) seemed a bit masochistic (even for me). The road it was then. The only minor issue on this plan was that the road went off of my map so it was ‘fingers crossed’ that it actually joined up.

It was actually a fairly pleasant walk and the cars on the country lanes were few. Late on in the afternoon the sun even came out for a lovely sunset (that I managed not to photograph). Back at the car, in the last bit of daylight, we were shivery and damp and the (now) clear skies promised a sub-zero night. I guess we could have ‘manned up’ and slept out again but I have to confess that we didn’t fancy it much in our current state. Hotel it was.

This proved to be a wise move as I came down with some kind of food poisoning in the night and while this was awful, it was have been catastrophic in a tent in the wilderness.

Black Mountains 2015

Black Mountains 2015

Before going home, we spent a very lovely couple of hours at ‘The Mumbles’ on the Gower. The sun was shining and it was glorious – if only we had had this weather the day before!! The luck of the draw I guess. Despite the harsh weather, it was great to be out in the mountains and i’m proud that we gave it a go.

All the photos from the trip on Flickr.



How do I have time for all this…stuff?

I have been asked a couple of times in recent days “How do you have time for all that stuff you put on Facebook?”. I’ve been slightly startled by the question because I didn’t actually think that I did do that much really.

I think it came about in a short period where I posted (read ‘bragged’) about completing a marathon, going kayaking, BMF, joining ‘project awesome’, baking a cake plus some family time too. This got me thinking about my use of time, especially as I hold down a full time job and have young children.

First let’s go back in time to my 20s when I had, almost literally, ALL the time in the world. I did sometimes go scuba diving and I had a few nice holidays but I mostly did nothing that the older me would recognise as anything cool or worthwhile. Like many twenty somethings, a lot of lounging about watching telly, and not even ‘quality telly’ either. With as much time as I wanted and my whole life still ahead I, of course, did very little.

Now that I only have a few small windows of opportunity to do anything, I actually do a fair bit. How I do this mainly comes down to the idea of focusing on the things that I think are important and making them happen. When someone says that they have ‘no time’, it means that they are choosing to do something else. Could be television, socialising in the pub or extra sleep, but if those things are getting in the way of what you really want – cut them out.

I have a few things in my favour:

  • My job is fairly 9-5 and I more or less stick to my hours
  • I have a very supportive partner who encourages me
  • I don’t mind waking up early and can get out of bed when the alarm goes
  • I have relatively few other family commitments

So how do I do it?

  1. I don’t do any DIY. Spare time is not frittered on shelf-building or wall papering etc.
  2. I Block out time in the diary (preferably well in advance) and say ‘no’ to other stuff
  3. I get up early. Seriously, if you can stand this, you can do a LOT before work (plus sunrises are ace!)
  4. Kids at a party? Relatives taking them out? Time for a bike ride etc.

When i’m in my dotage and talking with the other folk in the care home, i’m keen not to confess that I watched every episode of Eastenders or that I had a lot of lay-ins as the main things I did with my life. I may have left it to my 40s but i’m finally seizing the day and getting on with the cool things.

Hyde park sunrise

Another level
The next trick, and one I’ve not solved yet, is how to fit in an expedition into a family holiday. The kids are now 5 and 7 which means that we can do some cool stuff (see my first microadventure) but big stuff is going to be a challenge.

I have a possible thought of cycling from Land’s end to home, approximately 350 miles. If I only did 50 miles a day, something I could do in 4-5 hours, that would leave afternoon’s for the family. Sounds slightly hair-brained but might work?

Feel free to suggest other ideas!

Post Marathon Plans

The Loch Ness Marathon was just a week ago, but I’ve not given myself almost any respite before launching into the next plans and activities.

What I have done, in the space of just a few days is almost forget how tough and painful it was. I know that it WAS really hard, but praps I can just DO those hard things now?

As you might expect though, I was very sore and walked like John Wayne on Monday and Tuesday following my 42km scenic outing. By Saturday though, i’d had enough of resting and I was champing at the bit to get back to some ‘proper’ exercise (in the form of a bit of BMF).

Monday though I decided to go for something a bit different. The alarm went off at 0520 so that I could be at the Globe Theatre on the South Bank for a session with the ‘Project Awesome‘ crew. ‘Captained’ by adventurer Anna McNuff and including Danny Bent (famous recently for being one tough hombre on ‘Special Forces – Ultimate Hell week’).

I was expecting a hard circuit-based exercise class, I was less expecting all of the hugs (although they were lovely). What a superb group of people with, as you might expect, a positive and awesome attitude. Highly recommend them! Just think of the smug points when you get into work.

Future plans
Next on the ‘adventure agenda’ is a Kayaking beginners course. I signed up for this a while ago without a lot of thought of what I’m going to do afterwards but thought I’d ‘suck it and see’. In my head are dreams of sea kayaking tours or a journey from Bristol to London on canal and river (i’m assuming this is possible?). Given that I’ve just come back from Inverness, the Caledonian canal would be a super canoe trip.


I have a camping trip to the Brecons lined up in a few weeks which should be fab. Crossing my fingers for the weather there!

I also intend to keep up the #microadventures going throughout the winter. I have slept out (in a bivvy) at least once per month since July and I have a semi-ambition to keep this rate up till at least next summer. I have a thought about building my own shelter praps?

All in all it looks as if I have an exciting couple of months ahead of me with loads more promise for next year. BRING IT ON!