Recently I’ve found myself getting a lot of fresh air! On Saturday 12th I drove along the coast to the picturesque New Forest to have a go at kayaking on Beaulieu River. Even though it wasn’t technically part of the experience, I feel I have to mention the drive through the New Forest, it was just so lovely! Turning off the dual-carriageway, you head down this long, straight road with all manner of wild animals to see. I saw two hawk-looking birds grappling overhead, and had to stop several times to let horses, pigs and cows cross the road. The animals were totally used to the cars going past, never once glancing up in interest.
Anyway, enough about the wildlife. Personally I found the centre very easy to find, but Robb, who I was going with, managed to get a bit lost. Eventually we met at Bucklers Hard, a Georgian hamlet located in the Beaulieu Estate. Within the centre, there’s the Maritime Museum, a cute little tea shop, a number of private dwellings, a pub and the marina. We couldn’t quite work out whether people lived in the houses, it seemed like a very touristy location, but the houses were well-kept and could easily be occupied. Altogether it was a very beautiful place.
Down by the river, we met James who would be our kayak instructor for the session. Inside the hut we were kitted out in waterproofs and spraydecks, which are skirt-like garments that attach to the rim of the boat to stop water getting in. Joining Robb and myself on the river were three young boys who were celebrating a birthday, as well as James.
I’d never been kayaking before, only canoeing, so being completely strapped into a little boat was quite novel for me (everything seems novel to me since starting this job). We dragged the kayaks down to the water edge, then climbed in and attached the spraydecks. Placing our feet in the foot pegs, we were ready to go. Kayaking is actually very different to canoeing, with your feet on the pegs, you are practically at one with the boat, meaning every time you move, the kayak moves.
James pushed us off from the ground, and we were floating away. It was a strange feeling being so close to the water, but it helped greatly with changing directions and controlling the speed. After a quick practice at turning on the spot and coming to a stop, we were paddling off down the river towards various checkpoints along the way.
It was very relaxing work, and not at all difficult. The sun was shining and there was hardly any wind, meaning the journey was very pleasant indeed. The only place you get really wet is on the arms, where the water runs from the paddle up your sleeve, but I could cope with that! It doesn’t take long to get used to the steering (do you call it that?) and manoeuvres, although I did find myself facing the wrong direction on a couple of occasions.
Halfway through James set us up for a race! We had to paddle round a pontoon and under a bridge, then do the same but in reverse, then do a 360 on the spot, then back to the start line. I think we all got a bit muddled and no clear winner was decided, but it was very fun nonetheless! Kayaking backwards is definitely something I may need more practice with.
After the race we headed back down the river to the marina, rescuing a soggy bee on the way. Just before getting back on dry land, two of the boys decided to capsize their boats, which was quite entertaining to watch! After that it was time to paddle up the slipway, and climb out onto solid ground.
What a great experience! This was definitely one of my favourites so far, it wasn’t too long or too short, and there was a variety of kayaking moves to make it interesting, rather than just paddling up and down. James was great and really helped us get the most from the activity. Everyone enjoyed the experience, meaning it’s perfect for all ages!