Lizzie Carr, the Purley woman backed by the Ordnance Survey to travel the length of England using a paddle board on the country’s waterways, has completed her epic journey, and made some very worrying discoveries.
What Carr did not reveal at the time of the project’s launch was how she came to take up paddle boarding two years ago: she chose it as a low-impact form of exercise after being diagnosed with cancer.
“After being diagnosed with cancer the water was where I could gather my thoughts, seek comfort and find restoration,” she said after finishing her journey. “Paddle boarding was an important part of my recovery process and was where I found happiness and perspective during a difficult time.”
And last month – one of the wettest Mays since weather records began – Carr duly set off from outside Godalming, on the River Wey Navigation, heading for Kendal in Cumbria, 400 miles away, the longest stretch of continuous waterway in the country, and all powered by nothing other than her own paddle.
Carr’s challenge also had an important environmental purpose, as using GPS and other mapping tools provided by the OS, she plotted the amount of plastic pollution along the route.
Setting off on May 11, Carr reached her finish line on June 5.
But even within the rain-sodden first week, Carr – as wet-through as if she were trying to swim the distance, never mind travelling by paddle board – had realised what a tough task she had set for herself, as the weather proved to be a significant factor, with strong headwinds and cross winds of nearly 20mph slowing her progress and making avoiding capsizing a constant struggle.
“First full week down and what an adventure it’s been already,” she noted at the time.
“People have been so kind and hospitable – I’ve been offered hot drinks, a bed for the night and even a tow on the back of a boat.
“When I share my story people are so encouraging and motivating that it makes me more determined to see this through. I have been paddling through torrential rain all day and I can’t feel my toes for cold but once you’re drenched you might as well enjoy it and there’s something strangely magical about being alone on the river with the rain pelting down.”
Carr’s 22-day paddle saw her carrying 66lb of equipment, including her tent and supplies, on her board, as she navigated 193 locks and crossed four miles of tunnels and aqueducts, on a route that took her up to the Thames, on to the Oxford Canal, reaching Oxford after the first week, before heading on to Coventry and Stoke on Trent by canal. Heading north, she reached Manchester via the Bridgewater Canal before finishing in Kendal.
“There are so many adventures to be had without needing to travel to far-flung destinations,” Carr said. “The UK has some of the most challenging and varied terrain that rivals almost anywhere in the world. It’s certainly not a soft option and the unpredictable weather means you just never know what to expect – I’ve had the greatest adventure of my life, and I haven’t left England.”
On her journey, Carr’s concern for our environment got a shock to the system, as she charted the amount of careless waste and destruction there has been on the waterways.
“Paddle boarding the waterways has been the adventure of a lifetime, full of challenges and unknowns but, more than that, it’s highlighted how beautiful this country is and has demonstrated to me that we need to reclaim our waterways as a piece of history to respect and cherish.
“Nearly 80 per cent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans comes from inland sources, so focusing on cleaning up canals and rivers is where a real difference can be made to help to resolve the global problem of plastics choking our seas.”
“I feel incredibly protective of our canals and rivers and this journey was my way of giving something back and do my bit to help preserve them.
“Nature doesn’t need us, we need nature, so it’s important that the real and immediate threat we’re facing from plastic pollution globally is looked at and addressed on local levels before it’s too late.”
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