Kayaking on Coniston Water

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything physical for my 35:35 Challenge and I’ve really missed it. Thankfully, my friends are fabulous, and so last Wednesday, I tried my hand at kayaking on Coniston Water in the Lake District.

My lovely friend Hillary has already given me loads of support and last year, gave me a drumming lesson. Honestly, she drums, she kayaks, she’s the co-conspirator on Eating Adventures (which involves taking a bunch of work friends to a different foodie place in Leeds each month) and she makes the best flapjacks I’ve ever eaten.  She’s a total inspiration and I am very glad that she’s my friend. If you’re not following her on Twitter, you should be (@hilltux). Anyway, we loaded up her car with her two sea kayaks and set off for the Lake District early last Wednesday morning, with the skies above already looking a bit grey and forbidding.

                                                                                          Kayaks and drums. Pretty cool.

Once we got there, we got the kayaks ready and then dressed ourselves for the occasion. I was happy to learn how to get the kayak ready – I really enjoy the feeling of being capable and learning something practical and it’s been a while since I’ve had that opportunity.

                                                                                          I look good, no?

Despite spending every childhood summer in Cowes on the Isle of Wight,  I’ve never done any kind of watersport at all, so it was with a palpable sense of trepidation that I approached the water. With help, I clambered somewhat inelegantly into the small space inside the kayak and pushed off into the water with Hillary in her kayak close behind. By this point, those grey clouds had become darker and the wind was starting to increase. This hadn’t stopped a school party from getting into rowing boats though, so I thought I was safe enough.

There are no photos of me in the kayak, so you ‘re just going to have to take my word for it that I was there! Thankfully, my phone wouldn’t fit into the pocket in my jacket – for a brief moment I contemplated it, which just shows you how attached I am to the damn thing.

Although the sea kayak is bigger than the one I saw later on my weekend visit to Cambridge (which will be the subject for another post) to me it felt tiny and a little claustrophobic. The waves on the water, created by the wind, made me feel as though I was going to instantly capsize and I used my foot rests to brace myself more than I think was really necessary. I’ve been reading a book called ‘A Boat in Our Baggage’, by Maria Coffey to be inspired beforehand and it’s amazing to think that two people kayaked around the world in something little bigger than the kayak I was sat in.

We set off, with Hillary shouting instruction to help me sort out my paddling skills. You have to put the paddle in the water so that it glides, rather than letting it get too deep into the water. It took me a while to work it out.  Unfortunately, we were increasingly being hampered by the wind which was trying to dictate the direction we travelled in and the waves that wind was creating.

We made our way to the other side of the lake, realising that in the difficult weather conditions we were unlikely to do anything intrepid like cross the whole lake and I started to feel more comfortable in the kayak. Heading into the waves, instead of meeting them side on made me feel more in control and less likely to capsize.

Until I capsized.

I cannot begin to tell you what happened. One second I was sitting upright in the water and the next, with a brief ‘ooh’, I was under the water. Thankfully, everything happened as it was supposed to, and it wasn’t long before I was on the surface of the water gasping at the cold and the shock. A good job that phone wasn’t in my pocket, eh? I managed, with Hillary’s help, to swim to the shore, where we looked at our choices. I could either walk around the edge of the lake to meet Hillary at the car-park, wait where I was for her to paddle back and then drive round to meet me, or get back in the kayak and paddle back myself. It was freeing cold and so I picked the final option. After all, the movement of paddling would keep me warmer and the chance of me falling in again felt pretty slim. I got back in, after tipping out the water, and we set off. I felt fine really. To be honest, facing the thing that I’d been scared of, I thought that the worst had happened.

Then I capsized again…

Ok, by this time I’d had enough. Again, I came up from under the kayak easily enough, and again I swam to the shore. The edge of the water was really shallow but I was tired and cold, slipping all over the rocks and being a bit feeble. I sat on the rocks and we decided on plan B. Hillary set off in her kayak and I watched, shivering, as she slowly made her way across the water, battling the wind and the waves, to the other edge of the lake and the carpark.

It felt like forever before she came back, wielding a giant blanket to wrap me in. We made our way back to her car and I stripped in the carpark, covered in the aforementioned blanket, and got into some dry clothing. Then, sitting in the front seat of the car, I realised I couldn’t feel my feet. Really couldn’t feel them. I mentioned to Hillary that my feet looked like the toe-tagged corpse in every TV crime drama I’ve ever seen. She peered over and then said ‘it’s amazing how quickly the body starts to shut down, isn’t it?’

Erm…not the body. My body! My feet were dead. Thankfully, after quite a long and painful blasting with the in-car heaters, they slowly came back to life.

Even though this was a real challenge, I’d do it again. In better, calmer weather conditions, I can imagine it being a really peaceful way to spend time on the water and I was getting used to the feeling of  losing the bottom half of my body as I knew it, and gaining a bottom half that was a kayak. That might not make sense, but it’s how it feels.

I should also point out before I finish this post, as I came up from the water the first time I fell in, Hillary was readying herself to jump in and rescue me. Like I say, I’m very grateful to have her as my friend…

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4 Responses to “Kayaking on Coniston Water”

  1. You were brave and extremely calm and level headed in very trying conditions. It wasn’t at all how I had envisaged the day, so I’m glad to hear you would be willing to give it another go. Next time we’ll make sure the weather is more appropriate, either that, or do something less dangerous. Perhaps a short introduction to extreme chainsaw art…

  2. I know you probably won’t agree but I just have to say how inspiring I find you. You get out there, you try things out and seem so fully involved in life. I aspire to be like that too. When I read the bit about the first time you capsized, I thought “yes but I bet she thought well, I’ve done that now so I can carry on kayaking without worrying “what if I capsize”” and you did. Good on you for getting back in that kayak and carrying on – many wouldn’t.

    PS: You did indeed look fabulous x

  3. I know exactly what you mean about having the bottom half of your body replaced with a kayak! I think being a mermaid or centaur must feel similar!

    I did a little kayaking in my youth, and we were taught how to capsize in effect – a barrel roll. Back then, I hated getting my face wet even in the swimming pool, so that was not something I was particularly keen on, as you can imagine!

    Well done!

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