Carry On Up the Canal with Secret Adventures
Written by: Sophie Taylor
Finding myself wandering around Limehouse Basin craving a pint and perhaps even a slice of pizza, I needed to get home to my local Crate Brewery sharpish (they do the freshest craft beers and have award winning pizzas). But how to get there? Stumbling in to Limehouse Station and towards a huge sign saying CLOSED, I consider walking there instead.
A short meander riverwards, I reach the canal and begin to notice a group of people donning chunky waistcoats stretching their arms around. I pause for a second, swaying slightly on the spot, watching this mesmerising circle of humans yielding huge double ended spoons.
“Hold your arms out at right angles” a woman in the middle shouts. “Then dip one end in to the water, swivelling slightly as you do so”. Into the water? Swivelling? We were all on terra firma – I peer down and scrape the ground like a bull to check. Suddenly all goes quiet and looking up again I find the group staring at me.
“Want to join us?” the middle woman asks.
At which point I spy a clipboard next to a van that reads, ‘Limehouse Basin to Crate Brewery’ and my eyes light up.
“Yes!” I proceed to climb in to the back of said van, sitting myself awkwardly amongst a pile of bags.
The woman and her oversized spoon peer round the slidey door, smiling slightly. She hands me a chunky vest and pulls me back out in to the circle.
I’m handed one of the large ladles (though not as large as everyone else’s – I’m 5’ 3” and apparently require a smaller spoon situation). Everyone pairs off at this point and starts walking down to the river edge.
Are we starting a new world order? Is this a post Trump Noah’s Ark journey?
As I begin to wonder where the pairs of giraffes and monkeys are, I’m led down to the water and into a long thin vessel. This is it. I realise I have been chosen for my child bearing hips and embrace my new role as procreator for the new world.
Floating down the canal at first, the current pulls our vessel (apparently it’s called a kayak) away from the group. A man named Madoc suddenly glides out in front with a cameraman sitting at the head.
“Welcome to Secret Adventures” he grins. The cluster of kayaks behind us cheers and we’re stopped in our tracks.
“Thank goodness for the sunny weather tonight, eh? We have made this journey in a storm before. But that was pretty exciting!”
Apparently this is all Madoc’s brainchild. It transpires he was working as a volunteer for Raleigh International in Africa and once back in London he missed the nature, the adventures and meeting new people.
“I took it upon myself to create a MeetUp group and organise adventures in the city.”
The first adventure was a moonlit cycle ride from Hackney to Hertfordshire. Within a fortnight he’d collected 300 members and his events were selling like hot cakes.
After a while Madoc was able to quit his day job and pursue Secret Adventures fully, creating events like narrowboat picnics, skinny dips, swimming to secret islands and camping in forests.
So what are we doing tonight I wonder? I suddenly suspect he may be the urban Bear Grylls. Spying the cameraman again I start to picture Lord of the Flies-esque scenes with us made to fight for the last remaining oar while they keep the camera rolling and we are left stranded in the middle of the canal with a couple of water flies to lead the way / eat.
I reach for my phone out of habit and mild panic before remembering they’ve stored all of our possessions in the van.
Which is the exact moment my anxieties begin to float like dead rats on their backs downstream. I remember how freeing it is to be without my phone and I dip my hands in to the river smiling. Starting to close my eyes and laugh to myself I feel a sudden thud. Looking up I realise we’re scraping a wall and my kayaking partner is turned round staring at me. “I think we actually have to paddle” he says, deadpan, thrusting my paddle into my hands.
So off we row, getting in to a steady but fast rhythm to catch up with the rest of the secret adventurers. For the first five strokes I continue to feel elated, until the lactic acid begins to build and I’m told we have another two hours to go.
But after getting in to another steady stride, we begin to really enjoy the canal. We watch it dash and bend round surprising corners, see it house families of swans, ducks and unidentifiable objects, reflecting graffiti swathed brick office walls.
It provides the view for surrounding warehouses and balcony adorned flats, creating the foundation and route for colourful bobbing houseboats who line our path and cheer us along.
Neon clad cyclists stop at bridges to watch us glide beneath while river boats float past, honking their horns as we take a breather.
I forget where we’re going and why. I forget that I never knew in the first place, that this was a leap of trust into a body of water. For the most part we are alone along the canal stretch, not finding a pace with the kayakers behind and in front. But our trail of adventure stays in line and led throughout by Madoc and the other guides who watch over us quietly.
Slowly, however, we start to see a group forming and clustering at an impasse. We are grouped inside a canal lock, enjoying a few moments rest to chat and catch up. Someone begins to sing I Think We’re Alone Now, the lock starts to fill with water and we’re raised slowly skywards.
We’ve almost made it from Limehouse the 6km to what looks suspiciously like Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick. Which, it just so happens, is where we’re headed after following the Limehouse Cut and River Lea. Madoc and the guides help steer us in to the dock, making sure we avoid the family of nesting swans, straight into the arms of craft beer swilling revellers.
But we still need our sea legs. It’s time for our appointment with Crate’s boat bar where we are served sourdough pizza and freshly pulled pale ales under the colourful awnings and fairy lights, enjoying some relieved chitter chatter and the sounds of the resident DJ warming up indoors.
It is blissful.
We even have to be reminded to gather our phones and belongings from the parked van round the corner. I leave it switched off and take another sip of well deserved crisp Craft cider, raising my glass to the swans and the graffiti. Cheers.
Fancy Kayaking London’s oldest canal from Limehouse to Crate Brewery Hackney Wick with Secret Adventures?
Get more info and find tickets here. Price is per person in double super stable kayaks and includes:
• Buoyancy aids
• Waterproof storage barrels for any valuables
• Professional instructors
• Van to take any valuables
• Staff to take your kayak away at the end point
Secret Adventures, Canoe Shed
London , E14 7JZ
Under the DLR railway arches in Limehouse basin (just behind Limehouse DLR). Come out of the Branch Road exit and turn immediately left. They’re easy to spot with lots of kayaks and instructors ready to greet you. Nearest postcode: E14 7JZ.
Photos by Mike Barry.
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