Project 24: Canoeing the River Great Ouse

Project 24 is a series of 24 hour human powered micro adventures on foot, paddling, and cycling to challenge ourselves and our potential.

Project 24 is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Ashley Kenlock and Richard Harpham to provide an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors with regular adventures. We hope it is aspirational to encourage others to participate and challenge themselves and ask big questions. Richard Harpham is a professional adventurer who has completed over 7,800 miles of adventures around the world. Our family and friends will hopefully also join us on different challenges for encouragement, fun times and to share the experience. You can follow Project 24 as we tackle some of Britain’s most iconic locations at www.richadventure.com.

24 Walk on the Pennine Way

Our first 24 hour challenge was walking for 24 hours on the beautiful Pennine Way, in Winter with deep snow, freezing conditions and whiteout blizzards.

24 Hours Canoeing on the River Great Ouse

Our second adventure was canoeing the River Great Ouse, upstream of Buckingham down towards our home in Bedford. Despite being the 5th largest river in Britain 50% of it does not have access rights. (we can only access 3% of the rivers and water in England and Wales – See www.riveraccess.org.uk) . For me personally I was really excited to be exploring the top section of our river (non navigable) having lived in Bedford for a large part of my life. Previously I had paddled the 78 miles downstream of Bedford to the Wash in Norfolk and we also run a canoe, kayak and SUP business located on this part of the River. www.canoetrail.co.uk

The Canoe challenge was in the close fishing season.

As with many challenges getting to the start line is sometimes tricky. We launched at a tiny village called Radclive negotiating our way past the local sheep and over a fence to get on. Our team consisted of myself, my brother, Matt,(in a canoe) Jay Goss, one of our coaches(kayaks), and a couple of friends Tom Rowland and Ed Taylor(kayaks). Tom and Ed has contacted us the previous year wanting to learn to kayak and do a charity challenge and we had become friends.

We set off close to mid day and paddled down to Buckingham wading and dragging our boats to get past shallow stretches which reminded me of a similar trip at the top of the Thames. We arrived in the county town of Buckingham passing old stone bridges and meandering past the back of the University. Since the river is not widely accessed it also means portages and obstacles are not easy to traverse. We also found different places were the river was blocked with fallen trees, debris and other rubbish. Each one posed a different challenge to get past without losing considerable time. The best options were to wiggle and pull our boats through small gaps, bushes and branches without getting out.

We shot various weirs and carried around many obstacles. It was tough going. and we worked as teams to move the kit, waterproofs and rations we had with us. To pass the time we also began to count the number ofootballs we found lost in reeds or blockages and you will be amazed at the final total. On one occasions we waded through deep mud on an overflow channel next to a large sluice. Launching in the longer touring kayaks resulted in instability and one of the team capsized. Whilst I observed with plenty of laughter my brother jumped straight in to try and affect a rescue. The result in deep mud was a swimmer in a drysuit (the rescued) and my brother soaked in cag and shorts (The rescuer). After much laughter, a change of clothes and plenty of advice about look before your leap we paddled on!

It was amazing how the river changed from deep, slow and meandering to shallow, narrow flow through the rural countryside. On several occasions we were the source of much curiosity from bullocks who insisted on chasing us down the river bank. As dusk approached we made it to Milton Keynes and the aquaduct where the Grand Union Canal passes over the River Great Ouse. It was a great photo opportunity so I jumped ship and walked up to get some pictures.

Once darkness descends it becomes a different mental challenge as we literally couldn’t see anything. We were fortunate to have USE Exposure Lights which helped show the way. As fatigue set in we began to introduce simple reward strategies at the portages including coffee, malt loaf and jelly sweets. Portages become more difficult with high banks, narrow paths and slippery put-ins in the dark. The combination of tired arms and minds coupled with finding our way in the dark meant things were taking longer.

The pace began to slow as a couple of the team nodded off in their boats. In some ways it was easier for my brother and I as we were used to paddling together and I think it helped to be in canoe working together. As we approached Newport Pagnall, the home of Aston Martin we were planning to rendezvous with another friend and fellow member of Viking Kayak Club, Dom Milner. This provided a great boost to tired paddlers and also changed team dynamics with new conversations and chat. The fact that one of our mates would venture out at 1 am after a charity function also meant a lot to us.

Dawn slowly arrived although never quite ‘broke’ in the usual sense of stunning iconic sun rises. We were closer now to home territory with local villages we knew and had paddled from time to time. We stopped for a quick comfort break and within 5 minutes both Jay and Matt were asleep where they sat. By the time we reached Harrold Bridge we had found daylight and felt like we were on the home straight but as so often there was still a sting in the tail to come.

We finished just North of Bedford at Oakley Bridge having been hammered by storm force winds for the final few miles with gusts estimated over 30mph.. We would loved to have made it as far as Bedford, only a tantalizing 12 miles away but given the long and difficult portages this seemed more than a bridge too far. A massive thank you to our support team who brought us two hot meals and really brightened up the mood.

Your Project 24?

Project 24 hinges on a strong personal and team challenge based around what is possible within a 24 hour period? How far could you kayak, SUP or canoe, or even run within 24 hours? You can set your own challenge, or as part of a team, hopefully raising a few quid for charity.   We are not full time athletes nor do we have endless hours for training so it is about a “can do” spirit and getting out there.

We hope that you will be inspired complete your own 24 hour challenge. We would love to hear from you with details of your challenge or adventure. What did you do? What charity did you support? (contact us @ www.richadventure.com)

We believe that “The best adventure is the one that you take…start now, and of course stay safe!”

Rich and Ash

Richard is a human powered adventurer and paddler www.richadventure.com who has completed over 7,800 miles of adventures by kayak, canoe, ski and bike. He runs www.canoetrail.co.uk with his wife and co founded www.inspiredlife.org which inspires young people and communities. He is a motivational speaker drawing on his stories from adventure, in corporate life and managing the Ghana Ski Team at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Richard’s adventures test equipment in the harshest conditions and he is proud to be supported by: Paramo Clothing,, Valley Sea Kayaks, Up North Adventures, www.bambooclothing.co.uk , Leatherman tools, Scott Skis, Mountain Fuels, Canadian Affair (airlines), Aquabound Paddles, Reed Chillcheater, Surly Fat Bikes, USE Exposure Lights, Garmin GPS systems, Sealine Drybags. Richard and Ash are members of Viking Kayak Club based in Bedford.