For some years now I’ve been exploring how we can find plane-free low-carbon wonder in our own backyard. Not just because we need to change our attitude to travel, not just because many here can’t afford it either – but also because who can’t benefit from feeling a little happier every day by loving where they live?
And the more connected you are to where you live, the more you care and the more embedded in community you become. A wise woman once said to me: “The deeper the roots, the bigger the bloom.” She was right. My journey started with going deeper at home, then led to community activism and volunteering and more. It’s still evolving and on the way I’ve met all kinds of amazing people who inspire me to do more and make me feel lucky to live here. Where will your local travel take you…?
It was hard to imagine that nearby, 9 million people were sleeping. There I was, kayaking under the stars at midnight, stealthily sliding across a black mirror of water like an 18th Century smuggler. This was adventure. This was close to home. And boy did it feel good.
So for this particular adventure, you do need to have a kayak or access to one (see the end for an easy/budget way in). And you need to be confident on the water. I’ve sailed and dived but still I knew to exercise care and to make sure I had the basics (partner, lifejacket) in case I somehow managed to tip myself in. It was unlikely, but then it always is until you put a foot on the wrong piece of ground and over you go.
The night is a different country. It feels different. Sound carries. Things move in the bushes. But it was great to be out there on the water, gliding serenely on the river. My eyes played tricks on me and occasionally I’d get a little spatial disorientation, where your sense of up and down get a little mixed up. If you’ve ever done a night dive, you know the feeling. Pilots can get it in certain conditions and then they have to really trust their instruments and not let their eyes fool them.
I enjoyed the trippiness of it all and checked in with my body; gravity was still pulling me firmly downwards and through the shadows different shades of dark grey revealed trees and banks of reeds. You can still find this kind of otherworldliness, the urban sublime as I call it, within the M25.
The cost, if you have access to a boat, was just the time and effort required to commit to making an adventure happen. A friend brought the kayaks to our chosen spot and we were off. We needed no technology and no money. I thought of all the people through time who must have floated on this river at night and pondered our insignificance under those tiny points of light: smugglers; poachers fishermen; barge workers and lightermen. And what of all the horses, those beasts of burdern who’d walked miles along the footpaths attached to ropes pulling canal boats? If rivers could talk…
The warm summer breeze tickled my cheek and the stars did their thing in a blissfully plane-free sky. We were in the city, but it was out of this world.
If you want to dip your toe into the world of kayaking and canoeing, or just don’t want to get all the gear, you can get ridiculously good value trips here at Leaside Canoeing Club. Also it’s a charity, so your custom helps provide water skills and personal development for all sorts of people in the community.