Large tracts of the most natural, unspoilt and uplifting areas of space opened wide to the outdoorsy public. Maybe you’ve heard of them, the Lakes, the Peaks, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, North Yorks; maybe you want to go, maybe you already go or maybe you live there. If you’re a biker, climber, walker, paraglider or twitcher or just like to wander, you’ve never had it so good. In 2000 a big golden key called the CROW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way) opened up huge chunks of moorland, heath, agricultural land, forest, mountains, remote crags and fens across England and Wales,
which were previously unreasonably restricted
to the public.
So good news for the land lubbers.
In 2003 the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was implemented, basically Scotland’s version of CROWA. This meant some of the most remote and environmentally significant land in Europe, including Europe’s least densely populated area (NW Scotland) was made open access to all. The main difference being that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act isn’t just for the land lubbers. Surfers, canoeists, kitesurfers, divers, fisherman, open water swimmers, gorge scramblers, in fact anyone who has to change before getting back in the car, now benefits from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – a common sense piece of legislation
which allows all outdoor people to go pretty
much wherever they like.
So good news for the Scots.
For an island nation, our record of access to inland (non-tidal) water is pretty embarrassing. In 2000 a government sponsored report from Brighton University concluded that less than 4% of Britain’s inland waterways are openly navigable, that’s
about 6.4 River Severns. Which means there are around 186.3 River Severns with the door shut and bolted.* The reasons for this are as varied as the rivers themselves, but one of the most common barriers to access to rivers are anglers. Most anglers pay for permits to fish some of the world’s best salmon and trout rivers; canoeists don’t have that luxury. Launching onto the river would legally require the canoeist to visit the landowners and convince them to let them jump on and share the river with their existing paying customers. Ludicrous. Most rivers are ‘owned’ by private fishing associations in any case.
So good news for the fishermen.
In November 2000, the Environment Agency released a report on the effects of canoe sports on recreational fishing. The research found there is no empirical evidence linking canoeing with damage of spawning grounds and stocks. The environment agency also stated the need to protect and further navigation rights on inland water and stated that in most cases a lack of communication was to blame for failing to inform users of access agreements which do exist. But apart from our larger rivers, there’s not really a good day’s paddling without looking over your shoulder. Access agreements do exist, but in some areas they are little more than compromises, which compromise the rights of one group in favour of another. The problem isn’t just fishermen, and isn’t just canoeing, what is needed is a national standard for access to water for all, not just for canoeists, and a few more kayakers sitting in the House of Lords.
By Richard Strefford
* Brighton University (2000); Only rivers greater than 3m wide were included in the research.
This Christmas, the twins John and Andrew flew out to Zambia to kayak on the Zambezi river. We gave them some Merino baselayers and waved goodbye.
When howies asked me what I'd learned on the trip I thought I could write about how I realized the power and strength of nature and how it should be respected. To some extent I did learn this from paddling the Zambezi, the water was big and powerful and it did command my respect. But I didn't truly understand any of this until four days into the trip on New Year's Eve when I hit my head on a rock whilst surfing a wave on the river.
My helmet wasn't on properly and I split my head open to the skull giving myself minor concussion. I had to have ten stitches and wasn't allowed to paddle for the remainder of the trip. This really sucked, but sometimes there's nothing like a rock to hammer home the point that rocks are harder than heads, nature is bigger than humanity, and if we don't treat it with the respect it requires bad things can happen.
Rocks are good teachers but I hope you don't have to learn from one any time soon.
Safe paddling and have fun
It was an August day two years ago and I was in St Davids Pembrokeshire for the weekend visiting my man who had just moved to the area. There were a few of our friends also around that weekend who we knew through canoeing so we decided to go out for a paddle.
When we left the beach it was grey and cloudy and there was a cold wind and after we had fuelled up on bacon sandwiches and hot tea, we paddled out from Whitesands beach.
We had planned (thanks to Steve and Matt the two experienced sea kayakers in the group) to go straight out heading west to the South Bishop Lighthouse, miles from the shore. The wind was blowing us along at a steady force, so our progress was a steady 7 miles an hour according to the GPS.
We got there, had a break and then turned south towards Ramsey Island. We paddled and paddled and paddled and realised actually we weren’t getting very far. The wind had picked up significantly and was now force 6, but we had to keep going in the direction we were heading as it was the closest for shelter and land. Just after half way across, I announced it was no longer fun, which everyone actually agreed with and we then went quiet and tried to pick the pace up a bit. I was with 3 solid marathon paddlers who were used to doing long paddles and one of them paddles in the British squad, so I knew I was ok.
Eventually we reached the back of the island and headed for the tooth (a gap between the main island and some other rocks) where we could paddle through to the front side of the island where the current would take us through the sound back to the beach. When we got to the tooth, there was a big standing wave, which was going to take a lot of work to get through. Steve and I went first in the two-man sea kayak with strong words of encouragement from Steve until…nothing. The rudder had broken; Steve had stopped paddling and started shouting very loud at the rudder then at me as we drifted backwards into the big soup of choppy water.
“Sweep left, sweep left, sweep left, paddle harder, go straight @#_+)$%!”
Ahhh I don’t like paddling in this gigantic nasty ocean with gale force 6 winds!
After all that we managed to find a small pebble beach where we stopped and managed to mend the rudder to my disappointmen because, for the first time ever, I just wanted to be rescued. I didn’t know how we were going to get through the tooth; I was cold and a bit scared actually.
Looking back now, I don’t really know why, I knew I was ok and well within my capabilities and I really enjoyed the paddle back to the beach and managed to pull off a brilliant high brace to stop us both going upside down when a massive wave caught the boat side ways.
On reflection it was a fantastic paddle and I will always remember it, but something inside my head keeps me erring on the side of caution. After that I moved down to Pembrokeshire too, felt I needed to have more of those trips to remember when I get old.
There’s always one trip, one ride, one surf, one expedition you make which you remember the most, over all the other adventures you have in life. It may be going to gorgeous parts of the world on a holiday, taking a trip to an island, or through rainforests or up mountains, but that feeling of being there and within an environment which is totally inspiring will always stay in your mind, whatever happens. I have had one of those trips and it has stuck in my head like glue.