Learning to Kayak: Thrown in at the Deep End at Burrs!

For a long time we have wanted to give Kayaking a go, but everywhere we went it seemed that we could only rent out a Sit On Top Kayak and paddle around a lake, or take part in a lengthy and expensive course! We longed for something more exciting that just sitting on a flat lake but struggled to find the right place. However, after some inquiries we came across a tailored course “from pond to river” in a day for those willing to push themselves…So we jumped at the chance and loved every minute!

 

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Where

We had searched around for somewhere within an hour of home and really apart from the Lake District come up blank. Then we remembered a place called “Burrs” which had been mentioned in passing with some friends. We knew pretty much nothing of the place or where it was but we inquired anyway and in the end it was the perfect fit for our Kayaking adventure.

 

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It turns out Burrs was only around about 30mins from our house just outside of the adjacent town of Bury. Burrs is a country park built on the old industrial site of Burr and Higher Woodhill cotton mills. The whole of Greater Manchester at one point was the centre of cotton production and the Industrial Revolution and it’s mark is left everywhere. Here you can still see some of the water wheels by the canal and the chimney also remains to give it quite an unique feel.

 

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The site has a small lake, canal and the river Irwell also runs though. As well as Kayaking and Canoeing they offer all sorts of outdoor activities as well as a huge area for hiking and dog walking. For an urban area you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere! I also feel like I recognise it from a trip with the Girl Guides as a kid!

 

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Price

We inquired to Burrs personally for a program not listed on their website. We wanted a day that would take into consideration our lack of experience Kayaking but also give us something that would be challenging for confident and athletic adventure sports participants.

 

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The course put together for us was a full day program which consisted of learning and refining basic and intermediate skills in the morning and tackling the weirs, rapids and flows of the river Irwell in the afternoon.

 

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This cost us: £35 (Each)
This included rental of all equipment (though we did have our own wetsuits and buoyancy aids) and use of shower rooms/ facilities.

 

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Morning Session: On the Pond

Before even getting on the pond we had to learn how to sit in the Kayak and adjust it to our heights. I never knew it was more than just sitting on a seat in the boat! You must have your feet touching inner foot rests and the back of your seat pushing you forwards. Your knees must be bent up quite high either side of the opening and pushed underneath supports to keep them in place. This felt pretty uncomfortable with a bad knee and also a little unnerving at the prospect of capsizing!

 

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Once down at the pond it was time to get straight into the Kayak and give it a go for real. We were pretty excited at this point to be finally doing some Kayaking after months of trying to organise something!

 

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Getting into the boats was actually pretty easy and before we knew it we were on the water. Jason, our awesome instructor, showed us the ropes when it came to paddling. Again, it’s not as straight forward as your instinct would tell you. Hand placement, shoulder width and body positioning all play a massive part in paddling!

 

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Now it was time to actually try and paddle up and down the lake, movement was quite tentative at first but I have to say I felt quite natural doing it…Shorty on the other had was going round in circles…Nemo’s fin they call it! Too much power on one side and not the other!

 

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Going in a straight line and correcting is quite the art form it turns out, modifying your stroke to counter a less or more powerful one from the other side with larger sweeping motions or smaller shallower paddles. Leaning forward was also key to controlling your boat and using your weight for you instead of against. It was a lot to take in but before not to long we felt pretty confident up and down the lake!

 

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Now came the more challenging manoeuvres, going backwards, turning your boat around and the hardest; sideways paddling!

 

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Surprisingly turning full circle in the boat felt pretty easy, even when we added another level of complexity to it. A large sweep around with the paddle…and another once you get half way in the opposite direction and you are round. Although, mess up which way your follow up stoke goes and your boat will be rocking all over the place…I did nearly capsized due to over confidence!!

 

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Going backwards however, that is another matter! Everything seems wrong and counter intuitive! Even when we felt we had come somewhat closer to mastering it we ended up facing the wrong direction!! That one will need a bit of work I feel, especially for poor old Shorty! But we got there in the end!

 

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Sideways paddling was next and something we didn’t even know was possible! It all seemed like such an effort just to move a few inches when going forward now felt like gliding! This was also the most strenuous of the manoeuvres as it required one arm to be in the air the whole time whilst using your whole body to pull your paddle towards you.

 

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Even when you picked up pace moving sideways you felt like you were going nowhere…but then I would reach the end turn around and see Shorty splashing around right near the beginning!!! He really couldn’t get the hang of this, but after watching our video back we think we know why!

 

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After a tiring morning and good few hours on the pond learning the basics is was time for a rest and some well deserved lunch!

 

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Afternoon Session: Capsizing and moving to the River!

First up we headed back to the pond for a quick refresher of all the skills we learnt in the morning. As soon as we got into the boats we felt comfortable again and performed all the manoeuvres pretty much perfectly straight away. It’s funny just how much good a rest can do. We felt so much more focused and refreshed.

 

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But now it was time for what we were both dreading and looking forward to…capsizing!
The big deal here is if you can keep calm when you go over, tap the underside of the boat, feel around for any other boats and then pull your splash cover!! Will we panic, will we get the cover off, these are all things you ask yourself, but in the end, it’s actually pretty easy and not scary at all!

 

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Now we were ready for the river!

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Now instead of being eased in at the shallow end, we were ready to begin our journey down the river in style…by sliding down the 40ft weir at the top of the river! I had heard about this before and presumed it was only for the experienced, but despite appearances it’s easy, although it does take some guts!

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Flying down the steep weir we crashed into the water below, this was amazing! We loved it so much we climbed back up and did it again just for the hell of it!

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We then started coming towards some small sections of rapids, this was what I was the most excited about tackling!! What was needed here was a strong paddle, not to just sit back and ride down the rapid, but to steer through it and keep yourself balanced. The extra challenge was just what we were looking for!

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After successfully going down a few rapids of different sizes, directions and strengths, it was time to try something a little different. To tackle the white water head on and surf it, this was were our new found balance and control would be really put to the test!

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Shorty goes first, all guns blazing, paddling fast and hard right into the belly of the beast! Here you have to show the water who is in charge, one wrong move and you are flipped…so what happened next you might ask, you guessed it, over he went!! Instead of concerned I will admit I just burst into laughter! He described his head as “feeling like I was in a washing machine filled with stones”. Well, what a lovely afternoon outing!

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I was next and was feeling some what concerned after just seeing Shorty flip his boat, but then again, I knew I was maybe a bit better than him (Ha, a LOT better!) so felt quietly confident. Paddling ferociously towards the rapid I could see why he had flipped, powering through the water at this speed all your discipline goes.

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Rocking from side to side I managed to correct myself and stay in the boat, undeterred as I floated back down stream I was looking forward to having another few goes! This was exciting! I really got the hang of it and in the end we both felt quite accomplished in how we managed to negotiate and control this white water!

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After a couple of hours on the river tackling yet more rapids, surfing even more white water, cruising and carving our way down stream we finally hit the end point of our journey. I must admit that although my arms now felt like lead I was disappointed for it to end!

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After wanting to try proper Kayaking for a long time and talking about it for the past year I was buzzing to finally have a real crack at it. We left beaming from ear to ear and already thinking of returning for more!

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What next for our Kayaking careers?!

We had so much fun Kayaking and took to it quite naturally and confidently. We loved tackling the river but at the same time longed for it to be a little more challenging and pulse raising.

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I really get the feeling that Kayaking is one of those things we could really get into in the way we have done with climbing and canyoning. Instead of just being one of those activities you do whilst travelling or for a new challenge every now and then. I would love to get to know more about the sport and practice it all over the world.

 

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Moving on from here we intend to pursue our 1* and 2* BCU qualifications and maybe also up to level 3. This allows us to go out on the rivers on our own with a good level of knowledge and competency.

 

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I have a knee op coming up so this will have to be put on hold for a few months but it is something we will hopefully pick up next year!

 

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We would also love to do some Sea Kayaking, less so for the challenge as we would white water rivers, but for the touring experience, for example, the puffin and seal islands off Wales and of course all over the world!

 

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Have you ever done any Kayaking?

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.