The Devizes–Westminster International Canoe Race organisers proclaim of this event (without any undue exaggeration):
“The race is a severe test of skill, physical and mental stamina and planning which produces a memorable sense of achievement for those successfully completing it.”
It certainly is and it certainly does! The race is so internationally renowned that Steve Redgrave competed in the event in 2012 (he didn’t quite make it to the finish). This year, as usual, over an extended Easter weekend (Good Friday to Easter Monday) 14 Cranleigh competitors (13 pupils and one staff member Ms Warner) successfully completed the four day race which demands its participants paddle flat out for 125 miles along the Kennet and Avon Canal in Wiltshire before switching to the River Thames in Berkshire to finish at Westminster Bridge on Easter Monday morning – the last stretch of the river presents an especially breath-taking challenge. Along the way competitors have to run and carry their ‘K2’ kayaks around various obstacles like locks and weirs (77 times).
All of the Cranleigh competitors finished in good order. Fortunately the weather was rather warm and clement this time around (only a little Sunday rain and morning frosts), and two girls, Abi Dahl and Charlie Norton came in 2nd of all the competition’s female crews while breaking three Cranleigh girls’ paddling records along the way. The leading boys’ pair Laurence Fortescue and Rob Harrison finished 13th out of 60 crews competing in their class (the under 19s) – chased all the way by James Doherty and Jamie Hemming – and the mixed crew of James York and Hannah Warner came 3rd in their ‘Endeavour’ class.
The race also demands that competitors camp and cook each night with a very early morning start thrown in just for fun – getting up with the sun – all adding further to the tough going when the competitors are so thoroughly exhausted from the exertions of the previous day! Happy to say all of the Cranleighans just got on with the job uncomplainingly.
Well done to all of the Cranleigh crews: the aforementioned Abi Dahl (Girls’ Captain) and Charlie Norton, Laurence Fortescue and Robert Harrison, James Doherty and Jamie Hemming, with Justin Browning and Max Hager, Allegra Clark and Lucy Yeeles, Hugh Ferrey and Chris Paton (Boys’ Captain), and also James York and Hannah Warner (in the mixed ‘under 19 and over 19’ Endeavour class) and thanks too for all the help of the parent-support teams (a crucial factor in this endeavour) and to all the instructors and staff present with them (Peter Morley, Roy Briggs, LJJB, JCEM, PL).
All the Cranleigh competitors were awarded medals at the Westminster finishing line and the whole squad exhibited enormous pluck and fortitude, allied to some natural good humour, throughout the four days of this long and seriously exhausting annual challenge.