Canoe Safari on the River Derwent

By Izzy Bolger>

Water…it’s my biggest fear apart from wrists, but that’s another story completely. I can swim and have all my life saving awards, but give me the choice of land or sea and I’ll choose land every time.

At the beginning of the month we all got told to go out and do something we’ve never done before, as part of this months theme - ‘Inspiring Adventures’. So when Jim asked on Monday if I’d go along for a test run of the Big Shakeouts Canoe Safari on Tuesday, I thought ‘Why not?!’. I’ve only ever paddled once before and I didn’t like it, so I didn’t really sleep the whole of Monday night. Instead I had vivid dreams of me falling into the water and being eaten alive by Sharks. It sounds funny when you read it but my fear of the water has only developed from previous (bad) boating trips and watching James Bond movies, you know the one with the Shark tank. Tuesday morning, I tried to take my mind off of what we were going to be doing in the afternoon by carrying on with the day like normal. As the clock crept round to 1pm, when we were meant to leave, I could feel myself getting more and more nervous.

Sunshine box packer and Phud stuffing Ben came along too, both not having much boating experience we both joked about what we were expecting from the trip. Ben joked around by saying I would end up falling in, this did not put my mind at ease. After we’d made sure there was a vehicle at the beginning and end of the trip we got the boats into the water. I made sure that Jay tightened my buoyancy aid so that if I did fall in I would bob along the surface like a bottle. The stretch of the River Derwent that we would be going down was 4 miles long from Darley Bridge to Matlock Bath.

Canoeists prepare for open boat canoe tour down the Derwent

Getting into the boat was definitely tricky and you could easily end up over board if no one was holding the boat, as my feet left the solid ground that was beneath them I prayed that I wasn’t going to end up in the water. I was partnered up with Ben, Jay had the other open boat and Jim was in his Kayak, along with the camera (sensibly placed in a drybag). We pushed ourselves away from the edge and headed downstream, at this point I still wasn’t too sure on whether I was enjoying myself and tried to stay focused on paddling forwards. I was at the front of the boat, whilst Ben was at the back. Ben was meant to be steering or rather his aim seemed to be steering me into as many trees as possible! My knees have the scratches to prove it. The River was really calm and there were lots of birds, bugs and a couple of water voles.

Open boat canoeing on the river Derwent

Around the first bend Jim hopped out of his Kayak to take photos and discovered a stone circle. There were a couple of sheep near the riverbank and I tried to convince Ben that we should put one in the boat, Jay explained that it would make the boat unstable, which put me off the idea instantly. I still think having a sheep in the boat would have been cool. We met a few fishermen along the river; all of them were very friendly. We came to our first proper obstacle in the water (not one that I’d been steered into by Ben). A tree had fallen into the water leaving a gap small enough for our boats to just squeeze through; we gave up using our paddles for this part and just used the tree to guide us through the gap.

Open canoe boating on the river Derwent

Now came the bit I wasn’t too keen on…Rapids!!! Jim went first to get set up for a photo, and then Jay just told us to go for it. We went down, what looked like the calmest part and my stomach leaped into my throat and left me feeling nervous but excited all at the same time. I was really starting to enjoy this boating malarkey now and so we carried on down the river. The next lot of rapids that we came to went underneath the footpath bridge into Matlock, it had 3 tunnels to choose from and Jay went ahead to see which one was the fastest way down (fastest means the easiest way). We ended up getting stuck on a rock close to the wall of the bridge and it took a few moments of wiggling and pushing off the wall to get us going again.

Running rapids in a open canoe on the Derwent

A little further downstream we managed to get stuck again, this time on some gravel, no amount of shoving that Ben and me did made us move. Then as if by magic the current turned us round, oh no we were now going backwards! Some clever paddling skills and teamwork soon turned us round and we were heading in the right direction again.

2 canoeists on the River Derwent

Coming into Matlock Bath we passed a dam, used to block off another river from the Derwent. At this point I swapped boats and got into Jay’s boat, this meant Ben had to get used to paddling by himself and this took him the rest of the boat journey to get used to. In the boat with Jay everything seemed a lot calmer and easier, probably because he knew what he was doing. There were a few more rapids to go through and Jay quickly taught me how to work out the best path, look for the ‘V’, it means there are less rocks and it will be the fastest route (easiest). The next few rapids were a lot easier to go through and I really enjoyed going down them. We soon came to the end of our canoe safari and stopped just before we reached the Matlock Bath Slalom course. As much as I’d enjoyed the experience so far the Slalom course definitely wasn’t for a beginner!

2 canoeists enjoying still water on the River Derwent

After getting changed, attaching the boats to the van, collecting my car from Darley Dale it was then time for fish and chips (Jim’s treat) as we looked out for Pete climbing Wildcat. I’d definitely recommend doing the canoe safari; there are lots of things to see and lots of excitement around each corner. Although I was scared initially I really enjoyed my first official experience of canoeing and will try it again some time soon!

2 canoeists on the River Derwent river tour

If you fancy a trip along the Derwent in Izzy’s footst…. canoe wake then book a course atthis years Big Shakeout.

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