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Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race

On a calm Good Friday morning, fourteen nervous 6th formers gathered in Devizes Wharf ready for the start of the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. Often named the DW, it’s a 125-mile time trail starting in Devizes in Wiltshire and finishing under Westminster Bridge in London. The distance is split into four days of paddling, 34, 36, 38 and 17 miles, and three nights of camping and cooking their own meals. This event is often considered the canoeist’s Everest and is certainly one of the toughest events students can take part in. 

The first 34 miles showed a strong and promising start. All seven crews completed the course and arrived at Newbury in under 7hrs and 15 mins. The weather had also been kind to them. It was dry and mild. Perfect paddling weather. Jemima and Gemma finished the day 11 minutes ahead of the Schools Junior Ladies record and Harry and Charles finished 42 minutes ahead of the Schools C2 record. With slightly aching limbs, the paddlers set up camp and settled in for the night, apprehensive of the 36 miles the next day. 

Day 2 dawned a little colder but even with the traditionally loud DW wakeup call, paddlers started with good spirits. Day two’s 36 miles are often considered the most mentally challenging. Paddlers are faced with 20 miles of twisty canal before paddling through Reading and joining the River Thames, which unfortunately was very slow as no rain had fallen for quite a few weeks. Although there were a few tears, one or two swims and a couple of hats thrown over cold heads, all paddlers made it to Marlow ready to rest up for the next day. Special mention goes to Emma and Emma and Tom and Fred who both took swims early on in the day but still pushed hard to the end. 

Day 3 got underway early with several crews off before 7:30. Thankfully, the sun was out, which helped the paddlers through the first half of the day.  Day 3 was a lot slower than normal because of the severe lack of flow and a headwind that arrived about 16 miles from the end. The paddlers all said that the last ten miles was the hardest paddle they had ever done but, nevertheless, they all finished strongly. Unfortunately, Casper was not feeling too great after throwing up during the night but with the help of Louis, they pushed on to get the day finished in just over 6 hours.

At the end of day 3, our Junior ladies doubles team were lying in third place with only five minutes off the second place team and many of our crews were minutes off the position in front of them. Day 4 would be a hard push to see if any time could be made up. 

At 4:45am, our paddlers were woken, ready to catch high-tide into the centre of London. Although a little nervous, excitement was evident in the conversations while blistered hands were taped up and boats were checked. This day was a new experience for all our paddlers, as even those who completed the event last year had not paddled the tideway due to the finish being brought forward by Storm Katie. 

Everyone had an impressive 17 miles. Casper and Louis finished in just over 2 hours, making up 3 overall positions in the process. Our girls’ team of Jemima and Gemma and Izzy and Abbey made up the five minutes and moved into 2nd place. All crews were very relieved to reach Westminster Bridge. Jack and Owen can even claim that they have swum under Westminster Bridge thanks to an unexpected wave as they paddled through. 

Well done to all that took part. A tough four days but well worth it. The seven crews also raised a current total of £4,687 for their selected charities including Amnesty International, Phyllis Tuckwell hospice and Home-Start WeyWater. 

Thank you also to the staff who volunteered their Easter weekend to help out, the parents/supporters who kept the paddlers fed and watered during the day and everyone who came out to support the crews from the riverside. It was greatly appreciated. 

Results stand at:

- Casper (L6th) & Louis (L6th)- 21:21:57- 34th overall and 9th U17 schools crew

- Jemima (L6th) & Gemma (L6th)- 22:34:45- 50th overall, 5th junior ladies crew, 14th U17 schools crew and a new school junior ladies record (!!)

- Jack (U6th) & Owen (U6th)- 22:59:38- 56th overall

- Harry (L6th) & Charles (L6th)- 23:38:44- 59th overall, 17th U17 schools crew and a new school C2 record

- Izzy (U6th) & Abbey (U6th)- 24:16:05- 66th overall and 12th Junior ladies crew

- Tom (L6th) & Fred (L6th)- 24:48:21- 71st overall and 19th U17 schools crew

- Emma (U6th) & Emma (U6th)- 25:16:27- 76th overall and 17th Junior ladies crew

Our Junior Team finished 10th overall and our Junior Ladies team 2nd overall. A very successful weekend for all.