Kayaking the Length of the UK: Both Expeditions Succeed

Photo: @Kayak4heroes

Over the last few months, two expeditions set out to kayak the length of the UK. The five-man Kayak4Heroes group paddled from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Meanwhile, solo kayaker Roy Beal did the reverse: He started in John O’Groats and paddled south. Both expeditions have now successfully finished.

Roy Beal –- North to South

It took him 56 days, but Roy Beal became the first person to complete the 1,400km route from north to south. The winds were against him most of the way, and he admits that this was one of the hardest parts of the journey.

Photo: @top.down.kayak.challenge

The last few weeks of his expedition went smoothly, but there were earlier moments of difficulty. At the start of July, he was portaging his kayak through England’s canal network when his wheeled trolley shattered.

“I suppose it was on borrowed time, as the wheel bearings were shot, but I wasn’t expecting a main chassis failure,” Beal said. He made temporary repairs with a roof strap.

Photo: @top.down.kayak.challenge

He had been particularly worried about the Severn River, with its eddy currents and exposed rocks on both sides of the channel. Although he timed it well and the rocks were underwater, “It was pretty hard work and I never want to paddle that alone again,” he said.

Friends and family joined Beal for small sections, especially after he passed his home county of Devon and made his way to Cornwall. Some even swam alongside him.

Photo: @top.down.kayak.challenge

“I’ve paddled through Force 5 conditions…through fog with only a compass and a map for direction…faced winds so strong my paddle was almost ripped from my hands,” he reflected. “I’ve dealt with so many tide races I’ve lost count. At times I’ve left my comfort zone but never entered my fear zone, even though it’s come close.”

Mainly, he has learned that on ocean expeditions, “the sea is in charge”. To stay safe, you need to have a plan A, B and C every single day.

Photo: @top.down.kayak.challenge

Kayak4Heroes –- South to North

The Kayak4Heroes group paddled more conventionally south-north and became the first adaptive team to complete the journey. Thanks to tailwinds, they finished the journey in just 26 days — nine days more quickly than they had estimated and less than half Beal’s N-S time.

When they finished, Beal was one of the first to congratulate them.

Photo: @Kayak4heroes

The team of five took shifts paddling their two-man kayak for the entire trip. They had to overcome seasickness, broken boats, and capsizes. They also had to adapt to their various disabilities and injuries.

Photo: @Kayak4heroes

They often covered over 80km a day. Though there have been no particularly dramatic moments, they said that the most challenging part was North West and North East Scotland.

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About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK.

She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans and aims to dive and open-water swim in as many seas as possible.

Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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