Sea Kayaking on The River Thames

It's one of Harry's regular jokes. "What time is
it", he'll ask a someone. Keen to help the leader, they'll invariably look at their watch.


Big Ben rings out, emphasising the redundancy of their action.

"Forget it", Harry will say, "I already know."

If you're visiting London and fancy seeing the city from a fascinating perspective, this is the way to do it. [Check out the Podcast on this page].

It's not a commercial touring operation, it's a council-run project. More about that in a moment. But if you're serious about paddling, rather than simply wanting another tourist experience, then I heartily recommend getting in touch.

What's more, a Podcast with Harry Whelan will go live early in December 2010 at

When I was first invited to go kayaking on the Thames, I thought it would be in a play boat somewhere like Hurley Weir.

It's near Liz's Mum's house and we've watched paddlers there several times.

Instead, we launched amongst the houseboats and chunky four-wheel drive cars of Chelsea.

It just didn't seem right.

For someone used to paddling in the wilds of Scotland's west coast, launching to the sounds of sirens and overhead jets was, well... weird.

And it got weirder, as we headed down river towards the very heart of London.

I'd joined the 'adult kayak fitness' session, run on a Saturday afternoon (times vary).

There's also a new Chelsea Kayak Club based at the centre, and a few of the members were part of this session.

It was all very welcoming and friendly.

We went down with the flow and tide, turned just after the Palace of Westminter (also known as the Houses of Parliament), and pushed back against the tide.

At neaps this wasn't much of a struggle, but at springs you'd understand why this session is called 'kayak fitness'.

And even at neaps, you have to be careful where you turn.

This is a busy river, with lots of moored craft. Try to cut between two, and you could easily be pushed against or underneath the downstream craft.

Harry is well known on the river.

He regularly wash-hangs his way back up against the tide.

As you'll hear in the podcast, he has developed a good relationship with the Police and the Port of London Authority team, even managing to get some into sea kayaks to view the river from our perspective.

Likewsie, to show kayakers how small and difficult to spot we are, he helped to organise a session on the bridge of a high-speed ferry. Discovery learning at its finest.

Liz and I first paddled with Harry at Christmas 2007.

There was so much fog on the Thames, one bank couldn't be seen from the other.

It was a spooky experience to be the only traffic on the river.

Since then, the council-run centre has invested in new equipment, including plastic Nordkapp kayaks and Werner paddles.

As you'll see from their web page, Cremorne Riverside is operated by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

It is primarily aimed at the young people who live in the area. With the World's End flats overlooking the centre, these clients are certainly not all the sons and daughters of rich folk.

So as centre manager, Harry is primarily a youth worker.

He is also one damn fine kayaker.

He was part of the three strong team, with Barry Shaw and Phil Clegg, who circumnavigated Britain in 2005.

He has also been around Ireland, crossed the Irish sea, has posted video on the BBC London website and, as I write, is just back from teaching big-tide paddling in the USA.

So if you fancy sea kayaking on the Thames, you'll be in good hands.

And you probably won't need your watch.

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1 comment:

Espie from London said...

Great article. I have been paddling on the River Thames with Cremorne for over a year and have great fun whenever I attend the adult fitness sessions!! I thoroughly recommend it!!