Record-breaking fundraising for canals

In June 2021 Darren decided to take on the first-ever solo canoe navigation of the Avon Ring to raise funds for the Canal & River Trust. He set a record of four days and ten hours, travelling 109 miles and negotiating 129 locks. This is his story.

Man standing holding canoe paddle aloft Darren, with his trusty canoe, ‘Gini’

A sense of adventure

“During the pandemic, our local canal became a bit of a lifeline, giving me and my wife a real escape from the anxiety and boredom of lockdown. We would just go for a walk along the canal close to where we live. It gave us both so much peace and comfort.

Our new-found appreciation for canals prompted us to learn about the Canal & River Trust. We were particularly impressed with the way they encourage people to use the waterways to improve their mental health. The Trust does incredible things for wellbeing, and I can’t praise them enough for that.

Inspired by the Trust’s remarkable work, I decided to get involved and do some fundraising myself. Canoeing has always been a passion of mine, and during lockdown I’d begun researching the Avon Ring. I discovered it was 109 miles long with 129 locks. More importantly, no one had ever navigated it solo. It seemed like the perfect fundraising challenge. I felt a sense of adventure begin to well up inside me.

Man manoeuvring his canoe on foot past canal lock gates Darren travelled 109 miles and negotiated 129 locks in his Avon Ring canoe challenge

When the going gets tough

In June 2021, I set out on my 109-mile journey, and I soon discovered why no one had completed a solo navigation of the Avon Ring before. It was tough! With heavy rain and a strong headwind, negotiating the first few locks was extremely challenging.

13 hours in, it finally stopped raining. I had the wind at my back and I began to enjoy myself. It was so peaceful. On the water, you really get to appreciate the beauty of canals. I was particularly struck by the wildlife; I saw five jays, almost in touching distance and it blew my mind a little. I saw coots and kingfishers too, which was a big surprise because I didn’t associate them with canals. It was amazing to discover how much wildlife was actually out there on the water.

View from front of canoe passing down the canal Darren almost in touching distance of canal life

At times I didn’t think it could be done, but when I reached the Stratford Canal on day five I started to feel I was bringing it home. It was a long journey, but it was worth every stroke and every step. I’m already thinking about doing it again!”

Could you or somebody you know take on your own fundraising challenge? With over 2,000 miles of beautiful waterways to run, pedal, swim or canoe, there are plenty of inspiring places to set yourself a challenge.

Last date edited: 1 April 2022

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