Paul with the kayak he paddled across the canal network Paul Lowe: the first person to complete an unassisted kayak journey down the canal system in ten days

Meet Paul

I wanted a challenge to find new ways to push myself. It was a big adventure.

I kayaked all the way down the English canal system, from the Lake District to London. I did it in ten days, entirely unassisted. It's the first time anyone has done that.

It wasn't easy, but I wanted to challenge myself. As you get older, there tend to be fewer things you do that make you feel proud of yourself, but this was one of those things for me.

Paul kayaking across country Paul travelled down the canal system by kayak

It stemmed from being bored in lockdown and wanting to do something positive. A new way to push myself and have a big adventure.

I'm a professional stunt coordinator, I did my first movie in 2003 and have been busy ever since. Even when I'm not at work I like finding exciting things to do, like hill walking, sailing and ice-climbing. But I was getting bored during the lockdown, with not being able to get out as much.

A friend who I used to go canoeing with half-jokingly said I should paddle down to see him when lockdown's over. I looked into it and realised I could get from Liverpool to London by canal. That seemed like a cool thing to do. But then I thought, if I'm going to go to London, I may as well do the very top of the canal system to the very bottom.

Paul Lowe paddling a kayak

The journey was entirely unassisted. I didn't have anybody help me with things like carrying my kayak around locks and over tunnels.

It's mentally tough, you're paddling all day and you come across a lock and you know you've got to get your kayak and all your equipment out of the lock, get it on wheels and put it back in again. But I knew that would be part of the challenge before I started.

I planned the journey before I left. I knew I'd have to get around 220 locks and four big tunnels, and each time I'd have to get out and drag my kayak full of equipment around, because there are some tunnels you shouldn't paddle through. But I approached this challenge the same way I approach my stunt work - do the research, take on board good advice, and don't take unnecessary risks.

I had to push myself every day, but that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want it to be easy, that's what made it made it exciting.

It was tough, I was wet for days, my hands became really chapped and my feet were really sore. But what made it all feel better was that every day I was in this boat, I'd be seeing these beautiful places. Some of those views you only ever get to see if you're on a boat. They're stunning.

One morning I got up, and it was a golden morning with mist on the water. The only noise was my paddling.

 

You never get to have those moments unless you’ve got that little bit of something in you that makes you want to get out there and try something new.

Being on the canals just opens your eyes a lot more. The places you go, seeing the wildlife, meeting new people.

The people I met who live on boats couldn't have been more pleasant. Everyone you see says 'good morning' or 'good afternoon.' There's a real sense of community, and I'm not part of that community but they were genuinely welcoming. It's nice.

I did ten days on my own, but I didn't really feel on my own, as corny as it sounds. 

It was hard work but it was amazing. Doing something like this gives you a real sense of achievement, which anyone can have, by the way.

Paul kayaking his way down the canal system

For anyone else looking to have a go, if you want to take on a big challenge, you need a good base layer of technique and fitness before you attempt any big challenges like this.

I approached this challenge the same way I approach my work as a stunt performer - be prepared, do your research, don't take unnecessary risks. Plan your route and learn how to be respectful and how to treat the waters.

I'm always open to answering questions and sharing advice too, you can reach out to me by sending a message on Instagram.

The view of an urban bridge from a kayak The cross country journey took Paul through both urban and rural landscapes

You don't have to attempt a big journey like I did. Adventure doesn't necessarily mean setting yourself some intense challenge, it can mean exploring somewhere new. Even if you just go for an hour, paddle away from your car and back, then go a little further next time.

There's so much to be seen on the canals, so much wildlife and nice scenery. Go and have a look, there's no reason not to. 

If you'd like to try a cross-country paddling challenge, please be sure to follow Paul's advice and prepare appropriately.

Paddle safely and respect the environment and the people that live on the waterways. Please adhere to all wild camping laws and best practices by obtaining camping permission from the landowner before you begin your journey, and leave no trace.