Canoeing Along the Thames in the Dark

Dotted along the Thames are a number of rowing clubs for those of a watery inclination, but while they are perfect for regular rowers and wannabe regular rowers, it seems there is a limited opportunity for people who want a one-off chance to paddle along the river.

Last night I was able to do just that though — as on the eve of moving away from living next to the river, a firm has been set up that hires out canoes on a per-hour basis. What better way to say goodbye to the old flat than to paddle past it?

It’s taken Moo Canoes about 9 months to get from idea to launch due to dealing with a number of different regulatory bodies covering watery pursuits in London — and they have now set up a small wooden shed under the railway arches next to Limehouse Marina, which is suitable for either river trips, or more sedate canal trips.

Myself, Matt and Tom were invited to try out the river tour, which involved a group of us in two-man kayaks being shepherded down the Thames to Greenwich, for a bite to eat and then back again.

The Thames is tidal, so the event changes times throughout the day, but I think we got the best option, going out in daylight and coming back in the dark.

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A brief lesson in how to paddle and what to do if you rollover and get rather wetter than intended, then it was just a case of hopping in, and slowly paddling out into the river. You feel very small on such a wide expanse of choppy water, and the other boats look exceptionally large when see from that close to the waterline. Fortunately, wide flat bottomed kayaks are very stable, and even hitting the wake of the fast boats didn’t disturb them as we rocked up and down. Actually, that bit was quite fun.

Darting across the river when a gap appeared in the traffic, the evening was a leisurely paddle along the rivers edge with the two tour leaders pointing the various bits of heritage along the way. As it was low-tide, the river banks are much more interesting to paddle past — something I have often noticed when using the river clipper service before.

Now, depending on your perspective on such matters, it was either distressingly pissing down with rain, or delightfully doing do. The splashes from the river below blending seamlessly with the rain falling from above.

Personally, I quite like long cold wet walks as the pub at the end is so much more welcoming and warming, and you feel that you have earned that big meal and pint. Likewise the same for paddling along the Thames, for they do indeed pause for a bite to eat at a pub in Greenwich.

This is a nice and on a cold night a very welcome break. It is however essential, as they need to pause a while to let the tide turn. Paddling against the tide being a most unpleasantly exhausting task that is to be avoided by sitting in a pub and relaxing while the moon does its gravity thing in the skies above.

It also means you have the chance to walk into a pub carrying paddles, which instantly generates amused comments from the other customers.

An hour later, the tide is rising as fast as the sun is sinking, and this time, the delight of paddling back in the darkness, with little lamps on the canoes to help see each other. Despite the occasional party boat, it is very peaceful at that time of night, with just the thwoshing sound of the waves mixing with the paddles.

It’s a very different experience as well, as before we were pointing out all the bits of heritage we could see, but now in the darkness, it was more about soaking up an atmosphere.

It was for me, a perfect send-off for all those years living next to the river and watching rowers go past on weekend mornings while I munched breakfast from the balcony.

Our trip was arranged by Moo Canoes as a taster. The Greenwich tour is usually £49 per person, which includes the pub meal. When most of those “events packages” you pick up for birthday gifts are around the £99 mark, I think this was a pretty good deal.

They also have a self-guided tour option along the canals around the Olympic Park, where you can hire canoes by the hour.

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2 Comments

  1. I canoed from Wandsworth to the London Eye and back as the tide turned and the sun went down last year. An enchanting experience though my paddling technique needs work!

  2. Catherine Day

    I’ve been out with Moo Canoes, and just wanted to add to the very good coverage above by saying that Katy and Archie, who run Moo Canoes, are just brilliant at helping beginners and anyone else who needs a bit of support to get out on the water. And if you’ve done it before, and don’t need that level of help, they will just stay close by and guide the trip, explaining as much as you like about the landmarks around you, and the river itself. And I can confirm that the boats they’ve chosen are perfect for the job: stable, and very easy to keep in a straight line – essential!

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