I set out to try and kayak the River Medway in Kent in three days as one of my first personal challenges this year. The river Medway is 70 miles long in total. It starts in Sussex and finishes in the Thames Estuary in Kent.
I had taken a week off work to take some time out and have a bit of an adventure. This was a great time to tick this challenge off. I decided to set off on the Sunday and was hoping to complete it by the Tuesday. It officially starts in a town called Turners Hill. But like all river starts, it's only a little trickle and I would have looked rather silly sitting in my kayak in the middle of a field not going anywhere. So realistically I set off from a little village called Balls Green. The water was just deep enough to get in and had a handy lay by near by to pull up and unload the kit and equipment.
My kayak was heavy but luckily I had help to get it in the water. Just the essentials were taken to keep the weight down. I had a winter sleeping bag which was big and a little heavy but the weather was freezing at night and a good nights sleep is important when you're doing arduous activities. Plus water for three days and food. I didn't take any spare clothes, just wore lightweight trousers and took an extra warm top.
The journey had started. Got waved off by my dad and off I went into the unknown. I've checked it out on a map and had previously paddled certain sections in the past but I really didn't know how quickly I was going to travel, plus I had never been this far up before. Good job too, if I had known the conditions I probably wouldn't have set off. It was horrendous. The water got really shallow and at one point I got stuck in the middle of the river, the banks were over 8ft tall in places and were just a mud wall, this proved really difficult when I came across the numerous fallen tress that had blocked the river.
Three hours into the journey I had come across yet another tree blocking the route. Same drill as before, out of the kayak and man handle all the equipment up and over the mud wall and walk down river past the obstacle to re launch. However, this time I had slipped on the thick wet mud and slid straight into the river. I was up to my neck in the water. I couldn't believe it!!! It was freezing, and now the decision not to take spare clothing seemed a bit silly. So I tried again and got out of the river. Great, now I need to dry off. The only thing I could do was strip off in the middle of the field and strain my clothes out, put them back on and keep moving so I could keep warm and hopefully dry the clothes out during the process. Three hours and I was already thinking what on earth am I doing. Most people take a week off work and go lay around on a foreign beach warm and drinking cocktails. But not me, I have the urge to go do things like this. I just hope it's worth it.
The rest of the day was much the same. Get through the obstacles and just keeping pushing on. My first big mental marker was reaching Tonbridge. I was hoping to reach this earlier but hey, I wasn't expecting the conditions to be so bad.
I paddled through Tonbridge and had a look at the map for somewhere suitable to bivvy for the night. Edenbridge's lock was my place of choice for the night. It was out of the way and quiet. I set up my make shift camp for the night at around 1730. General rule is that you should look at making camp about an hour before last light. This then gives you time to set up camp, eat food, sort out your kit, get acquainted with your surroundings and most of all, sit there in peace and quiet with a cup of tea and watch the sunset over the river. A great end to a tough day.
Oh wow! That was a cold night. And I mean cold. I hardly slept. Speaking to someone later on the trip I was informed that the lock I stayed at was not a great choice. It's known for being one of the coldest locks on the river. The way of the land apparently means the cold air sweeps across the open ground and sits there. Great, but then how do I know that. Local knowledge is great, in hindsight. After I had some porridge and tea I was packed up and back on the river by 0700. The good thing about sleeping under a tarp is when first light comes it's your automatic alarm clock. Waking up is great like this because the wildlife is also coming to life too and it's nice to just lay there and soak up the atmosphere. But, I couldn't stay long as I had places to be.
My next timing constraint was getting to Alington Lock. This is where the river now meets the tidal section and the last of the locks. High tide was at 1530 and I wanted to get there with some spare time to take advantage of the pub there for a hearty lunch. I must have eaten about 1500 calories in one sitting but it tasted so good and I know I had a big push to do this afternoon. I also got a surprise visit from my dad and one of my sisters. My family have been keeping track of my progress and thought I would like some company.
The weather today was great. Sun shining and warm. This was good for drying out my clothes which were still damp but not so good for my water reserves. Sweating more means I need to take on more fluids. Luckily the pub filled up my water stock for me so happy days.
The trip from now on was a bit daunting to me if I'm honest. I'm not a professional kayaker. I normally only play around on a calm river or lake with friends, and now I was on my own about to venture off on the tidal part. Something bothered me about the fact that man didn't control this part and I was now trying to work with nature, and when water is involved I feel out of my comfort zone. Also, I have not paddled any part of this river. All I knew about it was what I saw on the map and google images.
I set off to catch the tide. I made real good progress and pushed on till I got to Rochester. This is where I live. I pulled up along side the bridge and decided to set up camp here. Not ideal as there were people around but I found a little spot that was out of the way to sleep. It was a killer camping rough here, my house was only a 10 minute walk away. I set up camp by about 1800. Had a great view of the castle while I had dinner and drank more tea. Hight tide was at 0310!! I was up at 0230. I didn't feel too bad but when I looked out to the river I got slightly nervous. It was pitch black and I've got to go paddle on my own with the outgoing tide. I had my porridge and tea and launched from the side and set off into the darkness.
I made it as far as St Marys Island and decided to get off at the pier there. I really needed to pee. Too much tea I think. The guy at the marina also told me that there was nowhere to delaunch at Grain in low tide. So having a think about my options I decided to end the trip there. It would mean paddling out to the estuary and having to sit there in the open water on my own with no communications if anything should happen waiting for the tides to change and work in my favour. Also the weather had closed in too and was not looking great till about midday. If I was with someone else I would have probably gone but not on my own, and like I said before, kayaking is not one of stronger abilities. So at 0550 I made the call and my dad came to the rescue and picked me up from the marina. He assured me he wasn't asleep but I didn't believe him. Well done to that man for supporting me so much with the drop offs and pick ups. Personally, I think he was a bit jealous that I didn't take him along.
Overall, I would put this down as a success. I set out to try and paddle the River Medway in three days. I cut it short by a couple of miles for safety concerns. It was physically and emotionally demanding. I love competing against myself. It's at those tough times when you really learn what you can do. You have nobody else to motivate you and make decisions for you. I would definitely recommend you making a solo challenge. It's great to plan for it and feels fantastic when you get to the end. Go on, give it a try.
Thanks for reading.