Finding my salvation outdoors
GetOutside Champion Ashley Beolens looks back on his journey with severe depression and how he realised that reconnecting with nature could help with his recovery.
Looking to try something new? How about getting out on the water for National Go Canoeing Week.
It's raining; that warm rain which when it falls on the river dissolves into the current as if the river is accepting a friend in to its arms.
Paddling on rivers, in docks, on the sea and over lakes has been part of my life since I was a young child. We had a Mirror Dinghy when I was a kid, called Miss Piggy (after my Mum....snigger) which we sailed around the docks at Bristol.
When I was 9 years old my brother got a kayak. It was fibreglass and bright green so we called it Kermit – obviously...
"...and here my love of there being 'nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats" began.
Canoeing and kayaking, or 'paddling' which has become the general term for both these pastimes is growing. It includes white water kayaking, slalom, freestyle, marathon, open canoeing, sea kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, surfing and lots more besides.
In 2015-2016 Sport England recorded 146,000 people involved in the sport. And this is only the 'official' number, in other words those in clubs or who have registered on to taster sessions and courses. This doesn't include all those people who have their own boats which they take out on to the water. And why? Because it is simply most excellent!
When I was a kid owning a kayak or a canoe was out of the ordinary (my childhood was beyond ordinary!), but nowadays you can purchase a good quality inflatable kayak from your local supermarket. For many this is their way in to the sport and pastime of canoeing and kayaking.
However, for many people heading to my home, the Wye Valley and the stunning River Wye is their way of getting a taste of this fantastic pastime and sport. The River Wye has been navigable for centuries and today 133km of it are available for you, me and Joe Bloggs to explore by boat.
From Glasbury (near Hay on Wye) right down to the mouth of the River at Chepstow you can paddle away the days. The very best way to do this is to access one of the many superb Canoe Hire companies based along the Wye and get a guided trip.
Being guided means that you have that added safety should someone go for an extended swim and happen to mislay their paddle. It also means you have access to a wealth of knowledge about the River, its history, its wildlife and its people. It is these things for me that make a paddle what it is.
Being immersed in the river, at the same level as the wildlife is like magic. Each river journey, be it long or short is unique, so no matter how much I paddle the same stretches of the River Wye that lie right by my house I always experience something new.
"I have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water....has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colours and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite"
Nowadays I prefer a gentle amble down a river in my canoe, which I have named the Big Red Beast. She is an old, battered, well loved Old Town Explorer 15'5” open canoe which I am happiest paddling solo, after all "rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day" (A.A. Milne).
For me and my mental health this is a perfect way to get some quality outside time, be it 15 minutes or hours upon hours. I can paddle solo, literally, or with friends yet I glean the same joy, the same sense of calm within. I do still enjoy the fluffy stuff (aka rapids) but only in the Big Red Beast.
Back in the day (many, many years ago) getting in my kayak and shooting rapids and waterfalls was what I lived for and if this adrenalin is what floats your boat then there are ways in which we an satisfy those needs never you fear.
Since hosting the London 2012 Olympics the UK has excellent white water facilities, both natural and man made where you can get a taste of slalom and freestyle kayaking.
Clubs across the UK run beginner courses annually where you can learn the basics and build up your skills in a safe and highly supported environment. Clubs have wide ranges of boats you can try and borrow and provide a superb family activity.
"The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten"
This week it is National Go Canoeing Week. It is an initiative set up by British Canoeing, Sport England, Canoe Wales, Scottish Canoe, Scottish Canoe Association and The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland.
The idea is to get as many people involved in canoeing and log a target of 45,000 miles paddled. Running from May 26th to June 3rd there are events happening all over the UK where YOU, yes you can join in.
There are taster sessions, events, club paddles, journeys, play days everything and I can guarantee you there will be something happening near you. Who knows, today could be a leisurly paddle in the local canal, next year you could be kayaking around the coast of Pembrokeshire, Sweden or beyond!
For more information, check out the National Go Canoeing website.