An adventure on home turf: paddleboarding the length of England

Lizzie Carr recently became the first person to stand-up paddleboard the length of England. Journeying 400 miles from Surrey to Cumbria to highlight the issue of plastic pollution in our canals and rivers, here she shares her findings... 

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Having worked closely with Ordnance Survey (Lizzie is an OS #GetOutside champion) to plot the route, I set out from the most southerly point of the network (River Wey)  and travelled for 22 days to reach the most northerly point – the top Lancaster Canal – where the network ends just short of Kendal. 

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My aim was to be as self-sufficient as possible during this adventure, which meant carrying my own supplies and equipment – including a tent, as I was camping each night along the way.

Highs and lows

The journey itself was incredible, but it didn’t come without its lows. Physically, the biggest challenge came from portaging locks… all 193 of them! Hauling 30kg in and out of the water several times a day just to pass through them. One particular day I battled 29, which when you’re already exhausted from paddling for up to 12 hours every day takes its toll.

Mentally, the difficulty was primarily loneliness and there were moments I wanted someone there to reassure me, encourage me, to help keep me motivated when I was struggling. Becoming that person for yourself was very tough, especially with no training that could have taught me how to muster the mental strength to push through the low moments.

But there were also magical moments that I will cherish forever, and the rollercoaster of the challenge made the sense of accomplishment even stronger.

Sunset paddling through remote areas on the network with just me, a stunning view and a few ducks for company were priceless.

The one thing that sticks out in my mind, however, was the kindness, humanity and generosity of people I met along the way. The support I received was overwhelming and having people track my journey and take the time to cheer me on along the way was unexpected but very welcome.

Over the weeks of my #SuperSUPEngland challenge I  witnessed humanity at both ends of the spectrum; the total disregard that some people have for our planet, countered by the love, goodwill and kindness that I received along my 400 mile route. And, because of the latter, I really believe we can make a difference.

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Some of the plastic pollution that Lizzie mapped during her challenge. Image: Lizzie Carr
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I plotted thousands of pieces of plastic along my route which I’m updating on my website (www.lizzieoutside.co.uk) along with the route itself for anyone that might want to try it (or sections of it). But, ultimately, it was the best adventure of my life and I didn’t even leave Britain.