Paddling for Paddy

Before leaving London I’ve been wanting to do something touristy as one last thing to do in such an amazing city. It’s very easy in London to forget what is around you. I often find tourists in London a general nuisance, walking slowly, getting lost, raising prices etc. which is probably pretty two faced of me given I probably do similar when visiting other places. It’s because of this I tend to avoid areas around Westminster and the South Bank despite this being a really attractive part of the city.

You can probably imagine how pleased I was when I heard about a kayaking trip down the Thames down to the Houses of Parliament. I quickly booked a couple of tickets for myself and Kat for St Patrick’s Day, one of my favourite days of the year having lived in Ireland during my childhood.

The paddle starts from Chelsea yah, and departs to coincide with the last of the outgoing tide before it starts coming back in to help you back upstream. Unfortunately the weather was looking pretty miserable when we arrived but from London in March that’s life. The instructors were super excited, encouraging us to draw slogans on the two man kayaks decked out in green tape for the day.

Once we’d got our gear on (waterproofs and lifejackets are very unflattering) along with a Paddy’s day hat and been talked through the basics of kayaking we were in the water. And very dirty water at that, as I put my paddle in I could see a party popper, empty crisp packet and a tampon …. grim. It did make a good incentive not to fall in the water, highly unlikely I’m told.

The actual kayaking itself is very easy, apart from perhaps a few steering issues (we had a tendency to go left very easily!) It’s an very different experience seeing a city from a river, the paddle took us alongside Battersea Power Station, one of London’s industrial relics soon to be regenerated into the one of the next areas of property, commerce and culture.

Paddle for Paddy's

A bit further along the river the riverbanks become more affluent with people starting to notice about 30 people paddling down the Thames in Paddy’s Day hats while the river gets busier and tourists on boats start to get their cameras out. I can’t help but think we were having a better time!

St Patrick's Day!

By the time we reached the Houses of Parliament bang on time, Big Ben was striking 4 O’Clock from which the loud chimes sent shivers down my spine It felt great to be experiencing something so many people associate with London which after 18 months in the city I had actually done. As we waited for the tide to turn and admired the scenery we noticed quite a crowd gathering on Westminster Bridge and the South Bank to take pictures of our group. Even people on the London Eye were pointing their cameras at us rather than the skyline of the capital.

The trip back up river was a little more challenging! You could feel at first the lack of tide helping you along the river making for harder work on the arms which were starting to tire in the cold. It now became more about the kayaking than seeing the sights as we had already taken most of them in on the way down. Now we were getting better at going in a straight line and were probably more confident and capable than before. However upon arriving back at the dock and after hauling the boats out of the water the Guinness was waiting for us, the perfect refreshment on Paddy’s Day!

I’d thoroughly recommend Kayaking London to anyone else. And you can see loads more pictures here.

P.S. A couple of days later it was too hard to resist a cheeky trip on the London Eye on a perfectly clear morning (shame the weather wasn’t like that for kayaking!)

London Eye

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Being a tourist at home

When talking about travelling and various places I’ve lived with other people, it often comes up how little we visit many attractions right on our doorstep. I know people who have lived in Paris and not been up the Eiffel Tower as well as someone living in New York who never went to Central Park.

I’ve lived in London for about 18 months now and I think like many people I’ve probably become accustomed to certain areas (Camden market, eating in Soho and lazing on Parliament Hill on sunny days). This past weekend, knowing I’m only going to be here for a couple more months until my big trip I decided to head to a different part of London – Greenwich.

There’s a bit of a North / South divide in London. Once people move to London, they often stay in a similar area or at least on one side of the river for quite a while, perhaps part of the reason I hadn’t been to the area before.

Greenwich is known around the world for its association with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) with the world’s time zones set from this spot. The system originates from the Royal Observatory located on the top of the hill in Greenwich Park. The area also has history in the British Kings & Queens with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both born here. The original palace since destroyed was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and went on to form the Royal Naval College and much of the surrounding maritime association of the area.

Not a bad view!

Located right on the Thames opposite the financial district of Canary Wharf provides Greenwich with some impressive architecture and scenery. From the observatory on the top of Greenwich Park tourists crowd to snap the perfect image of the London skyline. I think I did quite well myself!

This weekend really was the perfect time to break out of winter mode, with unseasonably high temperatures in the mid-teens (Celsius that is) and the perfect excuse to enjoy an ice cream milkshake or ginger beer float in the sunshine. There’s something great about being able to go somewhere new so close to home and made me realise how important it is to do the little things ahead of a trip so far away coming up in just a few weeks time now.

Expertly taken and edited by Katrina Mackey (well I did steal her photo)!

I find that many parts of London get a little bit homogenised with big brands coming into areas were previously considered to be cool or upcoming. Camden has certainly been fighting these trends, Pret a Manger & All Saints just don’t feel like they should be around Camden, though thankfully the market has banned chains despite many stalls selling similar items. Greenwich still has cool independent and shops markets with varied eclectic things for sale unlike other places that feel big but undifferentiated, although that’s not to say some chains have been creeping in. My little bargain was a set of antique shot glasses for all of £2.

On that note about something new, watch this space. Next weekend I will be taking part in a world record attempt for the world’s biggest hop. Fans of Michael Palin may remember the TV series Ripping Yarns, if not then watch the episode “Tomkinson’s School Days” because next weekend in Hampstead they are relaunching the DVD with a ridiculous PR stunt, fingers crossed I can tell Mr Palin himself about how it’s his fault I need to set off around the world ….