24 hour kayaking charity challenge on the Dee – we did it!!!

We did it! 24 hours of kayaking on the Dee to raise money for three brilliant charities! Over the weekend myself and 5 friends took on a mammoth challenge. Kayaking down the river Dee (horseshoe to town falls) and back up the Llangollen canal for 24 hours straight. We paddled over 100km in total and as of the time writing this blog have raised over £5000 for Young Minds, Rainbows Hospice and Air Ambulance. This article is a more detailed account of the challenge!

You can still donate here if you would like to!

Our 24 hour paddle in a nutshell – Aaron strava’d it!

In 2021 me and James Ibbotson (Ibbo) took on a 24 hour kayaking challenge on our home river of the Trent to raise money for Mind. It was a tough but great experience and we raised a lot of money. So when Ibbo asked me to join him on another 24-hour challenge, I said yes! We wanted another challenge which would allow us to be self-sufficient if we needed it (i.e. no shuttles required) and the Dee was a perfect option.

We asked two of our friends Jake Boswell and Niamh Macken to join us who readily agreed. Just after announcing our challenge, Lowri Davies got in touch to say that she had been planning a similar challenge on the Dee! So we joined forces with both Lowri and Aaron Kendall to make a dream team of six.

The dream team

1. James Ibbotson (Ibbo) is the most experienced in the group when it comes to 24-hour kayaking challenges as this is his third one in three years! He has completed one on the Dart, one on the Trent and now one on the Dee. Outside of smashing 24-hour kayaking challenges, Ibbo works for British Canoeing and competes in c1 freestyle. He is also well known for organising paddling events including the upcoming Euro Open. It’s thanks to Ibbo’s great organisational skills that this challenge happened.

Photo: Allan Potts

2. Jake Boswell is another freestyle paddler and you might recognise him as the owner of Flow Kayaks. Jake works long hours for his shop and yet still finds the time to get out on the water and enjoy paddling for himself. Jake really wanted to get a stylish line down Town Falls over the 24 hours. I think it is safe to say he managed it!

Photo: Allan Potts

3. Niamh Macken is the youngest member of our team but don’t underestimate her. In the last 3 months, Niamh managed the preparation for this challenge alongside revising for her GCSE exams and preparing for the freestyle world championships! Niamh got a silver medal in the junior women’s k1 during the worlds. Although she was happy to swap her freestyle boat for a Zet Chili this weekend!

Photo: Allan Potts

4. Lowri Davies is one of the most well-known and respected kayakers and coaches in UK kayaking. Lowri is based in Llangollen and has a successful coaching company called Flowfree. Lowri is a brilliant coach but it should not be forgotten that she is also a phenomenal paddler. Lowri has been on the GB freestyle team for over 20 years and came 7th in women’s k1 in the freestyle world championships just gone! She is also a keen river runner and regularly enjoys chasing the rain on the rivers of north Wales!

Photo: Allan Potts

5. Aaron Kendall is well known for his love of the Dee and for embodying the phrase ‘play the river’. Aaron is a brilliant kayaker also based in Llangollen and works as a raft guide for Whitewater Active. He has paddled all over the world at some of the best destinations in white water kayaking! When Aaron is not rafting or chasing the rain, he can most commonly be found living his best life in a slicey boat on an eddy line somewhere on the Dee.

Photo: Allan Potts

6. Finally there is me (Del Read)! It felt a bit weird to write about myself so I asked a friend for some words instead. ‘If you see someone on the river bearing a big smile high on life, it’s probably Del. She is an amazing paddler and a true ambassador for the sport as a whole and for women in kayaking. Whether it’s paddling around on the flat water, learning some freestyle, falling off of a paddleboard or smashing some lines on the rivers, you can always count on Del to be the most upbeat enthusiastic person on the water!’ This was not based on 4 am on the Llangollen canal Del. 😂

Photo: Allan Potts

The actual challenge

As we met in town falls car park at 9 am on Saturday 6th August 2022 it felt a little surreal. Like most of the group, I have paddled the Dee more times than I can remember. We all love this river so much but 24 hours is still a long time. Luckily everyone seemed excited to get started! So we geared up and walked up the hill to the canal where we would be starting each lap.

Start of the 24 hours! Photo: Tom Clare

It didn’t take us too long to paddle up the canal and onto the river. Being white water kayakers – this was obviously our favourite part! I soon realised the BEST part though was the boat ramp to get onto the river. The flat water paddle up the canal each time was made significantly better with the knowledge that 3 seconds of ramp excitement awaited you at the top! You may think I’m being sarcastic right now but I promise you I’m not. It was the genuine highlight of every lap!

The river was just so fun because kayaking on white water is the best! What was really lovely was how much support we were getting from other paddlers on the river. Every time we passed a raft, the guide would get all of the customers to cheer us on and give us a round of applause. There were heaps of paddlers at mile end mill and many of them would cheer and shout words of encouragement each time we passed. It was really lovely.

Drone shot from Tom Clare of the Dee river and the Llangollen canal. Spot us on the canal!

Our biggest fans were waiting for us on the bridge at town falls each lap. These fans were our core support crew including the most awesome trio. This was Niamh’s mum Amanda and little sister Sophie and then Ibbo’s girlfriend Kerry. Each lap we came down they rallied the entire bridge and got them to cheer loudly for us. All whilst encouraging donations to the charities. They were hugely influential in our fundraising over the weekend and their efforts were very appreciated!

The bridge brigade! Photo: Tom Clare

Town falls is the last rapid on the section of the Dee we were paddling. It is just before the main bridge going through Llangollen and so there are always spectators. It was also the hardest rapid on the river and therefore required just a tad more concentration. Coming down successfully with a crowd applauding you was quite special! Although the biggest cheer was on our second lap when Ibbo took one for the team with the first roll of the 24 hours! Luckily his lovely girlfriend Kerry got it on camera for him to savour the memory forever. That same lap I also rocket launched the Ripper hard. I managed to hold one of the best tailees of my life and come out of it upright so was very pleased!

Rocket launch! Photo: Allan Potts

As the day continued Llangollen and the waterways got busier. The canal was busy with horse-drawn canal boats and the staff began to encourage the customers to clap us as we paddled past them. We quickly established that Jake’s favourite part of each lap was the canal and he was very vocal about how much he loved it. Having those cheers just added to the experience.

The day went quickly as we smashed out laps and spirits were running high. In the evening we paused to have a hot meal and change gear. Big thank you to Dee Pizza for donating us 6 hot wraps for our dinner. Very kind of you! We had managed 7 laps in the light and started our 8th lap in the dark.

Hot wraps from Dee Pizza were the best! Photo: Amanda Macken

We all had head torches but it was generally easier to not use them as you could see the white water more easily. At this point I should point out that night paddling is a wonderful thing but not something we encourage. We are all very experienced paddlers who know the Dee extremely well and were paddling well within our comfort zones. We also made sure we had a great safety crew around us in case anything did happen. It was a great experience but we were only happy to do it as we were extremely confident in our abilities to do so.

That first night lap was hard though. We had been paddling for about 12 hours and I really started to notice on this lap just how tired I was. The nice thing was that town falls was completely lit up and we still had a large crowd of spectators in the pub who came onto the balcony to cheer us. As town falls was so well lit, it actually made it one of the easier and more enjoyable parts of our night laps.

Last of the light!

We got off and I decided I was now at a point where I needed to pull out the big guns. I swapped boats and I had some caffeine. I really loved paddling the Ripper all day (thanks for the loan Aaron) and it had been super efficient on the canal but I wanted a bit more of a comfort blanket for the night and so swapped into my Scorch. I then had a caffeine chew and that certainly woke me up! I’m pretty sure Aaron noticed the difference too as my speed of talking at him sped up by about 10 times on that lap!

At this point, I need to thank Aaron as he was the absolute glue of this group over the 24 hours. He made a real effort to look out for and care for each of us. I really struggled with energy levels in the later laps and was struggling to keep up on the canal sections. Rather than paddle off and leave me, he dropped back and paddled in front of me so that I could use their wake to make it slightly easier. He also came up with a fun local fact to share with me each lap which was my second highlight of the lap after the boat ramp. Without sharing other people’s struggles – he did a lot to support them too. He didn’t once complain and was a bundle of energetic happiness for the whole 24 hours. How lucky we were as a group to have him with us! So thank you for being you, Aaron!

Aaron rocking the bucket hat

I also need to thank everyone who came and joined us for a lap (or 2, or 3 or 4!) Especially those experienced paddlers who came as extra support overnight. Having fresh faces turn up to offer encouragement and support was so very welcomed. Particular thank you to the raft guides of Whitewater Active who all seemed to join us at one point or another!

Our final night lap came and we were grateful when it began to get light. Jake had mentioned once or twice overnight that he would prefer it if the sun came up and we were all much in agreement. We started our 12th lap in the dark and as we finished the canal part, dawn had officially broken. That golden hour sunrise lap on the dee was hugely enjoyable. The end was nearly in sight!

As we came started our 14th lap, it was clear that this would be our last lap. We were joined on the river by a huge number of paddlers who had come to see us through to the end. It was really something to feel the support of our community. Niamh’s little sister Sophie even joined us for this lap in a duo with Aaron. We were absolutely exhausted but it was really special.

Group selfie just before our final town falls!

Despite having run town falls countless times, I always get a tad nervous just above it. My biggest fear before the challenge had been that I would have a roll at 4 am on town falls. I had joked with the others at the start about how many laps it would take before I wasn’t nervous anymore. The answer had been lap 9! I felt happy going down and completely relaxed. Lap 10 however, which was at about 2 am, I caught the middle rock and had my first and only roll. I rolled super quick but went back to being nervous.

Our group was hugely encouraging however and Lowri and Aaron in particular told me I would smash it every time and that they believed in me. So on that final lap, I turned around and told Lowri and Aaron that I wasn’t nervous (partly because I was too tired to be so) and I was going to smash it. And I did! The moment I finished that rapid I was ecstatic. The cheers from the crowds on the bridge and paddlers on the water were super loud and I was just so so so happy.

Photo: Allan Potts

I looked upstream to watch Aaron and Sophie in the duo who were the last to come down. They had a very unfortunate line which resulted in a swim. Thankfully they were both absolutely fine and Sophie continued to grin even as she swam to the side! This was Aaron’s first swim in 6 years and he took it in very good grace. He enjoyed ending his 24 hours with a beer bootie and Sophie experienced her first (non-alcoholic) beer bootie too!

Thank you

This was a tough challenge and one we could not have completed without the amazing support we received. So thank you to everyone who gave that support. Thank you to our amazing support crew who cheered for us every lap, made sure we had food and drinks, helped carry boats on the portage and generally encouraged us throughout. I do not think we could have kept paddling throughout those last laps without it.

Thank you to everyone who joined us on the water or came to see us paddle. The bridge brigade was amazing and it made such a difference!

Thank you to everyone who took photos and videos over the weekend. Especially Allan Potts and Tom Clare for supporting us for most of the 24 hours. Felt like we had our own paparazzi!

And thank you to everyone who donated, sent us good luck or shared our challenge with others. We have absolutely smashed our target and those three great charities will now be supported further thanks to you. If you still wish to donate, here is our donation page! Thank you!

Sophie Macken on it with the fundraising!

More about the charities we paddled for

  1. Young Minds. This is a charity aimed at supporting the mental health of young people. Its donation page can be found here.
  2. Rainbows Hospice. This is the only hospice in the East Midlands that provides children and young people care. The charity helps children to have fun and provides much-needed support for their loved ones. Its donation page can be found here.
  3. The Air Ambulance Service. This is a charity that provides emergency helicopter services for those in need of urgent medical attention. Its donation page can be found here.

Finally here is a little video of our 24 hours from Tom – enjoy!

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