The Easter weekend saw the 70th anniversary of the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race.
For many years (but not all 70), 1st Hungerford Scout Group has operated an official checkpoint at the Croft Field. Scouts, Cubs and Beavers record the safe passage of boats and encourage the participants.
Although the boats are now fitted with electronic trackers, they are still manually recorded as a back up as occasionally the trackers fail or fall into the water. The Scout Group also supplies welcome tea, soup, cake and bacon rolls to canoeists, support crews, spectators, dog walkers and passers-by.
Any entrants who are too slow on this end of the 125-mile journey are not permitted to continue onto the more challenging River Thames. Junior crews and some adult classes take four days to complete the course with stopovers at Newbury, Marlow and Teddington. The adult doubles class aim to complete the course non-stop and time their start at Devizes to catch the tides on the Thames. The race record of 15 hours and 34 minutes was set in 1979.
Sadly this year, heavy rain meant that water levels on the Thames were too high for safety so the race was stopped at Reading. On Saturday morning, we heard that there would be no overnight paddling, with everyone having to make an overnight stop, but by Saturday afternoon it was decided to terminate at Reading, before joining the Thames.
This is not the first time that adverse weather has intervened, in 2016 and 2000 stages were cancelled; while in 2001 access restrictions due to foot and mouth disease prevented the race completely.
This year, 239 boats completed the two stages, 25 retired part way and 39 chose not to start because of the curtailed course.
The event was started in 1948 by a small group of Scouts challenged to reach Westminster in less than 100 hours while carrying all their own food and camping equipment. It has grown to become an international event, with famous entrants over the years including Paddy Ashdown, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, James Cracknell, Steve Backshall and Helen Glover.
1st Hungerford Scout Group welcomes boys and girls from six years as Beavers, from eight years as Cubs, and from 10 years six months as Scouts. If you would like to know more about Scouting for your child, or how you could become involved as an adult helper, please contact Group Scout Leader, Matt Head [email protected]
Thanks to Tony Bartlett for photos above of this year’s race.