Devizes to Westminster 2024

Wednesday 29th May 2024

Having recently completed the challenge of the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, pupils Maddie D and Jojo K talk us through the experience of a lifetime…

In the first week of Lower Sixth, we had a talk about the Devizes to Westminster (DW) Canoe Race and both decided it was something we wanted to try. Neither of us had a partner, but after quickly realising this was the case, we teamed up together.  

Training started in late September. At first, it was all about staying in the boat, something which proved much more difficult than anticipated. In those first few months, training sessions were only a few miles long, and the 125 miles on the ever-nearing Easter weekend seemed near impossible. We trained three times a week, with Mondays and Fridays being shorter sessions at Pewsey Warf, and longer point-to-points on Thursdays. The Michaelmas Term flew by, but the days only got darker and colder. The canal being frozen became a normal occurrence, with point to points often being cut short.  

After the Christmas holidays, training picked up rapidly. In January, we were hit with the disappointing news that race would now be finishing in Teddington due to high water levels in the Thames. But after having come this far, dropping out now didn’t seem like an option. With the three watersides quickly approaching, our motivation remained high. 

On February 4th, we completed the 13.5 miles of Waterside A, coming second in the junior women’s category. At the time this seemed like a long way, however, on March 3rd  we completed Waterside C, taking home second place again. Two weeks later was Waterside D. This was the equivalent distance to the first day of the DW – 34 miles. After a long 6 hours and 32 minutes, we took home first place in the Junior Women’s category.  

It was only a couple of weeks out from the full DW, when we were informed of the further shortening of the race, which was now to finish in Reading. Easter weekend rolled around quickly, and after an early start, we arrived in Devizes early on Good Friday. The weather was not on our side, with a strong headwind, rain, and hail. After getting the boat checked, we were off. It was a surreal feeling leaving Devizes, hearing the horn go, knowing the challenge that lay ahead of us. After six and a half hours, we arrived in Newbury. The first day of the DW was the hardest either of us had pushed ourselves. However, our effort paid off and we were in first place. After setting up camp, we were shocked by the news that the Marlborough crews might pull out the race at this stage due to dangerous water further down the canal.  

This hit hard, and it wasn’t until the next morning we would find out if we were going to be able to continue the race. After a rough sleep, we were informed at 6:30am on Saturday 30th that we were allowed to continue – a decision we could not be more grateful for. With that, we packed up camp and headed out onto the canal. With 20 miles ahead of us until the finish line, we knew we had to give it all we had. This time, the weather was on our side, and with an awkward run through the Oracle shopping centre with a 22ft kayak on our shoulders, we arrived in Reading after three and a half hours. We had made it to the finish. 

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later we found out we had won the Junior Women’s category of the DW. This was something neither of us thought was possible when we signed up. Since then, we have both reflected on our time preparing for the DW, the moments where we struggled and questioned all our choices. But we remember that it was all worth it. The memories we made will live with us, and our supporters, for life. It was truly an experience we will never forget.  

Other News