A CANOEIST raised more than £8,700 for charity by paddling from Devizes to Hurley Lock in less than a day — but had to abandon going further due to bad weather.
Chris Bishop, of Queen Close, Henley, completed the 68-mile voyage with Alan Bannatyne, from Bourne End, on the Easter weekend.
Called Team Forget-Me-Not, the pair were taking part in the 68th annual Devizes to Westminster race.
They set off from Wiltshire at 7.50am, hoping to reach Westminster Bridge within 28 hours but had to stop just past the halfway point as it had become too windy and rainy to paddle safely.
They were among 36 out of 138 entrants in their age group who didn’t finish the 125-mile challenge.
Mr Bishop, 55, said he was still pleased to have got as far as they did and with the money raised, which will go to Alzheimer’s UK in memory of his father, who suffered from early onset dementia.
He said: “I’m very proud of what we accomplished under the circumstances. The weather was truly awful — around Newbury the rain was falling so heavily that the river looked like it was boiling.
“Lots of people have congratulated us and we’re thankful for all their donations.”
When the pair began there were light winds and drizzle but the weather gradually worsened until they were facing gusts of more than 30mph. Then as they were disembarking at Pewsey Locks, Mr Bishop slipped on a steep embankment and fell into the River Kennet, so had to complete most of the rest of the voyage in wet clothes.
The pair stopped for a 10-minute food break in Newbury when they stood on the river bank holding their canoe between their legs so it wouldn’t blow away.
Between Newbury and Aldermaston they faced an onslaught of rain before paddling through Reading, past the Oracle shopping centre, which was deserted as it was late evening by then.
The men stopped at a friend’s house in Shiplake to shower and change their clothes before heading for Henley just after midnight. As they passed under Henley Bridge at about 1am, there was a small group of supporters gathered to cheer them on.
Mr Bishop and Mr Bannatyne successfully negotiated Hambleden Lock, where they stopped briefly for a hot drink, then shortly before reaching Hurley Lock they were blown off course towards the bank.
As they tried to correct their course, Mr Bishop caught his paddle on a submerged tree branch and the canoe tilted sideways at 45 degrees and almost capsized.
The men got out of the water at Hurley Lock before deciding it would be unwise to continue.
Mr Bishop said: “It wasn’t just the rain that was the problem but the sheer cold and once we’d had that altercation with the tree branch in Hurley we decided it was too dangerous.
“I was starting to see things, as if the trees on the bank were coming towards me, and I realised my mind was playing tricks.
“There comes a point where it’s just foolish to carry on.
“The river would have become more dangerous further downstream, with more weirs and fewer ways of getting out easily. There was a real danger of hypothermia if we fell in.”
He said he would enter the race again in 2018 and in the meantime would be helping to promote Henley Canoe Club, which trained him for this challenge.
For more information or to donate, visit www.forgetmenot.events