Adrian Angell Completes Iconic Coast to Coast Paddle across England
Editor’s Note: We asked Paddle Monster and endurance paddler Adrian Angell for a first-person account of his recent paddle across England, a 220-mile effort along the Coast to Coast route, which he completed on may 24th, in six days, seven hours and five minutes. What follows is his account of the epic paddle.
By Adrian Angell
Since 2018 I’ve been doing annual fundraising paddles for Diabetes UK. The initial idea came from a family member with type one diabetes. After hearing me talk about a Maui to Molokai crossing I’d completed with Jeremy Riggs, they suggested I paddle across the English Channel to raise money for charity. That initial spark of an idea, has led to success in raising awareness and money for diabetes research, and has me thinking each year about how to keep stretching myself by taking on the next suitably iconic challenge that will capture people’s imagination for media and fundraising purposes.
Each year, my two brothers Tim and Stephen, have been my support crew. They both live in southern England, so I was looking for a challenge which would be close to where they live. My initial idea was to paddle the River Thames from “source to sea”. This route is well known, but after some brainstorming with Stephen in which he pointed out the River Thames connects to the west coast of England via the Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Avon, a much more challenging, exciting and equally iconic plan emerged, to paddle the 220 miles/354 kms from Portishead Pier, on the Severn Estuary, to the Southend-on-Sea Pier, on the Thames Estuary. Having paddled across Scotland between Fort Willian and Inverness as part of the Great Glen race in 2019, it seemed complementary to also paddle from coast to coast across England.
Of course, having the idea is one thing, but then comes the research and a realization of the challenges. The most obvious challenge is that to paddle from sea-to-sea across an island, a good part of the trip is going to be uphill! On this trip, I had to plan around the tidal flows of the rivers at the start and finish of the trip, which overpower the fluvial flow of the rivers. Most of the elevation gain was along the Kennet and Avon Canal, which has 105 locks. I gained 452 feet in elevation from the starting point in Portishead on the Severn Estuary to the summit of the canal between Crofton Top Lock and Wootton Rivers Top Lock.
Talking about my plans with my friends Simon Frost and Andy Crocker at Bray Lake Watersports, in December 2021, I learned about what seemed like a more daunting challenge, which is that paddleboarding is not permitted along the River Thames through central London. This is for very good reason, given the strong tides on the Thames in London, and the high volume of fast-moving boat traffic, which combine to make for choppy and potentially hazardous conditions. Simon and Andy connected me with Paul Hyman of Active 360. Paul has developed training courses recognized by the Port of London Authority which ensure anyone paddling on the upper sections of the Tidal Thames, have the right skills and knowledge to paddle safely. Paul connected me with the Port of London Authority Harbour Masters, and after some dialogue I was able to create a special event, complete with a detailed event plan and risk assessment. After thorough review and revisions, I was granted a letter of consent from the PLA, for paddling along the Thames on specific dates, which was shared with the coast guard and other authorities along the route. A critical requirement was having a support boat with VHF radio, to be in constant contact with the authorities and shipping.
Similarly, I connected with the authorities responsible for the other sections of the route, to ensure I was compliant with permits. I also worked with local expert Tim Trew from SUP Bristol, to leverage his expert knowledge of the strong tides and hazards at the start of the journey along the Severn Estuary, and up the tidal River Avon to Bristol.
I decided that using inflatable boards would be best, given the amount of transportation needed, and with all the transitions around locks, that would inevitably lead to some bumping and damage to hard boards. I used an SIC 14’ X 30” Okeanos iSUP for the tidal sections, which I brought from the US as checked baggage, and Bray Lake Watersports kindly supplied me with an Allstar 14’ X 26” iSUP, which I used for the non-tidal sections. Bray Lake also lent me a QB V-Drive 91 paddle, and I had my Quickblade UV 88 travel paddle as a back-up.
I remember just before the Great Glen Race in 2019, Bart de Zwart saying that after six hours, endurance events are all about getting enough nutrition. With this in mind, I prepared my daily nutrition each evening, which included Tailwind and snacks. One advantage of paddling along an old commercial canal, which is now visited by tourists, is that there are many pubs and tea rooms along the route, making it convenient to stop for a quick lunch and a cup of tea. Since this wasn’t a race, this was a very welcome luxury. Similarly, I was able to get a quick hot meal each night, with a good sticky toffee pudding and custard to consume as many calories as I could. Averaging 36 miles/58 km a day, takes a lot of calories, and I still lost weight.
With all my plans in place, and my brother Tim as support crew, I started out paddling from a small rocky beach by the Portishead Pier at 5:51 a.m. on May 18th, 2022. Starting at mid-tide, I was able to ride the very fast-moving tide up to Avonmouth, where I joined the River Avon. Going up to 8 miles an hour, I was soon at the village of Pill where I met up with Tim Trew o0from SUP Bristol. We paddled together to Bristol Harbour, where Tim’s local knowledge was invaluable to find the best route up the riverbank, and into the harbour. From there I paddled through the beautiful and historic Bristol Floating Harbour, and re-joined the River Avon above the main weir. I continued paddling upriver to finish day one after 28 miles at Bath. Bath is where the man-made section of the Kennet and Avon Canal starts, after which the canal parallels the Rivers Avon and Kennet.
Day two was a long 46-mile day, continuing “up-hill” for most of the day, through the beautiful English countryside, and taking advantage of some impressive 18th and 19th century engineering. This included two aqueducts, the Dundas Aqueduct and the Avoncliff Aqueduct, where I had the unique experience of paddling high above the River Avon. I also passed through the Bruce tunnel, which at 453 meters, is the longest on the canal. The tunnel is wide enough for one narrowboat, and I had my eyes fixed on the opposite end as I paddle at a brisk pace to get through before a boat arrived from the other direction. The tunnel is also the summit of the canal, and even though the flow is only small, once I passed the summit, it was a huge psychological boost to see my speed increase on my Speedcoach, and to know I was now paddling downhill.
On day three I was joined by fellow Paddle Monster, Dan Balda whom I met at the Paddle Monster SUP surfing camp in Florida. Dan was coincidentally on vacation in London, and took an Uber to rural Wiltshire to meet me at 5:30 a.m. We paddled 47 miles together along the Kennet and Avon Canal through the city center in Reading to join the River Thames. Then we continued down the Thames to Marlow where we were met by my brothers and other family. We were also joined by my cousin Vanessa, who cycled along the canal path with us for a while. The canal through Reading passes through the Oracle Shopping Center, and before proceeding we had to press a button and wait for the traffic light to turn green. After so much time paddling through the countryside, the contrast of paddling through shops and restaurants was quite a change.
My brother Stephen saw me off from Marlow on day four, and I paddled 38 miles to the outskirts of London, finishing the day at Teddington Lock, after which the River Thames is tidal. I was joined by Candice Betts and Sam Barfield from Bray Lake Watersports who had paddled upriver from Bray to meet me, and we paddled together for a few miles back to Bray.
I had scheduled day five as a buffer day, with a short 11-mile paddle from Teddington to Putney. From a scheduling point of view the rest of the journey was determined by the tides, support boat logistics and the Port of London Authority permit, so having a buffer was important, in case I was behind schedule. It wasn’t needed, but it felt great to have time to recuperate a bit before the big push through central London to the finish.
On day six, I started out at the Putney public landing an hour before the tide turned. With the support of the Northern Exposure Rescue boat, I made my way down the Thames past the landmarks of Central London, being cheered on from the riverbank by family and supporters from Diabetes UK at various points. As expected, the river conditions were choppy, but manageable through Central London, and once through the high traffic areas, I was able to get into a good paddle rhythm. The plan was to paddle with the outgoing tide as far as it would take me, and we made it 35 miles through the Thames Barrier, under the M 25 Bridge, past Tilbury Docks to Gravesend, arriving there in the pouring rain as the tide turned.
On the final 15-mile stretch, and now with container ships and super tankers for company, the estuary opened out to the sea, with the shipping channel marked with green and red buoys. We waited a few minutes to get permission to cross the shipping channel, while a container ship passed us generating a bow wave that would have been easily surfable had it been appropriate! Once across the shipping channel, the Southend pier was in my sights. Southend-on-Sea has the longest pleasure pier in the world, at 1.34 miles, making it a great “finish line” to have in my sight for the last few miles. Before paddling under the pier, I stopped at a small beach to meet some supporters from Diabetes UK, then headed back out through mud, to the rapidly receding water as the ebb tide continued. I crossed under the pier at 12:56 p.m. on May 24th, six days, seven hours and five minutes after setting out from Portishead Pier.
As far as I know, this was the first SUP crossing of England, and was certainly the biggest physical and logistical fundraising challenge I’ve taken on so far. Thanks to Larry and Paddle Monster for the great coaching, and to everyone who supported me in person and through donations. If you’d like to donate to diabetes UK, please do so here.
Adrian, a chemical engineer, lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a Director of Research & Development at Procter & Gamble. He is originally from Cumbria, England and fundraises for Diabetes UK because he has family and friends who live with the condition.
Photo Credits: Dundas Aqueduct. PC: Tim Angell
Houses of Parliament. PC: Northern Exposure Rescue
Tower Bridge. PC: Northern Exposure Rescue