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Kayaking the Shipping Forecast

Updated: Jun 10

If Shipping Forecast bagging ever becomes a thing, then London-based sea kayaker Toby Carr can claim to have invented it. Note: Toby Carr has sadly passed away since the publication of this blog but his sister Katie has carried his legacy forward.

Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Cromarty, Forties, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight ...

The mesmeric roll call through the weather conditions affecting our closest seas is familiar to many in the UK and Ireland, both as a comforting and reassuring constant, as well as a very real storm warning service.

Toby Carr sits in a kayak on the River Thames with London Bridge towering behind him.
Toby Carr reflecting on the Thames

For Toby Carr, it was something he grew up listening to with his father, a keen sailor. It was in the blood, and Toby started Kayaking about 7 years ago at Tower Hamlets Canoe Club where he joined the beginners’ course on Shadwell Basin. He progressed through various BCU awards and is now an Advanced Water Sea Leader and Coach.

Soon he was joining trips further afield exploring the UK coastline, whitewater kayaking in the Alps and expedition paddling in Arctic Greenland. The idea of a trip around the Shipping Forecast grew and when at the age of 38 his brother died of cancer related to a genetic condition they both share, he knew it was time to make it real.

Awarded a Churchill Fellowship, Toby set off.

“Although I’d visited some of them, I found myself beginning to wonder about the further areas of the shipping forecast as a personally relevant way to expand my horizons and visit some of our closest neighbouring coasts. I wanted to take on a bigger adventure and see as many wild and beautiful places as I could.

Much of the trip has been solo paddling but an important part of it for me is meeting people along the way and sharing the journey. I hadn’t really paddled on my own before apart from a few solo trips on the Thames. I’d solo camped on a cycling trip to Norway a few years previously, partly as I wanted to test myself and I suppose I knew that there would be a bigger adventure on the horizon.”

There certainly was.

So far, kayaking the shipping forecast has taken him to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. He crossed the Viking sea, kayaked to the remote islands of Utsira and Helgoland, heard stories of Faroese giants, whales and seabirds. He ate boiled sheep’s head, fish balls and herring, crawled thorough lava tunnels, negotiated the sea of flames and Norway’s Bermuda Triangle. He visited the site of a UFO landing (why not?), crossed the gates of hell (twice) and became an expert at loading a sea kayak onto ferries. Throughout the journey, he has met with others sharing a love for the sea and passion for the outdoors, finding out what makes it important for them and uncovering the stories of the Shipping Forecast.

Currently between sea jaunts, Toby gets to reflect on his travels whilst paddling the Thames.

“It’s a huge asset to have this big watery playground blasting through the middle of the city and when I discovered it and that you could go on it, I think it really opened up London for me. With fast tides, a 7.5m difference between high and low and lots of traffic, it needs to be treated with respect but is also great fun.

As it becomes cleaner it’s also a haven for wildlife, birds, fish and even the occasional seal. It’s also so rich in history and is the reason behind the founding of the city as a trading port with the rest of the world. Almost every year, we do a trip out to Gravesend and back and you can roughly do it on one tide each way. It’s great to pass through the barrier and see the river widen out and the landscape open up into the marshy hinterlands.

Paddling at night past the container ships at Tilbury is an amazing experience and certainly puts you in your place. Then heading back in you catch glimpses of the city as the river winds and bends upstream. I love passing Greenwich, and thinking of the many voyages of discovery that would have caught the same view as they returned to London.

I’ve paddled as far up as Teddington, so in effect the whole of the Tideway. Kayaking through central London is a brilliant way to see the city too and although I’ve done it many times now, it always gives me a buzz of excitement, and seeing the sun set over the river as you paddle though Tower Bridge is definitely a highlight.

Further west, the river isn’t embanked, trees and meadows come right to the water’s edge. It feels wilder and you get a sense of what it may have been like in times past. One of my favourite trips is a simple one and something we’ve done a few times, a short paddle, landing on a beach and cooking food on a fire overlooking the towers of Canary Wharf on the opposite side - a reminder that adventure can sometimes be right on your doorstep if you look for it.”

Thanks to Toby Carr for providing this inspirational story. Safe travels.


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