Corby Food Bank to benefit from friends' epic River Welland home-made canoe fundraising adventure

The friends from Ashley near Corby will brave the water on May Bank Holiday weekend

Friday, 16th April 2021, 7:00 am

A pair of friends spurred on by a whiskey-fuelled bet are preparing to set off on a 25-mile fundraising canoe voyage for a Corby food bank in home-made canoes.

Giles Darby and Jon Wells who live in Ashley close to the River Welland, will attempt to navigate the watercourse from their village to Stamford in a sponsored trek of a lifetime.

The paddling pals, regulars at The George pub in Ashley, hatched the idea to brave the water over drinks last Christmas as a way of getting through and celebrating the end of lockdown restrictions and even built their own canoes in readiness for the journey.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

L-r Giles Darby and Jon Wells with the canoe complete with beer pump

Giles, 42, an office outfitter, and canoeing chum Jon, 48, will set out on May 1 - deemed most appropriate by the men as the trip is not without hazards - in the canoes complete with working beer pump and toilet roll holder.

Jon said: "We're going on May Day which is quite apt - since it's the start of the bank holiday weekend and the international signal for distress. Neither of us have a background in either woodworking or indeed canoeing. It will be a steep and perhaps wet learning curve but a wager is a wager."

The friends spent three days making the canoes out of birch wood at a professional workshop and have tested their crafts' sea-worthiness on a maiden voyage on the Welland in anticipation of the journey.

Giles' canoe has been named the 'Welland Wonder' with Jon's dubbed 'Bloody Mary' in recognition of the number of injuries to his fingers that occurred in its manufacture.

Jon and Giles

They will start their trip at Ashley passing to the north of Corby near Rockingham, and then to the south of Caldecott, on the county border between Northamptonshire and Rutland.

After passing Gretton they will pass under Harringworth Viaduct and continue past Wakerley to Duddington, where the river widens, and on to Stamford - a total distance of approximately 25 miles - about 34 km or 17 nautical miles.

Roped in to help the novices is canoe guru Dick Whitehouse of Kettering who will be advising and helping the pair negotiate various obstacles in the difficult waters.

Dick, aka *The Patterdale Paddler,” said: "Make no mistake, this endeavour is a serious physical and mental challenge. They will need to combine the survival skills of Bear Grylls with the determination and endurance of marathon runners and the tree climbing skills of King Louis.

Giles Darby and Jon Wells in their homemade canoes

"The Welland that you can’t see from the bridges is a wilderness, an overgrown jungle with genuine dangers lurking around swift flowing bends and below weirs.

"Most of all, well, after beer, they will need a sense of humour after each swim, insect nest down the back of the neck, swan attack and every lung busting tree climb. In my opinion they either need sectioning or your money.”

Jon said: "Dick is so concerned about us and the danger of death that he will be helping us at various locations where there are weirs. He thinks we are completely incompetent.

"We estimated it might take a day. We're going to give ourselves three days but Dick thinks it should really be about a week. The canoe is about three times slower than walking."

The waterway is very shallow at several places

As the river water levels reduce the pair will find it hard going as the river is not maintained as a navigable waterway in Northamptonshire.

To complete their fundraising voyage the pair will paddle during the day and return to the boats after a sleep at home.

Jon said: "It's all for a good cause and it's caught the imagination of the people in the village. I don't think they realised there were two such stupid people in the village.

"It's going to be far from idyllic. We'll be limboing under tree branches and armed with a machete. It will be like navigating through a jungle."

So far the pair have raised £700, smashing their original target.

He said: "We are raising money for Corby Food Bank because we recognise that there have been winners and losers in the pandemic. More than 3,000 people in Corby have accessed the food bank - that's over three per cent of the population, a huge number.

Giles places the Red Ensign on his Welland Wonder canoe

"The service is run by volunteers so every pound made goes to buy something for someone who needs it - it could be the person sitting next to you on the bus or the child at school in the same class your child."

If the pair make it to their final destination they are hoping for a celebratory meal and might devise their next adventure.

Jon added: "If it goes to plan we might tackle The River Nene next - if we make it with all our body parts."

To support Jon and Giles' epic adventure to help Corby Food Bank click here.