First published in The South African. Photo credits: Genia Nowicki.
Talk to any old time East Londoner and you’ll soon find out that twenty years ago East London was a far cry from what it is today. From the Thames to Walthamstow, this part of London will see you hobnobbing among coffee-drinking entrepreneurs, skaters and bohemians playing Janis Joplin records from their houseboats. Since hosting the Olympic Games in 2012, East London has become the hippest and most happening part of the city and I recently discovered that the best way to get under its skin is from a kayak.
My friend and I quickly connect with Secret Adventures: the go-to adventure tour operator for outdoor action in and around the city. We sign up for their six-kilometre group paddle that starts in Limehouse and ends at Crate Brewery, a trendy café-bar in Hackney Wick. After a brief welcome from Madoc Threipland, the passionate founder of Secret Adventures, we don our lifejackets and slide onto a two-woman kayak.
Our twenty odd fellow adventurers speak a variety of languages and comprise of visitors and locals alike. Paddling alongside us for sections of the way, Madoc shares his insights into finding terrain for adventures. “There are loads of green spaces in London,” he says. “When I’m looking for new outdoor places to explore, I simply plot the green and blue bits on Google Maps and head out.”
Launching from the chic Limehouse Basin Marina, we navigate our way through thick layers of apple-green duckweed, until we reach the grungy remnants of East London’s industrial era. Forgotten warehouses with broken windows and walls covered in multi-colored graffiti stand tall next to the water, while a bank of swans gently frolics by.
We make our way past marshy scrublands and a footpath frequented by everyone from fit runners to the homeless. At the halfway mark I can feel my arms getting tired, but the distinct camaraderie found in communal outdoor adventuring keeps me going.
We approach a canal lock, into which we haphazardly squash. For the next few minutes, I lean back and relax while the water level slowly rises. We’re finally deposited onto a stretch filled with quirky houseboats and chattering locals wandering along the water. The soaring Arcelormittal Orbit of the Olympic Village marks our arrival at Crate, where we join East London’s most trendy locals for cold beers and stone-baked pizza.
Book your trip with Secret Adventures: www.secretadventures.org