Trail of the unexpected: Making waves in Herts

Hertfordshire's Lee Valley White Water Centre is open to novices as well as professionals.

"Rivers know this," wrote A A Milne, "there is no hurry." All very well, but what if you're the organisers of the London Olympic Games and are in need of some turbulence on which to contest the white water canoeing events? The Thames is an iconic, often beautifulwaterway, but it's not known for its rapids.

This partly explains my arrival at Waltham Abbey – where the A10 meets the M25 – home to Hertfordshire's Lee Valley White Water Centre. The freshly built lake complex cost £31m and comes with downhill waterways capable of producing some terrific, bubbling whirlpools, including the 300m-long Olympic Standard Course, which is 100 per cent artificial (and entirely controllable). It's an engineering masterpiece and – if you're a canoeing expert– great fun at the same time.

Those who like the idea of splashing down the whitewater, but don't have therequired canoeing skills(assistant manager Paskell Blackwell told me it would take "years of practice" to be able to negotiate the Olympic-standard rapids in your own canoe) can still experience the thrill of the run in an eight-man inflatable raft, helmed by a professional. It's the equivalent of going around Brand's Hatch in a minibus driven by Nigel Mansell. Sort of.

I pulled on a state-of-the-art O'Neill wetsuit and met Pete Young, my instructor for the day. "The nearest natural whitewater river to London?" pondered Pete, as we went through some rudimentary moves on the calm of the practice lake. "It's probably somewhere in South Wales. But it's difficult to run a top-level competition in the wild, because you can't control how much water is coming downhill."

The biggest danger –naturally – is falling out of the raft, and so Pete suggested I get a sense of the moving water, which even at the bottom of the course was impressive. Each raft must have six paddlers. My cobbled-together group was made up of good swimmers, so we wore blue helmets (yellow helmets alert the lifeguards to less proficient swimmers). Ready as we'd ever be, we paddled toward the "travelator" a raft-sized conveyer-belt that whisks canoeists from the calm of the lake to the start of the Olympic course.

The travelator is one of a long line of impressive gizmos at the centre, the most obvious of which are the five pumps – each the size of a grown elephant – that lift a swimming pool's worth of water every three minutes, while at the same time filtering and pH-balancing every drop. On a sunny day, the water looks as inviting as a Pacific island reef. Accidentally drink some, and it's as clean as your average swimming pool.

Circling the holding pool at the top, we waited for a green light then paddledfuriously to the first section of rapids, bouncing around in the boat while at the same time attempting to follow Pete's commands. Every 40 metres or so, the course widens to create a safe eddy; here we readied ourselves for the nextonslaught. We even tried to "surf" a few of the rapids, paddling upstream to trap ourselves in the swirling vortex of water.

During our first run, we watched as a group of students capsized their raft upstream and hurtled down the course one by one. "Looks like they completely emptied the boat," said Pete. Oars whizzed past on their own, arms waved frantically, and even those wearing blue helmets were yelling for help. Lifeguards threw ropes and the group was rescued in no time at all.

Each run lasts 20 minutes or so, and on our third and final go down the course we too capsized the raft. The process was only mildly alarming; if you lie flat on your back, keep your mouth shut and ride the rapids, it's over in no time. But fight the flow of the water (or fall in right at the top of the course), and it's easy to see how a panic might set in.

"It was his fault," said one of the students, pointing at his friend in the café area afterwards. "When they said lean left he leant right and the boat flipped."

Refueling on Olympic-themed burgers (the Beijing with relish was the chef's recommendation), we chatted about how the day had been. "It was scary," said one fellow-diner, "but it was cool as well. I'm definitely going to watch it with more respect on the TV."

Lee Valley White Water Centre is the only 2012 venue that is open to the general public ahead of the games – meaning the half-drowned raftersof today could feasibly become the canoeing gold-medal winners of tomorrow. That's the hope, anyway.

Once our rafts were cleared from the water, training for the real medal hopefuls began, and the hi-tech carbon fibre canoes made their way up the travelator. Watching from the impressive spectator gallery, I got a glimpse of what the estimated Olympic crowd of 60,000 will experience for four days starting on 29 July 2012.

The primary aim of the centre is to add gold medals to Team GB's tally. Already, the cream of UK canoeing has relocated to North London to take advantage of the year-long practice available for British athletes only, which gives them an impressive head-start.

And to help keep things afloat – as it were – the centre is open to the public until October. Turn up with £49 and you'll get wetsuit hire, instruction and several runs down the Olympic run in an inflatable raft, those very same rapids and eddies on which the medals will be contested.

Travel essentials

* Lee Valley White Water Centre (08456 770 606; www.gowhitewater.co.uk) Station Road, Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, EN9 1AB. Rafting sessions down the Olympic Standard Course cost £49 per person (£441 if you book the entire raft for nine people, including £50-worth of food and drink in the café).

* The centre is open now until 16 October when it closes in preparation for the 2012 games. Entry for spectators is free for all training, but will be by ticket only for the Olympic dates.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines