Imagine a warm, sunny, English Summer’s evening, the sun shimmering on the River Thames, a small rowing boat, four experienced rowers and me – my first time in a rowing boat and definitely my first time as a rower! The scene couldn’t have been more perfect, despite the butterflies fluttering nervously in my tummy. I was given a few practical instructions, taught some basic terminology and we were off! We glided across the water, which was as still as a mill pond, and I was hooked!
That was the beginning of my journey with ‘The Bench Blisters’*, a team of fellow London magistrates plus a smattering of judges, court staff and legal practitioners and it culminated in me taking part in the 28th annual Great River Race last September, the biggest and most prestigious event of its kind in Europe.
Starting on the Isle of Dogs and finishing in front of Ham House, Richmond, there were over 2,400 competitors in 333 traditional boats, 4 of them ours, from all over the UK and abroad. Being part of an event with so many boats of all shapes and sizes and crews of all shapes and sizes (and ages!), hurtling down the Thames, was something I will never forget. We had to battle against a head wind and the water was incredibly choppy. However the atmosphere was electric and rowing past some of the most iconic buildings in London and under so many famous bridges, was an incredible experience.
We had terrific support from the public too, with people waving and cheering us on from the banks and all the bridges. My boat, the Anya, did it in 3 hours 2 minutes and the sense of achievement at the finish was terrific. Although for me, the most important thing as we moored up was the sight of a line of Portaloos!!
Needless to say, thousands of pounds were raised for charity on the day as well. ‘The Bench Blisters’ raised over £15,000 for a very special riverside organisation. Shadwell Basin is a charity based in East London that offers outdoor and adventure activities to the local community.
Many of the young people who attend are from poorer economic backgrounds and activities in the holidays, weekends and evenings are highly subsidised. For just £5 a day or £20 a week during the holidays, a young person can experience safe, challenging and exciting activities like rock climbing, kayaking or canoeing and sailing. The centre offers young people the opportunity to directly benefit from such positive life experiences and the funds we raised will go directly towards supporting the costs of running these programmes.
The Great River Race 2016 will take place on 3rd September. If you are interested in taking part in this unique ‘River Marathon’, you can contact the organisers at: The Boatyard, 44 Summer Rd, Thames Ditton KT7 0QQ. Tel: 020 8398 8141.
I promise you’ll have the time of your life!!
*A ‘bench’ is a group of magistrates in court and ‘blisters’ are what appear after 22 miles of rowing!