Record Breaking Journey | Lands End to John O'Groats on a Paddle Board
My journey with Paddle Against Plastic began in 2015 on the tiny, remote Scottish island of Tiree. Its white sands and turquoise water are home to an incredible amount of wildlife; its beaches were strewn with multicoloured, indestructible plastic.
I started to notice plastic wherever I went surfing and felt the need to show people this issue on our home shores. I also wanted to connect people to the simple and positive solutions that we can all be proud to be a part of.
So I began using stand up paddle boarding adventures to capture peoples’ imagination and connect them to the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans.
I have just completed a 1000 mile, World Record journey the length of the UK; the first person to stand up paddleboard from Land’s End to John O’Groats. It took just under 2 months and involved paddling 20-40 miles and 8-14 hours a day, through gale force winds, dangerous tidal races, loneliness, hunger, fear, panic, exhilaration and joy.
I embarked upon the journey with the greatest respect for the powerful ocean. Despite checking conditions carefully and carrying comprehensive safety kit, I was still alone at sea, often several miles off shore and vulnerable.
Over the course of two months I paddled up the Cornish and North Devon coasts, accompanied by dolphins up the Bristol channel and into the canals at Gloucester. I popped back out on the coast at Blackpool, continued up the Cumbrian coast and crossed the 20 mile Solway Firth to Scotland where I faced one of the biggest challenges of the trip, the Mull of Galloway. Here nine tides meet and the water movement around the point is responsible for centuries of shipwrecks, standing waves, tidal races and overfalls.
The only window where tides and winds were favourable was at 3am. I paddled through the night, setting off just after dark, to reach the Mull at the right time, through disorientating darkness, waves and fear.
My journey continued up the West coast of Scotland, through the Caledonian canal to Inverness, then up the East coast of Scotland where 100 metre cliffs towered above, lined with thousands of noisy sea birds, and seals played in kelp forests below. Wildlife and rugged beauty interspersed with plastic-covered beaches.
Plastic pollution was everywhere. Beaches home to seals piled high with single use plastic. Bags, bottles and fishing rope floating in the sea. Canals teeming with bird life; ducklings paddling past plastic bottles. In just one hour on the canals in Wigan I counted 691 plastic bottles.
The hotspots were around cities. 80% of marine litter originates from land based sources; the connection between the single use plastic that we are using inland and that ending up in the ocean was terrifyingly apparent when paddling up the River Severn past countless plastic bottles, bags and balloons all flowing directly out to sea.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. However, there is hope for the future. The momentum in the fight against plastic pollution is growing, and we need to ensure this continues. Despite the severity of the problem, we can all be part of the solution and proud of the small changes we can make.
Larger organisations, companies and the government are responding to consumer pressure by making tangible changes to reduce plastic usage at source. In response to the 38.5 million plastic bottles we use in the UK every single day, individuals are dedicatedly switching to refillable water bottles, and cafes and bars offering free tap water refills.
Our work is far from done! A conversation with a lady in Scotland, who could not believe that the plastic pollution I was describing to her was in her homeland, reiterated the need to keep highlighting that this is close to home for all of us.
I hope to join up the gaps of coastline that I haven’t yet paddled, and to keep inspiring people to find a connection to nature, both for the sake of our physical and mental wellbeing, and to nurture a love for our wild spaces, and the resultant desire to protect them.
Images courtesy of James Appleton Photography