EPIC PADDLE DOWN DANUBE
This summer, DAN CLARK-BASTEN, from Sipson, and friend Ian Westmoreland paddled down the Danube to raise funds for Harlington Hospice. Starting in southern Germany, their 1,600-mile route via Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukrai
P IREPARING to leave on Friday morning at 5am. With the kayaks on the roof, we set off on the 13-hour drive from Sipson to Ulm. Impressed with the Euro Tunnel and my car; got 626 miles from one full tank! Arriving in Ulm at 8pm-ish, we found somewhere to eat – just a small burger place – then tents up and sleep. The following day we sorted out some last-minute admin and prepared to get on the river.
Cloudless, 34.8 degrees – as we had not acclimatised yet, it was a bit of a struggle. After five hours, we found a nice piece of riverbank and set up camp. After a restless night we were up at 4.30am to be on the river at 5.30am.
The reason was to beat the heat and enable us to finish early afternoon, allowing us some time to do admin before dark. This pretty much stayed our routine for the duration of the trip.
Porridge, honey and M&Ms for breakfast, Tracker bars and fruit during the day, and ready-made pasta bolognese or carbonara for dinner our regular meals. Any chance we got to stop at a town and have something a little more substantial, we did.
This first week took us through Germany into Austria, with the view varying from heavy woodland to enormous rolling hills with grape vines running down the sides.
The river was slow at the start because of the locks; on average we had to negotiate five or six a day, which was hard work as we had to carry the kayaks round as there were no lock-keepers.
We started to get a rhythm going and get some good mileage done. One of the sights we went through is a phenomenon called the Schlogen Loop, where the Danube turns through 180 degrees.
Then disaster struck: four days into Austria, in Krems, I woke at 4.15am in agony. I had been stricken with Repetitive Strain Injury and my left arm and hand had swollen – I could not even move my fingers. Fortunately we were only one day’s paddle from Vienna, so I struggled on. When we arrived, we headed straight for A&E.
A very nice doctor insisted I have two weeks off, and I left loaded up with painkillers and muscle relaxants.
Ian and I headed back to the kayaks to formulate a plan, while watching the sun go down by the side of the river.
Obviously two weeks off was never going to happen, so I compromised and agreed to two days off. Fate played a hand, as I had already arranged to stay with the parents of a work colleague in Hungary.
As we came through Slovakia, we noticed the river picking up pace and as we approached the centre of Bratislava, I looked at the GPS, which was clocking us at 17.5kmh.
Stopping was a major issue, as the banks are quite well built up and defended against floods, meaning they are quite ‘unfriendly’ and inaccessible to kayaks. But we managed to crash, under control, up a concrete gangway; it was not a pretty sight. We had lunch and an hour’s kip before pressing on.
Week two began with us paddling through to Budapest, which took four days, then a further 63km into Dunfoldvar, where we had our two days off with the Tamasi family. They took us round their beautiful village, which had cherry trees all the way down all the streets – really quite a scene as they were all in fruit.
We had a meal out with the mother and the two grandsons, who then showed us round the village castle.
The second day allowed us to relax and let my tendons reset. Then we were driven to the home of the head of the family, where we were guests of honour at an impressive family banquet. After leaving the Tamasis, we carried on into Croatia, where we were greeted by a storm – in two senses of the word.
Taking refuge in the first village we came to, we bumped into three policemen and asked if it was OK to have a coffee and wait out the rain. They agreed and showed us the café.
Forty-five minutes later they were back, demanding we pay a 100 euro fine each for being in the country illegally. When we told them we had no money, they insisted we accompany them to the police station. After over an hour of cross-examination, the chief came in and told us to sign the release forms, and that if we ever wanted to go back to Croatia, we would have to pay the fine or be arrested – not really a tough decision.
In the main we were very fortunate with the weather. The temperature never dropped below 28 degrees until nightfall, when the average was around 18 degrees. We had three days of rain and two massive storms, which were pretty scary.
Paddling alone on a river, where you either see a lot of people fishing or nobody for days, gives you time to reflect.
We were now in a well-established routine and life seemed good. OK, it was hard work to cover the 40-mile minimum per day, but good. NEXT WEEK: A parting of the ways, paddling against the tide and a close encounter with pigs.
n IN TRAINING: Dan Clark-Basten practises a roll
n HOLDING STEADY: Dan’s travelling companion, Ian Westmoreland