It’s perfectly safe, I told myself, as I stared into the foaming jaws of The Hand of God. I was doing a passable but unintentional impression of Kate Winslet at the front of a raft hurtling down the course at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, the first Olympic venue to open to the public after the Games and where Team GB stormed to a double gold and silver win in the canoe slalom.
Everyone else had paddles, a seat and a solid lump of raft to ram their foot under for stability. They had something to do; I could just watch as the mass of surging water of this particular rapid – The Hand of God – plucked at the edge of our raft, trying to tease it upside down,
“Lean left,” yelled Eamon, our guide, as water poured over the side. We threw ourselves to the left-hand side of the raft, desperately using our body weight to battle against the heaving water pouring over the sides. Eamon knew what he was talking about – he’s rafted in Austria, and mastered the notorious Zanskar River in India and Africa’s Zambezi after all – and in a couple of seconds we had evaded The Hand of God and reached the end of the course. I turned around to sit facing backwards, and was pleased to note that the faces of the eight other passengers were as pale as mine, if not quite as drenched. “High five!” said Eamon and everyone clacked their paddles together above the boat. “Now let’s go again.” It’s a fine line between fear and adrenaline, and we were high on the latter, ready to hit the rapids again.
Each group on a white-water rafting experience at the Lee Valley White Water Centre gets to ride the rapids at least four times, and each time it gets hairier and hairier. Of course, this all takes places under the watchful eye of an expert guide. That’s not to say you won’t be tipped into the water – in fact, some guides delight in guaranteeing it – and you will certainly get very wet indeed, and not just because part of the safety drill includes jumping in and floating feet first down river. But the churning water can be turned into a peaceful channel at the flick of switch – something I found very reassuring indeed as I took my turn to battle against a mass of water as seemingly impenetrable as a granite rock face, armed only with a paddle.
At the end of the session, we retreated to the bar – an area of decking overlooking the start of the course and glowing in the setting sun – to wring out our hair and compare notes over a bottle of beer. A couple of bottles later and we were all convinced that, given the time and training, we could become (the better half of) the next Baillie and Stott. And Eamon will give you every encouragement you need. “Best group of the day,” he told us. I bet he says that to all the groups.
Emma’s white-water rafting experience was courtesy of Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. She stayed for the weekend in a wooden cabin at Sewardstone campsite in the Lee Valley, and cycled there in one hour from her home in North London, without cycling along a road. You could do the same, cycling the length of the Lee Valley, or you could get there by train, bus or car.