White Water Rafting In England
If you are thinking about experiencing white water rafting, England may not be the first country that comes to mind. Perhaps you associate white water rafting with the fast flowing rivers of the USA, or the never ending rapids somewhere in South America, but England?
That green and gently rolling land of beautiful but rarely rugged country, and wide, slow flowing rivers such as the Thames, the Severn and the Trent. You would be right to think that there cannot be much opportunity for white water rafting in England because there is very little naturally occurring white water, and little, if any of it is big enough to navigate in a large inflatable raft. Perhaps a canoe but not a raft.
So to provide white water rafting, England now has man-made white water courses, not built just for rafting, but built as canoe courses where rafting also takes place. Some of these courses offer quite challenging rafting conditions even though the courses are relatively short. They were built to provide training facilities for international standard “paddlers” so they can be quite demanding, and even though you won't be able to navigate for miles down a natural waterway, you will be able to “go around” again and again for what is most usually a two hour session.
White water rafting is not the sort of outdoor activity that people do that often, or at all, so it can be a brand new experience, and great fun for a social group of friends from your community or from work. In fact more and more organisations are using white water rafting as a team building exercise, or as an incentive for sales people, and others.
It can also be a great activity for stag and hen weekends, as a last burst of adrenaline fuelled freedom before getting married. But I strongly suggest the rafting experience is done before a “good night out” unless you want to use a dip in the river to revive you after drinking a bit too much!
If you're not familiar with white water rafting in England, it usually involves a group of eight to twelve thrill-seeking people kitted out in wet suits for warmth (yes the water's cold!) helmets and buoyancy aids for safety, climbing into a semi-rigid inflatable raft along with a guide. The raft is then steered through the white water by the guide, helped and/or hindered, by the group who are equipped with paddles to try and provide some propulsion. Needless to say it involves a lot of getting wet, screaming, shouting and falling out of the raft!
There are few restrictions on who can take part but they are similar to what you would find at any theme park involving white-knuckle rides. Typically the very young and very old, and those with certain medical conditions, including pregnancy, are excluded from rafting in England. But the rules vary from place to place so you are advised to check with the rafting company before booking a rafting experience.
Some operators have weight restrictions, not because of the weight capacity of the raft but because of the maximum weight the buoyancy aids can cope with, and some have to be realistic about the exceptionally overweight – if you cannot do up the buoyancy aid because of an ever-expanding waistline then you cannot go rafting.
To experience white water rafting, England has three man-made centres – Nottingham, Northampton and Teesside. There are a few organisations offering rafting elsewhere but some, or all, of these turn out to be a ride in a high power boat down a river, or along the coast, and are not seen to be a true white water rafting experience by many enthusiasts.
Rafting in Nottingham (well just outside at Holme Pierrepont to be precise) takes place at the National Water Sports Centre (NWSC) comprising a 270 acre country park with Olympic standard rowing lake, water ski facility and, of course, the 700m white water course used by canoes and rafts. Water is diverted from the Trent to provide rafting throughout the year, but is certainly more popular during the warmer summer months. You can read much more about white water rafting in Nottingham here.
The Nene White Water Centre is on the south-east fringe of Northampton, not far from the M1 motorway. It is England’s first pumped artificial white water course with three big pumps controlling the flow of water down the 300-metre white water course. Within limits, the difficulty level can be altered to cater for experts and novices on white water. The centre offers all the usual facilities in the way of changing rooms, showers and refreshments and offers group bookings as well as individual bookings where you join others to make up a full raft.
The third man-made white water course for rafting in England is at the Teesside White Water Centre near Thornaby on Tees in the north east of the country. It is on the site of the Tees Barrage and comprises a 250m long course, with a 2.5m drop from beginning to end. The course is dependent on tides to provide the flow but there are development plans to change this to operate regardless of the tide, and hopefully make the course one of the training venues for the 2012 Olympics.
So the white water rafting courses in England are man-made, and may not be surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, but they are easily accessible from most parts of the country, and do offer a taster of rafting before committing to a journey half-way round the world to give it a try. On a warm summer's day with a group of friends it is a great way to enjoy a few thrills and spills in relative safety, so if you're reasonably fit and confident around water, why not give it a try?