Here we go ! The world’s most famous canoe race started for the 72nd time at 7am this morning when canoeists on the first of 188 boats began paddling towards London from Devizes Wharf.
But the start of the iconic international race from Devizes to Westminster, known as the ‘Everest of canoe races’, was emotional as among the 332 competitors was 16-year-old schoolgirl from Daunstey, Scout Johnstone , who takes on the grueling challenge. in memory of his friend Ellie Gould.
Ellie, from Calne, was just 17 when she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2019. She and Scout spent days riding together, sharing a horse called Blackjack.
Scout, who paddles with Dauntsey’s girlfriend Phoebe Parry, volunteered for the race to mark Ellie’s memory by raising money for the Women’s Aid Federation Of England because, she said, ” I want to see an end to violence against women.”
Scout, from Sandy Lane, has set up a JustGiving page to raise money for the cause and she has already surpassed her goal of £250 by already raising £3,572 in sponsorship.
“There is a driving force behind my determination to participate and complete this run,” said Scout, “I aim to raise funds and awareness for Women’s Aid and their incredible ‘Expect Respect’ initiative, in memory of an effervescent friend, daughter, sister, cousin and granddaughter, Ellie Gould.
“It has been proven that the behavior of Ellie’s killer could have been recognized from an early age. I strongly believe that educational structures should educate school-aged children about this, so that they understand what should look like a healthy relationship.
She added: “Ellie is in my thoughts every day, and I’m happy to finally be able to do and act on something I’m passionate about.”
The Mayor of Devizes, Cllr Chris Gay, and MP for Scout, James Gray, Member of North Wiltshire, were there to see Scout and Phoebe off and wish them well.
“I’m going through constituencies today, but that’s because I’m here to support Boy Scouts,” Mr Gray said.
The return of the famous race, which has not raced for two years due to Covid, has also seen the mystery explained about its start, in 1948.
It was widely believed the race had started for a bet, but Cllr Gay’s research discovered that it was his great-uncle, Pete ‘Olly’ Brown, who had a hand in it.
Olly was one of the first groups of Devizes Scouts to be offered sponsorship if they could manage to take a boat from Devizes to Westminster in under 100 hours, with all the food and camping kit to carry in the boats .
Olly and three other 17-year-old scouts, Laurie Jones, Brian Smith and Brian Walters, all 17, attempted the course in Easter 1948, completing it in 89 hours 50 minutes.
Today Scout and Phoebe and the other competitors will paddle to Newbury, where they will camp for the night, before leaving tomorrow for the next leg to Marlow.
This year the race, which is usually 125 miles long, had to be shortened to 107 miles, ending in Teddington, as the traditional finish line, on the Westminster shores of St Thomas’ Hospital, is out of bounds as the hospital remains in use as a Covid vaccination centre.
The first boat out today was paddled by Scott McEleney and Lyndan White of Poole Harbor Canoe Club in Dorset, who, like all competitors, were cheered on by early-morning spectators on the deck near the quay.
To support Scout in raising funds in Ellie’s memory, visit: justgiving.com/fundraising/Scout-Johnstone