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People Power: Kayaking the Continent Reaches Milestone

On International Women’s Day in March I had the pleasure of speaking to two extraordinary young Oxonian women...

...Kate Culverwell and Anna Blackwell, who were preparing to set out on the first ever tandem kayak trip across the European continent in aid of Pancreatic Cancer Action. I was, and am, in awe of them. As I wrote then, I’m impressed by people that can successfully travel anywhere, by any means. The day before I spoke to them I’d ended up in Swindon having got on the wrong bus. Suffice to say that, since then, my track record hasn’t improved.


In the intervening time, while I’ve pathetically grappled with domestic train timetables, Anna and Kate have been working their way through their 4000km journey. Anna maintains their blog and I’ve been following their progress with wonder. Their journey began with something that might ordinarily constitute a fundraising challenge on its own – crossing the English Channel. They’ve navigated somewhere in the region of 200 locks as they’ve crossed France, Belgium and most of Germany. As you might expect on an undertaking of such preposterous proportion, they’ve had their ups and downs. Extreme weather, illness and kit failures have blighted some portions of the trip. Some parts of the route have been simply unpassable, others seem almost poetically beautiful. One theme weaves through their musings from the kayak however – the impact that people have had along the route.

Whether it’s the offer of a shower, a beer, a pack of biscuits, life-saving assistance through daunting commercial locks or the invitation to a safer place to camp, the kindness of strangers has been a heart-warming constant in Anna’s reportage. And more generally, if you’d like some faith in humanity, especially in these fraught and fractious times, I can’t recommend the blog highly enough.

They have now reached their halfway point (“in terms of distance and hopefully not time if I want to start uni!” Kate tells me) and are also about to reach their original £50,000 target. This is a staggering achievement but, true to form, they are not resting there – they’ve raised their target to £75,000. This is the kind of money that makes a difference, and the cause for which this difference is being made needs it more than many others. Pancreatic cancer maintains the lowest 10-year survival rate of the 20 most common cancers. National campaigns around breast or testicular cancer were aimed at removing certain stigmas attached to them. Pancreatic cancer seems to suffer not from stigma but obscurity – most don’t know what the pancreas even does. 

At Kate and Anna’s Oxford send-off I met a pair of women from Pancreatic Cancer Action who were understandably overwhelmed with the project and the support it was garnering. Founder and CEO, Ali Stunt said, “We cannot believe how fantastically Kate and Anna are doing in their Kayaking the Continent challenge. Their ambition and determination is inspiring and the fact they have increased their fundraising target to such a high amount is incredible! We wish them the best of luck on the rest of their journey and can’t wait to welcome them back to the UK.”

You can donate to this amazing cause on the Virgin Giving page here and follow their blog at kayakingthecontinent.com