ShePaddles interviews: No 2. Charlotte Ditchburn

A series of eight interviews with British Canoeing’s ShePaddles ambassadors for 2022.

Interviews: Emma Love

After receiving over 150 applications from around the country, British Canoeing, Canoe Wales and the Scottish Canoe Association were excited to announce the #ShePaddles Ambassadors for 2022. Sixteen inspirational women chosen to promote paddling and encourage more women and girls to get on the water. In this series of interviews, Emma Love chats with eight of the ambassadors about all things SUP!

Charlotte Ditchburn

Instagram: @publicrightsofwayexplorer #BigPaddleCleanup  
Pics: Gemma Scope Photography and Jon Ditchburn

Based in Cumbria, Charlotte took up SUP just 18 months ago. We caught up over zoom to talk about her paddling journey, why she is keen to encourage more people to get involved in improving and campaigning for access to the outdoors and what steps we can all take to support this important cause.

What was your first paddling experience?  
My family and I have always lived in the Lake District, so we have always been pretty outdoorsy, including paddling on the lakes. But our first canoeing experience wasn’t the best. We set off, the wind picked up, and we went down to the other end of the lake pretty rapidly! At that point, my mum and I said, “We’re not paddling back against those (scary) waves,” and sent my poor dad back on foot for the car whilst we sat and had a coffee!

How did you discover SUP?
My first attempt was just over a year ago. I had moved to Suffolk (for work), and my immediate thought was, ‘I can’t paddle down here! There is nowhere to paddle – where are the lakes? Where do I go’? I then discovered a group called the Outdoorsy Type – they organise walks and get-togethers. I mustered up the courage to join them and enjoyed myself. They organised some SUP lessons, and I decided I would give it a go – most of our group had never been on a SUP, so we were all a bit wobbly jelly legged. Within the first two minutes of my being on a board, I ended up in the water! By the end of the session, I had managed to stand up and paddle, but my legs the next day! I hadn’t realised just how many muscles I do not use, plus I couldn’t lift my arms above my shoulders!  

Who do you think needs to take the lead in making this change? 
 I think it’s got to come from those prominent voices, including Natural England and British Canoeing. I am pleased to see how both these organisations recently promoted the Countryside Code and how this applies to us on the water. As paddlers, we need to make sure we use public rights of way and not just tramping over peoples’ fields. We also need to know how to deal calmly with confrontational situations when they arise. Some landowners will never be happy, but if you know your legal rights and explain them, it may help you carry on along your route without getting into a fight. 

At ground level, how can we help? 
Clubs, instructors and coaches can help by introducing the Countryside Code to individuals at the beginning of their paddling journey. This would promote a collective understanding of the use and protection of the environment around us. 

Will there be any national campaigns that everyone can get involved in?  
Yes! British Canoeing is launching the #BigPaddleCleanup on March 12th. This will run from Sunday, June 5th (World Environment Day) to June 12th. The aim is to highlight the current state of our inland and coastal waters, add pressure on our government and large organisations to curb continued pollution and strengthen regulations around single-use plastics, effluent releases etc. I am excited to be getting involved and promoting this at a local level here in the Lake District. 

Do you think we will have the right to paddle all of our waterways in both England and Wales one day? 
I’m hopeful – Wales might well lead the way. They are doing lots with land access at the moment – for example, opening up footpaths to cyclists and horse riders. I predict they will go in the same direction as Scotland. I think there is hope for the future, it might take a few more years, but we should get there in the end.

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