Rafting at Lee Valley White Water Centre

Lee Valley White Water Centre was the first new 2012 Olympics venue to open to the public, so we sent Jonny Payne along to try out the fearsome white-water course set for the canoe slalom competition at the Games.

On a cloudless morning on the Hertfordshire/Essex border I squeezed into a wetsuit in preparation for my first Olympic, and rafting, experience. I noticed myself shivering slightly, more through trepidation than the bracing early-morning temperature.

White Water Rafting Jonny 200Take the plunge at Lee Valley White Water Centre
Rapid Focus Photography

I was lucky enough to have been invited to the launch of the new Lee Valley White Water Centre, the venue for five days of canoe slalom action during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Luckily, I was not left alone in a canoe, instead being placed on a raft with seven other brave souls – a sink or swim PR exercise if ever there was one.

Aaron, our guide, helped me into a lifejacket and talked the group through the safety procedures; followed by a training session to outline the key techniques. The commands of “forward”, “back-paddle”, “over left” and “over right” (plus a focus on team synchronisation) were evidently the key things to remember.

The time soon came to jump into the raft with my counterparts, complete with nervous grins (some clutching cameras wrapped in flimsy plastic bags). I hoped our fate would outweigh that of the Olympus WS-110.

After a brief practice period, we were on a conveyor belt going uphill towards the starting point – it resembled a scene out of Toy Story 3 where we, not the toys, were heading for oblivion.

Lee Valley White Water Centre Exterior 200The Lee Valley White Water Centre
Jonny Payne

But any lingering anxiety soon dissipated and we negotiated the first set of rapids. They seemed tame enough, but the speed and ferocity soon increased along the 300m course, and all notion of team synchronisation had gone awry. Most of us were far more concerned by just staying on the raft rather than following Aaron’s commands of: “forward, forward…”, and with arms and paddles everywhere, it seemed a lost cause.

The course has a vertical descent of 5.5m (6 yards) and I am told 13,000 litres (2,800 gallons) of water are pumped down the course each second – enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just three minutes.

Its power was evident seconds later as the raft ahead flipped spectacularly, and its members were swept helplessly downstream in all directions. Fortunately there was plenty of help at hand and all were alive and well, albeit a little bedraggled.

White Water Saracens 200Saracens battle against former Olympians
Lee Valley White Water Centre

Unlike the resident team GB canoeists, who will be competing here at the 2012 Olympics, we didn’t have to negotiate complex gates; but just keeping the raft going in the right direction was difficult enough as we bounced off concrete blocks either side of every drop - each time having to crouch-down for fear of being knocked over by blasts of cold water.

Suddenly the first run was over…but I wanted more. Luckily we had time for two more efforts, each more thrilling – but slightly less fear-inducing – than I had previously expected.

After a refreshing shower in the small, but well-equipped changing areas, I snatched a pastry to quell my burgeoning hunger and reclined on the comfy sofas positioned neatly on the terrace.

I looked on as the London Saracens rugby players took to the rapids against a raft of former Olympians, feeling safe in the knowledge that they too had fear etched on their faces.

Other Olympic 2012 venues open to the public:

The London 2012 Olympic Games take place at 22 venues throughout the country, many of which can be explored before the start of the games.

For a sneak preview of the 200-hectare (500-acre) Olympic Park site in east London, the centrepiece of the games, take one of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s free tours – available at weekends and on bank holidays.

A number of other Olympic venues can be seen free of charge. Stroll through London’s famous Hyde Park (triathlon and swimming), explore the beautiful Greenwich Park (equestrian), discover the imposing Mall (marathon, walking and cycling road race), and pose with guardsmen at the regal Horse Guards Parade (beach volleyball).

Hampton Court Palace 200Explore the Tudor Hampton Court Palace
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Iconic sporting venues will, unsurprisingly, also be used during the 2012 Olympics. Tennis will be played at the legendary All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, which runs guided tours and has its own fascinating museum. You’ll also be able to find out more about Lord’s Cricket Ground’s illustrious past (and present) as a cricket venue. The ground, which will be used for archery during the Games, also offers guided tours.

A little further afield, the stunning Hampton Court Palace (less than 40 minutes from central London), will become the venue for road cycling time trial events. This magnificent example of Tudor and baroque architecture makes for a perfect family day out with a maze, pristine gardens and larger-than-life re-enactments.

Popular Dorset seaside resort Weymouth and Portland will host sailing events at next year's Games. The quaint harbour is easily accessible to the public, while you can even learn to sail with a number of local operators.

The ever-popular football competition will be played in six venues during the London 2012 Olympic Games, including London’s iconic Wembley Stadium, Old Trafford in Manchester, Glasgow’s Hampden Park, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, St. James’ Park in Newcastle and the City of Coventry Stadium. Tours to all of these venues are available, or why not see a football or rugby match with an electric atmosphere?

For more information on white-water rafting, contact Lee Valley White Water Centre Tel: 08456 770 606. Website: www.gowhitewater.co.uk

Prices start from £49 per person for a two-hour rafting experience. Trains operate from Liverpool Street Station (approximately 25 minutes) and Tottenham Hale (approximately 10 minutes) to Cheshunt or Waltham Cross.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.