Hackney may not be commonly associated with the yachting life, but the West Reservoir on Green Lanes in Stoke Newington offers a wide range of water sports, including sailing, canoeing and kayaking.
In 1989 the twenty-two-acre West Reservoir ceased to be used for the purposes of supplying drinking water, and was put to use as a water sports facility. For those just starting out, the West Reservoir offers lessons in all three sports (though you’ll need to book several weeks in advance to get yourself sailing lessons, as these are very popular).
Courses are run during the school holidays for children between the ages of eight and sixteen. The Centre also runs a water sports-based Youth Club and organises activities for local schools.
Sailors eight years and older who have reached (or can be assessed as having reached) RYA Level 2 can join the North London Sailing Association (NLSA). Several classes of dinghies are available for use on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings.
The NLSA’S activities include races on the reservoir; it also takes members to Brightlingsea in Essex for salt-water sailing and organises occasional cruising weekends further afield. An instructor is on hand to help when the club is open, making this a very safe environment in which to be afloat.
Club member Liz Robson stumbled upon the NLSA by accident. “I was just blown away”, she says, “I always thought sailing was a coastal thing, or at least the Thames. I didn’t even know these reservoirs were here”. Liz particularly enjoys the natural element of the sailing experience: “There are swans and dragonflies and fish; it’s a really nice way of being in touch with your environment.”
Castle Canoe Club, which is also open Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings, offers a free lesson in canoeing or kayaking to first-time visitors. Club members can benefit from courses throughout the year in a range of skills at all levels. For a modest sum, members can also hire the Centre’s boats to take on trips.
Social secretary Claire Houvet discovered the reservoir only last year: “I had never done kayaking before”, says Claire, “but to my relief the boats given to beginners are quite stable and easy to manoeuvre. Not only did I stay dry on my first day, but I also met other beginners with whom I had a great laugh.” The club hosts regular open days and barbecues, and is organising a trip to the Scottish Highlands in October.
When you’re back on dry land, you can relax with a cool drink in the Waterfront Café which overlooks the reservoir. Close your eyes here, listen to the waves, and you can almost imagine you’re at the seaside.