CROWDS gathered this morning in chilly but dry conditions for the start of the 69th Devizes to Westminster Canoe race.

Hundreds of competitors will be taking part in the gruelling 125-mile event across canals and rivers, which began this morning at the Devizes Wharf and will finish on Sunday in London.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Wilks, from Devizes Canoe Club, is taking part in the event for the second time and is hoping to reach the finish this year after junior crews were stopped early due to bad weather in 2016.

“It was good but the weather was horrible and we couldn’t get to Westminster, I enjoyed it but I hope to get to Westminster this year,” she said.

Her dad, Matt, who is taking part in the event alongside his daughter, said: “I supported Charlie last year and obviously they got stopped and I promised that it was unfinished business because she didn’t get to walk up the steps at the end."

Fourteen students from Dauntsey’s School, West Lavington, will be raising money for Wiltshire Air Ambulance during the event.

“We’re quite excited and nervous,” said 16-year-old Annabel Crichard, who will do it alongside Josh Hampson.

“I feel like Daunstey’s has prepared us. I’m not sure what the hardest bit will be, maybe getting up in the mornings.”

Another local school to be taking part is Marlborough College, with Steph Evans and Virat Talwar one of the crews competing.

Steph, 17, said: “We did quite well last year, Marlborough won four trophies, I did it with my friend last year and we absolutely loved it.”

A total of 160 senior doubles crews will set off on Saturday and race overnight to the finish.

There will be 91 junior doubles, 83 senior singles, 11 veteran/junior teams and 19 in the Endeavour class.

The race has attracted a number of celebrities over the years and this time wildlife TV presenter Steve Backshall and his wife, Olympic champion rower Helen Glover are taking part.

Mr Backshall is a World Land Trust patron and they are racing to raise funds to protect a section of rainforest in Malaysian Borneo, saving it from being cut down to make way for oil palm plantations.

To follow the progress of the competitors visit

Full coverage in Thursday's Gazette & Herald