PUPILS at a school with a long tradition in taking part in the gruelling Devizes to Westminster canoe race have had their first experience of competition.

A total of 18 sixth formers from Dauntsey's School at West Lavington, near Devizes, took part in the first Waterside race of the year and paddled from Great Bedwyn to Newbury.

The race of 13.5 miles, which included 21 portages where crews have to carry their boats, was just a brief warm up for the main challenge which will start on Good Friday from Devizes Wharf.

Over the Easter weekend they will have to propel their canoes 125 miles from Wiltshire to London.

Some of the canoeists will represent the school and others will take part for Devizes Canoe Club.

Sam Moore head of adventure education at Dauntsey's said: "The weather was unusually warm for the time of year, which was a boost to the paddlers. The team’s support crews were also out for the first time and did much to lift the paddler’s spirits, as well as providing food and water.

“This was the first time the team had been out with other competitors alongside them on the water and it was great to see all crews finishing in reasonable time and with a great attitude.

“Amongst a significantly more experienced fleet, the Dauntsey’s pupils acquitted themselves well and can be proud of their performance. The race certainly gave everybody a good introduction to what the Devizes to Westminster race will be like.”

The Easter event is the longest non-stop canoe race in the world, and one is regarded as one of the great open-to-all endurance events in the world.

A race spokesman said: "The race is 125 miles long and has 77 portages. The first 52 miles are along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading, the next 55 miles are on the River Thames to Teddington. The final 17 mile section is on the tidal portion of the Thames.

"The race is a severe test of skill, physical and mental stamina and planning which produces a memorable sense of achievement for those successfully completing it."

Paddlers will take part in one of five classes with all most taking four days to complete the course. But the senior doubles will race non-stop from start to finish.

For full details about the race, including entering, visit www.dwrace.co.uk.