And they’re off! The world’s most famous canoe race began for the 72nd time at 7am this morning when canoeists in the first of 188 boats began the paddle to London from Devizes Wharf.

But there was a touching poignancy to the beginning of the iconic Devizes to Westminster international race, known as “the Everest of canoe races”, for among the 332 competitors was 16-year-old Daunstey’s schoolgirl Scout Johnstone, who is doing the gruelling challenge in memory of her friend Ellie Gould.

Ellie, from Calne, was just 17 when she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2019. She and Scout spent many days riding together, sharing a horse called Blackjack.

Scout, who is paddling with her Dauntsey’s pal Phoebe Parry, volunteered for the race in order to mark Ellie’s memory by raising money for the Women's Aid Federation Of England because, she said, “I want to see the end of violence against women”.

Scout, from Sandy Lane, has set up a JustGiving page to raise funds for the cause and she has already smashed her £250 target by raising £3,572 in sponsorship already.

“There is a driving force behind my determination to take part and finish this race,” said Scout, “I am aiming to raise money for and awareness about Women’s Aid and their incredible initiative ‘Expect Respect’, in memory of an effervescent friend, daughter, sister, cousin and granddaughter, Ellie Gould.

“It has been proven that Ellie’s murderer’s behaviour pattern could have been recognised from an earlier age. I strongly believe that educational structures should educate school-aged children on this matter, in order for them to understand what a healthy relationship should look like.”

She added: “Ellie is in my thoughts every day, and I am glad to finally be doing and acting on something I am so passionate about.”

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Cllr Chris Gay, Mayor of Devizes, with Scout, Phoebe and James Gray MPCllr Chris Gay, Mayor of Devizes, with Scout, Phoebe and James Gray MP

There to see Scout and Phoebe off and to wish them good luck was the mayor of Devizes, Cllr Chris Gay, and Scout’s MP, North Wiltshire member James Gray.

“I’m crossing constituencies today but that’s because I’m here to support Scout,” said Mr Gray.

The return of the famous race, which has not run for the past two years due to Covid, also saw the mystery explained of how it began, back in 1948.

It was widely believed that the race began for a bet, but Cllr Gay’s research has discovered that it was her great uncle, Pete 'Olly' Brown who had a hand in it.

Olly was one of the 1st Devizes Scouts group who were offered sponsorship if they could succeed in taking a boat from Devizes to Westminster in under 100 hours, with all food and camping kit to be carried in the boats.

Olly and three other 17-year-old scouts, Laurie Jones, Brian Smith and Brian Walters, all aged 17, attempted the route at Easter 1948, completing it in 89 hours 50 minutes.

Today Scout and Phoebe and the other competitors will paddle to Newbury, where they will camp overnight, before setting off again tomorrow for the next stage to Marlow.

This year the race, which is usually 125-miles-long, has had to be shortened to 107 miles, ending at Teddington, because the traditional finish line, on the Westminster banks of St Thomas’s Hospital, is out of bounds as the hospital remains in use as a Covid vaccination facility.

The first boat away today was paddled by Scott McEleney and Lyndan White of the Poole Harbour Canoe Club in Dorset, who, like all the competitors, were cheered on by early-rising onlookers at the bridge by the Wharf.

To support Scout in her fund-raising in memory of Ellie, go to: