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Robert's home to a hero's welcome

PUBLISHED: 11:11 15 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:17 05 July 2010

WITH 20 blisters each, Robert Conway's hands are evidence of eight days' hard labour rowing and paddling around Norfolk.

But the pain was forgotten as he staggered ashore at Yarmouth, elated to have completed his marathon challenge.

WITH 20 blisters each, Robert Conway's hands are evidence of eight days' hard labour rowing and paddling around Norfolk.

But the pain was forgotten as he staggered ashore at Yarmouth, elated to have completed his marathon challenge. It was the end of an adventure that had been three years in the making and has raised nearly £2,000 for charity.

He said he was more tired than he had ever been in his life. “I am absolutely drained. The eight days and 300 miles under my own steam have taken it out of me.”

The Norwich optometrist and father-of-five set off last Saturday from Norwich, rowing to Beccles in a sculling boat. He switched to a kayak to paddle along the Waveney and Little Ouse on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, switching back to a sculling boat for the Great Ouse. Then it was a coastal sculling boat from King's Lynn round to Yarmouth.

He was due to continue to Lowestoft and then back to Norwich on Saturday and Sunday, but the wind and tides forced a change of plan and instead he rowed the final Lowestoft to Yarmouth stretch on Saturday.

He believes he is the first person to row and paddle around the county boundary. Along the way he encountered waves that threatened to capsize his boat or push him off course, lost a Dictaphone when his kayak capsized, and fell out of the boat when the water proved less shallow than he thought. He also had a close shave when he came across an unexpected weir near where the Thet and the Ouse meet in Thetford.

“Most of the rivers on the Little Ouse were marked. This one wasn't and I suddenly heard this rushing sound,” he said. “There was no barrier or anything and I had to back-paddle frantically and go back to the bit of river I was supposed to be on.”

There were days of paddling in continual rain, and on the last stretch the waves were so big he would have turned back, were it not for the fact that his boat would have been knocked over by the waves as he turned.

Some of the sea rowing was in a two-man boat, but mostly he was entirely under his own steam, though accompanied by friends or family in a separate boat for some of the time.

The expedition was planned to raise money for Vision Aid Overseas, which sends opticians and spectacles to developing countries to those who need them, and to raise the profile of Norwich Rowing Club and its boathouse appeal. Mr Conway is a keen rower and former national championships competitor. He also wanted a way of marking his 50th birthday on September 26.

His wife Jo, 48, an artist, has supported him every day, bringing him fresh supplies and helping with boat changeovers. She said: “The worst time was Wells to Cromer, when the wind was in the wrong direction and when he had to come across the bar at Blakeney, the sea was too rough for him. It was really tough trying to keep the boat on course, and he hadn't slept well the night before, so he was really tired.

“He has done it and I am really proud. We have both learned so much about our county and about the sea and tides and winds.

“He loves a good challenge. He will be asking what the next challenge is!”

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