3 Days - Canoe and Camp - Bromham to Matchstick Wood to St Neots Campsite to Gt Barford

This is an adventure to remember! You will get to see some of the most stunning river and countryside England as to offer. You will paddle yourselves into 2 fantastic camping locations, using only the canoe as your mode of transport, away from the common trappings of modern life.

You will begin in the historic village of Bromham, shortly afterwards, you reach the beautiful architecture of Bedford, before re-joining the countryside to arrive at Matchstick Wood. You will get your own private clearing in the woodland, complete with long drop loo, log store and most importantly campfire, to sit round under the starry night sky. Once you’ve pitched your tent, have the campfire roaring with the wine/ beer cooling in the brook this trip will seem like the ideal tonic to a busy life, allowing you to time to relax after a good days paddle.

The following day, you will have a stunning paddle through some of the best voted wild swimming sites in the UK, winding your way through the leafy countryside before arriving in St Neots Campsite on the edge of the market town. After another peaceful night, you will hit the water for the final day and re-live some of the sight from the day before, finishing at Great Barford. You can always book our luggage service to lighten the load, and your camping kit will be in the woodland waiting for you when you arrive.


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The Route

This trip begins in the tranquil village of Bromham and starts just below Bromham Rapids. The meeting place is at the beautiful 17th Century bridge, which spans the River Great Ouse. The medieval Bromham Mill is located on the West side of the bridge, we meet on the EAST side in the little gravel carpark (at the Bedford side of the Bridge). There is further parking about 300 yards towards Bedford in a small cul-de-sac just before the Bromham bypass.

If you have booked the drop off/ collection service, we will put all your camping kit in the vehicles so we can drop it off at the campsite ready for your arrival and leave you free to enjoy a lighter boat. If you have decided to go ‘native’ and carry your kit, we shall put it into waterproof barrels and bags ready for your day on the river.

Once on the water you will be paddling through beautiful countryside, with a meadow on your left and gardens on your right, this stretch is a favourite for our resident otters, so keep your eyes peeled.   You pass under a road bridge about 300 metres from the start before you follow a couple of bends. There is a tiny island along this stretch and the main flow passes to the left hand side.   You can pass on the right but this might be a bit more like an adventure and you will need to squeeze through the branches of the Willows and reed beds. You will now be coming to a long open stretch (a kilometre long) where the river widens, with thick reed beds on your left, teaming with wild fowl. This section can feel a bit like hard work when it is windy so be prepared to put your head down and paddle hard for 5 minutes.

You will now see Box End Park, with wakeboarding lakes and water skiing on your right-hand side. Just over another kilometre, you see the church spire on your right before passing under a second road bridge and approaching a meadow on your left. A few minutes later there will be large green buoys across the river marking the top of the weir. The markers stop you and river debris from paddling over the weir. Weirs can be dangerous, particularly in flood, hence why we walk around. Paddle up to the portage (steps out of the river) on your left and you will be in the meadow. Once out this is a great place for a snack to refuel yourself ready for the next chapter in your journey. You have completed 2 miles of your river journey and are about a third of the way.

A quick look along the riverbank, just after the weir will show you a worn path where boats can be slowly slid down the grassy bank to reach the river (one person at the bottom to guide the boat onto the water and the other person lowering it at the top, makes short work of the ‘put on’). Once back in your boat, the next section will see you paddling around the outskirts of Kempston. 400 metres downstream from the weir, you will come to Kempston Mill and a pedestrian footbridge, where there are often large groups of ducks and swans hoping for a bite to eat from the dog walkers.

The Riverside path will be with you all the way into Bedford. The water is shallow and faster here with gravel beds and again there will be thick reed beds full of wildlife. This is a great place to spot a Kingfisher (listen out for a ‘peep’ noise, followed by a blur of electric blue as it flies on ahead of you). For the next 3 km you will be paddling through more beautiful countryside and will pass through a series of small islands where you can pass either side. On the right hand side is a more parkland adjacent the river.

You will then reach the first of several bridges marking your arrival to Bedford. The first one is a wooden pedestrian bridge, with the Riverside path on your left and peoples back gardens on your right. The second bridge is the railway bridge, followed by another pedestrian bridge and then a road bridge. From the railway bridge downstream you need to paddle on the right hand side and you will probably see other river users such as motorboats and rowers.

You are now entering Bedford Embankment, built by the Victorians as a River Promenade. On your left just after the road bridge is Viking Kayak Club and Star Rowing Club. Viking Kayak Club is a great place to learn and progress your new found paddling skills with an active membership. You will notice the beautiful red brick buildings that Bedford has, with excellent examples of various ages of architecture. The next bridge you see is the stunning Town Bridge made of stone (vehicle and pedestrian), with the iconic Swan Hotel on your left as you pass under the bridge. On the right hand side you will see the popular Park Inn Hotel and Bedford Rowing Club. This section of the river is at is widest with a series of large islands where the River Great Ouse splits.  

You stay on the top river as you pass Duckmill Weir now named the Etienne Stott Whitewater Arena, on the lower River, (after our town’s Olympic Gold Medallist from canoeing at London 2012). The Lower River here is where John Bunyan, author of Pilgrims Progress was batpized in 1655. Once past this you will see the Suspension Bridge (a high arching Victorian pedestrian bridge) enabling people to access the islands, along with Town Lock and then onto Archimedes Screw (a water turbine producing Green Energy).

The islands are called Mill Meadows and Longholme Island, the latter is where you will finish your paddle at Longholme café on your right in front of the white Butterfly Bridge. The Archimedes Screw (water turbine) is located next to the Schools Rowing Boathouse and Longholme Café. This is a great place to reward your calorie credits with cream tea, icecream or a sandwich. Once on the water, your journey will take you downstream along the side of the island, passing another little island (you can pass it on either side), before passing under the road bridge, 500 metres from the start. On warm days people often report seeing turtles sunbathing in the trailing branches of the Willows on the water. As you immidately pass under the old railway bridge you will come round the bend in the river and see the Pyramids of Bedford, which house the Oasis Swimming Pool. 400 metres later you will see the New Cut (waterway) branch off the main river on your left followed by the entrance to Priory Marina (housing some beautiful narrow and wide beam boats as well as one of George Clarkes Amazing Spaces creations). The river then opens onto a long (500 metres) straight wide stretch, a hotspot for swans and geese. As you make your way around the bend on your right there are several moorings and waterfront gardens. You will see a small weir on your left shortly followed by the Barns Hotel on your right and then a larger weir on your left. You will see large green buoys across the river, this mark Cardington Lock, paddle up to them and there is a portage area on your left (with a sign). Once you have lifted your boats out of the water there ‘put in’ point is directly across the grass (10 metres) to a smaller part of the river, which opens back up into the main river shortly afterwards. To your right is Cardington Lock.

You will pass under a railway bridge that carries the Route 51 national cycle route. The river flows gently on and you will see moorings for GOBA (Great Ouse Boating Association). After 2 km you will approach Castle Mill Lock. There will be large green buoys across the river and you portage on the right-hand side. There are steps to help you get out. Once your boat is out of the water, you will carry it along the top of the riverbank (about 50-60m) and then down onto the pontoon to the furthest point, as there is a specifically lowered area to help you when getting back in the boats.

You then paddle under a road bridge, usually flanked by sheep happily grazing in the riverside fields. A few meandering river bends later and you will reach a little community of log cabins on your left (1.5 km after Castle Mill Lock). This area is known as the Grange Estate (a huge Country Park with cycle paths, fishing lakes and our woodland campsite). After a few hundred metres, you pass under the quarry bridge then shortly afterwards there is a little viewing platform/ pond dipping pontoon on the right, where Elstow Brook joins the River Great Ouse. This is where you will turn up Elstow Brook, passing under 2 bridges before coming to the portage steps on the left. If you reach the Danish Camp (1 large log cabin café) you have just missed Elstow Brook so turn back around and paddle 100m back upstream.

Once the boats are out of the water (leave them on the left after the portage steps, with a Loo on your right but take your paddles and buoyancy aids with you), using your map of the woodland you can find your specially reserved clearing, which are all named for your ease.

You can setup your camp, by choosing where to pitch your tent in your clearing and by having a look at the long drop loo and getting used to the exhilerating idea of a ‘loo with a view’ around your own secluded bit of woodland. Once the campfire is roaring, the beers/ wine are cooling in the brook, it is time for some dinner. Whether you have packed your own or you are visiting the nearby café or pub, the evening will be rounded off by sitting under the starry night sky, with your fairy light tree adding the finishing touch and hearing to ‘toot’ of the resident owls.

After a refreshing nights sleep (hopefully our resident deer hasn’t woken you by barking at your tent) you can get the breakfast cooking over the campfire, before packing up your tent. With all your kit packed, you are ready to hit the river. Once back in your boats, paddle down Elstow Brook to where it meets the River Great Ouse and turn RIGHT, to continue downstream.

After your portage at the next Weir (Willington) you continue downstream for a mile until you reach Gt Barford, makrked by the beautiful 15th century stone bridge, which is a Grade I Listed structure. Your portage here is on the right hand side near the enterance to the Lock. There will be large green buoys across the river marking the top of the weir. Once you’ve carried your boat around the Lock and adjacent weir, you are off again and into quintessential English countryside with fluttering reed beds and clear meandering water. This section of the river is again listed as a perfect spot within the growing wild swimming community. It is often a favourite spot for herons and also kingfishers.

After about 500m from the start a tiny waterway will join the Ouse on the left. Further downstream you will pass the first of 2 entry points for the River Ivel, a tributary of the River Great Ouse. 400 m downstream and you will reach Roxton Lock, marked by green buoys across the river. The markers stop you and river debris from paddling over the weir. Weirs can be dangerous, particularly in flood, hence why we walk around. Your portage on the right hand side here will require you to lift the boat over a Kissing Gate (great if you are on a romantic paddle!). Below the weir there is a dock on the river bank.

Once back on the river (100 m) you will see the second merger of the River Ivel on your right which used to be a significant trade route. Just around the corner you will find a small mooring with a large orange lifeboat tied up which has been converted into a houseboat. You are now reaching the main Great North Road, A1 road bridges, shortly followed by Kelpie Marina on your left, situated next the village of Roxton. Rockham Ditch joins the river on your left, 400 m after the last road bridge. On your left you will be passing meadows, usually containing grazing livestock. More small tributaries join the river on the right and then the left (South Brook 600m later). The meadows continue on both sides of the river, which is tree-lined with reed beds, housing much of the fantastic wildlife that this stretch has to offer (Kingfishers, Moor Hens, Coots, Swans, Ducks and Grass Snakes). You will be passing various lakes on your left (not joined to the river) before reaching Wyboston Lakes (1.5km after South Brook), which has a large access point to the river on the left. 400m later on your left, a small tributary meets the river, linking the largest of the Wyboston lakes to the River Great Ouse.

Various small waterways join the river on this next stretch and you will pass the Wyboston Golf Course on your left so keep your head down (Not really!) You will pass under a road bridge for the main Cambridge road to A1 link road. Continue to paddle for 2.5km and you will come to the Eaton Socon Lock and Weir, with the Rivermill Marina and the Rivermill Tavern Pub, another popular watering hole. As you approach the weir, there will be the green buoys across the river to prevent you from going down it, to the left you will see the Lock, and to the left of this there is a portage area.

This portage is particularly high, so take care when exiting the boat and use the painter (rope on the boat) to help you lift it from the water and then carry to the ‘put on’ area (walk the length of the Lock to the lower Landing Station with steps). 300m after getting back on the river, you will pass under Willow Bridge and then shortly after approach the St Neots Caravan and Camping site on the right (550 m). If you are staying here for the night, exit here onto the grassy bank. After another night under the stars, it’s time to head back to Great Barford, where we shall be waiting to bring you back to your car, after an unforgettable trip.


Pricing and Options

2 Man Canoe: £199.00
3 Man Canoe: £249.00
Fantastic Boat Canoe (2 adults + 2 children under 11): £260.00
Single Kayak: £99.00


Trip Info

Day 1: 8.5 miles Bromham (MK43 8LP) to Matchstick Wood (4 portage) 6 hrs Medium Full Day

Day 2: 8 miles Matchstick Wood to St Neots Campsite (4 portage) 6 hrs Medium Full Day

Day 3: 7.5 miles St Neots Campsite to Gt Barford (3 portages) 5 hr Medium Full Day


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Welcome to Canoe Trail, the home of canoeing, kayaking and adventurous activities.

We are an award winning family run business offering canoe and kayak rental on the beautiful River Great Ouse. We have a riverside woodland campsite and provide low ropes, archery and bushcraft for corporate team building events, family adventures and groups.