This is the perfect river journey to enjoy at a leisurely pace, giving you plenty of time to soak up the surroundings and stop for lunch. This trip blends rural countryside with Bedford’s stunning and historic Victorian Embankment, finishing in the beautiful nature reserve.
You start just below Bromham Bridge and rapids and paddle downstream through picturesque river meadows with lots of wildlife to see. You will portage (carry your boats around a weir) twice, allowing you time to stretch your legs. Once back on the river the gentle flow will take you towards Bedford town centre with its tree-lined embankment and promenade. You pass under several historic bridges before taking you back into the countryside again for the final leg of your trip.
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.
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 and 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.
As you portage here, walk down the right hand side of the black, wooden rowing boathouse onto the gravel path to the grassy bank, next to the back of the boathouse. You will now see the site of the Victorian Boat Slide, now converted into a water turbine for generating green electricity. Once on the water, your journey will take you downstream on the lower river, passing a little island (you can pass it on either side), before passing under the road and pedestrian bridge, about 500 metres from the start. On warm days people often report seeing turtles sunbathing in the trailing branches of the Willows on this stretch of water.
As you pass under the old railway bridge you will see the ‘Pyramids of Bedford’, which houses the Oasis Swimming Pool. 400 metres later you will see the New Cut (waterway) branch off the main river on your left. The access to this bit of water is restricted. As you round a bend in the river you will see 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. You are now paddling on a loop around the Priory Country Park, which is a popular green space and lake.
As you make your way around the bend on your right there are large 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 which marks the Cardington Artificial Slalom Course, a white water feature. Continuing down the river a few hundred yards is a river lock and sluices. You will see large green buoys across the river, paddle up to them and there is a portage area on your left (with an upturned canoe sign). Once you have lifted your boats out of the water the ‘put in’ point is directly across the grass (20 metres) to a smaller part of the river. To your right is Cardington Lock and some picnic benches. If you carry the boats across the bridge spanning the Lock and over the bridge spanning the weir, we shall meet you at the metal gate before the carpark.
2 Man Canoe: £70.00
3 Man Canoe: £80.00
Fantastic 4 Man Canoe (4 adults): £90.00
Fantastic Boat Canoe (2 adults + 2 children under 11): £85.00
Single Kayak: £45.00
Double Kayak: £75.00
Stand Up Paddle Board: £45.00
Bromham (MK43 8LP) to Cardington Lock (MK44 3JW): Slow Full Day
8 miles, approx. 5 hrs in canoes and SUP’s (slightly less in kayaks) and 2 portage
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