Bedford to Matchstick Woods to Bedford

This is a fantastic canoe and camping trip for those who want to experience the best of the river and woodland camping. We will meet you in Bedford along the beautiful Embankment, get you kitted out with paddling equipment before giving you full bankside tuition, and then you are ready to set off.

To make your trip even more enjoyable, why not opt for our Luggage Service, so you leave your luggage with us and we drop it off into your private clearing and collect it the following day. That way you get to paddle a nice light boat. You can hire our campfire kitchen equipment (grills, kettles, Dutch Ovens) to enable you to cook over the campfire without ruining your best camp stove pots and pans!


Minimum of 2 people to book

Mon - Tue


Sat - Sun

Terms and Conditions

After a stunning paddle through the countryside, you will arrive at Matchstick Wood, on the banks of the river. You will get your own private clearing in the woodland, complete with long drop loo and most importantly, a campfire, to sit around 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 spend some quality time in the great outdoors. You will have your boat ready on site for the following day, so you can get back on the water and enjoy some time with nature.

The Route

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.

We will meet you by the Longholme Café and Boating Lake, before walking you round the corner to the café the Victorian Boat Slide (to the right of the inlet), now converted into a water turbine. After some bank tuition it’s time to hit 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 immediately 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, 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. To your right is Cardington Lock. As you paddle out from the lock area you will be surrounded by countryside again, with heavily reeded riverbanks. This is a great area for wildlife as you are paddling around the Priory Park, and bordering its extensive nature reserves. After 2 km you will approach Castle Mill Lock. As before, 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 the boat is out of the water, you will carry it along the top of the riverbank and then down the pontoon to the furthest point, as there is a specifically lowered area to help you when getting back in the boats. You will paddle under the road bridge before reaching the country park on your right closely followed by log cabins on your right (1.5 km after Castle Mill Lock). 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 Elstow Brook joins the River Great Ouse. If you are staying at Matchstick Wood, our wilderness campsite you will paddle up Elstow Brook, passing initially under the bridge where the River Great Ouse meets Elstow Brook and then continuing on upstream, passing another low pedestrian bridge before coming around the bend to see the portage into the campsite on your left. Pull the boats out using the steps and put them on the left-hand side, allowing easy access to the ‘loo with a view’ on the right. Then make your way into the camp, using the map to find your own clearing for the evening, ready with a wood store for your well-earned campfire, under the starry night sky. The next day, make your way upstream on the River Great Ouse, back to Bedford.

Trip Info

  • Start and Finish Location: Bedford Embankment
  • Camping: 1 night in Matchstick Woods
  • Day 1: 6 miles, approx. 4 hrs in canoes and 2 portage
  • Day 2: 6 miles, Approx 4 hrs in canoes and 2 portage