Hire is now closed until spring 2022 but if you have enquiries about a group activity please contact us. You can still buy experience vouchers for Christmas or join one of our winter events.

2 Night Camp in Matchstick Woods

Stay two nights at our fabulous woodland campsite. This is an ideal 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.
Canoe at Paddling into Matchstick Woods
Summary: Straightforward route and river to paddle. Bedford to Matchstick Woods is approx 6 miles and includes 2 portages.
Highlight: Popular woodland camping trip for groups.
Location: Bedford Embankment  VIEW IN GOOGLE MAPS
Timings: Depart at 10:00. On the return, arrive back by 14:00.

IMPORTANT: Using deadwood is prohibited because it is important to the woodland ecosystem. Please bring some firewood or purchase a bag of firewood from us when booking.
To make your trip even more enjoyable, why not pay for our Luggage Service, where 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!
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 a 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. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept under control and to your campsite clearing.

What's Included

Craft  Buoyancy Aid  Dry Bag  Basic Map  River Bank Instruction  Campsite  Long Drop Loo

What You Will Need to Bring

Tent or Hammock Fire & Cooking Equipment  Food  Water

Route Map


Route Description

We will meet you beside the Victorian Boat Slide. After some bank tuition, it’s time to hit the water! 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 have some dry bags ready if needed.

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 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 afterward there is a little viewing platform/pond dipping pontoon on the right Elstow Brook joins the River Great Ouse. To stay at 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.

Common Questions

What's the difference between a kayak and a canoe? If you're not sure of what each craft is, then read our guide here.

Are the trips guided? You do not get a guide. The trips are essentially general hire with you paddling out and back from the launch point. We recommend our preferred route, however, you are free-range and able to explore the river.

What if it rains? Unless you hear from us then your booking will run on the day agreed. Canoe Trail runs watersports, paddling, and adventurous activities throughout the year with people enjoying the river and our woodland campsite during the different seasons. On rare occasions (it only happens a couple of times a year) we may move or change your booking. This will be in freak weather conditions such as extremely high river flows in spate or during heavy storms with lightning. You can read our full FAQ here.

How do bookings work? We use a live booking system that will assign you the relevant craft and resources. Once you have confirmed your booking date, it is not then transferable and non-refundable in the same way you book an airline seat. Bookings are to be paid in full at the time of booking and are non-refundable. There will be no refunds for early returns, poor weather, or non-usage as per our general terms & conditions.