Bedford to Cardington Lock Half Day Trip

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. A fantastic introduction to paddling, especially for those with younger children, as you are only in the boat for just over an hour each way, allowing you to enjoy a manageable river journey, at a leisurely pace.

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The route is approx 4 miles long and will take around 2 hours. We have a range of canoes, kayaks or SUPs available for hire on this route. Bedford to Cardington Lock is a fantastic route from start to finish. Peaceful and fun paddle down a nice wide river. We provide a simple and easy to read map and a waterproof dry bag for your belongings. Highly recommended for friends / couples / family / group days out. Check out our FAQs for any questions!


Duration and Distance

  • Timings: Morning 10:00-12:00 Afternoon 12:30-14:30
  • 4 miles from Bedford (MK40 3PF), to Cardington Lock and back to Bedford (MK40 3PF)
  • Approx. 2 hours in canoes and SUP's (slightly less in kayaks)
  • The route has 1 portage

Full Route Description

  • Our most popular route aka 'The Picnic Route'
  • Explore the backwaters from Bedford to Cardington
  • Enjoy Priory Country Park
  • Plenty of wildlife with herons, kingfishers and more

bcb 1This paddle will begin from Longholme Island at the Boating Lake and Café, which is situated on the stunning Victorian Embankment in Bedford. You will see the site of the Victorian Boat Slide when you start, 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. bcb3400 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 bcb2Barns 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, marking Cardington Lock, 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 you have a chance to stretch your legs and have a picnic on the riverbank. When you have refuelled, put the boats back on the water and make your way upstream, finishing back the Archimedes Screw (water turbine) inlet. 


What you need to bring for a day on the river

Please note we do not provide wetsuits. It is important that you consider the list below and determine what else you might wish to bring:

  • * Appropriate clothing for the activity such as tracksuit bottoms, gym kit, trainers, or wetsuit shoes. Jeans are not advisable!
  • * Waterproof jacket
  • * A change of clothes, towel, and shoes
  • * Bikini or swim shorts and a woolly hat if swimming, even in the summer.
  • * Sunblock and sun protection
  • * Personal medication that might be needed during the day (we have dry bags and containers available)
  • * A snack or picnic appropriate for the length of the trip planned.

We can also offer canoe and camping trips, hen and stag parties, paddling lessons, and kids parties. 

Anna 5 star png min

"3 of us spent yesterday morning kayaking from Kempston Mill to Cardington Lock. We organised it last minute and the team at Canoe Trail was really accomodating. They met us at Kempston Lock (it's right by the King William pub) an gave us a little briefing, which helped me feel a bit more confident, having not done anything like it before. we put our essentials into the provided dry bag and set off. We had a beautiful 3 hours. The river between Kempston and Bedford is stunning, with trees and waterlillies, ducks, geese and fish. It was nice seeing the centre of Bedford from a different angle and passing under rather than over the bridges! You need to lift the kayaks out the water at Bedford School rowing club to move to the lower river so we had a quick snack at Longholme coffee shop, although taking a picnic would be just as nice. We then did the last stretch from there to Cardington Lock, passing Priory Marina and Barns Hotel. It was again stunning, much more open than the first stretch, with the highlight of seeing a heron. Physically we're fairly active people, but not mega fit by any stretch and coped fine with the physical nature of it. I'd highly recommend Canoe Trail and this route to anyone wanting to spend a relaxed half a day doing something a bit different."