Full Day: Great Barford to St Neots

This is a full-day paddle but importantly at a leisurely pace, on a slow and meandering part of the river from Great Barford to the Riverside Town of St Neots.

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This trip has 3 portages, places you will need to carry your boat around a weir and lock, and has several places of interest on the route including the St Ivel tributary, The Rivermill Tavern Pub at Eaton Socon, and the Ambiance Café at the end.

If you are interested in our multiday paddling trips or planning to stay in St Neots then you may be interested to note that there are a Camping and Caravan Club campsite adjacent to the banks of the river on your route. This section of the river is quiet and slow-moving with lots of wildlife. It is listed as a great wild swimming spot with clear deep water with fluttering reed beds.

Although only 8.5 miles it offers the opportunity for families and groups to paddle leisurely and perhaps plan a picnic or lunch stop on the route.

The Route

You begin your paddle in Great Barford at the beautiful 15th century stone bridge, which is a Grade I Listed structure. Once you have been kitted out with your paddling equipment for the day, your first portage is a mere few metres away at the other side of the river at the mooring (diagonally) opposite to your starting point. 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. You carry 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. 100m later there is a backwater on the left (part of the Ouse) which marks the beginning of the Riverside Country Park in St Neots, there will be many boats moored up along this stretch until the end of your journey. In 300m you pass under a bridge and various backwaters will re-join the river on both sides, in 500m you approach another road bridge, with a large Dragonfly painted on its left hand side, this marks the end of your journey and is the meeting point. If you reach the pub on the right after the bridge, you have gone slightly too far.

St Neots is a beautiful riverside market town with lots of motorboats and rowers enjoying the river. If you arrive early you can explore this stretch but please be sure to be off the water in time for your lift. There is a carpark adjacent the dragonfly adorned bridge and a family run café called Ambiance Café where you can reward your paddling efforts with a little food.

Trip Info

Great Barford (MK44 3LF) to St Neots (PE19 7HD): Slow Full Day

8.5 miles, approx. 5.5 hrs in canoes and SUP’s (slightly less in kayaks) and 3 portages