Half Day: Kempston Mill to Cardington Lock

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On the River Great Ouse with all types of canoes, kayaks and SUPs available to rent. This is the perfect 3 hour / 5 mile 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.

Duration and Distance

  • Half Day / 09:30-12:30
  • 5 miles from Kempston (MK42 7FB) to Cardington (MK44 3JW)
  • Approx. 3 hours in canoes and SUP's (slightly less in kayaks)
  • The route has 1 portage


You start at Kempston and paddle downstream through picturesque river meadows with lots of wildlife to see. The gentle flow will take you towards Bedford town centre with its tree-lined Victorian embankment and promenade. You pass under several historic bridges. You will then portage (carry your boat from the higher river to lower river), allowing you time to stretch your legs before paddling back into the countryside for the final leg of your trip. Our team will collect you at Cardington Lock for your complimentary lift back to the start.

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The Route: Full Description


  • Our half day paddling route from Kempston Mill to Cardington Lock
  • Explore Bedford's iconic Victorian Embankment
  • Grab a picnic spot or stop at the Longholme Cafe
  • Complimentary lift back to the start (peak times drivers only)
  • Plenty of wildlife with cormorants, kingfishers, otters

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 portage to the lower river 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.

You portage down the site of the schools boat house and re join the lower river. Turning left you paddle down in rural settings with tree lined banks. About 300 m later you pass a small island before passing under road and pedestrian bridges. You then pass the old railway bridge skirting around the side of the meadows. You may be surprised to notice a very large pyramid structure, the famous Pyramids of Bedford which is an indoor swimming pool and leisure facility.

The river passes Priory Marina with Max McMurdo’s floating house which was filmed on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. The river is now a long straight with large willows and trees on either bank and a favourite spot for flitting kingfishers and the occasional Egyptian Goose. The river bends left and passed Bedford Boat Club and moorings. You are on the homeward leg towards Cardington Lock and Sluices.

Just before the Barns Hotel you will see a mechanized boom which is the Cardington artificial slalom course which was the first in the country in 1982. This small whitewater course hosts national slalom events and has showcased the talents of many future Olympians. The Barns Hotel is located on the right hand side with a dock accessing the bar and restaurant area.

Your paddle finishes at the Cardington Lock and the second canoe portage sign. There is a 100m carry to the exit point and the road. We will collect you from here and shuttle you back to your vehicle at the start.