Available All Week 4.5 Hours
From £39
Exploring the river ouse in kayaks

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. Choose from kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards.

Out and back trip, so you can go as far or as little as you like.
Ideal for seeing the countryside and a lovely paddle to the Victorian Embankment.
Start at 09.45 am
  • Craft
  • Buoyancy Aid
  • Dry Bag
  • River Bank Instruction
  • Basic Map

Whether you are looking for a leisurely lily dip or more of a workout, this trip can be whatever you make it, as you are free-range! If this is your first time on the river, this is the ideal trip for you. Perfect for those with young children, or perhaps you want to see if your 4 legged friend will enjoy a trip before you try something for the whole day or even a canoe and camp trip. The route is up to 4 miles long and takes around 90 mins. We have a range of canoes, kayaks, or SUPs available for hire on this route. The recommended route to Cardington Lock is a peaceful and fun paddle down a stunning wide river. We provide a simple and easy-to-read map and a waterproof dry bag for your belongings. Highly popular among friends, couples, families, and groups.

Route Description

At Kempston Mill, you set off from near the pedestrian footbridge, where there are often 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 more parkland adjacent to 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 people's 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 its 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, ice cream 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.

You will reach Cardington Lock and the second canoe portage sign. This is the best place to stretch your legs and start thinking about making your way back upstream

Common Questions

Why can't I select a date to book? We run many activities throughout the season (April to October). If a date is unavailable then unfortunately it is fully booked.

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? There are no guides or instructors needed for hire. This is simply a hire where you paddle out and back to our 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 does the booking process 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.

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