The River Thames can be high, fasten and wild at this time of year. However, don’t let this stop you, for there are some beautiful routes to be done. You’ll need your British Canoe Association licence and be careful to dress for the weather. Here are some of our favourite routes…
KENNET & AVON CANAL
The canal is 87 miles that goes all the way from the Thames close to Wokingham Waterside centre to Bristol. Here are three launching points we recommend, complete with free parking.
Burghfield Road Bridge (opposite the Cunning Man pub)
Immediately after passing the Cunning Man pub on your left(RG30 3RB), you’ll see a right before the bridge, which is a short track with parking for around 5-6 cars. You can launch within 30ft.
Launch right next to the bridge (beware it can be quite fast flowing here where the canal funnels through the bridge), and travel upstream to Burghfield Mill to the weir, or downstream 1.3km to Southcote Lock. From Southcote, you can either return to your launch point via a loop around Burghfield Island, or continue downstream from Southcote Lock onto to Fobney Lock and into Reading (see next route).
Passing the Madejski Stadium on your left, then Reading’s Recycling centre, you can access the car park on the right using sat nav: RG2 0RP. Note the car park has a 2.1m height restriction.
Launch left of the lock (upstream) towards Burghfield to do the reverse of the route above, or right of the lock (downstream) to head into Reading and even to the Thames and Wokingham Waterside Centre. Note this can be a tricky portage to navigate. Choose the left bank across the bridge but be careful when using the flight of stairs.
Beyond Fobney Lock is a pleasant 1km stretch of countryside before it turns into an urban labyrinth of terraced houses before you reach County Lock. Continue past this to access the Oracle and the Thames, or Reading Abbey to Blake’s Lock.
The canal-side car park is off Hanger Road, signposted Sheffield Bottom Lock Picnic Area, sat nav:RG7 4AJ. Note the car park has a 2.1m height restriction.
Head downstream past Garston Lock towards Burghfield and even Fobney Lock, or upstream towards Aldermarston Tea Rooms. Both Sheffleld Bottom and Garston locks sit within a set of ponds and reservoirs that are part of the Theale Nature Reserve.
The Basingstoke Canal runs for 32 miles from West Byfleet in Surrey to Greywell in Hampshire. It is perfect for paddlers who want an easy paddle on a flat stretch of water. You’ll be surrounded by wildlife and a little history!
Barley Mow to Odiham
Head to the Barley Mow Car Park and slipway using sat nav RG27 8DE.
Launch and turn right towards Odiham and under the Barley Mow Bridge for a lock-free and beautifully rural nine-mile paddle (if that’s too far you can turn back at any point!). Beware some summer weed growth, which can get tangled on your fin and slow you down. If it feels like you’re wading through treacle, you’ll have something caught on your fin! Try and make it all the way to the Odiham Castle if you can… it’s worth it.
Crookham to Barley Mow
Crookham Wharf is situated by Chequers Bridge, which has a small public car park and…when we’re not in lockdown, a pub. GU51 5SY
A pretty wooded paddle with some attractive houses from Dogmersfield Village, this is a peaceful paddle. You can do a trip both ways, or a one-way shuttle to the Barley Mow pub.
Ash to Reading Wharf Road
Head to Ash Lock in Aldershot, GU11 2PS, and launch from the low bank above the lock, and turn right towards Fleet.
Another lock-free section of canal, you’ll be surrounded by wooded Heathland and pass Farnborough Airfield. which can be a good area to turn back if you don’t want to do the full 5.5 miles to Fleet, or the 11-mile round trip. With army ranges nearby, don’t be surprised to hear gunfire!
Measuring 87 miles, the River Wey forms where two streams join near Guildford, forming the Wey. It then meanders north and joins the River Thames at Weybridge. It’s a superb river if you’re looking for a picturesque paddle through beautiful Surrey countryside.
Pyrford to Guildford, or Byfleet
We launched from the Anchor in Pyrford, as others did, though ‘officially’ the Anchor is a private car park for customers only and with a barrier. There’s also off-road parking on the opposite side of the road.
Launch in front of the pub and heads right towards Byfleet, past the entrance to the Basingstoke Canal and the M25. If you make it all the way to Weybridge Town Lock, it’s 4.8 miles. This route is STUNNING!