Canoeing England: A Day Paddling Down River Nene In Northamptonshire

Canoeing England with Canoe2 in Northamptonshire, England.
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

As much as I love city breaks, there comes a time when you want to head straight for hills and take a brief respite in the countryside. For my summer holiday in the U.K., I wanted to discover the beauty of rural England and spend some time outdoors. Throughout the week, I uncovered my love for England’s small towns, large open fields, and rolling hills. Most of all, I loved being on the water. A day trip to Northamptonshire with Canoe2 offered a relaxing day of canoeing on River Nene.

After being introduced to the concept of Champing (camping at a church), I knew that my holiday in the U.K. had to include this incredible experience. The book, The Alchemist, inspired me to go champing. In the opening scene, Santiago, a shepherd boy, sleeps in an abandoned church and has a dream of finding treasure in Egypt. I dreamed of recreating that scene and wanted to gaze up at the stars from an old church.

I was thrilled that champing at All Saints Aldwincle (and 7 other champing churches) would make my somewhat far-fetched dream come true. All Saints Aldwincle would offer a peaceful night stay at a medieval Anglican church built-in the 12th century – seriously, you can’t make these things up, this really exists!

I adore this view, welcome to the English countryside.

Looking for other fun things to do in Northamptonshire, I booked a canoeing trip with Canoe2 (thanks Champing for the recommendation). Since this would be my first time canoeing, I wanted to get my feet wet, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm myself with a full day of paddling. Canoe2 offered lots of options for novice canoeists. I chose the half-day trip from Hardwater Mill to Ditchfield Lock.

We arrived at Ditchford Lock (the main site) at 11 a.m. There, Canoe2’s friendly staff checked us in. We then boarded the shuttle and drove to the starting point. There I met my enthusiastic instructor who provided a safety briefing and paddling demonstration. He walked us through the important markers to watch out for and in no time, I was out on the water, doing my thing.


Canoeing in River Nene with Canoe2

Paddling down River Nene, there was something new to see in every corner. 

River Nene was so peaceful and tranquil. The water was cool to touch and as I glided downstream, I could see my reflection in the water.

I paddled by large patches of undisturbed green moss and colorful pink and yellow water lilies. Along the riverbanks, butterflies flew by gigantic flowers. And there were hilly green pastures for as far as the eye could see.


Northamptonshire Wildlife

During the 6-mile paddle, I also spotted lots of wildlife.

There were land clouds (a.k.a. sheep) over the hills. I also paddled inches away from a herd of grazing cows. Swans and ducks swam near me making this an intimate encounter with Northamptonshire’s wildlife.

We had a staring contest, I couldn’t look away.  

Although canoeing downstream was easy and did not require a lot of effort, there were three locks that I had to avoid for safety. This required getting out of the water and pulling my canoe to the next launching site.

The portage trolley provided by Canoe2 helped with maneuvering the canoe but the process demanded strenuous work. No sweat though because by the third lock, I was a pro.

The locks are a great resting point. And since this was a self-paced paddle, I did my best to enjoy every minute.

Only a few feet away and totally unexpected!

While pulling the canoe I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted a dozen horses grazing a few feet away. This was an amazing photo opportunity and what a reward for all that hard work!

Closer to the end of the route, I paddled under small abandoned bridges and large railway bridges which were stunning from my vantage point.

Tons of beautiful bridges and overpasses to see heading back to Ditchford Lock.

In a little under four hours, I got to see rural Northamptonshire up close and personal. Canoeing offered views that I probably would not have seen if I drove or biked by.

Northamptonshire will always have a special place in my heart. You can’t replicate the unspoiled simplicity of the English countryside.


Related: Hiking Cleeve Hill of Cotswold Way in Cheltenham


Final Thoughts

Since Canoe2 is between London and Birmingham, I have a feeling that I’ll head back to River Nene soon but next time, I’ll paddle for a full day. Or I might extend my stay and go camping. Taking an alternative approach to my summer holiday to England was one the best travel decisions I’ve made.


This is a collaborative post with Canoe2, all opinions are my own. 

34 replies
  1. polly says:

    I stumbled across your page when looking for Toronto city break ideas! ( We are heading there next week) And I was happily surprised to see your posts on Northamptonshire (my childhood home) and Gloucestershire (my current home!) I loved reading about your experience and i’m glad you got to experience the English country side that we so cherish!

    • Danielle Desir says:

      Thanks Polly – the English countryside is so special to me and I had so many fond memories during my week in England. Waiting for the next chance that I get to visit! How are you enjoying living at Gloucestershire now?

  2. manjulika pramod says:

    The first picture itself hooked me…Champing is a new word for me too.
    The whole experience looks very peaceful and surreal in the lap of nature. Any day I would love to do something like this.

  3. Annemarie says:

    I had never heard of champing before. And kayaking in England never occurred to me either! So thanks for introducing me to those two concepts. They are pretty cool and your pictures look just as amazing. Love the cow peeking out behind the bushes.

  4. Tony Bosworth says:

    Hi I live exactly where you paddles along. To be honest I am not overly happy with your positive comments. before you know it we will have Americans everywhere. (joke) you must visit Thrapston next time (next town along) it is where the stars and stripes originate from.

    • Danielle Desir says:

      Haha! You have a good point, Americans will start flooding the region for sure hehe. But I’ve added Thrapston to my list for my next visit, I’ll be back soon! Thanks so much for the recommendation.

  5. Janna C. says:

    This seems like a relaxing way to spend an afternoon! Although Im not very good at it, I still like canoeing especially if the view is as nice as the ones you have here.

  6. Travelerette says:

    I’m with you about the countryside! I’m a city girl through and through but sometimes you need to get away. Your pictures are beautiful! I didn’t even know you could canoe in England! Also I would love to try champing someday–sounds like a real adventure!

  7. Paige Brown says:

    I think these gorgeous photos and descriptions are proof that some of my British friends sell their countryside short! This looks like the perfect break from those city trips! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Sally from Passport & Plates says:

    Ahh this looks SO quaint and relaxing! What a great activity to do, especially in the summer when the whether in England is actually really good. I haven’t explored much outside of London and clearly I’m missing out!

  9. Kerri McConnel says:

    This is so beautiful and I love the idea of being able to canoe down these waterways. I think I’ve been “sort-of” champing for years, if staying in churchgrounds in a motorhome counts :)

  10. Kemkem says:

    This is beautiful. It must have been a nice getaway. Loved the cow and your staring contest. Amazing that all is this so close to the big city.

  11. Laura Nalin says:

    Love this post! Looks like you found such a quaint and quiet escape for your holiday. I love that photo of the cow because I am weird and have a slight obsession with cows. I love them! I would love to do something like this and it’s great to know it’s so close to London! Who would’ve thought?! Thanks for sharing, Danielle!

  12. Cynthia says:

    Oooohh that sounds so fun!! I love canoeing (though I’ve only done it twice in my life haha). Need to do it more! I’m going to England and Europe this fall so maybe I’ll go here :D

  13. Christina says:

    What a neat experience! We go canoeing often. Liked you said, I also like how you get to see some areas you wouldn’t normally or at least from a different perspective than if you were not on a canoe.

  14. Cassie @ Cass Travels says:

    Oh this looks like so much fun! I love getting out of the city and finding adventures not so far from London :) We’ll definitely be looking into this!

  15. Robert Doyle says:

    Nice post and photos Danielle. There are so many places I have yet to see in England, but I would definitely recommend the Lake District. That is a magical place, just like Ireland and Scotland. I’ve also heard that the border between England and Wales is particularly beautiful in spots (as is Wales from my one trip there years ago).

    • Danielle Desir says:

      Photos of the Lake District look stunning!! I will have to keep it on my list of places to visit next time I’m in England. I wanted to go to Wales but didn’t get a chance to make it – next time. And the bucket list grows.

      • Robert Doyle says:

        Yep, I know all about that expanding bucket list alright! I also really want to see Devon, Dorset and Cornwall as well. Cornwall especially because I want to visit all the main Celtic lands. Been to three, four more to go!

  16. Chitownchica says:

    I had no idea champing was a thing and had a name like that. I’ve stayed at churches before, but always with a church group or something organized….that or on the pilgrimage trail. I’ll have to check it out the next time I am out that way. And I love canoeing any chance I can get. Thanks for the view!

  17. WyldfamilyTravel says:

    Sounds like you had a great experience on this activity. We did a similar thing in Germany and witnessed some amazing wildlife

  18. Terri Huggins says:

    I am absolutely obsessed with these amazing photos with bodies of water. I love water even though I’m not much of a swimmer. Perhaps it’s cause I’m a water sign. And you’ve totally inspired to look up this idea of champing. I’m definitely intrigued!


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