Canoeing England: A Day Paddling Down River Nene

Canoeing England with Canoe2 in Northamptonshire, England.

As much as I love city breaks, there comes a time when I 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. In a week, I uncovered my love for England’s small towns vibes, large open fields, and rolling green and yellow hills. Most of all, I loved being on the water and my day trip to Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England offered a relaxing day of exploration.

I adore this view, welcome to the English countryside.

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 incredibly new experience. My inspiration for champing was based on the book, The Alchemist.

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!

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 and I chose the half-day trip from Hardwater Mill to Ditchfield Lock.

I arrived at Ditchford Lock (the main site) at about 11 a.m. and was greeted by Canoe2’s friendly staff for check-in. I then hopped in the shuttle and we 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.


River Nene

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 river banks butterflies would fly by gigantic flowers and there were hilly green pastures for as far as the eye could see.

During the 6 mile paddle I also spotted lots of wildlife. There were land clouds (a.k.a. sheep haha!) over the hills and I paddled inches away from a herd of grazing cows. Swans and ducks swam alongside me making this an intimate encounter with Northamptonshire’s habitat and wildlife.

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

Although canoeing downstream was easy and didn’t 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 a lot with maneuvering the canoe but the process demanded strenuous work. No sweat though because by the third lock, I was pro. The locks are a great resting point and since it was a self-paced tour, 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 4 hours on River Nene, I got to see rural Northamptonshire upclose and personal. Canoeing offered views that I probably wouldn’t have seen if I drove or biked by.


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


Final Thoughts

Since Canoe2 is conveniently located halfway between London and Birmingham, I have a feeling that I’ll find my way back to River Nene on my next visit to England. Next time, I’ll paddle for a full day or I might extend my stay and go camping at one of their many camp sites.

Taking an alternative approach to my summer visit to England was one the best things that I did and I can’t wait to continue exploring.

Thanks again Canoe2 for hosting an incredible half-day canoeing rental and giving me the opportunity to explore Northamptonshire and paddle down River Nene.


£54 ($63 USD) for half-day 2 person canoe with Canoe2 (this is the tour I went on)

Other Canoe2 canoe hire/rental rates and routes

Considering champing? 8 Champing Churches in England

Where should I go next in England?

Author: Danielle Desir

Danielle Desir is a Travel Finance Strategist that uses her financial background and knack for financial planning to empower those who want to travel afford travel and excel in their personal finances. She shares creative planning strategies, saving tips, cheap flight deals and even talks about her student loan repayment journey on her blog, The Thought Card. Her financial expertise has taken her across the globe to over 19 countries and 3 continents (and counting), all while paying off her student loans, saving for a house and working full-time.