Paddles at the ready! Rivers and lakes in Oxon and Bucks
Extreme heat? We've got the answer: get down to your local waterway for a cooling paddle and a picnic or pint (of Pimms?). Here's the best places to launch your own craft or hire one...
When the mercury is rising and an icy Diet Coke just isn’t doing it, there’s no better way to cool off than take to the water. Whether you want to go on it or in it, we’ve got rivers and lakes galore in Bucks and Oxon.
Where to launch your board or boat
Did you swerve the lockdown puppy but splash out (geddit?!) on an inflatable canoe or paddleboard? We’re seeing them all over the counties – (paddleboards, that is… as well as cute puppies), so thought we’d put together a guide of the best places to launch your craft, (or if you don’t have the kit, find out where to hire it, below).
Thrupp in mid Oxfordshire is a good spot for launching a canoe, kayak or paddleboard onto the Oxford Canal, as it’s relatively gentle, with plenty of places to stop off for a break, picnic or slap-up lunch. You can park by Annie’s Tea Room, just outside Kidlington, then it’s a short walk to the canal. You can paddle north or south from here. There are locks in both directions and to the south is the Jolly Boatman pub or even closer, The Boat Inn. Alternatively, park near St Mary’s Church in Kidlington and walk through the wooded area to the Cherwell River. There’s an entry point near the pedestrian bridge that leads to the village of Hampton Poyle. The Oxford Canal is a 75-mile stretch of canal with 46 locks and includes great little stop-offs like Thrupp, Cropredy and Aynhu.
You can kayak, canoe and paddleboard on the Thames at Port Meadow, which stretches from Jericho all the way to Wolvercote. Park at Port Meadow Godstowe Car Park (get there early on sunny days). You can paddle down to the lock and carry your boat around it or turn back. Another option is to give the Wolvercote Loop a go – going down the Thames from Wolvercote then through to the Oxford Canal via the ‘Sheepwash Channel’, before returning via the Duke’s Cut just north of Wolvercote. It’s just over six miles in all.
You can canoe/kayak or paddleboard on another of Oxford’s waterways – the Cherwell River, getting in at Water Eaton near Cutteslowe. Park just off Water Eaton Rd, and walk around 100m to the river. From there it’s a four-mile paddle to the The Victoria Arms in Old Marston, though it’s upstream heading back…
At Clifton Hampden you can pop into the River Thames close to Clifton Lock and tackle the five-mile paddle upstream to Culham. Parking is very tight so get there early. The Barley Mow pub, which features in Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, is just up the road.
Minster Lovell is a pretty Cotswold village near Witney. You can launch a craft into the Windrush River, though it can be fairly shallow at times of low rainfall. There is a small parking area at St Kenelm’s Church and some atmospheric English Heritage ruins to explore.
Buscot Weir near Faringdon is a popular swimming and watersports spot because of the easy entry into the water, large picnic area and the proximity to Buscot village car park and the excellent village shop/tearoom.
Wallingford Bridge and nearby Shillingford both offer good spots from which to drop into the Thames. Wallingford’s ‘beach’ has a positively Med vibe on a sunny day with it’s picnic meadow, ice cream van and nearby lido.
The Flower Pot pub near Henley on Thames has a slipway five minute’s walk away from which to launch. There’s a bit of free parking down Ferry Lane, or at the pub for paying customers.
If you reckon the sailor’s life is for you, there are a number of members-only lakes in the area – Oxford Sailing Club at Farmoor Reserve is one, and the The Three TTTs Watersports Club at Standlake is another. It’s a veritable aquatic country club, with tennis court, clubhouse, log cabin chalets and caravan sites alongside the water skiing, fishing and boating.
Where to hire a kayak, canoe or paddleboard
If you want to tackle the Oxford Canal or River Cherwell but don’t have your own boat or board, you can hire from Thrupp Canoe and Kayak, just outside Kidlington.
Watersports are very much a go at Willen Lake, which has a flashy new reception area with smart changing rooms and showers. There’s windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, pedalos and wakeboarding available.
Moose Canoe Hire has a base at Bisham with canoes, kayaks, SUPs and ‘mega SUPs’ for the party crowd. From the base it’s a 1.5 hour paddle to Hurley village which has two pubs (The Rising Sun and Ye Olde Bell) – a short walk from where you get out of the water at Hurley lock.
Another hire option is Benson’s AV Boats which has kayaks and paddleboards (including the ‘monster’ for 8-12 people) as well as electric boats (for more boat options, see below). It has a new second site now open in Abingdon that also has fishing boats available. Boats cost from £85 for two hours and take four or 10 people.
The Prosecco-sipping option…
If that sounds like too much sweat, Wallingford’s Pure Boating has electric boats for up to 11 people that you can drive down to Benson Lock or towards Moulsford. What better way to arrive at The Beetle and Wedge, two hours downstream, than on the water. Boats cost from £55 for an hour. Hobbs of Henley also has an extensive self-drive fleet, or if you’re really looking for the easy option, take a cruise and let someone else take the strain. If you’re ready for liveaboard life, Cotswold Boat Hire offers shortbreaks on self-hire boats and day hire, costing upwards of £60 for two hours.