Canoeing on the Basingstoke Canal near London with ‘Go London’

A few weeks ago Ellie & I went canoeing on the Basingstoke Canal near London with Colin from Go London. The experience takes about 4 hours, including 3 hours on the water. It costs a very reasonable £40. We were joined by two friends of ours and about 10 other outdoor enthusiasts. The train from Waterloo to Ash Vale takes 50 minutes. From there it’s another 30 minutes’ walk to the Canal Café in Mytchett.

Canal Etiquette

Colin and his partner had already off-loaded the canoes, prepared the swim vests, dry bags, and paddles. Only a couple of people in our group had done some proper canoeing before. Most had never done any paddling. Luckily our instructor made everyone feel at ease right away, cracking a few jokes here and there. We learned a bit about safety, canal etiquette, the equipment, and paddling technique.

  

Getting the canoes to the canal

Less than 15 minutes later we were grouped into pairs. Many of us, like Ellie and me, our two friends, and others, had arrived in pairs of two anyway. Because the canoes are rather heavy, two groups of two paired up in order to get the canoes from the trailer to the nearby canal. It is much easier for four people to carry those boats than it would be for two. As soon as one canoe had been placed on the embankment next to the canal, the group returned to pick up the other canoe.

 

Getting onto the water

Next, Colin gave a few more instructions on do’s and don’ts. Then we put the canoes onto the water, one after another, and slid onto our seats from the concrete edge of the embankment. I’ll be frank. After my white water kayaking experience where my dip in 4C/39F cold water had left me with a mild cold shock, I was a bit anxious. This water was much warmer, probably around 11C/52F, but once again we were not wearing wet or dry suits, just our regular personal waterproofs and buoyancy aids.

 

30 years is a long time

It had been a long time since I’d done some Canadian style canoeing. More than 30 years, to be precise. My dad had taken the family out on about two dozen canoeing trips when my sister and I were kids, and it was always fun. In my memory, canoes were extremely sturdy on the water, almost impossible to tip over. When we had sat down on the seats and started to paddle away from the embankment, I realised that the canoe felt quite shaky. Not in a way that was too worrying, just a lot more shaky than I had remembered from my childhood days.

 

Getting comfortable on the water

Ellie, who had never done any canoeing, was a bit nervous, too, at first. She did of course know about my recent track record of falling into the water at every opportunity. However, after just five minutes or so we both started feeling quite comfortable on the water. We did press our legs against the sides of the canoe or the seats we were sitting on in order to keep ourselves stable in our positions, but really more to be doubly safe rather than as a matter of necessity.

 

On our way to Ash Vale

When everyone had hopped into their canoes without major incidents, our instructor gave us a few more pointers. One pair in our group was struggling a little bit at the beginning, so for the following ten minutes, Colin spent his time assisting them and getting them up to speed. His partner was leading the pack towards Ash Vale. Just like Colin, she was riding a two-seater canoe by herself.

Mytchett Lake

The scenery is very beautiful and changes quickly. You pass under bridge arches, by a pub with large outdoor seating area, then you arrive at Mytchett Lake. Despite the fact that you’re in a densely populated area, most of the time you don’t see any buildings, or maybe one or two. The whole experience feels very much like being out in the wild, even though the next gas station or supermarket might be just 200 metres away from where you are.

Lunch at Ash Wharf

When we arrived at Ash Wharf in Ash Vale, we got off our canoes and purchased some fish and chips. In hindsight, it would have been better to bring our own food or buy a sandwich at the local supermarket, as the fish and chips were so bad, we threw most of it away. Obviously not Go London’s or Colin’s fault. It was nice getting to know the group a bit better while we were sitting on the embankment next to our boats and gobbling down our food.

It’s not rocket science, or is it

As always with Go London, everyone had an interesting story to tell. One guy I got to talk with, said he was from French Guiana. So I said, isn’t that where they shoot rockets into the sky. He goes, yeah, that’s where I work.

 

Mixing it up

About half an hour after we had disembarked, we jumped back onto our canoes and started to make our way back to the Canal Café. In order to be able to properly catch up with at least one of our two friends, we decided to switch positions. Ellie joined her girlfriend on the one canoe, while I was pairing up with my mate.

Two’s company

The waterway had gotten a whole lot busier and at times it felt almost crowded. At some stage, a group of twenty kayakers, who seemed to be rather serious about their business, passed by us. We also encountered plenty of stand-up paddlers and other canoeists.

Wildlife

On a number of occasions Colin told us about the wildlife around us and we did some bird spotting. We were able to see a few cygnets, moorhens, ducks, and geese. The lampreys, which are  some of my favourite creatures and known to inhabit these dark waters, avoided detection on this occasion.

Choose your friends wisely

Towards the end, my buddy got a bit overly excited and over-confident and stood up in the canoe doing funky dance moves. For some reason I got reminded of my swim in the Derwent a few weeks earlier and pleaded with my friend to keep it cool and sit down. Luckily no major disasters happened and he did sit down again eventually. As a matter of fact, we’ve decided to stand-up paddle the River Thames from its source (well, as close as it gets if you don’t want to walk around the shallows half the time: Lechlade) to London in mid-July. Fingers crossed he doesn’t come up with more shenanigans. I’ll keep you posted.

Ellie and I both greatly enjoyed our canoeing session. 4.25 out of 5 in our book.

Looking for more fun things to do in and around London? Check out our reviews of the Thames Rocket, the London Helicopter, Lock’d Escape Rooms, Aquatic Jetpacks (near Poole), North London Skydiving (near Cambridge), and the French baking course at Bread Ahead.

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20 Comments

    1. It’s funny you should mention. Ellie and I (well.. really mainly I) have been looking into doing just that. Then we met someone on one of our recent hikes who had done this and nearly managed to sink the long boat while going too far downstream on the Thames… those boats are not ideal for flat-bottomed long boats it seems. We still want to do it, though!! 🙂

  1. I must admit that first photo of so many canoes and kayaks all in the same spot sort of misses my thoughts when I think about heading out on the water. But it was good that things opened up as you kept going. Great that you remembered your canoeing skills after such a long time. And that you stayed dry this time! Glad it was a successful outing with Ellie.

    1. Oh man, was I pleased that I had stayed dry this time around, yes haha…. A number of people have mentioned that it being so crowded at times would put them off, which is good to know for me. In my mind I kind of felt the more the merrier. Most of the route we were just by ourselves though, about 8 or 9 canoes.. so not too bad, as you say.

  2. This canoe trip on the Basingstoke Canal sounds like a fun adventure. I was always a bit nervous in a canoe because it felt like it could tip at any moment. My dad always assured me it wouldn’t, but apparently I have trust issues. I would’ve been yelling at your friend for sure if it had been me in that situation – especially with water that cold! Glad it all worked out in the end.

    1. Yes, my buddy can be a bit of a menace sometimes hahaha… very lovely guy, though, and I’m really looking forward to stand-up paddling the Thames with him from (close to) the spring to London in one month’s time. As a matter of fact, he and I did some SUP’ing on the sea in Brighton earlier today. 🙂

  3. Rocket launches in French Guiana to a canoe in England is quite the change of scenery. I do like our waterways in this country, although I prefer a little less effort when exploring, but it still sounds like a lovely little trip (fish and chips notwithstanding).

  4. Another grand adventure on water with you two! Is it just me but I don’t get your French Guyana comment. I guess I’ll have to google that later.

    And for shame, the bad fish and chips!!

    1. Thank you, Lannie, it was so much fun. I think ESA, the European Space Agency, operate the European Spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana. So I thought it was pretty cool that on a canoe on Basingstoke Canal I bump into this feller who shoots spaceships and satellites into the sky in his day job, that’s all. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Yes, GO London rock. We are just about to book another trip with them. 3 days of hiking in the Peak District. So looking forward to it!! 🙂

  5. This is such a fun adventure! You made me laugh when you said how you tend to fall into the water! Lol lol.But there is a trick to steering a canoe for two people. There might be some arguments (me & my hubby);when on a fast flowing river filled with alligators.lol lol. But otherwise, it is so enjoyable – yes to take in the birds, quiet sounds, and relaxing.

    1. Haha… never in the world would I hop into a shaky canoe in alligator-infested waters, Shannon. You could pay me a million dollars and I still wouldn’t do it. You and your husband are true adventurers!

    1. Haha… yes… dunked plenty times during other adventures, but not this time around, oh no.. We had a great time and will do this again soon. 🙂

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