We’d had a quick go on some Stand Up Paddleboards in Canada once and decided they’d be great for a tour somewhere. Starting close to home made logistics very straightforward, so our first SUP tour took us from Aylestone, Leicester to Newark via the Soar and the Trent. It was our first UK river trip and turned out to be a great way to spend the August bank holiday period. Being on the water might not be for you, but there’s miles of footpaths and towpaths to enjoy. It’s easy to overlook the areas close to home, yet there’s great beauty in this relatively busy area of the Midlands. We even saw Otters.
SK 568 009 Launching in Aylestone, Leicester, near the Packhorse Bridge
If you do a quick search for river tours in the UK, the Wye and Severn get the most hits. Really keen to take our new SUPs on a tour, we started looking into the hows and wheres of getting to a river and home again at the again. It started to get a bit complicated.
We live near Leicester. A river goes right through the city, we cycle along on it all the time. Why not see where that one goes? A quick route plan showed that following the Soar to the Trent, turning East (with the flow) was a definite option. To get home, we just needed a train station. Newark seemed to be about 70 ish miles away and the station was near the river.
We had five days and backed ourselves to get speedy enough at paddling to cover the distance needed. From a complicated drive to here, get a train and bus back to the start, etc., we now had a ten-minute taxi ride to our launch point near the iconic Packhorse Bridge, and a two section train ride back to our village. Packing took some thought – we would be bivvying two of the nights and needed enough warm clothes to counter any bad weather or unplanned swims (both of these happened).
Day 1 & 2: Finding our balance
The first morning paddling through Leicester was a lot of fun, if a bit tiring hauling the packs and the boards out for the locks. It was great seeing places from the water that we were so familiar with from land. We looked out for big landmarks like the football stadium and Space Centre, (hard to miss) and smaller ones, like favourite pubs or picnic places.
North of the city we enjoyed peaceful Watermead Park, a great place to wander with several lakes and grassy areas. Our first night was a friend’s place in Barrow – first day distance about fifteen miles. First day locks also fifteen. Four tired arms on this pair of paddlers.
SK 581 035 Getting more confident after a couple of hours paddling through Leicester
The next day we felt fresher than expected, until turning towards Loughborough a particularly consistent head wind hit our speed. A friend met us along the towpath walking her dog. She had to slow down her walking pace to stay chatting to us. It was hard work, but still also fun.
We both went to university in Loughborough, so another chance to see a place we knew well from a different perspective. I suspect the friend was slightly relieved to turn back and walk at a normal pace. North of Loughborough, the scenery and villages were delightful. Opinion helped by a well-timed tea and cake at a boat club. We camped that night at Redhill Marina, with only a few miles left before the Soar met the Trent.
SK 564 183 These flood locks are much easier on the arms! Just North of Barrow-upon-Soar
Day 3: An island, nature reserve and marina
Day 3 began mizzly and got a bit wetter for 50% of us after an unplanned bath by a lock. It is pretty hefting the dry packs up onto higher banks – not all portage points are created equal. The rain got heavier throughout the morning, but our speed really picked up. After a lot of canal on days 1 and 2, the river Trent pushed us along – we were zipping past the walkers now. Despite the damp, there were a few highlights.
We explored a little island that belongs to the scouts and enjoyed a peaceful paddle through the Attenborough Nature Reserve. It was so peaceful we noticed a few ripples and something diving in and out the water ahead. Three otters! Ducking and swimming right past us. I’ve sat and waited hoping to see otters on several of our trips with no luck, so the excitement lasted through a giant breakfast for lunch at Beeston Marina. The weather was a lot wetter and windier through West Bridgeford. After a few days on the boards our balance had got a lot better so we could manage the choppy water and wind.
SK 693 445 Relaxing paddling on day 4, better weather, better at paddling
Days 4 & 5: reaching Newark Castle
Days 4 & 5 were much calmer, the wind and the river both helped us along, so we treated ourselves to some longer breaks, enjoying riverside food stops and meeting friends in a handy pub. On the last night we bivvied on the edge of a field and met the friendly farmer the next morning who told us all about the area. We sped along to Newark and by lunchtime were rolling up the boards in the park opposite Newark Castle.
Hopping on the train home with our dry bags and paddles, we were very happy to have stayed local – we saw otters, great scenery, and friends could join us on the way. Best of all, the tip home to a brew and biscuits was less than two hours. We just tried not to dwell on the fact that it had taken us five days to do the outbound journey!
Planning your trip
SK 795 540 Packed up opposite Newark Castle – packing light really helped with portages
Paddleboarding isn’t as hard as the walkers we talked to on the route seemed to think. I would definitely recommend trying it if you have somewhere to hire boards and/or get tuition near you.
If you’re along the route of our trip, there are a few places to hire/learn paddlesports, including Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre, Barrow-upon-Soar, and Holme Pierrepont. If you’re paddling independently, always check river conditions and make sure you have the necessary licence.
Before planning overnight trips make sure you have early ‘get out’ options if things don’t go to plan and are competent and confident paddling longer distances.
We used OS maps to make sure we were choosing the river correct forks, though most were clearly signed. If staying on dry land is more your style, there’s great walking at Watermead Park, the Attenborough Nature Reserve, and miles of towpath along both rivers with lots to look at, including in the cities.
You can find the route we took on Day 1 & 2 here.