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No-one told me about the bloody portages!(Or Paddling the River Medway Canoe Trail)


So here I am back at Allington Lock on the River Medway deflating 2 paddle boards waiting for Rob to fetch his car after 2 days of paddling 30km through 11 locks with 10 portages and 1 overnight camp in a bivvy bag.

Day 1 started by meeting Rob at Allington lock where he parked and left his car ready for when we arrived back on boards the next day. We then drove with all our gear in my car to Tonbridge (Lower Castle car park – Pay & Display/Mobile app, Monday to Saturday 8am to 6pm). The car park was packed on a Saturday afternoon but miraculously we bagged a space right next to the slipway into the Medway – result! We inflated boards, loaded our kit and we were off. As this was our first touring trip, we thought the extra weight would be a burden but on a flat river you do not even notice all the kit you are carrying for an overnight stop plus food and water. This was a pleasant surprise until 500m later we hit our first lock and had to portage boards and kit. As my dry bag was a holdall style rather than rucksack this was to become my Achilles heel for the next 9 locks that would require us to get out of the water and carry our gear. Carrying a board and a weighty bag really was a pain! I would thoroughly recommend using a rucksack type bag as it will be more stable to carry with a board – the portages on the Medway locks can be a couple of hundred metres or so with steep steps down to the next water level. If you are a canoeist/kayaker you have the option of using canoe chutes at each lock to save the portage – these are graded in three steps from easy to hard, they are basically mini rapids but look amazing fun!

The paddle to the planned overnight spot was idyllic – the river was stunning, every bend revealed yet another beautiful green vista. Paddling with the flow of the river and a slight tail wind made for a really relaxing paddle that meant we could enjoy our surroundings to the full and made up for the cumbersome portage at every lock. We hardly saw any other river users either and it felt like the river was our own.

We were looking to stop at Oak Weir lock and camp there for the night, but we were beaten by a canoe party – one of the canoeists recommended paddling on just past the next lock and we were shown were to look on the right-hand bank for a good overnight spot. So, day 1 and just under 10km paddled with 6 portages complete we set up bivvy’s and a tarp for shelter before eating and settling in for the night.

Day 2 started early with the dawn chorus and after a couple of strong coffee’s we set off again for the second day’s paddle, Allington Lock 20km away but with only 3 portages for the day and blue sky we were really looking forward to what was ahead of us.

We were not disappointed either. The scenery and the river were again stunning although as you approach Maidstone it does start to become more urban, and we encountered more river users and a couple of boats. The sighting a terrapin and a seal on the bank more than made up for this though.

Paddling through Maidstone and on a couple of Km’s to Allington Lock is a little mundane, the only highlight being the 14th Century Archbishop of Canterbury’s Palace on the outskirts as you enter the town centre.

Arriving back at Allington Lock was both a relief as it meant tired arms could be rested and no more portages! But at the same time disappointing to leave such great scenery and a beautiful river.

This is a thoroughly recommended 2-day trip, at most of the locks camping is allowed (mostly no facilities though) and given the portages I would recommend rucksack style baggage. There is plenty of information on the Medway canoe trail online and YouTube – check it out and give it a go, you will not be disappointed.


Notes:

Kit list [aside from wetsuit etc]:

40L Dry bag holdall

A.Gortex Bivvy Bag/B.Sleeping bag/C.Sleeping Mat/D.Inflatable Pillow

E.3m x 3m tarp/small groundsheet (not shown)/F.pegs & paracord

G.Change of clothes

H.Cooking Kit

I.Water/J.Food (pot noodle swapped out last minute for an altogether tastier Summit to Eat Chipotle Veg Chilli)

The River Medway Canoe Trail Map can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/289729/gese0811btvn-e-e.pdf

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