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Cuckmere River, East Sussex
The South Downs around the gorgeous town of Alfriston isn’t short of nice pubs, some of which can be reached by paddling along the River Cuckmere. Buzz Active runs kayak tours along the river from its outdoor centre on the banks between Eastbourne and Seaford. One heads upriver with the tide to Alfriston, following the Cuckmere meanders – ribbon-like bends – through the Cuckmere valley, passing pretty villages and the chalk white horse on a hillside near Litlington. The trip takes 4-5 hours with time for a lunch stop at the 17th-century Plough and Harrow in Litlington, which always has six real ales on tap. Or you can push on to Alfriston, wandering up the High Street to the George Inn, one of several pubs here. Those who don’t want to go so far can hire a kayak to explore the meanders for an hour or so then walk to the Cuckmere Inn in Seaford.
Tour to Alfriston from £36pp, buzzactive.org.uk
Fowey estuary, Cornwall
Ship Inn, Lerryn
From a spot on the Fowey estuary, paddlers can join a guided family-friendly Creeks and Backwaters tour to the village of Lerryn. Trips start from the Boatshed cafe in Golant, where kayaks and SUPs can be rented for journeys (with an eye on the tides) along the river’s forest and beach-fringed waterways, where it’s possible to spot herons and even seals. The tour allows time for a pitstop at the village’s 16th-century Ship Inn, a short stroll from the creekside where it’s easy to pull up your kayak. Those going independently can linger over the pub’s homemade bites, such as jackfruit massaman curry or “green fairy snags” pork, absinthe and fenugreek sausages. A deli next door, Lerryn Village Stores, provides ice-cream before the meander home. After returning your craft, the pub garden of Golant’s Fisherman’s Arms, overlooking the colourful boats bobbing or resting in the estuary, is too close to ignore.
Kayaks from £25 for four hours in a single, £35 in a double; guided tours from £30 adult, £20 child, for 2-3 hours, encountercornwall.com
Beaulieu River/River Itchen, Hampshire
Paddling on the Itchen. Photograph: Steve Mead Freewave
More exciting than getting an Uber is a 90-minute Paddle to the Pub trip along this river in the New Forest – to the Master Builder’s at Buckler’s Hard (park at the pub, walk to the paddle start point). This renowned boutique inn is where many fine naval ships were built. Now the grassy slips are a pretty spot for a glass of albariño. It’s worth booking for lunch for creative plates of Romsey chalk stream trout rillette, panfried south coast mackerel or New Forest asparagus, then Dorset lamb rump or buttermilk chicken burger. Maybe a pud of peanut butter mousse or caramelised pineapple, coconut and lime sorbet. Stable 2-3 seater Canadian canoes are used for the tour, led by guides knowledgable about the local wildlife. There’s a similar Paddle to the Pub tour available with a different operator along a slice of the nearby River Itchen, from Southampton’s Woodmill Outdoor Activities Centre to the White Swan Pub in Eastleigh (£35/£25).
Master Builder’s tour, £34 adult, £19 child, newforestactivities.co.uk
View from Low Newton towards Dunstanburgh Castle. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
From the sweep of sand at Beadnell Bay, a popular location for watersports, KA Adventure Sports runs guided SUP tours that follow the Northumberland coastline, looking out for seals. One three-hour trip heading south can include a stop at the beachfront pub The Ship Inn in Low Newton, one of the area’s prettiest villages, for seafood – such as local hand-picked crab sandwiches and ale from the pub’s microbrewery. After returning your gear at the end of the trip, you might pop in to Beadnell’s the Craster Arms – a pub with a stone tower and live music in the garden – for something cool made with the local Hepple gin. KA runs guided SUP trips along the River Tyne between Wylam and Hexham, too, both with grand pubs near the river.
Tours of 2-3 hours from £100pp for four, including wetsuits and kit, support boat and instruction, kitesurfinglessons.co.uk
River Lea, London
The Lea at Hackney Wick
The Milk Float barge, moored in happening Hackney Wick, in east London, is a bijou drinking spot among the growing array of warehouse-size waterside bars. Not only does it serve lip-smacking mezcal cocktails and Latin-inspired burgers and hotdogs from its below-deck bar, with outdoor seating up on the deck, but it’s where Moo Canoes is based. This outfit rents Canadian-style canoes seating three, that are ideal for fun forays along the River Lea Navigation. One popular and scenic route option is to paddle north along the River Lea to the Princess of Wales in Clapton, one of east London’s best boozers, with seats by the water and a covered beer garden. Order some small plates – lamb, chervil and rhubarb scotch egg perhaps.
Canoe rental £36 for one hour then £10 each additional hour, moocanoes.com
Applecross Bay, Wester Ross
Applecross Bay. Photograph: Crest Photography
The Applecross Inn on the west coast of Scotland is one of those pubs people brag about having been to, as it is revered for its seafood and views. Getting to its remote location on the Applecross peninsula, with the mainland mountains on one side, Skye to the other, is part of the appeal. Some cycle the rollercoaster road, some sail. Arriving on a sea-kayaking excursion possibly trumps the lot. Mountain and Sea Guides – leaders of expeditions in the Lofoten Islands and Canada – is a local company and based here. As well as more advanced trips in the area it offers an introduction to sea kayaking weekend in Applecross Bay, where the shallow protected waters are ideal for beginners.
From £220pp excluding accommodation, applecross.uk.com
River Severn, Worcestershire
One of the loveliest stretches of Britain’s longest river, the 14-mile section of the Severn between Bridgnorth and Bewdley takes 4-6 hours to complete, and has a couple of selling points for a canoe expedition. Time things right and you could pull up at the 17th-century Unicorn Inn at Hampton Loade for a pub lunch of homemade pies or toasties. Shaded outdoor tables, eight real ales and a big kids’ playground make it a winner. At the end of the voyage, which includes faster-flowing sections and rapids at Trimpley, you can ride the Severn Valley Railway steam railway back to Bewdley.
From £46 adult, £28 children, including rail journey, canoeuk.com
River Wye, Herefordshire-Monmouthshire
Ye Olde Ferrie Inn. Photograph: Nathan Young
Paddling to the pub is unavoidable for anyone who books a paddleboard session or canoe trip with YOFI Paddlesports – it’s based at Ye Olde Ferrie Inn, a 15th-century pub with rooms on the banks of the River Wye. It’s on the Herefordshire side of the Wye in Symonds Yat, with calm water that’s great for beginners and kids to try a taster session. More competent paddlers renting for a full day could head seven miles west to the town of Monmouth, blessed with great pubs, such as The Old Nag’s Head, which often hosts live music, or book a three-hour group tour from Kerne Bridge further east along the river. Once back on dry land, Ye Olde Ferrie Inn’s riverside terrace is a lovely spot for a post-paddle glass of Ross-on-Wye cider.
SUP and kayak hire £20 an hour, longer journeys from £45pp for three hours in a group, yeoldferrieinn.com
River Nene, Northamptonshire
The King’s Head in Wadenhoe
The River Nene flows through the east of England from Northamptonshire to the Wash, with the enchanting Nene valley home to flood plains, pools and lakes. A full day’s 8.5-mile paddle between Thrapston’s Nine Arches Bridge and Oundle usually involves a stop halfway at The Kings Head in Wadenhoe, a charming riverside pub. Here you can pull your boat up on to grassy banks to enjoy a drink under the willow trees, and book in for lunches of posh fish-finger sandwiches, or pies, maybe going the whole hog with a luxury afternoon tea.
From £125 for a two-person canoe, £165 for three-person, £170 for a four-person, including return transport, canoe2.co.uk
River Thames, Berkshire
The Thames is perfect for a paddle with pitstops
From Bisham Abbey in Marlow, a Grade I-listed manor house, Boat Rental Thames has kayaks, paddleboards and canoes to rent with a number of options for pub paddles along a tree-lined stretch of the river. Heading west to Remenham, just outside Henley-on-Thames, there’s the chance of lunch in the garden of the Flower Pot, a five-minute walk from the riverbank. Alternatively, go with the flow downstream to Cookham, where The Ferry does roasts, rotisserie and Asian-style salads. To boost the fun factor, hire a Mega SUP, big enough for up to six people.
Canadian canoe hire for three adults or two adults two children £65 a day, double kayaks £58 a day, single £50 a day, SUP £50 a day, Mega SUP £99 a day, boatrentalthames.com