This is an 18-mile paddle of nine locks and only one portage. Seven locks have canoe passes and one, Hampstead, can be by-passed. The launch and recovery sites are easily accessible, and the trail finishes at Allington with free, hot showers and a café.
Sarah, Mark, Dan and I choose to make the trip with an overnight stop at Hampstead Lock where we camped at Marlin Canoe Club, a secluded patch of grass and shading trees with a view of Yalding Bridge.
There is no running water on site, but the river authority has some near-by, and there’s the Anchor – a dismal escapee from the early 70s: terrible food and fouled beer. But who cares? We were hungry and it has a great view of the river.
We paddled around 3 hours each day for 2 days with no flow. Yes, it’s a trip we could have done in a day but in gorgeous weather we took time to enjoy the view and engage in simple pleasures, such as spoiling one another’s course and posing for pictures.
The passes make it special. Soon after leaving Tonbridge we came to the first one: a narrow 30-feet-long passage of upturned brushes upon which we hauled the boats to the next step of the river. Hmm.
Happily, the next one was awash with water.
We shimmied into the narrow entrance and whooped down a water slide. And they get better, the gradients steeper, the design more imaginative. At Porters the way is hidden by a little bridge and a sharp turn; East Farleigh has two shoots, one after the other. Dan let us get soaked a couple of times before explaining that we should move our weight backwards…
It’s a rural landscape with the river banks populated by fishermen and walkers and mad with ragwort and balsam; we saw a couple of kingfishers and Dan and Mark (allegedly) an otter. At Maidstone we were the only moving things on the river as we paddled past concrete embankments and busy roads – but we soon left the noise behind for the final 30 minutes to the finish.
With a railway joining the route (a 30 minute ride) drivers have a choice. Mark and Sarah had left both our cars at the finish and returned to the start by train so, on hauling out the boats, we were able to make a dash for Bell Hill. Parking is easy at both ends, pay and display at Tonbridge and free at Allington.
Google Medway Canoe Trail for a waxed paper leaflet and more information.
Some more pictures from Dan