Boat trips and punting in Kent: 8 of the best to try

PUBLISHED: 16:33 19 June 2019

The River Stour in Canterbury

The River Stour in Canterbury


Try our pick of some of Kent’s best boat trips: With everything from a wildlife spotting jaunt down the Stour to a jetboat adventure on the Medway, there’s something for everyone

- Canterbury Historic River Tours

Canterbury Historic River Tours can trace its roots back more than 80 years, when rowing boat tours used to set off from the city's Blackfriars Monastery. Now based on the King's Bridge in St Peter's Street, the tours are particularly popular with the city's many tourists. They offer the chance to view Canterbury from a completely unique angle; to learn about its fascinating history and its interesting architecture. It's also a chance to just sit back and drift away for a while along an enchanting little stretch of the River Stour that often goes unnoticed.

Staff are knowledgeable tour guides as well as trained boatmen and women, and make sure all passengers - up to 12 per rowing boat - really enjoy their time on the water.

Canterbury Historic River Tours

- Thames Sailing Barge Greta, Whitstable

Climbing aboard the Greta is like stepping back in time. This stunning red-sailed Thames Sailing Barge was built in 1892 and is based at Faversham during the winter, moving to Whitstable Harbour over the summer months to run regular sailings. The 80ft vessel spent a great many years hauling cargo and was later one of the Little Ships involved in the 1940 evacuation from Dunkirk. Now Greta welcomes up to 12 passengers on its six-hour sailings around the Thames Estuary.

Owner Steve Norris says: "We regularly sail through the Kentish Flats Wind Farm, out to the Redsand Forts or towards Herne Bay Pier, then Reculver Tower and back to Whitstable Harbour. On another trip we could take a relaxing sail up the River Swale, under Kingsferry Bridge and see the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery off the Isle of Sheppey. We often watch the seals and seal pups sunning themselves, or lazily playing in the shallow water. Trips around the Isle of Sheppey can also be arranged, but due to tides that would need to be a longer day sail."

Whitstable Harbour Day Barge Match (Explored Thanks!)

- Grove Ferry River Trips, Upstreet

Running from a beautiful spot at Upstreet, near the Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve, this river cruise is all about peace and quiet. Set on a scenic stretch of the River Stour, the Ellen Mary is a Regatta 23 electric launch which seats up to 12 people. Offering picnic trips, birdwatching trips and exclusive hire, as well as running regular 50-minute cruises up or down the river, it's a lovely way to while away some peaceful time.

Director Peter Dale says: "The River Stour runs through Stodmarsh nature reserve, which has become increasingly important in the last 20 years and is home to bitterns and marsh harriers, birds which were almost extinct in the UK but are now doing well at Stodmarsh. When we turn our boat around to return to base we cut the engine and drift on the tide. We can only hear the birds or the wind blowing in the reeds. It is the aspect of the trip that our passengers appreciate the most; getting away from a very busy world."

Stodmarsh Nature Reserve, Kent

- X-Pilot, Rochester and Queenborough

Built in 1967 and having worked as a pilot vessel at Gravesend for many years, the X-Pilot is as far from a pretty pleasure cruiser as it's possible to get. This 72-tonne workboat was built to stand up to the toughest conditions and these days it is the official supply vessel for Project Redsand, the custodians of the Second World War Redsand Forts.

It also a charter boat, licensed to take 12 passengers on trips from either Rochester Pier or Queenborough. Particularly popular with photographers who want to get up close to these eerie fortresses, the standard trips are between four-and-a-half and six-and-a-half hours long. A special Grand Forts Tour is also available, taking in Grain Fort, the Knock John Fort and the Shivering Sands Towers, as well as Redsands.

X-Pilot in Whitstable Harbour

- Jetstream Tours, Chatham

For something really thrilling, climb aboard Twist, a high-powered aluminium jetboat specially adapted for use on the River Medway. With seating for up to seven passengers, the boat offers a variety of trips aimed at the more adventurous, including the 90-minute Medway Raid. Departing from Chatham's Sun Pier, the trip takes you past Chatham Historic Dockyard and Upnor Castle as the commentary explains how the river was raided by the Dutch in 1689.

Further on, the boat gets up speed and races past the 18th-century forts on the river's fascinating islands. Jetstream Tours have a 100-passenger boat which runs sightseeing tours from Rochester Pier. Managing Director Richard Bain says: "Whether it's speed or a sedate cruise, everyone can enjoy the rich heritage that Chatham and Rochester has to offer."


- Elvey's Canoe, Yalding

Elvey's Canoe offers a range of guided tours on the River Medway. Owner and qualified British Canoe Union instructor John Lengthorn advertises planned excursion dates on his website and invites both experienced paddlers and first-timers to come and enjoy the Medway Canoe Trail with him. There is a choice of routes on offer, including Tonbridge to Yalding and Yalding to Allington, and he provides all the necessary equipment.

Taking around five hours, they're aimed at the physically fit and although most of the time is spent paddling on peaceful waters, there are a number of exciting canoe passes where you can shoot round the locks. John says: "I have to give the Environment Agency the credit for creating the Medway Canoe Trail between Tonbridge and Allington Lock, which has proved to be a fantastic resource with its canoe passes being a real hit with visitors. They add an element of fun and excitement to the trip."


- Kentish Lady, Maidstone

The Kentish Lady has been pottering up and down the Medway for many years. The 60ft steel catamaran seats up to 70 and offers a choice of one or three-hour cruises between Maidstone and Allington or Teston.

The hour-long trip is a perfect way to see Maidstone from the river, with an informative commentary about sights including Corpus Christi Hall and Allington Castle. Hop off at Allington Lock, where you can view the huge sluice gates marking the point where the Medway meets its tidal section, or explore Kent's past at Kent Life rural heritage centre. The three-hour cruise travels upriver under Farleigh, Barming and Teston bridges, turning at Teston Lock.

Kentish Lady

- Bodiam Boating Station, Newenden

Set right on the Kent and East Sussex border, Bodiam Boating Station is actually based in the Kentish village of Newenden. The name comes from its position on the tiny River Rother which leads to Bodiam Castle. A small, family run business, it offers a number of different activities and has been completely overhauled since changing hands several years ago.

The ferry is a former Royal Navy Lifeboat, the 'MV Dannie Lee', and carries up to 24 people during its 45-minute cruise to the castle. The boating station also puts on three-hour sunset cruises, going right down to Iden Lock near Rye, and also has a number of rowing boats, canoes and kayak available for hire. The site even includes a 30-pitch campsite and the new Lime Wharf Café, set in a beautiful timber boathouse-style building and seating up to 60.

#3/06 Bodiam Ferry

Others to consider...

Dover Sea Safari / Sandwich River Bus / Rib Request, Ramsgate / The Canterbury Punting Company / Canoe Wild, Fordwich / Tonbridge River Trips

More from Out & About

As the world slows down, we turn our eyes to the skies in search of the best places to watch some celestial wonders this summer

Read more

Here are 12 places that may have flown under your radar before but are well worth seeking out

Read more

Kent is blessed with fine and indeed famous country houses, but over the decades has lost as many of its grander houses as it retains. A new book by Martin Easdown reveals 120 examples that have simply disappeared

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take our quiz to see if you can decipher the town or place in Kent from the emojis

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Enjoy three of Kent’s best and most loved cycle rides which take in lots of the county’s beautiful coastlines

Read more

We look ahead to the end of lockdown and to a quiet seaside resort we can’t wait to visit again – Herne Bay

Read more

Hythe and New Romney, with their peaceful marshes, abundant wildlife and beautiful coastline, are the perfect places to explore when we’re allowed to travel again

Read more
Friday, June 12, 2020

We’ve gathered six of the best dog-friendly pubs in Kent to enjoy a bite to eat after a scenic stroll

Read more

Try these Kent-themed ideas for the ultimate ‘stay-cation’ – without having to move further away from home than the garden gate

Read more
Monday, June 8, 2020

Picnic baskets at the ready because we have gathered 10 of the best places to enjoy a picnic in stunning rural Kent

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Latest Competitions & Offers

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life