Boat trips and punting in Kent: 8 of the best to try
PUBLISHED: 16:33 19 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:29 02 November 2020
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 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.
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."
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."
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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