CANOEING IN SUFFOLK, BY OLIVER BENNETT
Oliver Bennett, journalist, lecturer and sometimes Suffolk-dweller, gives us an insight into one of his favourite pastimes, canoeing in Suffolk.
In Jerome K Jerome’s 1889 bestseller, Three Men In A Boat, he talks of seeking a place “from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century would sound far-off and faint”. He found this blissful state on the Thames over a century ago, but his sentiment still applies in our time, and none more so than canoeing in Suffolk.
As a county that can be slow and somewhat meandering (in the best possible way), Suffolk is perfect for a canoeing break, particularly at entry level. Its graceful waterways are not normally places that reward pumped-up Lycra paddlers (although they are here) but instead tend to attract families, nature lovers, the mindful and reflective. Which is perfect, so far as I’m concerned.
Oliver Bennett canoes the five great waterways in Suffolk
I often canoe in the Waveney near Bungay, where the friendly Outney Common Campsite hires green Canadian canoes for half-day stints. The fact that these boats are green is appropriate as in summer, you’ll become part of a scene of verdant brilliance: willows, herbs, reeds, meadowsweet, marigolds, nettles – every possible shade of green, complemented by the browns and whites of the curious cattle grazing on the metre-high banks. Pack a picnic, perhaps from the award-winning Earsham Street Deli in Bungay, then paddle awhile, park up on one of the ‘beaches’ for a rest. Then clamber back in and take advantage of the seaward current home.
The Waveney is matched by the more southerly Stour, the Alde and the Deben. In most of Suffolk’s languid streams you’ll find clear water moving slowly but steadily over beds muddy and sandy, supporting a pageant of fish: stripey perch, roach, rudd and pike waiting for a kill. They’re surprisingly good for snorkelling, while above ground you’ll see kingfishers, multicoloured butterflies and dragonflies, and towards the evening an otter, if you’re lucky. Just try not to hit the wild swimmers that increasingly frequent Suffolk’s rivers.
The five great Suffolk waterways all lead to the sea, and as they run their marshy landscapes give way to brackish water and sometimes, lagoons. On the Alde one can glide past reed beds to muddy banks where seals bask. The hardier can paddle out on a kayak into the North Sea, provided conditions are good. It’s fun, but I remain more of a river canoer. I like to let my boat drift, rekindling that sense of alertness that comes in nature, and enjoying a place where the noise of the 21st century is “far off and faint”.