Paddling the River Waveney
PUBLISHED: 15:10 24 October 2016
Want to get afloat? Suffolk has plenty of inland waterways to explore. Julian Claxton paddles the River Waveney from Homersfield to Bungay and back
Kayak securely on the roof rack, I leave early to head 20 miles to Homersfield, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border. As the sun breaks through the light clouds, a warm breeze filters through the sunroof. I know it was a good day to be out paddling.
I choose Homersfield on the River Waveney as my starting point for a paddle because of the ease of access, good launching points and vibrant wildlife. And the Waveney, part of the Broads National Park, is well known for its glorious paddling opportunities. Wandering down towards the launch point, I’m surprised to see that this stretch of the river flows relatively fast, making steady progress under a bridge, across a stone bed and down towards bulrushes. The 50 foot bridge, built in 1870, is the oldest surviving concrete bridge in Britain, having been restored in the 1990s.
My paddle today is approximately nine miles to Bungay and back. I need to collect my car at the end, but if you can arrange a lift back, the ideal is to paddle all the way to Outney Meadow. Launching at Homersfield is a breeze as there are excellent points to enter the river on either side of the bridge. Carried away from the bridge by the flow, I head between and over large mounds of bulrushes I’m amazed by unbelievable clarity of the water.
The river soon twists and turns, meandering its way through the Suffolk countryside, the hum of the traffic growing ever distant, replaced by birds and the splash of fish. The crystal clear waters provide a wonderful show of marine life, while beautiful dragonflies buzz ahead of me at every opportunity. The wildlife on this stretch of river is inspiring.
After about an hour of gentle paddling, the landscape changes. The open fields and farmland are replaced by shaded woodland. A woodpecker, drumming away in the background somewhere, seems the ideal complement to this part of the trip. There are a few fallen trees to navigate, easy enough to deal with, if a little frustrating at times.
I stop in a shallow part of the river, in the middle of the woodland, sit on the river bank and open my flask. There’s not another soul in sight and I have the entire river to myself it seems, surrounded by nature and accompanied by a chorus of wildlife.
I continue down river for another hour, through patches of brightly coloured water lilies and past cattle at the water’s edge until I reach the portage point at Earsham Sluice. Clearly marked signage and well maintained portage points made this transfer fairly comfortable. On towards Bungay and signs of human activity became apparent – foot bridges across the river and the occasional dog walker pops into view. Before too long I glimpse roof tops and the tower of Bungay Church. Then, a sudden, dramatic confrontation with a swan and her cygnets, ending, thankfully, in a truce as we each give the other some space and I continue on my way.
I stop for lunch on the river bank, just outside the market town, and spend a pleasant hour in the sun, relaxing and gently dosing. Then it’s time to head back – I dread another encounter with an angry swan, but they were long gone, fortunately. I head off, this time against the flow, which adds to my journey time and is slightly more tiring. But the paddle back is just as glorious as the morning’s journey.
I paddled my day trip kayak, which made the journey a complete pleasure. Plenty of room for lunch, coffee and water, but the river is also ideal for Canadian canoes. Waveney Valley Canoe Club has excellent resources online for the upper stretch of the river and can offer good advice. If you don’t have a canoe and wish to explore parts of the river, the helpful folks at Outney Meadow caravan site have Canadian canoes for hire from £24. They offer good advice and have an excellent launch site on the meadow.
Parking at Homersfield is free and the pub is a lovely place to relax after a day’s paddling.
Directions to Homersfield bridge: Take the A143 from Diss or Bungay, turn off at the signs for Wortwell between Bungay and Harleston. The launch site is a few hundred metres from the junction.