Best paddles in Britain

A loop of two gently-flowing and beautiful rivers with views of iconic Salisbury Cathedral across the water meadows. 

This is route 90/107 in our latest bookPaddle Boarding South West England:100 places to SUP, canoe, and kayak in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Bristol


Launch from the pontoon into the clear waters of the River Nadder and head downstream (left). After a short distance, to avoid a small weir, take the right fork around Nadder Island. There is no landing at this Wildlife Trust sanctuary, an important breeding site for sedge and reed warblers, little grebes, kingfishers, sparrowhawks, winter snipe, and water rail. Continue past huge willows, their long fronds tickling the water, to reach the River Avon and take the left fork. Pass through Harnham Water Meadows, a historically important area of irrigated pastureland with watermills that contributed to making Salisbury a prosperous market town. The views across the meadows to Salisbury Cathedral, immortalised by Constable, are a highlight of this trip. Reach the houses of Fisherton Island, keep left and pass beneath the low road bridge and ‘rapids’ and the Town Path, taking the right fork alongside Queen Elizabeth Gardens towards the cathedral, its 123-metre-tall spire towering above cloisters and gardens. Continue on the right fork, away from the city, to reach another right fork towards Harnham Mill and have fun at the small weir below the Old Mill, an ancient building converted into a paper mill in the 16th century and now a hotel with a bar and restaurant. Enjoy fabulous views of the cathedral from its beer garden. Avoid sluice gate weir and exit the river on the small beach (left of the Old Mill), walk left along Town Path, then right along Middle Street to the entrance of Middle Street Meadow. Walk north east to find the river Nadder and Nadder Island and re-launch. Head left to return to the starting point, spotting more egrets, damsel- and dragonflies as you paddle gently upstream.

Salisbury’s special blue space

The River Avon is a chalk stream – one of the planet’s rarest habitats. Not only that, the Avon is one of the most diverse chalk streams in the UK, with over 180 species of plants, one of the most diverse fish faunas, and a wide range of aquatic invertebrates. The River Avon is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in its lower reaches

To help protect these special places please support Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and The Rivers Trust

What we can do Adhere to British Canoeing Paddler’s Code – especially only enter water with washed kit and board to avoid contaminating with invasive species; only launch at designated sites to protect river banks; avoid walking on river bed to protect native flora and fauna

Need to know

Distance 5.3km (including a 500m portage) 

Access restrictions No licence required

Starting point Riverside, off Newton Road, Churchfields Industrial Estate, Salisbury, SP2 7QA. Grid ref. SU 128 300

Launching Pontoon, 20m walk from parking

Parking Roadside, Newton Road

Pitstops Good beer garden, the Old Mill Harnham, tel. 01722 327517

Getting there SW on A36 into city , 3rd exit at St Pauls Roundabout (Station/Industrial Estate) onto Fisherton Street, under rail bridge then immediately R at mini-roundabout and L at next mini-roundabout onto Mill Road. Take 2nd exit at mini-roundabout onto Churchfields Road, continue straight then L onto Brunel Road (signed) and 2nd R onto Newton Road and park.

Special points Paddle only on normal river conditions; avoid the river after high rainfall due to fast flow. To negotiate ‘rapids’ under Fisherton Island Bridge lie flat on board (not for novices/higher water levels – there can be a 1ft drop/strong flow). During high summer the river can become shallow and weed-choked in places (may need to remove fin). To return to Nadder, in Middle Street Meadow take the grass path NE parallel with the houses until a grass crossroads, go straight over, and take any of the wooden walkways through the reeds back to the river. (Take care, these walkways are not in good condition).

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