Dorset canoeing & kayaking spots

The best Dorset & Hampshire canoeing & kayaking spots for your lockdown exercise

Probably best to start with "can we and should we paddle during lockdown?" before answering the question where to go

The answer to "can we?" seems, at the moment, to be yes. We are allowed to exercise and unlike during Lockdown 1.0 paddlesports are included as appropriate, socially distanced exercise and according to British Canoeing we are allowed to travel to access the water at recognised launch spots:

Outdoor exercise should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your area if necessary, to find an open space to exercise (such as a publicly accessible place to launch).

However, we are also supposed to stay local and not leave our village, town or city which is tricky if you don’t have a river, canal, lake or the sea in your village, town or city.

This contradiction has of course been highlighted in a couple of recent, famous cases, one with two women receiving a fine (later rescinded) for driving to a local beauty spot for a walk and the second, Boris Johnson himself being criticised for travelling seven miles to go cycling.

Things seemed to have calmed a little since the early days of the current lockdown however and there have been no recent stories like this although the contradiction between being allowed to travel for exercise and having to stay very local hasn’t really been resolved as these statements from two of British Canoeing’s sister organisations show:

British Cycling:We know many of you will want to know what is meant by 'staying local'. The Government’s definition of this is stated as ‘your village, town or the part of a city where you live’. We understand that this definition is particularly restrictive for cycling,(I think canoeing could easily be substituted here) and we are working to seek further clarification on this. On Thursday 14 January we wrote to the Government alongside British Triathlon and Cycling UK following the continued confusion over this matter, and we hope to provide an update shortly.

BMC: Can I travel to go climbing or walking? Current guidance ahead of the lockdown is that it will be OK to travel to exercise if you need to make a short journey to do so. The definition of ‘short’ is open to interpretation, of course, but the guidance also advises avoiding travel in or out of your local area so it seems the intention is to allow exercise near to where you live but not further afield. We’re trying to get further clarification on this, but it does mean that at least local parking is legitimate.

Both of these statements were published over a week ago but there doesn’t seem to have been any clarification since.

So, it seems we can still paddle legally but locally and because I happen to live five miles from the sea in my opinion five miles counts as local. If I lived fifteen miles away no doubt I would consider fifteen miles local...

Another factor to consider is that all three NGBs put an emphasis on personal safety, not just with regard to avoiding or spreading COVID but to personal welfare generally and this particularly affects us as paddlers because we’re not allowed to paddle in groups so this does really exclude more adventurous or remote trips (which are possibly stretching the spirit of the term exercise anyway). Of course, one paddler’s adventure is another paddler’s bimble so personally I’ve listened to British Canoeing’s advice - Individual paddlers should restrict their paddlesport activities to environments which are well within their capabilities, alert friends and family to their activity and predicted return times, and ensure they have a means to call for help with them at all times - and limited my paddling to my local venue, Portland Harbour which I know well, only in very benign conditions and staying well clear of any objective hazards. That’s to say I’ve used my local knowledge to go paddling for my physical and mental wellbeing but only when my experience tells me it’s very safe and I’m very unlikely to get into trouble. I carry lots of spares and repairs and aim to be as self-sufficient as possible and although I carry the usual array of safety and signalling devices, I consciously would only use them as a last resort. I also stay close to land and paddle parallel to the shore so that I could easily swim ashore if necessary.

In addition, I try to access the water from a launch spot which has plenty of space to avoid overcrowding, where paddling is a regular activity and where I won’t be overtly drawing attention to myself.

Nevertheless, I’ve already decided that if I get stopped by the police on my way to launch and told to go home, I won’t argue. I think the emergency services have got more than enough on their plate without my being a thorn in their side.

Taking all the above into account we’ve compiled a list six venues which we think meet the criteria of being:

- Local to South Coast Canoe’s ‘catchment area’ - Regularly accessed by paddlers - Plenty of space for parking so overcrowding is unlikely - ‘Safe’ environments, the usual precautions notwithstanding

And you’ll notice I’ve excluded some areas which might ordinarily seem obvious paddling venues, such as the whole of Purbeck, because although the beaches there aren’t technically closed according to the guidance above, police are patrolling and engaging with anyone who goes there, presumably partly to prevent a repeat of the crowding which occurred during lockdown 1.0 at Lulworth for instance.

Working west to east:

1. Sandsfoot Castle, Portland Harbour - My local spot, not the roomiest parking but one of the quietest (until lots of people read this article I suppose) so overcrowding hasn’t been an issue. Easy to launch and then I either turn left or I turn right, hugging the shoreline and going nowhere near the south side of the harbour and the shipping. I just potter about in the fresh air, enjoying not being cooped up at home for a while. Exposed to south westerlies but you’ll just be blown onto a lee shore.

2. Lake Pier, Poole Harbour - No question that this is a regular paddling venue, being the home of Poole Harbour Canoe Club. Plenty of parking and easy access to the water, Tidal awareness is useful as the flow can be pretty fast and quite exposed in a south westerly.

3. Christchurch Harbour, Quomps carpark or Mudeford Carpark - Popular paddling venues year-round and plenty of parking and easy access to the water. Tidal awareness is necessary.

4. Lepe Country Park - Big carpark, lots of room and easy access to the water. Always popular with sea kayakers. Turn left or right, keep an eye on the strength of the tide.

5. Eling on Southampton water - Plenty of parking, easy access to the water. Paddle down towards the docks for a sense of how small you are in the grand scheme of things. Stay away from any potential danger.

6. Warsash on the River Hamble - Free parking for four hours by the Rising Sun pub. Lots of room, easy access, popular with paddlers, head upstream for the nice views because they’re good for your soul. Beware of fast tides.