Here is a beautiful, fun paddling trip suitable for kayaks, canoes and Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP). It incorporates two stunning and very different backwaters, St Patrick’s Stream and Hennington Backwater, while paddling the Thames in Berkshire.
Distance: 7.5 miles
St Patrick’s Stream: flows faster than the main River Thames so some paddling skill is required to avoid obstacles, low and fallen trees. In summer it is a very gently paddle, in winter with higher water levels it will become more hazardous.
Hennerton Backwater: flatwater, very little flow, sheltered, ideal for beginners.
River Thames: wide, strong currents, look out for river traffic.
Suitable for: kayaks, canoes and SUPs
Parking: Limited, free off-road parking at the top end of Milestone Avenue, just before the bridge.
The last couple of miles of this trip are paddling upstream against the main flow of the River Thames to get back to the get in/out. Only attempt this if you are experienced and know your level of fitness.
Paddling the Thames in Berkshire | St Patrick's Stream and Hennerton backwater.
St Patrick's Stream
A backwater of the River Thames in Berkshire, St Patrick’s Stream is a beautiful stretch of water, an unexpected gem. Much of it is narrow and twisting with over hanging trees. It’s shallow and gravelly in places, deeper and wider in others and has a very different character to the nearby River Thames. It may only be two miles long but it’s a haven for wildlife and plants. Dragonflies, butterflies and damselflies flit across it’s silky surface, sometimes pausing to land on the water lily leaves, while fish dart beneath the surface.
St Patrick’s Stream begins by leaving the Thames, 1.3 miles downstream of Sonning Lock, river right. It drops about five feet before joining the River Loddon, which then flows back into the Thames, bypassing Shiplake Lock, so the flow of water is a lot faster than on the Thames. This makes for a fun paddle with small eddies and is a great workout if you paddle back upstream.
The Twyford and District Fishing Club have access to fish from the 16th June to the 14th March. We paddled this stretch of water on a Sunday morning in July, getting on the water at approx 8.30 am. We didn’t see any fishermen but local paddlers tell me they often start arriving around 10am. Meeting the odd fisherman would have been fine, but I wouldn’t have wanted to paddle this stretch of water with dozens of fishermen on the banks.
There are several places where trees have fallen, creating arches and low obstructions to paddle beneath. They add to the fun of this paddling trip, but in winter, with raised water levels, these may become more treacherous.
The Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant and can be seen carpeting the bank in the picture above. During the summer it has beautiful orchid-like, pink and purple flowers decorating its lush green leaves, but it crowds out native species and causes bank erosion.
It was introduced into the UK in 1839 as an exotic greenhouse plant, but quickly escaped and now thrives along river banks reaching 3 meters tall.
The River Loddon
St Patrick’s Stream flows into the River Loddon, turn left to go with the flow.
A tributary of the River Thames, the River Loddon begins its journey in Basingstoke. We join the Loddon for the last mile, of its 28 mile length, before it flows into the Thames at Wargrave.
This dilapidated caravan had once sat on top of a barge creating a houseboat, but the barge has sunk. It’s a stark contrast to the beautiful and unique houses and gardens that frame the river banks with weeping willows dangling their leaves in the water.
The River Loddon joins the River Thames below Shiplake Lock and just above Shiplake Railway Bridge.
Upon reaching the more expansive River Thames, turn right to follow it downriver for two miles, passing gorgeous, huge houses with manicured gardens and boathouses.
The River Thames
Here you will find plenty of river traffic, motorized pleasure boats in particular. Keep river right, so they can pass you on your left.
We passed the St George & Dragon pub (river right) which has a pontoon and riverside garden with tables and seating. It’s a good place to stop for a break and friendly to paddlers and rowers.
The entrance to Hennerton Backwater is river right, just passed Ferry Eyot Island. If you see a red buoy on your right, you have gone past it by about 200 meters.
Hennerton backwater is about one mile long and has almost no flow so is ideal for complete beginner paddlers and it’s a cool way to get back up the Thames. It’s a leafy and quiet contrast to the busy Thames. Much of Hennerton Backwater is bordered by impressive houses with immaculate gardens but there are wilder sections too.
Approaching the top of Hennerton Backwater, we paddle beneath “Fiddler’s Bridge” a low red brick single arch bridge, which carries Willow Lane and only has a few feet clearance. Motorised boats cannot get under this bridge, only kayaks, canoes, SUP’s and small rowing boats can pass beneath it. This preserves the tranquility of much of Hennerton Backwater to non-motorised craft.
Heading back up-river along the Thames
Continue through Willow Marina and back onto the River Thames, this time paddling upstream against the flow. This is where you’ll get a bit of a workout. When approaching Shiplake lock take the left hand channel towards the weir and portage using the pontoons on the right. Walk across the grassy island and get back in above the lock. Keep tucked into the right hand bank where the flow is weaker. This will take you past a number of islands on their quieter and prettier sides.
Look out for the entrance to st Patrick’s Stream (opposite side of the river), which is marked by the above posts. It’s a short distance from here to St. Patrick’s Bridge and the get out immediately beyond it.
This seven and a half mile paddle will take through two truly beautiful backwaters, which are very different from the main River Thames, filled with wildlife, arching trees and water lilies.
If doing a downriver Thames paddle from Sonning towards Henley, then bypassing some of the Thames by visiting St Patrick’s Stream and Hennerton Backwater will really add to the fun and interest of your trip.
About the Author
Annette Price. I am a wild places and adventure sports photographer, which means that I am passionate about getting outdoors, camping, caving, getting wet and muddy and photographing the landscapes and people that I find. Water is a big attraction for me and I love being in, on and under it and am a serial kayak paddler. I hope you enjoy the articles, kit reviews and photography on this website and that they help you to get outdoors exploring new places and activities.