Canoe Days Out

Norfolk - The Little Ouse - Thetford to Brandon

This page was submitted by Alan & Jean
How to get there - Thetford is mid-way between Cambridge and Norwich on the A11. Turn off the bypass at the Brandon Road roundabout into Thetford on the A134. Go ahead at the main traffic lights, then take the first left into Bridge Street. Turn right immediately before the iron bridge and park in the free car park.

For those with SatNav a nearby postcode is IP24 3AQ.

Since this is a one way trip you will either need to leave a car at Brandon (For thos with SatNav a nearby postcode is IP27 0AY) or make alternative arrangements. Returning by train is an option.

Get a map with driving directions to start or end (enter the postcode of your starting point at A)

Suggested Launch Site - There is a slipway onto the water at the far end of the bus station, facing the law court.

General Description - Distance about 8.5 miles, downstream. There are two weirs, both of which can be portaged around on the right hand river bank. The route passes a picnic site at Santon Downham where there are public toilets and a bridge that featured in "Dad's Army", and finishes in Brandon. There is a slipway on the R immediately upstream of the main road bridge, and a jetty immediately downstream from it on the right belonging to a friendly restaurant. Also a nice micro-brewery on the left side of the road towards Brandon within a couple of hundred yards of the bridge.

The railway station is close by to return to Thetford to pick up your car to recover boats. Trains run at approximately hourly intervals and current off peak cost is about £3.10.

Comments on this trip

02 Jun 2022
Did this lovely route today, but unfortunately two miles or so of weed made it almost impossible. We pushed on with three children, but in the end came to a complete standstill in impassable weeds. Had to drag out up steep nettled Bank and walk half a mile or so with three kayaks, three children, all bags and stuff. Not pleasant at all. Sadly made the route impossible

08 Jul 2020
Made this trip last Friday 03/07/2020. Put in on Canterbury Way, Thetford just below the wier, easy access from the A11, we parked up in the school carpark north of the river and unloaded. It's an easy and short walk down to the river to a beautiful launch site, so easy we were underway in about 10 minutes.Easy portage at the next wier from right up next to the guard rope on the right bank.From there we encountered a reasonable amount of weed in the water but its easily avoided. There are a number of trees across the river, they are easily passed under or around but for one, two miles below Santon Downham, where we had to get out of the canoe aand haul our way through, others in blowup canoes were ok, they could just paddle through with their shallow drafts, the Environment Agency looks after the river well.I'm no twitcher but we saw a number of different species of bird including kingfisher and five pairs of swan, three with beautiful grey fuzzy offspring plus at one stage what looked like a couple of heads just above the water, otter perhapsThere's a walking track that appears to cover the same route pretty much exactly we saw plenty of walkers the entire time which was surprising for a weekday. It was a reasonably windy day but we were only hit by the wind on a couple of straights where we were slowed down. There was a good current and we were able to keep a good pace throughout.We came out at Brandon lock wier, there's a three tiered platform to pull out onto on the right bank and a very good path to the wier or you can pull out between the lock and wier cutting down the distance you need to lug your kit. The road access is good, crazy number of sleeping policemen for such a short track but the entire length is sealed. We were perhaps travelling a bit quick to enjoy the route but we covered 9.5 miles in 0250 of paddling over a total of 0345 on the water and beaks etc. A great trip, you've got to do it! We'll be back soon to do the next section down from Brandon which I've heard very good things about.

Jamie Hamilton
02 Jul 2020
We took our 4 person inflatable dinghy from Santon Downham to Brandon. Leaving a car at the pub over the bridge in Brandon we started the other end and followed the current down stream. This journey is just over 6km and took us 2 1/2 hours using short paddles. As much as an adventure that we had, I would not recommend this journey in anything other than a small canoe or kayak. The first fallen tree was easy to float under and once we got passed the pretty bridge the river opened up and rowing was easy. There are lots of swans and ducks with their young who move out the way. About an hour into the journey we started to encounter problems. More fallen trees. The gaps to get through were far too small for a dinghy and I had to get onto the next tree and drag the boat over the trunk. The next 4 trees were a different proposition all together. We had to battle through the foliage and branches as this was the only option with the trees obstructing from bank to bank. There were small gaps that would be easier for a small canoe. All this said though, this stretch of river was beautiful and peaceful. There are quite a few weeds etc but for the majority of the journey the river is no deeper than waist deep so worst case scenario you can get out and pull your vessel through the obstacles. Paddling against the current is very tiring and if you chose to do this, expect the return journey to take twice as long and going with the current.

19 Dec 2019
Hey, I operate on this river a lot all year round and thought id pop a little update from time to time.The River level is up (yeeeehaaaaa) this is great news for many many reasons.Google travel lodge for the town concrete slip way. we are installing a new more accessible one in spring on the other side of the river.from there the duck weed has gone and portage at Canterbury Weir is near and easy. straight rather fast run to the second staunch or abbey weir as its also called. Portage there is step right hand bank. but the get in below is easy again now the river level is back up. from here to the Scout Camp Site there are no blockages all cleared.The Eddy scout launch area is a good wee break spot.the river is clear on to Saint Helens picnic site where the toilets are closed up until further notice probably spring.before you get further down to the white historical bridge there is still a beast of a tree which you can still currently slip under.this section if you're super early and super quiet you will see the Otters at play.there is however an epic poplar tree that has fallen across the footpath and into the river which currently needs that its a beautiful calm paddle on home to Brandon Lock.Any questions holler us at Bush Adventures UK C.I.C on 07980701581

Mark Wilson
27 Aug 2019
25th August 2019, the little Ouse river. After following directions to drop off point in car park which is next to the Travel lodge. Having taken pick up vehicle to st Helens picnic site, our group of 4 set off. A glorious day. As described weed and litter was not the best leaving Thetford. Portage around the first weir was good, second Weir was not so easy with a steep concrete bank to river bank, being covered with grit and stone made it slippery when manhandling a kayak. After second Weir we came upon a freshly fallen tree, we did manage to cut and clear enough branches for passage on the left side of it. Further down stream we came across another tree, we had to step out of kayaks and manhandle them over a very large trunk which was about 3 inches above the water line. Water was knee depth that day. Was a great paddle and the trees made it a real expedition. Mark

27 May 2019
The two of us completed this paddle this May 2019 on stand up paddleboards. It's a beautiful route with wonderfully clear water, though litter is sadly quite frequent. It's downstream and the current is definitely helpful, as at this time of the year you'll be contending with very long stretches of overgrown plant life... I'd estimate it added at least an hour to our journey, as there were no alternatives but to just slowly paddle through swathes of weeds (recommend removing any removable fins for those sections if possible). Once you're past the camping grounds you should be home free of the weeds and can enjoy a beautiful scenic paddle filled with wildlife (a lot of waterfowl and horses around).

12 May 2019
Completed this paddle from Thetford to Brandon on standup paddle boards today (May 2019). Most trees/branches across the river have been cut. One tree crossing the river remains, but you can pass easily underneath. There are long sections of dense weeds which make for slow going. Lovely paddle with lots of wildlife.

06 May 2018
Beautiful paddle from Thetford to Brandon May 2018. 2ximpassible trees down nr Thetford Power Station, but stretch from Santon Downham to Brandon now clear unlike last year.

Lazy Paddler
15 Sep 2017
Paddled from Great Barford to Thetford.Brandon to Thetford, quite an effort.Lots of trees down and heavily weeded, although someone has cut access through some of the downed trees. Thank you.A very beautiful landscape and worth the effort.Wanted to get up the Black Bourne to Honington but advised it was impassable so out by the Travel lodge and collection. A wonderful adventure

Paul and Kim
11 Jun 2017
We paddled from Santon Downham to Brandon, the settings and the scenery where idyllic with wildlife and birds.The only down side is the amount of fallen trees along the route, most of these where passable by squeezing under or going around except for one where you have to get out, there is no other way but to attempt to get out and crawl up the bank as you try to drag your kayak and getting back in is also a pain.!!Also with all the fallen trees they are collecting all the rubbish and debris that goes down stream making a paddle through sometimes quite an effort.Apart from that a good five hours paddle and 7 miles done.

11 Jun 2017

11 Jun 2017

30 May 2017
We did it with a 2y1/2 boy and wife on 27 May 2017 on a canoe. I J stroked alone for 90% of it while my wife was entertaining our son, a bit tiring but OK.I found it picturesque with lot of light and surprisingly grassy/weedy edges for a forest. There were some good places with gravel and very rarely sand to rest and go in the water.The second weir was a bit of a pain for the canoe as it was all concrete with a big jetty which is not ideal to slide the vessel without scratching the hull...But the main issue I encountered was on one of the 10 trees that were across the river. For all of them we were able to go below or aside but half way through the journey one of them had its only passage packed with 2 feet of algae over the surface level and I had as only solution to dig it all otherwise the toddler crew would have tested the nettles! All in all if you are a bit of a soft nature warrior then I greatly recommend!

Quentin SF
14 Aug 2016
This is a lovely stretch of river. Having read comments about fallen trees, we put in at Brandon and paddled upstream to the bridge at Santon Downham, then turned round and went back, so not sure about the current state of fallen trees higher up.We encountered two on our stretch, which almost caused us to turn around earlier, but they both proved to be passable in our twoman inflatable with a bit of effort!(See https// and https// )Many thanks for the recommendation we'll come back and try the full stretch soon!

Martin G
19 Jul 2016
Tried this from Thetford to St Helens today. Sadly the river is now impassable due to fallen trees about 800 yrds after the second weir out of Thetford. Had to turn back and finish at our start point, The environment agency has a lot of work to do here.

Nick Dennis
13 May 2016
I have done a there and back from Brandon but the flow and the weeds make it slightly more difficult. The Bus Station in Thetford is currently being redeveloped so access in the centre of Thetford is currently restricted. We have done it as a one way trip before getting out at Brandon and then leaving one member looking after the gear at the nearby pub whilst the other gets the train back to Thetford to collect the car. A 4 hour river trip, 8 minutes back on the train then 15 minutes back in the car. If you get your timing correct it all works well.

Keith Day
30 Mar 2016
There is no reason why you can't paddle back upriver it's just that it was submitted as a one way trip.

james lee
10 Aug 2015
Why is this a one way trip, why can't you paddle back the way you came

16 Jun 2015
Paddled from 2Mile Bottom Scout camp to Thetford and back today. Lots of waterfowl including several swans swimming with their signets, and 3 blue herons. Several sections, especially near power plant, were clogged with weeds across the entire width of the river. Between Abbots Heath Weir and the A11 there were no weeds at all. The river needs to be cleaned or it will become unusable.

05 Apr 2015
Paddled today. Clear all the way through from Thetford to Brandon although two tree obstacles that are easily passible. 2 kingfishers and some mandarin ducks seen, as well as numerous swans, mallard and rooks. Woodpeckers heard hammering at the scout camp at Santon.The Wissey and Nar Kayak Association

13 Jul 2014
a fallen tree currently blocks the river between brandon and santon downham

30 May 2014
Planning to stay at the campsite at Santon Downham in June 14 and do a couple of return day trips ie SantonThetfordSanton and SantonBrandonSanton. Is each one a fairly straightforward day trip

Marky B
05 May 2014
Weed is still there, possible to push through but pretty chocker in places. Majority of river is okay just isolated patches which are difficult.

Paul Fi
20 Jun 2013
We did Brandon to Santon Downham and back. Absolutely gorgeous and very quiet, perfect, but sections of the river are clogged with watercrowfoot, making it very hard work to push through in places. A local told us there had been a cutting machine on the river clearing it, so maybe the problem is being sorted.

Rob and Sue
02 Sep 2011
An excellent paddle. At the first weir there is a slipway on the left steps down so you can easily slide your canoe down. Watch out for a series of submerged posts coming out from the right bank after Santon House. Lovely wildlife. When you take your canoe out at Brandon you can safely leave it while you sit at the pub on the other side of the road and wait for your partner to return with your car.

23 Aug 2011
14 of us did this paddle in our kayaks this weekend and had a fantastic time...we never had to get out of our paddles to walk, perfect place to get in at thetford bus station and get out at back of brandon as suggested.


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