• With Kids in the Westcountry

Guided Family Canoe Trip with West Bay Canoes (Bridport, West Dorset)

[Gifted experience]

Age suitability: 4 years +

All weather activity

Suitable for total beginners

£20 per person

Open 1st April – 31st September

Pre-book in advance

A few weeks ago I was invited to carry out a special and secret mission (I like these, they make me feel important): to road-test a family day out with West Bay Canoes, secret shopper style. And, of course, to share my experience with you!

Naturally I accepted with excitement, as I’d been eyeing this up as a fun family activity for a while, but we’d been waiting for our youngest daughter to reach the age of four – the minimum age limit for passengers.

Operating from a floating pontoon off Fisherman’s Quay in the centre of West Bay on the West Dorset coast, West Bay Canoes offers paddle sport skills & instruction, and guided 2-hour (ish) tours of the River Brit in their sturdy Canadian canoes.

Andy, my husband, was devastated to learn that he would have to share a canoe with me and the girls (he’s got some boating experience and felt our presence would surely hamper his skills) but I admit I was relieved, I didn’t fancy being in charge of my own vessel!

I needn’t have been nervous – the girls and I might’ve been complete novices (and not particularly good swimmers) but we felt in safe hands with our guide throughout.

On arrival we were given a safety and rescue briefing, a good dousing in hand sanitiser (I’m writing this in mid-COVID times), and life jacketed up. All kit is provided, however you are advised to bring a change of clothes particularly for younger children in case they get wet or cold; waterproof jackets, drinks and snacks in a dry bag if you have one. My Tesco bag wasn’t really up to the job so we were able to put our kit in a waterproof barrel provided.

Spoiler alert: we successfully avoided capsizing (the boats are pretty stable and the trip is intended to be ‘dry’) - and no-one fell in! But we did all get splashed, so shorts and old trainers were a good choice all round.

The guide decides how to organise you across the canoes depending on age and ability – no experience necessary and beginners are very welcome.

Getting loaded into the boat was easy (I’d had visions of You’ve Been Framed-style falling in) and before we got going down the river, we were shown the basic oar skills and given the opportunity to have a practice paddle. We were asked if the kids would like a mini-oar each so that they could join in, which they loved!

The standard guided canoe tour is suitable for families with children from age four upwards – presently the maximum number in the group is 6 if the passengers are from multiple households, but they can take larger groups if from one household or social bubble. Check the West Bay Canoes website for all the details and updated COVID-related information.

Our guide informed us that the other name for a canoe is a ‘divorce boat’ because it relied on effective communication: I’m pleased to report that our relationship stood this particular test! In fact, I haven’t laughed so much in ages, thanks to Andy deliberately steering me into the low-hanging branches at every possible opportunity and getting us wedged in the reeds whilst proclaiming his superior oarsmanship!

The route takes you from the bridge at West Bay up-river to Palmers Brewery in Bridport, which still occupies its original historic building complete with water wheel. Our guide gave us some interesting snippets of info on the history of the river and our surroundings and pointed out the wildlife that showed itself en-route, but also gave us plenty of time to muck about as a family as he paddled ahead to show us the way.

It’s a really pretty journey and navigating though some tight spots made it feel like a great adventure, though I can confirm there are no whitewater rapids on this run. The water is totally calm and it was a relaxing experience.

The girls were nervous at first but once they’d got used to the way the canoe rocks a bit in the water, they found their river-legs, and on the return part of the journey they were both paddling like pros. We were paddling for about an hour and a half, which went really quickly for all of us.

It was a fantastic family experience, something different to the ‘usual’ and we’re all buzzing after a great day out!

On to the practical stuff.

The minimum age limit is four years old. Although the children are completely safe and life jacketed at all times, it could be tricky with a young one who wouldn’t fairly reliably sit still and cooperate! Livvie was conveniently nervous and gripped the seat for the first half, so it was a breeze.

The cost is £20 per person (children charged at the full rate.)

Slots are available to pre-book via the website, seven days a week from 1st April – 31st September.

It’s an all-weather activity, so long as the conditions aren’t dangerous, so bring appropriate outerwear for a rainy day.

There aren’t any toilets, so make use of the public loos just beyond the Bridport Arms pub just a minute’s walk away. This is where we parked, too, for the bargain price of £1.70 for 3 hours.

There’s a whole host of kiosks, pubs and restaurants in West Bay if you need to replenish your energy supplies afterwards – I recommend RISE Café Bar or Cherries Café & Ice Cream Parlour, both within a stone’s throw of Fisherman’s Quay. There’s also a great adventure playground just down the road, and West Bay Discovery Centre (free entry), within easy reach. And there’s the beach, of course!

Thank you West Bay Canoes for a fantastic experience – I won’t hesitate to recommend far and wide.

Follow West Bay Canoes on Facebook for updates.

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#family friendly Bridport

#things to do with kids west bay