Overview & History
Located on the River Great Ouse in the Priory Country Park just outside of Bedford, the Cardington course is 120m long and has movable boulders such that users can set up different course configurations. The course is gravity-fed by the drop in the river and uses no pumping.
The course is available for use by canoeing groups and is also the venue for canoe slalom events held by Bedford’s Viking Kayak Club and hosts the annual Inter Clubs slalom event. The course is also used as training venue by local Fire & Rescue.
Cardington was the first artificial white water course in the country, opened in 1982, and is still probably the best and most beginner-friendly venue for learning moving water skills. In 2013 the course was upgraded using the new boulder system used at the London Olympics course.
Cardington was the first artificial white water canoe slalom course in the UK when it was completed in July 1982, and in 2013 was upgraded by the introduction of Rapid Bloc movable obstacles as used at the Lee Valley Olympic course, which has greatly improved the paddling experience by creating greater depth and breadth of water in the channel.
Located adjacent to Cardington sluice on the River Great Ouse, within the grounds of Priory Country Park and approximately 2.5 km downstream from Bedford, the course was originally discussed in 1972 and was designed collaboratively between canoeists and the local authorities with a dual role as both a flood control structure and a white water course.
The original course cost £273,000 in 1982 .and was funded by a consortium of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Anglian Water Authority (now the Environment Agency), the Sports Council (now UK Sport) and local councils and was seen as an excellent example of the relatively low cost adaptation of a necessary structure to provide a facility of national significance.
The new boulder system installed in 2013 was funded by a capital grant from British Canoeing and used the Rapid Bloc system of movable obstacles combined with slotted composite boards designed by local paddlers that allowed the Blocs to be retrofitted to the existing concrete channel.
The structure consists of an automatically controlled drop-leaf control sluice, at the head of a 9 metre wide concrete-lined channel which connects the upper reach of the river to the lower. The channel is 120 m long with a bed slope of 1:100. To create the required water flow pattern, the artificial boulders, which are like large Lego bricks, are secured to the base of the channel. The maximum head is 1.7 m with a maximum water capacity of 15 cubic metres per second.
Originally seen primarily as a training venue, the course also holds two national ranking canoe slalom competitions per year at up to Division 2 level, and is the host every year to the Inter Clubs Final, which pits teams from all the top canoe slalom clubs against each other for an overall trophy. Running all weekend with camping overnight, the Inter Clubs is the largest canoe slalom event in the UK (by number of participants), a great social event for the sport and one of the highlights of the UK slalom calendar.
This site is managed on behalf of British Canoeing by a group of local volunteers via the Cardington Management Group (CMG), a sub-committee of British Canoeing Eastern Region. For further information or to contact the CMG, please visit our Facebook page or contact [email protected]
The course is situated at the south east of Bedford’s Priory Country Park and is accessed via Stannard Way (part of Priory Business Park) which is just off Bedford’s A421 southern bypass. Follow Stannard Way until you see a left turn with a brown sign to Priory Country Park.
The course is just 2.5 km downstream from Bedford town centre and about 4km from Bedford’s Viking Kayak Club. If you wish you can tour on the River Great Ouse, one of the cleanest low level rivers in the UK, through the Bedfordshire countryside and there are lovely trips both upstream and down.
Click here for the location on google maps.
OS Grid Reference TL076487 Nearby Postcode MK44 3RZ
The Cardington course is available for use by canoeing groups and offers safe moving water for paddlers at any level. The maximum drop is 1.7 meters, enough for a good white water training facility and you can warm up on the main river. The course is also available for use by Fire & Rescue for water safety training purposes.
For more information, please go to Facebook/CardingtonSlalomCourse
For bookings, please contact [email protected]
User groups are required to install the obstacles into the course bed prior to use and to dissemble and return all equipment to the storage hut at the end of their usage. This process takes several man-hours so is only appropriate for groups. This is because, under our agreement with the Environment Agency, the course has a dual role as both a flood control structure and a white water course and when not in use the course bed must remain free of boulders.
Operator training is available for new users wishing to gain an understanding of how to build and operate the course. Users who have not used the course previously will require this training before hiring the course. For training, please contact: [email protected]
The structure consists of an automatically controlled drop-leaf control sluice, at the head of a 9 metre wide concrete-lined channel which connects the upper reach of the river to the lower. The channel is 120 m long with a bed slope of 1:100. The maximum head is 1.7 m with a maximum water capacity of 15 cubic metres per second.
To create the required water flow pattern, movable ‘Rapid Bloc’ boulders (the same as used at the Lee Valley Olympic Course) are secured to the base of the channel. These are locked into slots in the base of the channel using ‘T’ bolts and then built on top of each other like building a wall out of Lego. Users will require to supply their own ratchet spanner tools (details will be supplied on booking).
The water supply is entirely gravity-fed and no pumping is involved, keeping costs down and reducing impact to the environment. Users control the water via manual operation of the drop-leaf control sluice at the head of the course (the sluice returns to automatic when the river is in flood but this is unusual, even during the summer period.)
The course is situated within Priory Country Park which is a beautiful location teeming with wild life. Camping and caravanning are available on site by arrangement, and there is a drinking water and an Elsan disposal point in the car park. Arrangements can also be made to hire portable toilets.
If you wish you can tour on the River Great Ouse, one of the cleanest low level rivers in the UK, and there are lovely trips both upstream and down through the Bedfordshire countryside