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Paddling the Mersey - An Urban Canoe Adventure

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Sept 2014; updated May 2023.

Read about this family-friendly urban canoe adventure on the River Mersey—no experience needed. So take your family on an organised canoe trip like this.

You can take the family canoeing in all sorts of places. We went on an urban river tour on the Mersey...

Canoeing is a great activity to take your family on and transform a dull Sunday afternoon into an adventure.

Canoeing is not just for the countryside

You might think you can't go canoeing if lakes and rivers in the countryside do not surround you.

This is not the case. Many rivers and canals span our urban landscapes - even if they've been hidden away or built over, there's usually a water channel somewhere and a friendly canoe club or activity centre to help you paddle it.

Paddling the River Mersey

We joined Venture-Out as part of Go Canoeing's World Rivers Day organised canoeing events that were happening up and down the country.

Instead of paddling in the countryside across lakes or canals, this was going to be the River Mersey.

Not in Liverpool but in Stockport, where the River Mersey originates.

An Urban Canoe Adventure

Greater Manchester is not the first place I'd think of as a canoeing destination, but if you look at the map, there are quite a few waterways, and the source of the River Mersey is just one.

Merseyway shopping centre

The Merseyway shopping centre

This was going to be very different to where we normally paddle, and now having to avoid submerged shopping trollies (and bikes) more than trees, the smell of fumes and debris instead of smells of the countryside (read farmyard manure), and with the sound of traffic and jet planes instead of birdsong, cows, and sheep.

We even paddle under the Mersey Way Shopping Centre!

Safe for kids. Safe for beginners.

Safe family canoeing with boats made into a raft

Safe family canoeing with boats made into a raft

By going on an organised tour, like the one we did with Venture-Out, you don't need to invest in equipment, you don't need to be experienced, and kids can do it too.

The canoes were tied together to form rafts for the families, making the boats very stable. There's no chance of capsizing.

Once the river widened and everyone became more confident, we were allowed to dismantle the raft and 'go solo'.

Not all rivers are family or novice-friendly, but you'll be surprised to see how many are. Visit Go Paddling to find a family-friendly canoe tour near you.

The Mersey Tunnel

Mention the 'Mersey Tunnel', and you think of Liverpool.

Well, there's another Mersey Tunnel. This one takes the River Mersey right under the Merseyway Shopping Centre in Stockport.

Underneath Stockport in the Mersey Tunnel

Underneath Stockport in the Mersey Tunnel

If you look at the map above and follow where we got in on the River Tame, you'll see the River Mersey disappear under the shopping centre before leaving the other side.

The shopping centre is built over the top of the river creating a 500 metre-long tunnel.

It was quite dark. You could see bats flying around, picking up insects from just above the water.

The kids weren't scared, though.

The tunnel was like a secret lair you'd see in a James Bond movie, yet here it was in Stockport.

Sandstone Gorge and Industrial Venice

Sandstone Gorge

As you come out of the tunnel into the daylight, you can see that Stockport has a small sandstone gorge, with old warehouses and factories built around and right on top of the small sandstone cliffs.

The neglected waterfront

As we paddled by the remains of an industrial past, with layers of history built on top of one another, it reminded me of the back streets of Venice (only a little bit!).


Successfully negotiating a weir

We had to navigate three weirs (man-made waterfalls) on our Mersey adventure.

These were nothing to worry about, and canoe guides were on hand if anyone got into trouble. (Plus, you could stand up in most of the river!).  

Give it a go

If you've not taken your family on the river yet, then we encourage you give it a go.

If you and your family are regular paddlers, we recommend checking out some of the organised canoe tours and experiencing somewhere different.

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