Never have I visited a city with so much green space within the city limits as I did when I spent a few days in Bydgoszcz. In addition to that there is a river and a canal running through the centre of the city forming an island. This just lent itself to a kayaking expedition; all of it within the city limits.
We put the canoes in at a small grassy “beach” in the wooded area around 12 kilometres upstream from the city centre. This was a lake formed by a small hydroelectric power station. After a short introduction to paddling technique we were informed that the person in the rear seat is the one in control of where to go. The person up front is basically the driving force; the engine. It’s easier to maintain direction in a straight line if you follow that particular dictum. If you both try to change direction every timethe canoe drifts to the right or left you spend a lot of time zigzagging.
Having kayaked many times before I was given a novice paddler. Fortunately she was a natural when it came to paddling and for the most part we were able to build up a rhythm fairly quickly. There were three double kayaks in our group and after loading up with waterproof containers for footwear and cameras we head across the lake to the power station where we hauled the canoes out. A small dam barred the way on the water so we had about 150 metres of portage, most of it down hill. Soon we were back on the water and paddling along with the current.
The plan was to follow the River Brda through the forests that surround Bydgoszcz and then through a countrified residential area to Mill Island, the recreational area right in the centre of the city of Bydgoszcz.
The paddling was very leisurely. Occasionally we would come across family groups who had come through the forest to small clearings on the banks for a dip in the clear waters of the river or float on inflatables. On this section of river only canoes and kayaks were allowed. One of the cleanest rivers in Poland the Brda has won top awards (equivalent to the blue flag scheme for beaches in the UK) for purity and cleanliness. The greatest award though is the vote of confidence given by the returning fish and the aquatic plant life.
Insect life was abundant with butterflies and dozens of species of dragonfly flitting around our kayaks. Their wings and iridescent bodies catching the sun’s rays as it streamed through the foliage above our heads. Waterfowl swam alongside us or darted quickly into the reeds and undergrowth along the banks. There was a quick flash of blue as a kingfisher darted off it’s perched and flew ahead of our kayak downstream. It was hard to believe that we were technically in a city.
Bydgoszcz is the eighth largest city in Poland but by any standards is fairly small. As I found out during my stay there the city has vast areas of green space within the city limits. This makes for plenty of outdoor recreational possibilities such as kayaking. Even as we approached the suburbs there was little evidence of city life. Trees have created a barrier between houses and the river so that even in the suburbs you are insulated from the city.
We came to the junction with the Kanal Bydgoski quite unexpectedly and took a minor diversion up to the mighty lock gates that separate the canal from the River Brda. The giant 7m gates dwarfed our kayaks but enabled the barges and other shipping to make the 2.5m drop from canal to river. The canal connects Bydgoszcz to Berlin 400 kilometres to the west. It is part of a waterway that connected Kalingrad with Berlin and the rest of Europe.
As the waters of the canal and river merged we began to close in on the city centre. It was only then that we had any indication we were in a city. First three railway bridges erupted from the trees, crossed the river and disappeared on the other bank. The tree began to disappear and a few houses had riverside locations. These were soon replaced by light industry and Soviet style apartments, albeit paint in pleasant pastel shades.
We were required to keep to the right now as there were other boats on the river heading toward the locks we had just passed.
We passed under a modern cantilever bridge and after a short wait entered the locks that were all that was between us and the centre of Bydgoszcz.
Built for barges three diminutive kayaks were lost in the huge locks. We rafted up together and waited. The water level rapidly dropped the 2m and as the gates ahead opened we could see the modern opera house and the old granaries beyond. As we paddled out we came to a large pool of water. This was the centre of Bydgoszcz.
I have arrived in a city by bike (See Down the Danube 3) but never before have I paddled into the centre of a city by kayak. We paddled over to Bydgoszcz Marina on Mill Island, a green recreational area for the cities inhabitants, and climbed out of the kayaks. There was still more of the river to explore but that would have to wait for another day.
For more information on Bydgoszcz and what to do when visiting – www.visitbydgoszcz.pl.
Currently Ryanair are the only airline to fly direct to Bydgoszcz from the UK. Flights, both direct and via other Polish cities, can be booked at Skyscanner
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office and kayaked with Splywy Bydgoszcz. I do however maintain full editorial control and give an unbiased opinion of my experiences.