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The Vistula and the Włocławek Reservoir

The Modlin Fortress The Modlin Fortress

The longest river of Poland traverses the voivodeship over a distance of 320 km plus. Its flow could be divided into 3 parts: south of Warsaw, between Warsaw and Płock, and north of Płock. In most of its course the Vistula is an untamed and unregulated river. In some places the  riverbed is over a kilometre wide. The mass of water is chequered by numerous sandbanks, thicket clusters and oxbow lakes. The water level follows the whims of the weather. It is most shallow between August and October. The highest levels are observed in March and April and on the turn of June and July. The Vistula easily changes its course and the look of the riverbed may change after each water rise.

The Vistula near Płock is slightly different. Here the waters have been built up by a dam constructed in Włocławek in the sixties. The Włocławek reservoir has the largest area and second largest volume among all the artificial lakes of Poland. The dam influences the aspect of the river on a stretch of over 60 km, up to Kępa Polska which lies upstream of Płock. The Włocławek Reservoir is not a typical artificial lake, as it resembles a sluggishly overflowing river. The distance between the banks is usually around 2 km.

Must sees

The greatest attraction of a canoe trip down the Vistula is nature itself. The islands are populated by beavers, while the steep embankments are ideal nesting grounds for the colourful kingfishers. These are easy to spot, as there is much more of them here than in any other part of the country. The middle course of the river is also a nesting area for the largest population of gulls. But there is more to the Vistula than its natural life. It has been an important transport route for centuries and it is lined by fortified bourgs, monasteries and cities. Two cities of great historic importance to Mazovia are reflected in its waters: Warsaw and Płock. A visit to each of them is worth a separate excursion. You will pass many smaller, yet also interesting towns on the way. You can try to measure the thick walls of the Modlin fortress, contemplate the silence of the Czerwińsk basilica and check out what has remained of the longest European bridge in Wyszogród.

Before you set off

The water route of the Vistula is marked, but its state of maintenance leaves much to be desired. The obligatory equipment for larger boats are binoculars to watch out for the poles which mark the shoals. Metal boards put up on the banks make it easier to determine your location, as they indicate the kilometres to the mouth of the river.

The route of the Vistula can be recommended both to canoeists and sailors, to whom the capricious current of the river may prove quite a feat. The draught of the unit should be as small as possible, otherwise shallow banks might hinder the crew’s expedition plans. Planning the trip, you must be ready to face the wilderness. Apart from Zalew Włocławski with its few ports, harbours and clubs, you can depend only on your own skill. This also applies to accommodation and meals. A picnic on one of the islands of the Vistula is a unique chance of insight into the world of beavers and kingfishers. Remember you are only a visitor and don’t leave any rubbish behind.

Route: Modlin – Nowy Duninów

The presented trip shows two different aspects of the Mazovian Vistula. You will first travel down an unregulated river and your only companions will be seagulls and otters. At the end of the journey you will reach the vast waters of Zalew Włocławski. The route is 99.5 km long and it is best to dedicate 3-5 days to complete it. You can make it longer and set off from Warsaw or even in Niepołomice close to Kraków. And if you take fancy to the river, the final destination will probably be the Baltic Sea.

0.0 km Modlin

The canoe is a pleasant means of transport. We launch or rent our equipment on the right bank of the Narew, next to the road bridge. The railway station is some 700 m away.

Before we set off, we might want to visit the Modlin Fortress, the red brick walls of which are reflected in the confluence of the Narew and the Vistula. The imposing military facilities were conceived by Napoleon, who was well aware of the strategic importance of the place. After the November Uprising, the Russians expanded the fortifications, adding external bastions and six forts. Until World War I two more rims of forts were built, the furthest of which were well over 8 km away of the main fortress. The internal fortress is surrounded by barracks constructed between 1864 and 1875. These are over 2.3 km long and is considered the longest building in Europe. Over the course of years Modlin was subsequently occupied by Russian, German and Polish troops. The defensive war of 1939 was a very glorious moment in the annals of Modlin, which withstood the attacks until the 29 of September.

The fortress remains a military area up to this day, that is why the innermost citadel can be visited only with a guide (Park Militarny Twierdzy Modlin, ul. Mickiewicza 99, 05-100 Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, tel. 604 528 293, 604 607 092, The vast panorama of the area is as impressive as the architecture.

0.5 km the mouth of the Narew

The peninsula on the confluence of the Narew and the Vistula is dominated by the red brick walls of an enormous 19th century granary. The fortress extends on our right while the road bridge of the Warsaw-Gdańsk route lies straight ahead.

5.5 km Kępa Zakroczymska

Just after the bridge, on the right, begins a 3 km long sandy island overgrown by riparian forests dominated by poplars and willows. This is the realm of birds. The reserve ‘Zakole Zakroczymskie’ was established in order to protect rare aquatic bird species.

6.0 km Zakroczym

On a large embankment (1 km away from the river) lies one of the oldest Mazovian bourgs. It could even date back to the 11th century. This was the point where two major trade routes, the salt road and the amber road, crossed the river. Since 1374 the town was the capital of the Zakroczym Land. It hosted many conventions of princes who established the laws of Mazovia. It fell into decline after the Swedish deluge, never to regain its former glory. Today the sleepy town has a population of barely 3500 inhabitants. A sixteenth century parish church towers over the embankment. It is a typical Gothic-Renaissance temple of Mazovia. Two small towers which flank the facade are very characteristic. In its south chapel is an altar with late Renaissance sculptures from the 17th century. You can also venture inside the baroque church of the Capuchin friars. In front of the entrance there is a romantic courtyard, surrounded by a wall with gates, and inside the monastery is a museum of the Warsaw Province of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.

17.0 km Miączynek

The right bank of the Vistula is still steep and it rises up to 30m. The scarp is cut by picturesque ravines and gorges. On the bare walls of the cliff we can traces the geological history of the region. Just above the water you see large glacial erratics. Above them is the greyish layer of glacial till. It resists erosion, that is why the scarp is so steep. In the higher parts you can see narrow strips. This is varve clay. The darker layers mark periods of colder climate conditions, while the lighter shade indicates warmer times.

21.5 km Nowy Secymin

Along the lower left bank starts the stretch of many islands and sandbanks. Some of them are so wide that it is hard to tell them from mainland.

25.0 km Czerwińsk

Church towers are visible from afar on the high right bank of the Vistula. The basilica was built between 1129 and 1156 and is one of the few Roman monuments in Mazovia. In spite of posterior architectural changes the temple still has many of its original elements. The stone walls have high double windows and embrasures.

The interior conserves the largest fragments of Roman paintings in Poland and precious Gothic frescos. The central element of the main altar is a painting of the Virgin of Czerwińsk. The oil canvas is a replica of the artwork from the Santa Maria Maggiore basilica in Rome, painted in 1612 by Łukasz of Łowicz

Since 1923 the monastery and the church is kept by the Salesian friars, who founded a museum, which exhibits interesting objects related to the history of the church, as well as a presentation of the missionary work of the congregation. The monastery courtyard has a far-reaching view over the valley of the Vistula and the Kampinos forest which stretches in the background.
At the foot of the monastery is a small sleepy town. Narrow streets are lined by charming single-storey houses. Yet it has not always been that way. In the middle ages Czerwińsk was an important centre of cereal trade. At the beginning of July 1410 Czerwińsk was the site of the concentration of the troops who were lead by king Władysław Jagiełło to the battle of Grunwald. The army from Małopolska crossed the Vistula over a bridge of boats, which was a technical wonder at that time. On his way back from the victorious expedition, the king left his aventail as an offering to the Czerwińsk church. Take a close look at the portal of the basilica and try to make out the traces of sharpening swords on the left column. They were allegedly made by knights who were getting ready to fight a battle against the Knights of the Order of the Cross.

36.0 km Wyszogród

WyszogrodAlong the left bank stretches Kępa Wyszogrodzka. The large island is over 3 km wide. On the high right bank we can see the buildings of Wyszogród. The town was first mentioned in annals as early as the 11th century and it was granted municipal privileges. In the middle ages it was an important river port, with large warehouses of goods and a renown weaving workshop. Today it is a small peaceful town. Two historic temples are worth seeing: the Gothic-baroque Franciscan church and the late baroque church of the Holy Trinity. Until quite recently Wyszogród was famous for the longest wooden bridge in Europe. It was 1285 metres long, and together with the bridge over Bzura – almost 2 km. It was built in 1944 by Polish and Russian prisoners of war. Each year it was damaged by ice floats, so the authorities decided upon building a new crossing. The right abutment was left as a souvenir. It used to serve as a viewpoint, but now it is under the threat of collapsing. In the blue distance over the Vistula you can make out the towers of the Czerwińsk basilica. More beautiful views extend from the north abutment raised near the new bridge.

37.0 km the mouth of the Bzura

The mouth of the Bzura is a favourite spot among anglers. Especially in the spring and summer you can come across large specimens of roaches, chubs and pikes in the pure waters. No wonder birds gather in the thickets of riverside greenery close to such fishing grounds.

53.5 km Wyspy Zakrzewskie

This part of the river is bird country. The water track leads among numerous islands which are under ornithological protection. Seagulls, terns and little ringed plovers are only some of the species which nest here.

63.0 km Białobrzegi

You are passing through a bird paradise, protected by two reserves: ‘Wyspy Białobrzeskie’ on the right and ‘Ławice Troszyńskie’ on the left.

65.5 km Wykowo

On the right bank is ‘Kępa Wykowska’, the last of the ornithological reserves.

72.5 km Dobrzyków

A large village on the left bank of the river. The wooden church probably dates back to the middle of the 17th century. Its Gothic-Renaissance and baroque interior has been preserved.

81.5 km Płock

One of the most important towns of historic Mazovia is visible from afar. King Władysław Herman and Bolesław Krzywousty established their seat here, and so did the dukes of Mazovia centuries later. Today Płock is a city of over 130 000 inhabitants. Before you reach the centre, you will go under a road and a railway bridge. Most of the town lies on the right bank. On the opposite bank is the Radziwie district, with the largest river shipyard in Poland. The oldest part of Płock is located on a large scarp called Tumskie Wzgórze. At its feet, by an esplanade lies the sailing club Morka, the most dynamic water sports centre in town.

PlockMany interesting souvenirs of the past remain in the city. The most precious sites are located in Tumskie Wzgórze. The cathedral church of the Assumption of Mary was erected between 1126 and 1141. It was reconstructed several times throughout the next centuries, that is why several styles intertwine in its form. The general design is Roman, two high towers, the top and the buttress are Gothic, while the dome and lantern are Renaissance. The contemporary interior was designed at the beginning of the 20th century by Stefan Szyller. The rich furnishings date from different epochs. Between the porch and the main nave is the famous door of Płock, a copy of a two-winged roman door from 1154, which consists of 48 bronze plates with reliefs depicting biblical scenes, allegoric pictures and images of the founder and the makers. The remains of Władysław Herman and Bolesław Krzywousty are buried in the Royal Chapel adjacent to the left nave. From the 11th to the 15th century this was also the place where the dukes of Mazovia and Płock were buried. There is a lovely view from the cathedral square over the Vistula valley. The river is very wide here and the influence of the Włocławek spillway step is clearly visible. On the opposite side of the river we see the large complex of forests of the Gostynin lakeland.

At the back of the cathedral there is a neo-Gothic building from the beginning of the 20th century, which serves as the Museum of the diocese. The rich collection encompasses over eight thousand different exhibits. Among them are medieval and baroque sacred sculptures and folk saint figures. The museum boasts a collection of incunabula and old prints, such as the Płock Bible from the 12th century.

Once the most important building of Tumskie Wzgórze was the seigneurial seat. What remains of the castle of the Dukes of Mazovia are two Gothic towers and a fragment of the ramparts. The contemporary aspect is due to the Benedictine monastery which now occupies the grounds. The castle is part of the Museum of the Diocese. Walking along Tumska street, at number 8 you will find the Museum of Mazovia, renown mostly for its collection of art déco, which is the largest in the country. It exhibits decorative furniture, items for everyday use and extravagant jewels. You can also admire canvasses by the most prominent artists of the epoch and a spectacular collection of sculptures.

92.0 km Brwilno

A large village on the higher right bank. It merits attention because of its rococo wooden church, which dates from 1710 and has preserved its late Renaissance and baroque interiors.

95.0 km the mouth of Skrwa Lewa

On the left bank, the summer holiday village of Soczewka is hidden behind a narrow peninsula. This is the place where Skrwa Lewa flows into the Włocławek Reservoir, but its water has been cut off by a dam, creating a small artificial lake – the favourite weekend recreational destination of the inhabitants of Płock.

96.0 km the mouth of Skrwa Prawa

Brudzeński Landscape Park  stretches along the left bank and is, traversed by Skrwa Prawa, the mouth of which you are now passing. The place owes its charm mostly to the diversified land formations and forest stands, including lovely oak-hornbeam forests.

98.0 km Nowy Duninów

On the left bank lies the solid and almost notoriously empty port of Duninów, a comfortable harbour in case of bad weather and an ideal spot to end the trip. Before you leave though, pay a visit to the romantic remains of the 19th century residence of the Ike-Dunikowski family. The large palace is complemented by a hunting mansion and a neo-Gothic castle with a round tower. Ancient trees grow in the landscape park, like the branchy small-leaved lime, the sitka spruce and the London plane-tree.

Useful tips


Płock: PTTK Oddział Nadwiślański „Morka”, ul. Rybaki 10, tel. (24) 262 25 43,

Nowy Duninów: Stanica Wodna Zgierskiego Klubu Sportów Wodnych, ul. Kasztanowa 1, tel. 603 314 577

Nowy Duninów: MOSiR, Ośrodek Rekreacyjno – Żeglarski, ul. Portowa 1, tel. 500 027 410, 509 180 805

Recommended services:

Władysławów 11a k. Sochaczewa: Ekoturyzm, tel. 602 265 239,; organisation of canoe trips on the Vistula and elsewhere, equipment rental.

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