Best routes for canoeing and kayaking in the UKThursday, July 21, 2016 Canoeing and Kayaking by Elina Pedersen
British waters are ideal for both kayaks and canoes. The variety of choice will impress even the most experienced paddlers. No matter if you are looking for lazy touring or white water descents, our inland waterways, rivers and lakes, the canals and the sea will keep you fascinated and allow you to paddle all year round.
When you decide to embark on the afloat journey, you have two options. You may choose to go kayaking on your own or find a licensed centre that will supply you with all the necessary equipment. The centres usually do all the paperwork for you so you don’t have to get any permissions yourself.
What’s the difference between canoes and kayaks?
If you haven’t done kayaking or canoeing before you might be wondering, how are the two boats different?
Firstly, it’s the sitting position – in the canoes, you kneel facing forward, while with kayaking, you will be sitting facing forward with your legs in front.
Secondly, it’s the paddles – in the canoe, you propel with a single-bladed paddle, while with a kayak you use a double-bladed paddle.
Lastly, canoes can have both open and closed deck, while kayaks always have a closed deck.
Canoeing and kayaking license
Should you decide to go exploring on your own, you will need to make sure you have a valid license to paddle on the inland waterways. You will automatically get the license if you become a member of the British Canoe Union (BCU). Otherwise, you will need to purchase a permit from one of the below associations depending on where you plan to paddle:
- British Waterways for canals and rivers including Severn, Trent and Yorkshire Ouse.
- The Environment Agency for River Thames, the River Medway and all rivers of East Anglia.
- The Broad Authority for any of the broads in Norfolk and Suffolk.
There are plenty of astonishing places in the UK where you can go both canoeing and kayaking. However, before you decide on the exact location, you will need first to determine which trails are best suited to your ability. Although the majority of the UK trails are easy to moderate there are also some challenging routes available.
The main difference between a moderate and a challenging route lies in its rapids, water volume and tides. Flat waters, short distance trails are best suitable for beginners and people who are looking for relaxing touring, while tidal, flowing or open waters are only appropriate for individuals with previous experience or professional training.
No matter which site you choose, you should do your homework, and read the user guide before you go anywhere.
Best kayaking and canoeing in England – From sea kayaking to lazy touring in Lake District
The Southern shores of England are ideal for sea kayaking. Overall, England is most suitable for beginner and learners. However, there are some routes available for experienced kayakers and canoers.
Cornish Beaches and Rivers
Cornwall is fantastic for both touring and white water kayaking. One of the most popular kayaking locations in Cornwall is Lizard Point. You will be able to explore hidden caves as well as spot some seals that are very common in that area. You can also easily find a guided half a day tour to help you get around the area.
However, if you are looking to explore Cornwall on your own, you can try either Hanover Cove or Bosahan Cove, which is slightly more remote and peaceful. Both places offer amazing caves and inner caverns to explore.
Finally, if you are looking for some river kayaking or canoeing, you can head down to River Fal or River Tamar. River Fal is more of a calm tour with creeks and woodland, while River Tamar offers a view on some old wharfs and old quays, the old relics of the once booming copper industry. You are best to launch from the old quay at Cotehel and explore upstream. You might be lucky and spot some deer and kingfishers. Nonetheless, make sure you start your journey before the high tide since coming back might be tricky, as you might get stuck in some areas.
Lastly, the most amazing place in Cornwall for kayaking and canoeing is, of course, Fowey River, the river flows through ancient woodlands and hidden creeks. Fowey Harbour and Pont Pill are just spectacular during the low tide. There are plenty of places where you can launch your canoe or kayak or as an alternative, you can hire all the needed equipment and get a guided tour through the Fowey Estuary.
Keep in mind that rivers are at its best on a hide tide, while sea kayaking is ideal at a low tide. Make sure you plan your journey in advance and check the tide times before you go.
Lake District and Derwentwater Foreshore
If you have decided to visit Lake District you are in for an incredible journey. The best way to start would be by visiting a small market town of Keswick. The Derwentwater Foreshore is located very close by, and if you don’t have your personal gear you can rent everything in the Keswick Lakeside shop, which is five minutes away from the town centre.
Lake District has peaceful, flat waters so you don’t need any technical skill to explore the surrounding area. All in all, the area is very well developed hence; it offers plenty of parking spaces, picking grounds, restaurants and accommodation. The National Trust has put in a lot of effort to help you navigate through the site with clear maps all around the area.
Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary in Devon
Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary is ideal for a tour peaceful paddle on a summer morning; you will see wild fowls and many other birds. The estuary has plenty of hidden coves and creeks. The Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary is tidal, hence if you want to explore all of its hidden gems you are best to set off in mid-tide. Try not to miss the Bowcombe Creek, which is also ideal for SUP.
If you are just starting to learn canoeing both North and South Sands are perfect for practising new skills. You can also easily find a tour guide in any of the water sport centres around the estuary.
Studland Bay and Dorset Jurassic Coast
Studland Bay in Dorset is perhaps the only location in England that by its looks and tranquil waters can easily be compared to the Mediterranean. If you decide to paddle in the area, make sure you visit Fort Henry – an impressive twenty-seven-meter bunker where King George VI and Winston Churchill examined the fitness of their troops, as they were practising for the D-Day landing on the beach below the fort.
The second point of interest you might want to visit is the Old Harry Rock. It’s a series of formations similar to Twelve Apostles in Victoria, Australia.
Studland Bay and Jurassic coast in general offer quite a relaxed paddle, however, if you want to make it a little more exciting you may decide to contact Studland Sea School that can organise a day tour for you, which if you like can also include snorkelling. Sounds amusing, but Jurassic Coast is perfect for snorkelling. The water is clear, and the visibility is fantastic; however, you will have to wear a 5mm wetsuit.
River Wey and Wey Navigations in Surrey
River Way Navigations is the only human-built kayaking and canoeing trail on this list. It runs from Guildford to the Thames at Weybridge and is fifteen and a half kilometres long built in the 17th-century as a “highway” to London. The canals provide an excellent, easy paddle for those who would like to discover Surrey.
The trail runs through towns and villages, as well as the countryside, thus offering an amusing, ever-changing landscape. You can find all the information on license and routes through the River Wey National Trust booklet for the canoeist.
Best canoeing and kayaking in Scotland – From lochs to white water rivers
Scottish Highlands, as well the most beautiful remote locations of the country are best reachable by kayaks and canoes. Most of the Scottish lochs are tranquil, thus ideal for beginners. As with any paddling, make sure you check the weather conditions before you go as even the most peaceful waters may become rather harsh in winter months.
Loch Morlich is a fresh water lake surrounded by fabulous white sand beaches. The beach right at the foot of Mount Cairngorms is the only award winning beach of Scotland located on a lake.
The area itself is truly spectacular. Hear the bird’s singing and flitting from one tall pine tree to another as you walk through the Glenmore Forest Park. If you are lucky, you will also see the European Crested tilt, western capercaillie and the infamous red deer, the largest deer species in the world.
When you get closer to Mount Cairngorm and feel the refreshing breeze from its snowy peaks, you will finally see Loch Morlich. The lake is perfect for all sorts of watersports, and you will quickly locate a water sports centre that will gladly lend you all the needed gear for your exploration.
Should you need to brush up on your paddling skills, the Loch Morlich Watersports Centre offers a variety of classes for both kayak and canoe enthusiasts.
Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park
Located in Trossachs National Park Loch Lomond is ideal for open water kayaking and canoeing. In general Loch Lemond and other Loch’s in the national park are most suitable for beginners and learners. There is an excellent water sports centre located in the park where you can book both classes and all the needed equipment. If you are staying in the area, most accommodation providers will also be able to lend you a kayak at a very reasonable price if not for free.
Some smaller lochs are well sheltered, thus providing a very safe environment for learners. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a more challenging trip, there are plenty of expert level rivers located in the same park and interconnected with the Loch.
Endrick, Balvaig, Forth, Falloch, Leny and Dochart are all ideal for intermediate and expert kayakers and canoers. To sweeten the deal if you have a kayak or canoe you do not need to register to paddle on Loch Lomond.
River Orchy is a challenging paddle that would be ideal for upper intermediate to advanced kayakers. River Orchy is best characterises by pool-drops with big rapids. There are many falls, but those three are extremely dangerous: Easan Dubha, Eas a’ Chathaidh and Eas Urchaidh.
Many professional paddlers say that River Orchy is the best trip in its grade in the whole of the UK. The river offers incredible power and volume that is rare in Britain. For the less confident paddlers, there is an easier section of the river that starts at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.
Another challenging paddle available in Scottish Highlands. Although River Findhorn has fewer drops than River Orchy, it is not in any way less demanding. The most dangerous rapid in River Findhorn is Dulsie rapid, as the line of the rapid is not evident. Thus if you’ll decide to attempt it make sure you study it before you get in.
This location is spectacular, as you will mostly be paddling next to limitless valleys gazing at the horizon. Don’t be tricked by the river as after paddling for a few kilometres in a relatively relaxed environment the river will take a U-turn called Levens Gorge. The turn rather continues, and you will need to avoid the mid-stream rock at all cost. Levens Gorge is hard to inspect and very tough to gauge.
River Etive is the greatest rivers for canoeing in Scotland. The beauty of river Etive is it’s high waters, especially when all other rivers are dry in summer. This river is ideal for confident kayakers and canoers. However, when the water levels are low, it might be less challenging than expected.
Most of the falls require very little to no technical skill; however don’t let it take you by surprise the stronger the flow, the more dangerous the river becomes. At high waters the river is only suitable for experts, there are eight falls all of which are very well described by the UK rivers guidebook.
Best canoeing and kayaking in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland offers peaceful flat canoeing waters. It’s ideal for recreational activities and family weekends away. For those who are into sea kayaking some great coastal location all over its Eastern Coast, nonetheless, they are characterised by a very high strength of tidal streams. Thus, they are only suitable for expert sea kayakers with a knowledgeable guide. Lastly, there are quite a few white water rivers; however most of them should only be attempted after a steady rain, and they are mostly suitable for professionals.
Strangford Lough is the largest inlet lough in all of the UK, and the location is ideal for Sea kayaking, as well as canoe touring in its calm sheltered bay. You’ll hear and see seals in this place as they are very common in Strangford.
River Foyle offers one of the longest canoe and kayaking trails in Northern Irelands stretching from the start of the river to the Atlantic Ocean for over fifty-three kilometres. The trail mostly runs through rural countryside. You will also pass by the historic city of Derry-Londonderry and the seaside town of Moville.
Since it’s a long paddle makes sure you don’t overestimate your ability and plan the journey well. The river is tidal; hence you will need to check the tide schedule.
River Bann has both, tranquil flat waters, as well as some fast flowing sections. The whole of the river is rather long, and you can decide to make your journey as long as fifty-eight kilometres, starting in Lough Neagh and going all to way to the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The river passes through plenty of bridges and the beautiful Irish countryside.
The river provides fantastic waters for a lazy paddle and doesn’t require for you to have any technical skills. It stretches for 20 kilometres and ends with Lough Neagh, which then flows into River Bann. Thus, the experienced canoe fanatics might decide to merge two trips into one.
River Mourne – best white water location in Northern Ireland
River Mourne is considered to be the best white water river in the whole of Northern Ireland for both its water volumes and some of the incredible natural rapids.
The upstream of the river in the Newtownstewarts is relatively flat. Nonetheless, the waters flow quickly. About one mile downstream from Newtownstewart white waters begins and all the way from there the river only becomes more and more challenging with its white waves, rapids and play holes.
Some of River Mourne sections are extremely dangerous and should only be attempted by experts.
Best kayaking and canoeing locations in Wales
No matter if you are looking for a white water descends or canoeing adventure with your family Wales has many wonderful sites to offer. Ranging from Snowdonia with its crystal clear water, no winds or currents to white waters and waterfalls in Brecon Beacons National Park.
Brecon Beacons National Park
When it comes to watersports, Brecon Beacons National Park truly is the place to go for the variety of options. You can enjoy a lazy paddle through one of the canals or reservoirs or if you are skilled enough you can embark on an extreme adventure through one of the National Park’s waterfalls.
A good gentle place to start will be the Brecon & Monmouth Canal that flows all the way to Llangorse lake where you can easily practice some of your beginner canoeing skills.
You can also choose to canoe or kayak down the river Usk or river Wye if the water is low. However, at high waters these rivers are only suitable for experienced white water paddlers.
The park has plenty of locations where you can rent your watersports equipment, as well as hire a guide or book a lesson.
Llangollen and Montgomery Canals
This location is ideal for a family with small kids that would like to spend a day afloat. The waters in the canals are so shallow that you can easily stand. The place is ideal for Canadian open canoe. The nature around the canals is truly astonishing, and you have a 100% chance of spotting some diving beetles and kingfishers, as well as floating water lilies.
If you are looking for a truly relaxing paddle, look no further. Snowdonia offers views of Wales’s highest mountain, Mount Snowdon, that are truly breathtaking. Should you decide to paddle on Llyn Padarn, you will be passing by some amazing cliffs and abandoned slate mines. If you are into adventure movies you might want to visit Llyn Gwynant; the lake featured in the film Tomb Rider II; the paddle is easy, and it’s just beneath Snowdon. Thus the view is not to miss.
Lastly, if you are looking for a “sit and stare” kind of paddle Bala Lake is a dazzling location to go to during summer with plenty of steam trains passing along the bank. Settle back and imagine yourself being a Walsh fisherman 200 years back.
Pembrokeshire (River Teifi, Cilgerran Gorge and Cilgerran Castle)
Before you decide to go on a kayaking or canoeing trip in Pembrokeshire, you need to make sure you check the tide times, as all of the Pembrokeshire is tidal. If you choose to start with Teifi Estuary, your paddle will begin with a float through century old woodland. Keep your eyes open as you can see otters, herons, kites and buzzards in this area.
You will be going downstream until you pop out into the sea not far from Cardigan. As you continue to paddle you will pass right beneath Cilgerran Castle, but beware just before the Cilgerran Gorge you will face some rough waters, hence make sure this route suitable for your skill and you are well aware of what to expect.