10 Great UK Winter Canoeing & Kayaking Trips

There’s a lot to be said for canoeing or kayaking in the middle of summer, floating down the river as beams of sunlight burst through leafy green trees to dance off the water; those seemingly endless days where you can drag your boat up a sandy beach just as the sun sets on a long day on the sea, giving way to a warm evening. In comparison winter paddling can seem like an uninviting prospect: days can be bitter, are always short and the water is often so cold it burns. Get the perfect, crisp day, though, when there’s no cloud in the sky and the whole landscape is bathed in the soft hue of a winter sun and cobwebs glitter with a morning’s frost, there is nothing so magical as paddling at this time of year.

Canoeing & kayaking in winter though means that you are more likely to have the stretch of river or coastline all to yourself, and the reward of sitting, post-paddle, by a crackling fire sipping a hot chocolate as the feeling slowly creeps back into your fingers increases exponentially for every degree lower the temperature outside drops, it would seem. In fact, for some people, despite the obvious appeal of summer paddling, it doesn’t quite match up to the understated allure of a frosty winter paddle. We’ve put together a list of ten of the canoe & kayak routes we love to do at this time of year: stretches of river, lake or coast that are leant a certain beauty by the season, or that are the perfect length to fit comfortably into the limited number of daylight hours available. They are just ten of many, though, and their main purpose here is to serve as the inspiration you need to pick up your paddle, scrape the ice off the car and get out there…

1. Derwent Water, Cumbria

The Lake District is a truly omni-seasonal canoeing & kayaking destination, that is just as charming a place to paddle in the depths of winter when you will enjoy the waters largely to yourself, as it is in the height of summer. A paddle around Derwent Water beginning and ending in Keswick is a great one to do on a cold day: you can take as long as you like to explore the many islands, some of which have the remains of small buildings still present. For a bit of a twist on the island and lake shore exploration theme, though, you can head for the mouth of the River Derwent on the south-east shore. Look out for the small collection of islands that mark the delta formed at the confluence. Usually, you can paddle a long way up the marshy river before the flow becomes too much to contend with and you have to turn back.

There are a number of launching places around the lake, but if you’re in Keswick and want to get afloat without delay then the ideal place to do so from is the launch at the end of Lake Road. Or failing that, if you’re camping at the Keswick Camping and Caravan Club right on the north bank then you can put in straight from here without having to go anywhere.

2. The River Tees

This is a favourite amongst clubs from all over the northeast and beyond, thanks to its fun but friendly nature and reasonably reliable winter levels. The River Tees in the Pennines is home to some dramatic river geography, some of which even expert kayakers would satisfy themselves with admiring from below, rather than attempting to paddle. One such feature is High Force, a spectacular waterfall that cascades down over 21m through a cleft in rock, and marks the get-in for the first section of the Tees that is popular with clubs and guided groups of beginners.

From this awe-inspiring get in, the river meanders it’s way through this scenic part of County-Durham at a more leisurely grade 2/3 pace, with plenty of little waves and holes to stop and play in with just one rapid about half way down that demands a little more attention, known simply as the ‘Dog’s Leg.’ The end of this run is marked by another waterfall, this one slightly smaller, called Low Force. Beginners in the group may wish to watch the more experienced paddlers run it from a safe vantage point on the bank before deciding whether or not to attempt it themselves! Downstream of here, the Bernard Castle to Winston stretch is another section of the Tees ideal for beginners. 12km of mainly grade 3, there are plenty of play waves to keep things interesting.

3. The North Norfolk Coast

A much over-looked gem of a sea kayaking spot is North Norfolk’s coastline. You may have to time your visit correctly, the large tidal range could leave you with a lot of walking to do in one direction or another if you get it wrong, but check the times and you’re in for a real treat.

There are no shortages of great beaches to use as launch points, but Brancaster is one that is particularly convenient when the tide is in, providing great parking and access straight to the water. This stretch of coastline is abundant in bird life and atypical (for the UK) ‘barrier coast’ formations that provide a lot of opportunity for exploration.

East Anglian winters can be bitter, but the beauty endures, and the entire area is peppered with delightful teas shops, bistros, pubs and restaurants to retreat to after a stiff, fresh paddle along the coast. Most definitely one to have on your list of winter wonderland paddles.

4. The Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads are an area of wetland that enjoys National Park status and is home to a host of wildlife and Sites of Special Scientific Interest contained in a vast network of rivers, broads and secluded channels and is regarded as being of ecological interest and importance around the world. Said network of rivers, channels and the broads – shallow lakes, of which there are around sixty of a great variant of sizes – which also includes fens and marshes, account for over 200km of navigable waterway, making it the third longest of its kind in the UK; this is not to mention when combined with the Suffolk Broads the largest protected wetland in the country. Countless people every year take to the water on the Broads in all manner of powered and un-powered craft, but the only real way to fully appreciate this wildlife abundant wonderland is by canoe or kayak.
Norfolk enjoys one of the lowest annual rainfalls in the country and produces some of the most picturesque winter scenes too. There is so much exploration to be done on the Broads, it seems a shame to name just one, but the below resources are all you need to plan a trip of any length.

Resources

www.broads-authority.gov.uk – The Broads Authority manages the Norfolk Broads Executive Area, and its website has a wealth of information relevant to anybody planning an excursion to the Broads.

www.enjoythebroads.com – A wealth of information about recreational opportunities on the Norfolk Broads.

www.canoethebroads.co.uk – A useful directory of facilities that offer canoe hire.

www.the-norfolk-broads.co.uk – An open forum in which users can discuss all manner of things pertaining to visiting the Norfolk Broads. If you’re planning a trip, try posting a question on there.

5. The River Thames

From Gloucestershire, where it begins its 218km journey to its non-tidal reach, passing through Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey – where it passes through Teddington Lock and becomes subject to fluctuating tides – the Thames is a magnet for users of boats of all sizes and methods of propulsion, not least paddlers. This is true of all seasons, and although it is undoubtedly busier in summer months the Thames is never completely bereft of canoeists and kayakers in winter.

A great trip for this time of year is the Swift Ditch Loop from Abingdon, Oxfordshire. There is a council car park (free on Sundays) next to the Waitrose supermarket car park in the town centre with access to a millstream that flows all the way down to the river. By paddling upstream from the weir and lock towards Oxford, you can reach the entrance to Swift Ditch, the old course of the Thames before it was diverted. A slide-weir marks the entrance to the ditch (make sure you shoot the right one, there is a weir before you reach the actual entrance that descends into thick, impenetrable undergrowth, and normally doesn’t have much water going over it). The Ditch is a narrow, tree-lined and often-overgrown adventure of a paddle that will bring out the explorer in you. It rejoins the Thames downstream of Abingdon town centre, near the Marina. The circuit will take 2-3 hours, and there are plenty of pubs and cafes close to the take out to warm up afterwards! Lots of paddling routes on the Thames can be found in

Lots of paddling routes on the Thames can be found in Pub Paddles by Peter Knowles, available from HERE.

Thames Weirs 

The Thames is absolutely flush with great play spots in the form of weirs that run fairly reliably throughout the winter.

Abingdon

A bit of a one-move wonder (referred to jokingly sometimes by locals as “The Blastadrome”) but a fun little spot in this area which frequently runs even when others are too low.

Hurley & Hambledon

All in the vicinity of Hurley upon Thames, Hurley is possibly considered the most iconic of the Thames weirs, and at the right level (3 gates is ideal) is an absolutely superb wave. It is also safer and more consistent than some other weirs, hence its enduring popularity. Hambledon weir was in fact modified with paddlers in mind, although the wave it produces can be a little unpredictable and washes out in higher water levels.

Boulters 

Depending on levels provides a nice hole, or big bouncy surf waves great for getting aerial moves. Demands respect and are to be avoided in high flows, though.

Chertsey, Shepperton & Sunbury

The London weirs. Chertsey was (is?) once popular with squirt boaters for producing great potential for mystery moves, but in high winter flows normally produces a friendly and fun surf wave, great for the less experienced. Shepperton is not reliable in its levels, but many consider it one of the best play spots in the country when caught on a good day; Sunbury is as unpredictable and can produce spectacular beatings or worse when the levels are wrong, proceed with caution!

Level updates and a guide to the characteristics of the Thames’ much-celebrated kayak-friendly play spots can be found at www.tvfreestylers.co.uk

NB: Weir paddling on every river comes with this obvious health warning: don’t do it unless you know what you’re doing. While some weirs provide endless freestyle fun, some are merciless killers, and added into this weirs can sometimes go from one to the other depending on levels.

6. The Dart Loop

You’d be hard-pressed to improve upon the Loop section of the River Dart, Devon, for the ideal beginner and club river. Set to a backdrop of the stunning Dartmoor scenery, the Loop starts of gently and continues to delight for its six and a half kilometres from the put-in at New Bridge to the take out, throwing up plenty of boulder gardens, play waves and ‘pool drop’ style rapids that you are able to get out and look at, walk if necessary, or run multiple times if desired!

Notable highlights include drops such as ‘The Washing Machine,’ ‘Lovers’ Leap,’ ‘Triple Drop,’ and ‘Spin Dryer.’ All of these present an option to walk if you don’t feel ready and all provide an excellent introduction to the types of rapid and skills you’ll meet and require on other whitewater rivers. Not merely a terrific day out on a beautiful river with excellent whitewater, the Loop is a training ground for UK-style kayaking that you will surely find yourself returning to again and again during your paddling career. And no matter how cold it is, you’ll soon be warming up in the fully stocked bar and restaurant at the River Dart Country Park where you take out. Heated changing facilities are also available to guests paying for accommodation.

The Loop is by no means a one-hit wonder in the Dartmoor area, either, with the likes of the Tavy, Walkham and the Lower Dart there’s plenty to keep the beginner whitewater kayaker occupied all weekend without having to paddle the same river twice.

7. Cardiff International White Water Centre

Sometimes a cold winter’s weekend with no rain topping up the rivers can mean only one thing: time to visit a whitewater course. Wales’ very own international-standard whitewater centre serves this part of the country excellently as an option for whitewater kayaking on such occasions. You can just turn up and hop on at the publicised ‘park and play’ session times and there are plenty of waves and holes for beginners to touch up important skills and just generally have a good time on!

Although some might see such places as summer refuges, they are actually ideal for winter paddling: Cardiff is no exception to the rule that most centres dotted across the country have great cafes on-site to go and warm up quickly after a paddle (not to mention indoor changing!), and because of the nature of artificial courses you never have to commit to a longer run on a river, great if an accidental dunking leads to you getting cold and deciding to get off!

8. The River Wye

The entirety of the Wye Valley attracts huge numbers of visitors on account of how stunningly beautiful it is and the walking opportunity it offers, but it is also a hugely popular destination for canoeists and kayakers. The Wye’s Upper (the last 8-17km down to the town of Rhayadar, depending on how long a trip you’d like) and Middle (the town of Builth Wells down to the town of Boughrood) sections are both excellent day trips, which largely hover between grades 2 and 3 whitewater. One of the most year-round popular sections is that which goes from the 300m Symonds Yat rapid located in the Welsh /English border area and Monmouth. Very busy in summer, but quite a bit quieter in winter this section has been described by many as one of the finest touring rivers in the UK.

The best place to start is the car park next to the caravan site in Symonds Yat, where a nominal launch fee is payable. You are almost immediately upon the rapid, which is entry level and nothing to worry about, but is nonetheless easily portage/scoutable from the bank. From here the next 10km or so down to Monmouth is completely flat and very beautiful, and can easily be completed within two hours. Egress at some concrete steps on river right. There are plenty of hot chocolate-serving establishments to be found in Monmouth to warm the soul after a wintry paddle, or even something stronger if you’re looking for it!

9. The Pembrokeshire Coast

Pembrokeshire in Southwest Wales was the UK’s first ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and is home to the UK’s only coastal National Park. For the visiting sea kayaker, the area really does have everything you could wish for stunning beaches mixed with imposing sea cliffs, peaceful estuaries and, for when you get more experienced, even island crossing and circumnavigations.
Pembrokeshire is an ideal year-round sea kayaking destination: due to its dramatic and rugged geography there are plenty of sheltered inlets and bays to dip your paddle in, even if the conditions outside won’t allow for the longer coastal explorations that are spectacular and rewarding in fine conditions.

10. The Great Glen 

What better way of spending a few days that crossing Scotland in your canoe than passing over misty lochs, historic castles and magnificent hills. A combination of natural lochs and man-made waterway the Caladonian Canal this has long been a popular multi-day trip with open canoeists and kayakers.

Earlier this year a new canoe trail was opened on the Great Glen, so now has never been a better time to undertake a journey on all or part of it, with an abundance of new paddler-friendly facilities available to all of those carrying the free license obtained from the Great Glen Canoe Trail website. The site also contains comprehensive information on planning a trip. Got to www.greatglencanoetrail.info for more information.

Sensible Precautions

There’s probably no need to point out that the consequences of getting wet and cold in winter can escalate very quickly if not dealt with. It’s worth bearing in mind too that often flows in winter can be faster than you are used to in summer, so always take this into account when planning a trip and before deciding whether or not to get on the water. This is all common sense stuff and provided you take all necessary precautions there is no need for the cold to put you off paddling in all seasons. These are just a few basic safety precautions to help minimise the risks of taking to the water when it’s cold.

  • Dress for the worst: just falling into icy water in the depth of winter can take your breath away and effectively disable you if you’re not dressed appropriately. Purpose-designed dry cags or dry suits are worn over a suitable number of thermal layers is ideal. Always, always where a personal flotation device.
  • Have a quick exit route in place for if somebody is getting too cold as a result of an accidental dunking or otherwise.
  • Where possible carry spares of dry warm clothing.
  • Take proper provisions including thermos flasks with a hot drink.
  • Avoid paddling alone and tell somebody where you’re going.
  • Keep an eye on the forecast beforehand and look out for any sign of deteriorating conditions while you’re paddling.

10 Reasons to Go on a Canoeing or Kayaking Course

Booking on to a course is a great way to add new tools to your skills box, or to refresh and sharpen up those that you already have and to have a whole pile of fun into the bargain. It’s also a brilliant way to meet like-minded people and to swap ideas, knowledge and experiences. Here are ten of our favourite courses to wet your learning whistles and to help convince you that one fast track route to more fun on the water is to GO book on a course…

Getting a Taste

A gateway into the wonderful world of canoeing & kayaking! Introductory courses, also sometimes known as ‘taster’ courses and allow you to give various styles of canoeing and kayaking a try, to see if you enjoy them and want to take them further. You’ll learn about the various styles of canoes and kayak and you’ll learn the basics to get you moving on the water. Come rain or shine these course are always great fun and an ideal introduction into the sport.

Canoeing or Kayaking For Families

There are plenty of courses now available aimed at the entire family. Paddlesport is a fantastic way of enjoying the great outdoors together as a family and what better way to learn, and have a whole heap of fun, than with your nearest and dearest?

The BCU Star Tests

The British Canoe Union runs the coaching scheme in the UK and their Star Test awards are respected all over the world. They range from entry level right up to advanced paddling in demanding conditions and have been designed to help you progress into the coaching scheme, and maybe even become a coach yourself. These are usually run over a single day, or sometimes a weekend for more advance awards, where there’s more to take in. As well as actual assessments there are also plenty of training courses to prepare you, and hone your skills for the tests themselves. The Star Tests cover all the basic skills that you need to know to be safe on the water and to control your boat with ease, so they are certainly worth doing to gain a solid foundation. Many canoe clubs will also run and assess Star test courses and assessments too.

Specific Discipline ‘Intro’ Courses

If you already know what discipline floats your boat then there are also many ‘intro’ courses available to learn the basics. These are available for most disciplines of paddlesport, flat-water, Sit-On-Top, whitewater, open canoeing, sea kayaking the lot! These courses are designed to take you into that particular discipline of the sport so you can learn the specific skills needed to progress in that area.

For example on an ‘intro to sea kayaking’ course you’d learn about basic boat control skills, a little navigation, all about kit and safety gear, planning your own trips, that sort of thing.

First Aid

A basic knowledge of first aid is a really valuable skill in general and even more for those playing in the great outdoors, accidents can happen, so a first aid course makes perfect sense. But why not crank it up a few notches and take a more in-depth course. It’s a good feeling knowing that in an emergency you’ve got that little bit more knowledge to help out your paddling friends in a time of need.

Learning to Eskimo Roll

Although not essential being able to roll a kayak it is a very valuable skill to possess, and it’s really not that hard once you know how. There are plenty of courses available for both kayakers and canoeists and why stop at one style of roll, you could learn the front and reverse screw roll, the C-to-C roll or, if you get really good, even to ditch the paddle all together and learn to hand roll!

Basic Coastal Navigation

An essential skill if you want to undertake your own trips on the sea. Charts, tides, weather, it all sounds a bit scary, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds and a basic course on navigation will help you demystify it, break it all down, and increase your knowledge and understanding and get to grips with those salty sea dog skills that’ll make your trips on the sea safer and more fun.

Safety & Rescue

No matter how good, and careful you think you are, sooner or later something is not going to go to plan. Having a solid working knowledge of safety and rescue techniques and the ability to form a plan quickly is a skill that you owe to yourself and anyone that you paddle with. The smallest incident can quickly grow into a more serious event if it’s not dealt with properly, so attending a rescue course is a sensible solution to make sure you’re as ready as you can be.

Become a River Leader

If you paddle regularly with a club or a group of friends it makes sense to learn the skills that will allow you to lead a group down the river safely. Paddling styles, group dynamics, equipment, incident management and how to spot and prevent potential hazards before they occur, there’s certainly a lot to consider. It’s often a demanding course but ultimately very rewarding.

Bush Craft Skills

Yep, Ray Mears has a lot to answer for! But when you think about it canoes and kayaks are designed to help you get out into the wilds, so it makes sense to learn a few skills that’ll make spending time in the outdoors more comfortable, and more fun. Lighting fires, backwoods cooking, building shelters, they’re all in a day’s adventure for the bushcraft course attending canoeist or kayaker!

Paddler Expert View – Ross Montandon, BCU Aspirant Level 5 Coach

“Getting on a good coaching course has never been easier, along with a really high standard of great coaches being readily accessible for anyone looking to fast track their learning and skills. By enrolling on a canoeing or kayaking course it will enable you to improve very quickly and iron out any creases in your paddling. As you can see from this article there are courses that look at specific areas or disciplines, such as rolling or sea kayaking for examples. Or there are courses that cover many different aspects of paddle-sport for those that aren’t sure of what aspects of paddling they really enjoy yet. Getting coached can really help increase your knowledge, understanding of the sport and the environment we paddle n and your personal skills, which will all go towards making your time more rewarding and fun. So what are you waiting for jump go on a course!

10 Great UK Canoe & Kayak Touring Trips

There are few things more relaxing than cruising along a gently flowing river, or across the glass like mirror flat surface of a lake or a loch, listening to nothing but the ripples from your bow.

Whether you’re just out on a pleasant day’s paddle or a multi-day journey touring kayaks and even sit-on-tops, are perfect for exploring the waterways of the UK. Here are a few suggestions on some truly classic canoe & kayak touring trips and destinations to get you started, but once you’ve caught the canoe & kayak touring bug there are plenty more out there, just waiting for you to discover and go canoe & kayak touring…

River Thames

Old Father Thames, immortalised for centuries in prose and verse, is probably the most famous river in the UK! But although it flows directly through the heart of the capital there’s a whole lot more to the River Thames than just London. It becomes officially navigable at Cricklade in Wiltshire and the upper stretches of the river offer some beautiful potential for paddle touring. Further, downstream the Thames begins to grow in stature. There are plenty of easy access and egress points along the way and some lovely riverside pubs. Henley, famous for its boating regatta, and the section between here and Marlow is picturesque and green. Further downstream at Runnymede you can moor up and then take a short walk to where the historic Magna Carta was signed, and the section between there and Windsor is a popular stretch for paddling day trippers. Shepperton and Sunbury are great spots to start a Thames paddling tour from and you could journey downstream further to the historic palace at Hampton Court. After the lock at Teddington the Thames becomes tidal, so it’s a more serious venture, but more experienced paddlers will love the unusual view that the river offers of our capital city, and cruising past such powerful landmarks as the House of Commons with Big Ben looming and the London Eye just downstream is certainly a special paddling experience.

River Trent

The River Trent is another of the major rivers of England. Its source is in Staffordshire and it flows through the Midlands until it joins the River Ouse at Trent Falls to form the Humber Estuary, which then empties into the North Sea. In times past the industrial landscapes that the Trent runs though for part of its length meant that it was heavily polluted, but water quality has improved significantly in recent years, and it provides quality touring along its length. From quiet rural settings to passing through historical cities, such as Burton and Nottingham, it is one of the great English rivers. The Trent also boasts a tidal bore in its lower reaches, the Trent Aegir, which occurs when a high spring tide meets the downstream flow of the river.

River Stour

The River Stour Boating flows through the Suffolk and Essex countryside taking in the delights of ‘Constable country’. For nearly its whole length the Stour flows through a wide valley and presents paddlers with a plethora of picturesque panoramas, making it ideal as a destination for the touring paddler. Powered craft are unable to access much of the Stour due to weirs and shallow section, easily portaged with kayaks or canoes, which makes for quiet, peaceful touring with an abundance of wildlife in, and around this lovely river.

River Mersey

Almost as famous as the Thames, the Mersey flows through the industrial heartlands of the North. The name ‘Mersey’ originates from the Old English ‘Maere’, which means boundary and the river were the boundaries of the ancient Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria. The Mersey is formed when the River Tame and the River Goyt meet in Stockport. The full length of the Mersey is 110km, but it can offer a wealth of shorter day trips, or even multi-day trips for the more adventurous. Surrounded by industry the Mersey also suffered from pollution in the past, but a successful and intense clean-up operation has seen this magnificent river once again sparkle, with fish and wildlife returning to its waters and riverbanks. Canoeing & kayaking are actively encouraged on the Mersey and a new paddling trail.

River Lea

Despite its proximity to urban areas the River Lea in Hertfordshire provides some delightfully green and leafy stretches for paddle touring. It can be fairly narrow in places, with overgrowing trees and duckweed, but this just adds to the Lea’s personality and gives the river a wild, adventurous feel. Its waters are clear and fish can be seen darting underneath and Kingfishers flashing amongst the riverside foliage. The Lea also has man-made weirs and locks to negotiate (one has been built specially to provide fun for paddlers) but these are all easily portaged.

River Nene

Flowing between the cites of Northampton and Peterborough the Nene, along with the Great Ouse, is one of the main watercourses of the east and has much to offer the touring paddler, until it reaches its tidal section, at the curiously named Dog in a Doublet lock. There’s a man-made whitewater course that runs from the Nene, just outside Northampton, ideal as a starting point, and the section of river from here is a lovely, leafy paddle. The Nene provides pretty and interesting scenery throughout its length but the section between Thrapston and Oundle is, in our opinion, worthy of special note. The section from Wandsford down into Peterborough, taking in Ferry Meadows lakes, is also a really nice paddle.

River Wye

The River Wye is one of Britain’s most scenic and unspoilt rivers and has long held a special place in the hearts of UK paddlers. From its source deep in the Welsh mountains, from the streams of Plynlimon, the River Wye flows through scenic countryside passing through Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, Ross-on-Wye along its way. It supplies a little whitewater excitement as it tumbles over the gentle rapids at Symonds Yat, and then calmly continues on through Monmouth and Tintern until it finally reaches Chepstow where it joins the Severn Estuary.The lower Wye Valley with its steep wooded cliffs is particularly good for touring paddling and you’ll see wildlife and birdlife a plenty as you float along. If you just want to spend a few hours cruising along it is possible to hire sit-on-tops or canoes for a day trip. But for those who want a little bit more adventure the Wye offers the keen paddler a 100-miles of touring, and the opportunity of multi-day paddling trips, with plenty of campsites and riverside pubs along the way if you decide to go for it.

The lower Wye Valley with its steep wooded cliffs is particularly good for touring paddling and you’ll see wildlife and birdlife aplenty as you float along. If you just want to spend a few hours cruising along it is possible to hire sit-on-tops or canoes for a day trip. But for those who want a little bit more adventure the Wye offers the keen paddler a 100-miles of touring, and the opportunity of multi-day paddling trips, with plenty of campsites and riverside pubs along the way if you decide to go for it.

River Severn

The UK’s largest river, the Severn is the River Wye’s big sister and also rises from the flanks of Plynlimon in the Cambrian Mountains of Wales. As it flows from its source, through Powys, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, to its mouth in the Bristol Channel it covers an impressive 350km. it’s narrow and twisting in its upper reaches, but its scenery is stunning and the Jackfield Rapids supply a small shot of excitement for those seeking thrills. Although the Severn can be fearsome in flood, it can become very shallow over gravel beds in some places during the drier summer months, most notably as it flows through the picturesque town of Bewdley in Worcestershire. It then broadens out as it flows slowly along its way to the city of Worcester. There are many locks and weirs to negotiate along the way, but they’re all canoe and kayak friendly and it’s a fairly easy job to get out and walk round. In parts, such as near the marina at Stourport you may well be surrounded by ‘Gin-palaces’, especially during the summer months, but in other’s you’ll have the whole river to yourself. Again the Severn can offer multi-day trips, camping is harder to come by but there are some fantastic riverside pubs that offer accommodation. If you fancy something shorter then there are plenty of stretches along its length that offer great touring days out.

River Spey

A Scottish touring gem, and one of the most popular rivers for paddle touring on in the UK. Paddlers travel from all over to enjoy a ‘Spey Descent’. Early in its life, the Spey runs gently through the Cairngorms National Park and a more beautiful journey, through a backdrop of towering, majestic Munros, is hard to imagine. The Spey then winds lazily along through ‘Whisky Country’ the most densely populated whisky distillery area in the world! The mountains have now given way to rolling hills but the scenery is still stunning. This is a fantastic trip for nature lovers and you can expect to share the river with oystercatchers, herons, osprey, otters, deer and leaping salmon. The trees, flowers and mountain views are truly hard to beat with a wealth of day, weekend or multi-day trips to choose from.

River Blackwater

Part of Northern Ireland’s excellent Canoe Trails network the Blackwater is an ideal venue for touring paddlers of any ability. The Blackwater gently meanders through the beautiful countryside of counties Armagh and Tyrone, flowing gently into Lough Neagh (Europe’s largest inland Lake spanning 90 miles in circumference). As well as the peace and quiet of the river the Blackwater also passes the Argory, an impressive National Trust property, which is well worth the time to pay a visit. As we’ve mentioned the Blackwater is just part of the NI Canoe Trails, which combine to make northern Ireland a fantastic destination for a paddle-touring holiday.

9 Great European Whitewater Kayaking Destinations

Reading an in-flight magazine en route to a kayaking trip overseas, is rarely inspirational, especially when you consider the price of beer and a sandwich, but there is one page that has always sparked my interest. Now that a number of low coast airlines allow the intrepid whitewater kayaking explorer to travel with kayak in tow, the destination map can often open new horizons…

Morocco

When: May
Why: One of the most adventurous whitewater, or indeed, surf kayaking, destinations that are accessible on budget airlines. Morocco can offer whitewater rivers of an easy grade in stunning locations within a country with a very different culture. Levels can vary but there are plenty of other adventures to be had without a kayak and surf can be found on the west coast, making this a popular destination with surfers and kayak surfers alike. This destination requires a little more planning and could be the ideal introduction into expedition whitewater kayaking.
Airports: Marrakesh but Casablanca is also an option.

Corsica

When: April
Why: Rugged mountains, early season sunshine and the promise of classic, steep granite whitewater kayaking runs make Corsica a popular destination for many whitewater kayakers looking for challenging waters. With many steep creeks and its own independent culture, there are lots to do. Rivers like the Travo and Taravo will leave you grinning and the rugged nature of the island give an air of wilderness that is hard to come by in other European destinations. Corsica also offers some truly stunning paddling for those looking for some sun-soaked sea kayaking too!
Airport: direct to Ajaccio or flight to Nice followed by a ferry.

Portugal

When: December through to January
Why: Great food, proximity to amazing kayak surfing and granite creeks bursting with top-notch whitewater kayaking action make this an attractive place to celebrate the New Year. This destination is rain dependent but hides some excellent whitewater rivers with some fantastic granite rapids and some impressive loss of gradient. With plenty of other alternative activities when the levels are on the low side, this could be the perfect destination to sneak some whitewater kayaking in under pressure from the family or the other half!
Airport: Porto

Austria

When: July-Mid-August
Why: Big and bouncy, fast and technical, grade 2-6 whitewater, Austria has it all in a relatively small space. Some of the Swiss Inn gorges, along with great little runs like the Risbach and Loisach rivers over the border into Germany are all within striking distance in a day if you base yourself in or around the Landeck area or Ötztal.
Airports: Innsbruck is closest, but flights tend to be more regular and cheaper to Munich, just a couple of hours drive away.

Slovenia

When: May-July
Why: A stunning, relatively quiet, relaxed and inexpensive whitewater kayaking destination that’s been growing steadily in popularity in recent years. Some of the grade 2 sections of the Socca River, the main destination for whitewater kayakers withing Slovenia, offer panoramic mountain views, as do some of its interesting little grade 2/3 tributaries. There is also the odd gorge section thrown in if you’d like to push yourself.
Airport: Ljubljana is only a couple of hours away.

Pyrenees, France

When: Last week of April into May
Why: Often neglected, the Pyrenees offer a wide range of rivers away from the crowds with the potential for some excellent wild camping. The whitewater rivers range from grade 2 to grade 6 with high volume runs to steep creeking. You also have the benefit of two cultures and two climates with both the French and Spanish sides offering their own unique experience.
Airport: Good rivers can be accessed within an hour and a half from Toulouse airport.

The French Alps

When: Late May- July
Why: An incredibly popular whitewater kayaking playground with rivers to suit every level, and a great mix of big volume and steeper and more technical. There are so many whitewater rivers in the vast area that you could return for many years and still find new things. If you really want to push yourself, levels are much higher earlier in the season, and decrease towards the end as the snowpack dwindles.
Airports: A few hours drive from either Lyon or Turin.

Italy and Switzerland

When: May into the first two weeks of June
Why: Fantastic rapids on smooth granite in close proximity to fine pizza and pasta have attracted whitewater kayakers to the region in ever increasing numbers. Classics such as the Gronda, Sorba, Sermenza and Verzasca will erase any pain that an extended period in duty-free can cause and large quantities of Italian wine will cancel out any regrets on missed whisky offers. Head away from the mountains to the Italian coastline
Airports: Milan or Turin

Greece

When: April – May
Why: Greece’s whitewater kayaking rivers are not widely known about, but the country is home to some stunning and remote rivers that offer both world class whitewater kayaking adventures and, for those who want it, a wilderness kayaking exploration experience.
Airport: Athens

6 Great UK Sea Kayaking Destinations

There are few things that can offer the sense of freedom that a journey by sea kayak can! Gliding along mirror-flat water looking at the abundance of seabirds, or crashing through the waves on a challenging open crossing sea kayaking has something to offer everyone. We’ve picked out six classic areas, but we do all live on an island there is great sea paddling to be had all around the UK’s coastline… wherever you can find a spot to launch your sea kayak.

The Outer Hebrides

Never mind the UK this is in the top ten sea kayaking destinations in the world, without question. The 150 mile-long island chain that is the Outer Hebrides stands off the North West coast of Scotland and offers visitors culture, history, beauty, peace and adventure in equal measure. Miles of unspoilt white sandy beaches, rugged mountains, world famous archaeological sites and their fair share of hearty Scottish food and heart-warming whisky.

For sea kayakers, they offer rare opportunities to see, up close and personal, some of the UK’s most mysterious of inhabitants, whales, dolphins, seals and otters. Add to the mix the diverse seabird population, which includes puffins and white-tailed sea eagles amongst a host of others. The Outer Hebrides are ideal for sea kayaking adventures, it’s almost as if they’ve been made just for us, and there’s a wide range of sea kayaking trips available, from scenic pleasant paddles to committing crossings, all set in an outstanding natural environment. Crystal clear blue water and white sandy beaches will inspire your paddling and revive your Soul

Knoydart and the Small Isles

Scotland is blessed with an abundance of amazing wild and wonderful coast that it was hard not to fill this list with just Scottish gems. Knoydart is situated in the Western Highlands and, although part of the mainland, still has an island feel about it. It is a mountainous peninsula, sandwiched between two beautiful lochs, Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn. Its coastline offers a wealth of trips to the sea kayaker and there are plenty of opportunities for wild camping. Heading South West across the water to the Isle of Eigg. The rocky An Sgurr, composed of volcanic pitchstone, which gives the island its distinctive profile, dominates its southern end. The rugged coastline provides no sheltered anchorage, but a new pier has greatly improved access. Muck lies a few miles to the south-west of Eigg, and is a small, low-lying island, exposed to the Atlantic swells. Head north and you’ll come to Rum, the largest and most mountainous island in the group. Canna lies to the North West. And the whole region is home to many seabirds and marine vertebrates such as whales, dolphins and the plankton- feeding basking sharks.

Anglesey

It’s no surprise that this little island is a real hot-bed of UK sea kayaking, it’s coastline can offer excitement to the hardened of salty sea dogs, but it can equally entice the beginner to the charms of a sea kayak and the arms of the ocean. The circumnavigation of Anglesey is a classic sea kayaking expedition. The fast tidal streams of the Menai Straits separate Anglesey and the mainland. People have been known to complete the 90-mile route in less than twenty-four hours. For those looking for gentler paddling, however, there’s plenty to be found, a paddle round to the impressive Parliament Cave in Gogarth Bay and back for instance.

Dorset’s Dinosaur Coast

The Dorset coastline boasts the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Park, the only one of its kind in the UK. As you’d expect it’s very beautiful and a perfect for a spot for some sea kayak action. Experienced sea kayakers can challenge themselves against the area’s hefty tides, and those with less salt-encrusted beards can simply enjoy a relaxing jaunt among the rocks. Lulworth Cove is a superb spot for spending a few hours afloat or you can stretch yourself with a longer trip from Swanage Bay to Kimmeridge Bay. If you’re feeling lazy, then why not take advantage of the storage space that sea kayaks offer and break the journey into two and camp out overnight. On the other hand, if you’re feeling very energetic, why not take those two days and go all the way from Swanage to Weymouth Bay? If you fancy really taking it easy, are new to sea kayaking or just want a spot of sheltered water, then a paddle in Poole Harbour could be just your cup of tea.

Cornwall

The Cornish coastline is steeped in history, myth and legend and with it’s abundance of imposing cliffs, secluded bays and coves, white sandy beaches and wildlife it’s no wonder that it’s a popular destination for sea kayakers. It has something to offer all levels of paddler to. From exciting multi-day trips to rock hopping just off a sandy beach, the Cornish Peninsula has a diversity of environments that’s truly impressive. This means that you always stand a good chance of matching the conditions and type of trip to your needs. In the summer the beaches and roads can become crowded with tourists, but out on the ocean, it’s always possible to find some peace. And who knows? You may even come across a visiting Basking Shark too!

Norfolk

An often over-looked gem the Norfolk coastline is simply stunning. It doesn’t have quite the same rugged, exposed feeling of many of the other entries here, and towering sea cliffs are off the agenda but the beaches, bays and estuaries of Norfolk can offer the sea kayaker some great experiences. It’s incredibly peaceful and even on busy days many of Norfolk’s beaches have empty hideaways where you can stop for a spot of lunch. With miles and miles of wide sandy beaches, unspoilt Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and some of the best nature reserves in the country (including Titchwell, Snettisham and Cley), it’s easy to see why the Norfolk coast will appeal to the nature loving sea kayaker. Situated on the east coast of England and known as the bulging rump, Norfolk enjoys a pleasant climate all year round, with a below average rainfall for the UK, so it’s a great place to cut your sea kayaking teeth.

5 Great UK Canoeing & Kayaking Touring Destinations

There are few things more relaxing than cruising along a gently flowing river, or across the glass like surface of a lake of a loch, listening to nothing but the ripples from your bow. Whether you’re just out on a pleasant day’s paddle or a multi-day journey Canadian canoes, touring kayaks, and even sit-on-tops are all perfect for exploring the waterways of the UK. Here are a few suggestions on some of our classic touring trips and destinations, but there are plenty more out there, just waiting for you to discover them.

River Wye

The River Wye is one of Britain’s most scenic and unspoilt rivers and has long held a special place in the hearts of UK paddlers. From its source deep in the Welsh mountains, from the streams of Plynlimon, the River Wye flows through scenic countryside passing through Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, Ross-on-Wye along its way. It supplies a little whitewater excitement as it tumbles over the gentle rapids at Symonds Yat, and then calmly continues on through Monmouth and Tintern until it finally reaches Chepstow where it joins the Severn Estuary.

The lower Wye Valley with its steep wooded cliffs is particularly good for touring paddling and you’ll see wildlife and birdlife aplenty as you float along. If you just want to spend a few hours cruising along it is possible to hire canoes for a day trip. But for those who want a little bit more adventure, the Wye offers the keen paddler a 100-miles of touring, and the opportunity of multi-day paddling trips and there are plenty of campsites and riverside pubs along the way if you decide to go for it.

River Severn

The UK’s largest river, the Severn is the Wye’s big brother and also rises from the flanks of Plynlimon in the Cambrian Mountains in Wales. As it flows from its source to its mouth in the Bristol Channel it covers an impressive 350km. it’s narrow and twisting in its upper reaches, but its scenery is stunning and the Jackfield Rapids supply a small shot of adrenaline for those seeking excitement. Although the Severn can be fearsome in flood, it can become very shallow over gravel beds in some places during the drier months, notably, as it flows through the picturesque town of Bewdley. It then broadens out as it flows slowly along its way to the city of Worcester. There are many locks and weirs to negotiate along the way, but they’re all canoe and kayak friendly and it’s a fairly easy job to get out and walk round. In parts, such as near the marina at Stourport you may well be surrounded by ‘Gin-palaces’, especially during the summer months, but in other’s you’ll have the whole river to yourself. Again the Severn can offer multi-day trips, camping is harder to come by but there are some fantastic riverside pubs that offer accommodation. If you fancy something shorter then there are plenty of stretches along its length that offer good day trip runs.

River Thames

The most famous river in the UK! Although it flows directly through the heart of the capital there’s a whole lot more to the River Thames than just London. It becomes officially navigable at Cricklade in Wiltshire and the upper stretches of the river offer some great touring potential. Further, downstream the river had grown in stature. There are plenty of easy access and egress points along the way and even a few riverside pubs. At Runnymede, you can moor up and then take a short walk to where the Magna Carta was signed! Shepperton and Sunbury are great spots and you could journey downstream further to the historic palace at Hampton Court. After Teddington the Thames becomes tidal, so it’s a more serious venture, but more experienced paddlers will love the unusual view that the river offers of our Capital City and cruising past such powerful landmarks as the House of Commons with Big Ben looming and the London Eye just downstream is certainly a special paddling experience.

The Lake District

The Lake District certainly has its share of good canoeing venues. As well as sporting some fine rivers the beautiful lakes, from which it takes its name, are perfect for a spot of an open boat or touring fun. And with the area’s equally stunning hills and mountains it can offer some brilliant multi-sport style days out. Derwent Water, Ullswater and Windermere are all popular paddling destinations, or go a little of the beaten track and visit the majestically deep waters of Waswater. The whole area is bustling with B&Bs, youth hostels, bunkhouses and campsites, so it’s an ideal location for a paddling holiday.

The Scottish Lochs

Too numerous to name, but no guide to touring destinations would be complete without a mention of Scotland’s Lochs. The more famous ones, such as Loch Ness and Loch Lomond are worthy of their fame, but there are many, many more that will grant you a wilderness paddling trip that you’ll never forget. Another fantastic trip is to paddle coast-to-coast using the lochs and the Caledonian Canal; it’s an absolute classic multi-day touring trip, bur watch out for the midges in the warmer months!

5 International Whitewater Kayaking Destinations

In days gone by travelling further a field to go on paddling trips was the preserve of just a few hardened expedition paddlers. But easier world travel has opened up a wealth of epic destinations for those looking for a BIG trip…

Nepal

What can be more exciting than paddling on the roof of the world? The truth is that it is surprisingly easy to organise a trip to the mountain kingdom of Nepal. Its rivers, although big and powerful, are fantastic fun and usually forgiving and they offer some superb multi-day paddling. There are loads of operators who offer guiding, coaching and boat and equipment hire, and there’s now even a kayak store in the city of Pokhara. You can go raft supported and paddle a lower volume play boat allowing you to take advantage of the rivers many play features. Or you can go self-supported and carry all your gear in your boats. As well as the great paddling Nepal has a mystical and intriguing culture and, of course, a backdrop of the biggest mountains in the world!

Canada

The wilderness and mountains of Canada are proven destinations for both whitewater and touring paddlers alike. With a literal goldmine of world-class rivers, such as the Ottawa, the Rouge, Madawaska and the Slave, to name just a few, it’s no surprise that it’s so popular. For those looking for a true wilderness touring trip in the spiritual home of the canoe the Bowron Lakes circuit provides an extended paddle trip out into the heart of the Canadian wilderness.

Africa, the White Nile

The White Nile and the Zambezi. The White Nile is in Uganda and boasts some of the biggest river features in the world. As such it’s a powerful draw for the very best whitewater paddlers looking to perfect their big air freestyle moves on its giant waves. It’s deceptively easy to get to the UK too; in fact, it’s quicker to get to the White Nile than it is to drive to the Austrian Alps! And don’t be put off by its huge reputation either. Yes it’s big, but it’s deceptively friendly and the worst that you can expect is a swim in warm water, so it’s also a good place for intermediate paddlers to improve their big water skills. Every year the Nile Freestyle Festival sees the number of visiting paddlers rise as they battle it out on Nile Special, one of the best waves anywhere on the planet. There are a wealth of awesome local paddlers too and it’s a joy to watch them ripping it up on their river and putting the best to shame. Surprisingly the lower sections of the White Nile can offer some excellent touring paddling and it’s an area that local operators are keen to expand on.

New Zealand

A veritable paradise for lovers of outdoor adventure sports New Zealand has whitewater excitement, touring and sea kayaking in abundance. Made up of the North Island and the South Island it’s famous amongst whitewater paddlers for its heli-runs, where the shuttle into the river is a helicopter! It has plenty of fantastic coastlines too and the Abel Tasman National Park is a favourite destination for visiting sea kayakers.

America

Like its northern neighbour, the USA is blessed with more than its fair share of beautiful wilderness paddling, mountains and wild rivers. Outdoor sports are pretty well established and it’s pretty easy to put together a trip. Boats and equipment are easy to hire and there are plenty of outfitters who offer guiding services, coaching and advice. It’s a big place, though, so you’ll either need a lot of time or pick your chosen paddling region before you arrive.

Sea Kayaks Test – A Touch of Glass

British style sea kayaks are sought after, the world over, by paddlers serious about their sea kayaking. No surprise really, we are a country of island dwellers and for many the urge to explore the oceans is in the blood. We decided to see just why us Brits are so good at designing and making sea boats and hit the briny with a fleet of British built sea kayaks from two of the leading UK manufacturers, P&H and Valley Sea Kayaks. Don’t look at this as a head to head test though, as sea kayaks come in all sorts of guises and what’s great for one type of paddler isn’t going to work for another, it’s a sea horses for sea courses type deal. The following is designed to give you the flavour of each individual boat we paddled and to see just why Britannia rules the waves…

Valley Avocet

The Avocet was a lively, but easy boat to paddle. For a boat of its length it had a very pleasing turn of forward speed and it cut through the water nicely. It’s size also means that it appeals to smaller paddlers but it will also suit a wide range of abilities, giving it a broad appeal.

It’s got great manoeuvrability and secondary stability; we found that you could really crank it on to its edge for crisp turns. This meant that it was loads of fun to play in and we definitely found it adept for playing in the waves and for rock hopping exploits. It tracks well but it definitely benefits from its skeg. Because of it’s size it has less storage capacity than some other models, which may put off expedition paddlers with an eye for long multi-day trips, but you can still get more than enough gear in there for day trips or lightweight weekend overnighters. This is a good compromise design that balances speed with manoeuvrability in one playful package.

Specs:
Length: 488cm
Width: 56cm
Weight: 22kg
Starting Price: £1649

Valley Nordkapp LV

The LV at the end of its name stands for lower volume and this is a smaller version of the classic Nordkapp design. It’s a boat that will suit sea kayakers looking to push their personal skills and who want a boat that can provide performance, in fact it’s a boat that will tick a lot of boxes with a lot of paddlers. From a development point of view this boat would be a great investment for those looking to learn new skills as it’s going to match your skills with performance and so will be a boat you’ll keep for a long time. Its pretty fast and has reasonable primary stability and it reacts to positive paddling. If you up the level of performance you put in to your paddling the Nordkapp LV will return the favour by rewarding you with a positive, responsive ride. It picks up speed quickly and reacts well to dynamic edging. Valley have taken a classic design and made it accessible to smaller paddlers. If we had to sum up the Nordkapp LV in one sentence it would be, ‘a sporty performance kayak.’

Specs:
Length: 533cm
Width: 53cm
Weight: 22.5kg
Starting Price: £1649

Valley Rapier 20

The Rapier is a new kind of boat and we were excited at getting it out on the water. It’s aimed at those paddlers who want to go fast. Primarily designed with sea kayak or adventure racers in mind, or for paddlers who view their paddling as an endurance/training sport. Indeed the Rapier has already set a world record for the fastest crossing from England to France, by kayak, and won Britain’s toughest adventure race in the Hebridean islands off the coast of Scotland.

For such a narrow boat it’s surprisingly comfortable and the seating position is similar to that of a racing boat, which may take a bit of getting used to. Less experienced paddlers may feel a little on the wobbly side to start with.

The thigh grips are really aggressive, but you’ll bed glad they are there as they work well. The Rapier’s all about forward speed and with a good positive stroke will happily cruise along at 10km an hour plus. As you’d expect from a narrow, semi-circular hull shape primary stability is low, but we found the secondary stability excellent, which we put down to the slabby sides. We were blessed with great conditions for our test paddle, and we suspect that the Rapier would be a bit of a handful, unless it had a very capable paddler on board, in bad conditions. Still, that’s just a feeling and the more experienced paddlers amongst us were itching to get it out in the rough stuff. Because of its length the Rapier comes fitted with an over-stern rudder, which worked well and we liked the well-designed steering system, which involves toe steering above a solid plate footrest. A speed demon, but, on the sea, its racing pedigree may suggest it’s for experienced paddlers only.

Specs:
Length: 609cm
Width: 45cm
Weight: 22kg
Starting Price: £1649

Valley Aquanaut

The Aquanaut is ideal for paddlers requiring a fast, comfortable, all-round sea kayak and with LV (lower volume) and HV (higher volume) versions also available there’s an Aquanaut to suit pretty much everyone. It’s a boat that’s designed to look after you and it’s a comfortable, stable boat that’s going to appeal to the paddler who doesn’t want to have to deal with too much performance. We found its primary stability excellent with a wide flat hull under the seat, and it was surprisingly stable in the secondary stability stakes too. It was noticeably slower than the other Valley boats, but its skills in the stability stakes give you a safe predictable paddle in all kinds of conditions, which means an enjoyable time on the water, for less confident or experienced paddlers, without feeling compromised. We found it to be a good, solid boat that did exactly what it said on the tin

Specs:
Length: 536cm
Width: 55cm
Weight: 23kg
Starting Price: £1649

P&H Bahiya

The Bahia is an uncompromising boat aimed at the experienced sea kayaker who wants to go places. It’s a fast boat and it feels sleek through the water. We found it was easy to get the Bahiya up and running quickly and it gave us a real sense of speed across the water. It’s a very comfortable boat and it felt snug and positive, with no slopping around, just what you need from a performance orientated craft. It feels a little unstable when stationary, and you need to commit to the edges, but get it up and running and it feels fine. The boat’s secondary stability is really positive, as there’s a flat section to sit on when you edge it over hard. The overall handling is very manoeuvrable, especially when it’s up to running speed. The Bahia is definitely going to appeal to experienced sea kayakers, but it’s a great boat to grow in to too, allowing the paddler to develop confidence in edging and manoeuvring.

Specs:
Length: 534cm
Width: 52cm
Weight: 23.5kg
Starting Price: £1729

P&H Quest LV

The Quest is an expedition boat, ideal for week trips etc and this is the lower volume version, which delivers the same expedition performance to smaller paddlers. The scaled down sizing provides a comfortable fit and allows smaller paddlers to edge easily, something that’s not always so easy in full sized boats. It’s fairly fast and shares a similar hull shape to the Capella series. The primary stability is good, but it likes to be flat in the water. Secondary stability is great and it’s able to hold an aggressive edge. We found this a really good transitional boat, great for intermediate paddlers looking to improve their edging skills and, as we’ve mentioned it’s great for smaller paddlers looking for a boat for multi-day trips.

Specs:
Length: 536cm
Width: 54.5cm
Weight: 25.9kg
Starting Price: £1729

P&H Capella 161

This is the smallest of the Capella range and is ideal for smaller intermediate sea kayakers. It was very comfortable and the provided a snug fit for our smaller paddlers. Compared to some of the other models around the 161 has relatively slow forward speed, but then it’s a smaller/shorter boat designed with manoeuvrability in mind, not speed. Primary stability is good and it’s easy to paddle it flat. It has fairly soft chines so it doesn’t have the most positive edge, but this does make it great for paddlers exploring edging and as a first time composite boat. Its short length does make it very manoeuvrable and it was lively when rock hopping but it definitely benefits from its skeg and it weathercocks easily in windy conditions without it. All in all this is a fun little sea kayak and a great weekender for smaller paddlers looking for a boat that will look after them as they learn and develop their skills and experience.

Specs:
Length: 492cm
Width: 54.7cm
Weight: 25.9kg
Starting Price: £1729

P&H Capella 163

This sits in the middle of the Capella range and as such fits a fairly broad size range. The 163, along with the rest of the Capella range, is an ideal entry in to the world of composite kayaks, as it’s superbly stable and forgiving and wont spring any nasty surprises on you while you’re learning and gaining experience. But don’t think the 163 is just for those learning, we don’t all crave super-high performance and the Capellas, comfy feel, softer chines and easy going nature provides a mellow experience for those looking to kick back, relax and rack up a few sea miles. There’s plenty of storage room and it’s ideal for long day trips or even overnight adventures.

Specs:
Length: 500cm
Width: 56cm
Weight: 22.5kg
Starting Price: £1729

Try Before You Buy

We’ve tried to give you an overview of the boats, so you can get an idea of which models may suit your paddling needs. But, there’s still nothing like actually getting afloat and paddling a boat to see if it’s the one for you. Check out the manufacturers websites to find the nearest demo centre to you, or head along to one of the sea kayak symposiums that take place all over the country. As well as being ideal places to try out a variety of different sea kayaks you’ll find there’s top flight coaching, both on and off the water, lectures and slide shows and loads and loads of people who are just as mad about paddling on the ocean as you are.

Weather Conditions

Conditions on the day we paddled the boats were as follows: We launched the boats from Trearddur Bay, Anglesey, North Wales, with light conditions on an easy day to be on the water, with the remains of a westerly sea. Wind was N/W 2-3 and the tide was ebbing. We paddled the boats in the bay area, out in the remaining swell and rock hopping around the coast.

Manufacturer’s Info:

Valley Sea Kayaks

Founded in 1970 by Frank Goodman, Valley’s history very quickly became entwined with the infant sport of sea kayaking. Although kayaking on the sea can be traced back several thousand years through various indigenous populations, it was the introduction of the fibreglass sea kayak that led to the activity gaining popularity as a recreational pastime. Valley became one of the very first companies to commercially produce a specialist sea kayak when it launched the Anas Acuta in 1972. This kayak was developed from a native Greenland kayak brought back from the Western region. So successful was this kayak that it is still in production today.

More info: Visit www.valleyseakayaks or call 0115 961 4995

P&H Sea Kayaks

P&H Sea Kayaks were amongst the early pioneers of modern sea kayaking. The first kayak that P&H manufactured for the sea was as far back as the early 1970s. It was a called the ‘Swift’, a short river kayak adapted via the addition of a skeg and watertight hatches and subsequently used to cross between the UK and Ireland.

Their first true modern sea kayak was manufactured during 1979. Working closely with designer Derek Hutchinson, a legendary UK sea paddler, they launched the Umnak, a 15′ expedition sea kayak with full deck rigging, waterproof hatches and retractable skeg. Other models were soon to follow, Icefloe, Baidarka, Fjord, Iona, Dawn Treader, Odin and Orion. Most of these British sea kayaks are now regarded as classics of their day and are etched into the history of modern sea kayak design.

More Info: Visit: www.phseakayaks.com or call 0115 9320155 / 01928 716666

Surfing it up at Surf-lines 

Nick Cunliffe and Phil Heason run Surf-Lines in Llanberis in Snowdonia, North Wales. Both accomplished sea kayakers, coaches and all-around outdoor adventurers they were instrumental in helping us to organise, both paddlers and kayaks for our session in the waves. They even managed to somehow part the fog and clouds, quell the wind and bring out some sunshine for the photos! If you want to experience the thrills of sea kayaking on the stunning coast lines of North Wales, or want to find out more about the right composite boat for you drop them a line on 01286 879001 or take a surf to their website

Sea Kayaking Holidays in Pembrokeshire Wales

“Wherever in Wales you take to the water in your sea kayak, or on your sit-on-top kayak, one thing’s for sure, you won’t be disappointed and you will be back for more!

If Wales has an abundance of natural paddling resources in every aspect the one are that its cup truly overflows is sea kayaking. It has a truly stunning coastline, indeed it’s even home to the UK’s only coastal National Park. Sea kayaking is all about freedom and exploration and the Welsh coasts.

If Wales has an abundance of natural paddling resources in every aspect the one are that its cup truly overflows is sea kayaking. It has a truly stunning coastline, indeed it’s even home to the UK’s only coastal National Park. Sea kayaking is all about freedom and exploration and the Welsh coasts provides the perfect environment for sea kayakers to play in. From the Dee Estuary right down to the Bristol Channel the scope for sensational sea kayaking trips is endless.And it’s not just for hardened sea dogs; all levels of sea paddler can enjoy the waters around Wales. There are plenty of great centres that can provide coaching and guiding services for those looking to dip their toes in to the salty world of sea kayaking for the first time. And the more experienced will relish the challenge of the rugged coastline, often demanding conditions and powerful tidal races.  The coves, bays, islands and sea-caves of Wales are steeped in history and a sea kayak is the perfect way to see its abundant wildlife. It’s not un-common to be paddling along side seals and even dolphins, and you’ll lose count of the sea birds that you’ll see.

And it’s not just for hardened sea dogs; all levels of sea paddler can enjoy the waters around Wales. There are plenty of great centres that can provide coaching and guiding services for those looking to dip their toes in to the salty world of sea kayaking for the first time. And the more experienced will relish the challenge of the rugged coastline, often demanding conditions and powerful tidal races.  The coves, bays, islands and sea-caves of Wales are steeped in history and a sea kayak is the perfect way to see its abundant wildlife. It’s not un-common to be paddling along side seals and even dolphins, and you’ll lose count of the sea birds that you’ll see.

Pembrokeshire is a welsh sea kayaking and Sot-on-top kayaking hot spot; there are tons of great trips. A trip across Ramsey Sound and a circumnavigation of Ramsey Island, taking in the infamous Bitches Tidal Rapids is a serious, but never to be forgotten experience. Or maybe a paddle around the Worm’s Head or Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park provides a stunning environment for kayaing adventures and it’s beachs are perfect for sit-on-top kayaking family fun.

The island of Anglesey is a Mecca for sea kayakers of all abilities and has some awesome tidal races for the experts. It’s no surprise that this little island is a real hot-bed of UK sea kayaking, it’s coastline can offer excitement to the most hardened of salty sea kayak dogs, but it can equally entice the beginner to the charms of a sea kayak and the arms of the ocean. The circumnavigation of Anglesey is a classic sea kayaking expedition. The fast tidal streams of the Menai Straits separate Anglesey and the mainland. People have been known to complete the 90-mile route in less than twenty-four hours. For those looking for gentler paddling there’s plenty to be found. Take a paddle round Gogarth Bay and watch the climbers scaling the heights of the famous ‘dream of white Horses’ route, while a curios seal or two watch you! Head on round to South Stack and surf the waves created by the small tidal race before heading back with a stop in Parliament Cave for a spot of lunch. Perfect!Wherever in Wales you take to the water in your sea kayak or on your sit-on-top, one thing’s for sure, you

Wherever in Wales you take to the water in your sea kayak or on your sit-on-top, one thing’s for sure, you wont be disappointed and you will be back for more.

Further Reading
Welsh Sea Kayaking

Useful Web Sites
www.mayberrykayaking.co.uk
www.canoewales.com

Weekend Canoe & Kayak Touring Trips on the River Thames

Flowing through England’s capital city has done a lot for the profile of the River Thames. It is celebrated in a wealth of literature, to say it has played some important roles in English history would be an understatement and is the longest-serving character in the BBC’s Eastenders. For kayakers and canoeists, though, the main appeal of England’s longest river is possibly not that which flows past through the centre of Europe’s most populous city!

From Gloucestershire, where it begins its 218km journey to its non-tidal reach, passing through Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey – where it passes through Teddington Lock and becomes subject to fluctuating tides – the Thames is a magnet for users of boats of all sizes and methods of propulsion, not least canoes & kayaks. Taking a jaunt on the Thames in a small man-powered craft built in popularity throughout the 1880s, which culminated in – and was exacerbated by – Jerome K Jerome and two friends deciding to undertake such a jaunt, an account of which was published in the form of the novel Three Men in a Boat*. Over twenty years previous to this John McGregor, the man widely acknowledged as being responsible for popularising canoeing amongst the middle classes, had set up the Royal Canoe Club – the very first of its kind – also on the Thames.

Today, taking to the water on the Thames in a canoe or kayak you may well believe that you’re on the river that was at the heart of the rise of river touring in small un-powered craft, and that was chosen for the site of her Majesty’s, and indeed the country’s very first canoe club. But as you pass through the tranquil leafy stretches that swathe a path through rolling green countryside, and stop for a drink at a waterside pub in one of the many idyllic historic market towns the river passes through, you’ll feel like you’re very far away indeed from the industrial river that is the iconic star of aforementioned soap opera…

Suggested Put Ins

The following is a by no means an exhaustive list of possible put-ins and trips along the non-tidal section of the Thames.

Cricklade

For a narrow and thickly-vegetated Thames experience, put-in at Cricklade, less than 50km from the Thames’ official source. Look for a car park with a convenient slipway that is located down a narrow left turn from the road that leads into the town centre from the bridge over the river. The first couple of kilometres are liable to becoming overgrown at the height of summer, and fallen branches can sometimes be found making a nuisance of themselves. This is a beautifully quiet and tranquil part of the Thames, however, and the channel size here restricts access to larger boats, meaning that canoeists, kayakers and other small unpowered craft users have it to themselves to at least as far as the picturesque town of Lechlade, about 16km downstream.

Short Trip: If you’d like to do a short “there and back again” style trip, perhaps in the absence of a shuttle, you could very easily try setting off from Cricklade in the morning, and easily expect to reach Castle Eaton, six or so kilometres downstream, by lunchtime. The Red Lion Pub in the village here is well-recommended. Remember not to over-indulge in their selection of real ales if you intend to paddle back to Cricklade after your meal!

Longer Trip: If you’d like to extend your paddle down from Cricklade, Eynsham represents two very reasonable days of paddling. There are a number of possible camp sites to break up this trip. Kelmscott village is home to Kelmscott Manor, famous for being a writer, textile designer and prominent socialist thinker William Morris’ summer retreat. On some days of the week the house, which contains a lot of Morris’ work is open to the public and well-worth a visit.
Alternatively, another 4km or so downstream is Radcot village, also with camping available through speaking to the staff at the Swan Hotel. Radcot was the place where much of the Cotswold stone used to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of London in 1666 was loaded onto barges and ferried downstream.

Oxford

There is nothing so quintessentially Thames in than on a summer’s day boating around Oxford. The canalised stretch downstream from Folly Bridge is often packed with an eclectic mix of canal boats, rowing eights, large passenger vessels and of course canoes and kayaks; a scene barely altered from what it would have been in the late 19th Century, except for maybe the contemporary version having a little more roto-moulded polyethene, and the Victorian version a tad more straw-boater and pinstripe. It is the scene – a river teaming with leisure-seekers in small boats – that Jerome and his friends paddled to on the very last leg of their journey from Kingston-Upon-Thames, and which finished at the still-functioning Head of the River Pub at Folly Bridge.

Short Trips: There are a number of short trips around Oxford. Wolvercote is the put-in for the Wolvercote Circuit, which takes in the river and the Oxford Canal in a leisurely paddle of around three hours. The Cherwell flows into the Thames in Oxford, and a short paddle up to around as far as the Cherwell Boathouse makes for a diverting afternoon, and takes in some of Oxford’s most beautiful university buildings. The best put-in for this trip is probably the Riverside Centre at Donnington Bridge. You can also paddle downstream of here and after a short distance will come across the Isis Tavern on the river right – a fine place for a drink on a hot afternoon.

Longer Trip: If you have all day, continue all the way downstream to the historic and picturesque market town of Abingdon. The Catherine Wheel Pub, Other than some locks, you’ll be paddling through the unbroken countryside, with the old towpath hugging the right for much of the way. The Catherine Wheel Pub, Sandford Upon Thames, is an excellent part-way marker where you might consider stopping for lunch if you are making this trip.

Abingdon

Ten minutes down the road from Oxford is Abingdon. With a claim to being one of the oldest settlements in England, Abingdon boasts a ruined Abbey dating back possibly as far as the 7th Century and remains of an iron-age fort have been found near the town centre. Although there are no visible remains of the Abbey (other than the 19th Century faux ruins built to attract tourists) the large area of meadowland through which the Thames flows is known as Abbey Meadows. Near these is a good place to put on, from the car park near Waitrose there is a Millstream navigable all the way to the main river.

Short Trips: There are some excellent short trips to be made from around Abingdon. By paddling upstream from the weir and lock towards Oxford, you can reach the entrance to Swift Ditch, the old course of the Thames before it was diverted. A slide-weir marks the entrance to the ditch (make sure you shoot the right one, there is a weir before you reach the actual entrance that descends into thick, impenetrable undergrowth, and normally doesn’t have much water going over it). The Ditch is a narrow, tree-lined and often-overgrown adventure of a paddle that will bring out the explorer in you. It rejoins the Thames downstream of Abingdon town centre, near the Marina.

For another narrow and green side trip from the Thames in this area, try driving up the River Ock a short distance, and paddling it down to where it flows into the Thames right in the centre of Abingdon. Follow the follow the Drayton road (B4017) out of Abingdon, and look for a right turning down Mill Road. Follow this until you run out of road, and descend the steep bank onto the Ock. You’ll meet back up with the Thames within a couple of hours.

Longer Trip: To extend your paddle from Abingdon, paddle down towards Culham and Sutton Courtenay. From here you can explore further to Clifton Hampden and Long Wittenham, each with their own very good pub, or pubs!

Reading

By the point that the Thames reaches Reading it has travelled well over 120km – more than half of its non-tidal length from its head of navigation at Cricklade. The wonderful canoe and kayak touring opportunities are far from exhausted, however, and putting on here offers an excellent mix of long and short trips. The retail park, a short distance from Reading centre has parking and is a great place to put-on the river.

Short Trips: An obvious, and absolutely must-see town on any Thames touring agenda, easily reachable in a half day’s paddle from Reading is Henley-Upon-Thames, a beautiful town with plenty of pubs and restaurants to choose from, and which exudes history. It’s a short journey down from here to Hurley Wier, a famous playspot that attracts freestyle kayakers from across the UK, but that is also set in a characteristically idyllic part of the Thames.

Longer Trip: The campsite at Marlow is an attainable 28km or so from Reading, and makes for an excellent break point in a longer trip, possibly to Windsor. This journey takes in the impressive suspension bridge built by William Tierny Clark in 1832 on the first day, and the popular Marlow to Maidenhead stretch, which incorporates a charming and alternating mix of small towns and undulating woodland, at the start of the second.

Hampton Court

Beginning at Hurst Park you can paddle a short way downstream to be rewarded with unparalleled views of Henry VIII’s residence for much of his reign, Hampton Court and its grounds. This return trip, maybe with a stop off at Hampton Court itself is a pleasant couple of hours. Carry on any further than this, and after 8km or so will reach Teddington Lock and the tidal limit of the Thames…

Beyond Teddington

There is no reason not to continue paddling further downstream from the tidal limit, the stretch down to Richmond from Kingston is a popular one. It’s also an experience to paddle through the centre of Westminster, which will give you a fresh viewpoint of the city. Watch out for large boats, though, and if you venture further downstream again, be mindful of the tides, so that your inland touring trip does not inadvertently become a sea kayaking adventure!

*It should be noted that Jerome and co. weren’t in fact, paddling a canoe, but rowing a small boat known as a Thames Skiff. We don’t hold this against him, though: it’s a very good book, which we highly recommend.

Useful Info

Further Reading

Pub Paddles, by Peter Knowles

Contains many excellent short trips along the Thames and other touring rivers in the south of England with detailed descriptions of get-ins, the route and other points of interest in the area.