Articles Destinations Open Canoeing

10 Great UK Open Canoe Trip Destinations

Ullswater

The result of work by no less than three glaciers, Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District, and considered by many to be the most scenic; it is certainly the most varied. The exact origin of the name is uncertain: there have been many notable Norse people – mortal and divine – affiliated with the lake with names such as Ulf, Ulphus and Ullr who could all be its namesake. Being the combined work of multiple glaciers is what gives Ullswater its ‘Z’ shape, and leads to the views it offers being so varied. The three distinct sections of the ‘Z’ – often referred to as reaches – are in many ways quite visually distinct from one another, with some of Lakeland’s most dramatic views being offered in the south-westernmost reach, where craggy mountains are the panorama on offer; whereas in the north-easternmost reach near the village of Pooley Bridge the order of the day is a much more rural affair. You could probably spend the entirety of your weekend here, exploring all of the nooks and crannies the geologically complex shoreline has to offer, and still go home with a sense of having experienced the spectrum of the landscapes in the Lakes. Many of the English Lakes offer much to the open canoeist, Wastwater serenity, Winderemere sheer size, but it you have to choose one then it’s variety of views makes Ullswater our number one choice.

The River Wye

The Wye is the fifth-longest river in the UK and just like its bigger neighbour, the River Severn it rises on the Welsh mountains Plynlimon before flowing through the Welsh marches and on in to England (for part of its lower course it actually acts as the border between the two countries). As it was born alongside the Severn so it once again rejoins it, 153 miles later, as it eventually flows out in to the Severn Estuary at Chepstow. The River Wye itself is a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ and one of the most important rivers in the UK for nature conservation. Much of its lower valley is also designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The wonderful River Wye is part of British paddling heritage, and is possibly the most popular river for open canoe trips in the whole of the UK. It’s meandering and occasionally tumbling waters, flowing through idyllic countryside and spectacular wooded valleys are a delight to explore by canoe. It’s the perfect setting for a river trip and thousands of people take their first paddle stokes in a hired canoe every summer.

River Tweed

The further North we venture in the UK the more opportunities for great canoeing multi-day trips arise. An absolute cracker is the beautiful River Tweed. Rising in the Scottish Borders the Tweed is home to some spectacular canoe touring and steeped in history along its length. In the past the Tweed was a natural resource and route to trade for nearby towns such as Galashiels, Kelso and Newstead, but nowadays the river provides a fantastic canoe trip for anyone looking for a paddling journey through forever changing landscape, with some small, fun rapids in between to add a little spice.As the Tweed is not as busy as some of the other great touring rivers in the UK, it is also possible to find moments of pure paddling solitude. The river can be run from Peebles all the way to Berwick upon Tweed, a full 110km trip taking over three or four days. If you’ve done trips on rivers like the Wye and the other Scottish classic the Spey then you’ll absolutely love the stunning scenery and occasionally wild feel of the Tweed.

As the Tweed is not as busy as some of the other great touring rivers in the UK, it is also possible to find moments of pure paddling solitude. The river can be run from Peebles all the way to Berwick upon Tweed, a full 110km trip taking over three or four days. If you’ve done trips on rivers like the Wye and the other Scottish classic the Spey then you’ll absolutely love the stunning scenery and occasionally wild feel of the Tweed.The Tweed Valley is home to some grand historic buildings and castles and runs close in parts to Hadrian’s Wall. The Tweed, flows in and out of both Scotland and England, in parts forming the border between the two countries, on its way to the North Sea. Its source is Tweed’s Well in the Lowther Hills, some six miles north of Moffat and located inside the western half of the Southern Uplands a rather rugged border country.

The Tweed Valley is home to some grand historic buildings and castles and runs close in parts to Hadrian’s Wall. The Tweed, flows in and out of both Scotland and England, in parts forming the border between the two countries, on its way to the North Sea. Its source is Tweed’s Well in the Lowther Hills, some six miles north of Moffat and located inside the western half of the Southern Uplands a rather rugged border country.The Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was fought over for countless years between Scotland and England, and was the scene of much bloodshed, notably at the hands of King John and later King Edward the first. It changed hands between Scottish and English rule for centuries until it permanently came under English administration in 1482. The Tweed Valley’s countryside, ruins and castles are literally soaked in folklore, legend and historical fact and you can feel it as you travel along its dark waters.

The Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was fought over for countless years between Scotland and England, and was the scene of much bloodshed, notably at the hands of King John and later King Edward the first. It changed hands between Scottish and English rule for centuries until it permanently came under English administration in 1482. The Tweed Valley’s countryside, ruins and castles are literally soaked in folklore, legend and historical fact and you can feel it as you travel along its dark waters.
It’s recommended that the Tweed be paddled no higher up than Peebles and it can be paddled right through to Berwick. It’s very easy to break down each section and access to the river is easy as the road is never far off. As for when to go, well it will depend if you’re planning on doing a multi-day trip, as May and June are great times to take advantage of longer days and good weather, but the Tweed is pretty much good all year round and can be lovely as an autumn or even winter touring destination.

River Thames

The River Thames starts its journey as a trickle of water called Thameshead, flowing through a field in the Cotswolds, just north of the village of Kemble. About 30 miles later, beyond the town of Cricklade, it becomes a small wild stream and by the time it reaches the pretty town of Lechlade the river widens to accommodate small craft and this upper stretch offers some really nice paddling on a canoe.  An open canoe trip on the Thames from Oxford to Windsor is the perfect way to view grand old houses, churches, colleges and even a castle! It may be the ‘Capital’s River’ but it’s a far cry from urban sprawl downstream in this section. There are Lush green riverbanks and wildlife a plenty, as it winds its way through the lovely countryside of the Thames Valley. As you move down the river. Every now and again you’ll encounter a lock, but these are easily portaged and a good excuse to stop for a brew. Once the Thames reaches Teddington it becomes tidal, but confident canoeists may still wish to paddle on, past the landmarks and sights of London itself!

The Great Glen Canoe Trail

What better way of spending a few days that crossing Scotland in your canoe? 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 has long been a popular multi-day trip with open canoeists and 2012 sees the launch of the official Great Glen Canoe Trail. Canoe friendly launching and landing sites, camping areas and improved information and facilities now make this highland gem even better. The Caledonian Canal connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach, near Fort William. Only one third of the entire length is man-made, the rest is formed by Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy. These lochs are part of the Great Glen (hence the new trail’s name), a geological fault in the Earth’s crust. As well as the natural beauty of the lochs there are also 29 locks to negotiate on the canal, but these are all fairly easy to portage. It doesn’t matter if you don’t you’re your own canoe. Canoe hire is available and a quick Internet search will provide you with a few different options. Whether you’re looking to find a little peace and take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life, or for a fantastic family adventure the Great Glen Canoe trail delivers in spades. It’s a classic canoe journey and should really be on every canoeists ‘must do’ list.

The Caledonian Canal connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach, near Fort William. Only one third of the entire length is man-made, the rest is formed by Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy. These lochs are part of the Great Glen (hence the new trail’s name), a geological fault in the Earth’s crust. As well as the natural beauty of the lochs there are also 29 locks to negotiate on the canal, but these are all fairly easy to portage. It doesn’t matter if you don’t you’re your own canoe. Canoe hire is available and a quick Internet search will provide you with a few different options. Whether you’re looking to find a little peace and take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life, or for a fantastic family adventure the Great Glen Canoe trail delivers in spades. It’s a classic canoe journey and should really be on every canoeists ‘must do’ list.

The Great Ouse

Draining a large area of East Anglia’s flatlands, the Great Ouse offers wildlife and scenic variety in great abundance as it winds its way from its navigational head just upstream of Bedford to where it flows into the sea at Kings Lyn, Norfolk; although the most commonly paddled section is between Bedford and the beautiful cathedral city of Ely. This stretch is home to all manner of birds and woodland wildlife, from herons and kingfishers to deer that come to the water to drink.
Having been an important river for navigation for many centuries, the state if the Ouse declined considerably with the advent of the railway, and in the 1870s the navigation was declared to be derelict. The river’s rehabilitation occurred throughout the 20th century, culminating in it being reopened as far as Bedford in 1978. It is now successfully managed by the Environment Agency, and is a thriving and popular river for all types of leisure users, quite understandably! The scenery changes between open meadows to drooping willows as you progress serenely down the UK’s fourth longest river.  The Bedford to Ely stretch is 52 miles, so not a realistic or pleasant prospect for doing in a day, but there are plenty of beautiful sections and no shortage of convenient launches and get-outs along the way. You’ll most likely encounter the odd lock, but nothing that’s any trouble to portage.

The scenery changes between open meadows to drooping willows as you progress serenely down the UK’s fourth longest river.  The Bedford to Ely stretch is 52 miles, so not a realistic or pleasant prospect for doing in a day, but there are plenty of beautiful sections and no shortage of convenient launches and get-outs along the way. You’ll most likely encounter the odd lock, but nothing that’s any trouble to portage.
And don’t worry if you don’t own your own canoe – it is possible to rent one to paddle on the Bedford to Ely stretch.

The Norfolk Broads

Continuing along an East Anglian theme, the Norfolk Broads is another highly popular ‘must-see’ place for you and your canoe. The Broads, a vast network of rivers and broads, which are shallow lakes, are on the whole all navigable by boat and under four metres deep. While many parts of the large area, which enjoys national park status, are popular with motorboat and other powered craft users, a lot of the tranquil backwaters are cut-off just enough to be reserved for canoeists!
In these protected channels away from the bustle that occurs on the larger and more universally-navigable rivers and broads in the height of summer, and other canoeists aside, you’ll only have to share the water with the vast array of wildlife that makes its home there from birds to small mammals; if you’re lucky, possibly even an otter will stop and take an interest in what you’re doing.     There are countless places to go to begin a canoeing adventure on the Broads, the expansive waterway stretches for miles, and there is canoe hire, as well as the potential for guiding, available in the area as well.

There are countless places to go to begin a canoeing adventure on the Broads, the expansive waterway stretches for miles, and there is canoe hire, as well as the potential for guiding, available in the area as well.

Fermanagh

The paddling around Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne, which are connected along the River Erne, in is an award-winning canoe trail in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The Loughs themselves provide a varied venue for canoeing, with the sheltered maze of bays, channels and peninsulas of Upper Lough Erne in stark contrast to the wide, open expanse of water that is lower Lough Erne. Because of how exposed it is, the latter build up some large waves when the wind picks up.The Erne is a flat, slow-moving river ideal for all, but for a little extra spice, the grade 1 River Arney flows down into the Erne system from Upper and Lower Lough Macnean, located to the west. Both the

The Erne is a flat, slow-moving river ideal for all, but for a little extra spice, the grade 1 River Arney flows down into the Erne system from Upper and Lower Lough Macnean, located to the west. Both the Macneans offer superb views of the stunning Cuilcagh Mountains. Also, by taking the Woodford River from Upper Lough the Shannon Erne Waterway can be reached and from there it is possible to paddle all the way to Limerick!What with all of this amazing canoeing on offer in the area, it is little surprise that the market for canoe rental has been duly tapped, and there are places where you can do just that.

What with all of this amazing canoeing on offer in the area, it is little surprise that the market for canoe rental has been duly tapped, and there are places where you can do just that.

Llangorse Lake

Have you ever wanted to canoe on the lake from which a 1200 year old dug-out canoe was excavated, and is home to the only Iron Age man-made island discovered in England or Wales? If so, Llangorse Lake in the Brecon Beacons is the only place for you. Other than the notable historical interest surrounding this lake, its appeal to canoeists lies in its beauty and location, nestled away in the rugged South Wales landscape that is the Brecon Beacons.

The dug-out in question was raised in 1925, in remarkably good condition, and now resides at Brecknock Museum (currently closed for restoration), just down the road in Brecon. A full four and a half metres long, and carved from one oak trunk, radio carbon dating gives its age as being from sometime between 760AD and 1080AD. It is plausible that the dug-out was in someway related to the island, or ‘crannog,’ which is known to have been a royal residence for the local kingdom of Brycheiniog, an ancient kingdom of Wales. Fortunately, if you wish to explore this fascinating Welsh lake, you don’t need to fell and dig-out your own canoe: they are available to rent nowadays!

River Dee

The Dee, or Afon Dyfrdwy to give it its proper name, is an all-time classic Welsh river that attracts scores of kayakers of various disciplines throughout the entire year. In the more than 140km between the first paddled section below Lake Bala and where the river enters England near Chester there are sections popular amongst whitewater and slalom paddlers, as well as those ideal for a gentle canoeing trip.

Notable sections for canoeists are those between Overton Bridge and Bangor-is-y-Coed, nine kilometres of beautiful grade 1; or the longer sections of Bangor-is-y-Coed to Farndon (15km) and Farndon to Chester (20km). All are beautiful, and home to many interesting sites along the way.

As you’d expect, it is possible to hire canoes for paddling on the Dee: the year-round dramatically beautiful river is a huge draw that attracts many a canoeist to North Wales. (Go Stopper)

Paddler Verdict

Recommending open canoe trips in the UK is always a bit of challenge, as there is so much variety available to you. I guess among some of my top a recommendations has to be the River Wye in South Wales. With easy access, hire services available and the choice of day trips or multi day adventures, the River Wye has bit of something for everyone. Choose your time wisely though as it is a popular choice and you may find your self overwhelmed by other users. For real adventures and paddling experiences in an unspoilt environment then for me it has to be Scotland. The numerous Lochs provide that real wilderness experience, the scenery is stunning and the wildlife is varied. Loch Sheil is a classis example of this; once visited its never forgotten. You can choose from an end-to-end trip or the more challenging Loch Sheil circuit. Loch Awe is another classic with numerous islands and ruined castles to explore. Not forgetting if you’re in Scotland the old favourite for a lot of people the Caledonian Canal, where many a person’s canoe adventures have been born. Now go and have your own adventures. Happy paddling and see you on the water…..

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