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.