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Kayaking, Canoeing & Rafting

Canoeing & Kayaking in the UK | 7 of the Best Places to Paddle in Britain

From relaxed canoeing in the Lake District to kayak surfing in Cornwall and whitewater thrills in Wales, there are lots of great places to try kayaking and canoeing in the UK

Kayaking is a brilliantly balanced sport, combining a good physical workout with the chance to go for adrenaline fuelled thrills or a chilled out paddle through nature. Whichever style you prefer there are tonnes of great UK kayaking spots to explore from rugged coastlines and tidal races to peaceful lakes or pounding rapids.

1) Derwentwater, Lake District

Derwentwater, Lake District – Photo: Wikipedia.org

Featuring some of the nation’s most breathtaking landscapes, the Lake District is a prime UK kayaking spot for tourers and lazy Sunday afternoon paddlers. Derwentwater is one of the most famous of the District’s lakes, earning the nickname ‘Queen of the Lakes’ for its gorgeous views over the surrounding Fells. If you can drag your eyes away from the stunning natural scenery you might spy some local wildlife including red squirrels, otters or even Britain’s rarest fish, the Vandace, as you paddle through the mirror like water and navigate around Derwent’s four islands.

2) Glenarm River, Country Antrim

This northern Irish beauty is not to be taken lightly. Perched in the north eastern corner of the country, the Glenarm is a spate river which means it can get very feisty after heavy rainfall but still have low water levels at other times.The rapids here reach up to grade four or five when the river is in full flow and have tonnes of drops, pools, stoppers and eddies for you to mess around in.

This is definitely a kayaking spot for experienced paddlers only but it’s a thrilling and challenging ride if you can handle it. Just make sure you have a chat with the guys in charge of the local estate that Glenarm runs into to ensure you’re not infringing any access rights. Get in their good books and you might be able to ride further down the river too.

3) Lee Valley White Water Centre, Hertfordshire

Lee Valley White Water Centre, Hertfordshire – Photo: Lindsay Walsh

Located just outside London this UK kayaking spot is right on the doorstep for all the capital’s paddlers. Lee Valley White Water Centre caters for all levels with a big calm lake to practice your strokes, the level 2 to 3 rapids of the Legacy Loop for beginner kayakers and an Olympic level slalom and rapids course for all the advanced kayakers out there. The centre also offers lessons for every level of kayaker from complete novices to those getting into freestyle kayaking and even runs trips to other locations too so it’s a great place to get started with kayaking or to develop your skills.

4) Cornish Coast

Fistral Bay, Cornwall – Photo: geograph.org.uk – Steve Daniels

Already popular with most of the UK’s surfers, Cornwall also makes a great spot for kayak surfing too. With exposed, west facing beaches throwing you straight into the crashing waves of the Atlantic, this is the UK kayaking spot to head to for any boat-bound Laird Hamilton you know.

If kayak surfing isn’t your thing then you can always go for a bit of an explore. Cornwall boasts some of the most scenic sea kayaking in the UK. It’s well worth poking around the many estuaries and inlets which punctuate the Cornish coastline, until you find a waterside pub for a spot of grub and a well earned pint.

5) Welsh National White Water Centre, Snowdonia National Park

Bala Mill Falls, River Tryweryn – Photo: geograph.org.uk – Andy Waddington

Based on the dam fed river Tryweryn, The Welsh National White Water Centre is one UK kayaking spot where you are guaranteed great rapids in a stunning location. Fed by the Llyn Celyn dam water is released regularly down the Tryweryn at rates of up to 12 cubic meters per second across the river’s managed bed, forming grade 4 rapids that will definitely float your boat.

6) River Orchy, West Highlands

River Orchy, Scotland – Photo: iStockphoto.com

The Orchy is among the top white water rivers in the UK – and one of the best places to go kayaking in Scotland. Though water levels are usually too low to ride in the summer so you’ll have to wait ’til winter and early spring to tackle the Orchy but it’ll be well worth the wait. Packed with challenging class 5 rapids and featuring the 6m high Falls of Orchy, this is a cracking UK kayaking spot to get your white water fix.

7) Bitches, Pembrokeshire

Yeah you read that right. This gangsta sounding tidal feature, just off the Welsh coast from St David’s draws kayakers from all over to take on its, er, bitching white water. Known as a tidal race, the Bitches is a stretch of churning sea water that forms standing waves, boils and whirlpools for kayakers to play on. This is not a place for beginner kayakers with water flowing at speeds up to 7knots (13kmh) and whirlpools that can sink boats but if you’ve go the skills then it’s one UK kayaking spot you’ve got to check out.

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