I’ve been stand up paddleboarding now for six years, and each year I discover somewhere new and wonderful in the UK to dip my paddle, making me grateful for our amazing island, full of coastal and inland adventures.
This list comprises a mix of ocean paddles and inland routes, all of which will be affected by the weather to some degree; some of the inland routes I’ve mentioned are actually more affected by wind as a result of the mountains surrounding them funnelling through the valley! However they are generally safer than being out to sea, so if you’re a bit unsure, start inland, or close to shore.
Getting afloat on the sea takes judgement and planning for wind and tide, as both can turn from uncomfortable to dangerous very quickly. Please do read my blog about safety and SUP here. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular area, or are uncertain about reading a wind or tide forecast, that’s okay! I remember the first time out on the ocean not realising that tides didn’t just flow in and out of the beach. Don’t be afraid to start slow and paddle with a club or other people to start with. Follow the safely precautions as outlined in my blog, and if in doubt speak to the coastguard.
So , in no particular order, here are my ten favourite places to paddle in the Great Britain:
1. The Caledonian Canal, Scotland
This route comprises Loch Lochy (yes that’s its real name, giving Boaty McBoatface a run for her money!), Loch Oich and Loch Ness. On a calm day, the water is mirror flat, reflecting majestic mountains such as Ben Nevis. One of the most stunning places I’ve ever paddled, past castles, mountains and forests, it can also be one of the most fierce. On a windy day, gusts funnel down off the mountains and through the valley, sometimes even creating waves on the lochs. So check the wind forecast carefully! The Caledonian Canal travels for about sixty miles from Fort William to Inverness, so unless you want to paddle through the night too, you’re best breaking it down into different sections. The lochs along the route are mostly accessible by vehicles, so set down and pick up points are possible. Equally, with no tide along the loch sections, you can easily do an out and back to where you started from.
2. Wacker Quay, Cornwall
Just over the border from Plymouth, this is one of my favourite places to paddle. It’s a tidal estuary, with amazing bird life to be seen. There is a car park part way up the estuary, but be aware, a transit-type van with boards on the roof won’t fit under the barrier! You’ll either have to take the boards off and walk them down (entirely possible) or take an inflatable instead. I love paddling upstream here as the tide comes in, then back to Wacker Quay as the tide ebbs out to sea, especially on a summer’s day when the wildlife is abundant. Great place for a picnic too.
3. Duncansby Stacks, Scotland
By far one of the most impressive stretches of coastline I’ve ever had the privilege to paddle is between Inverness and John o’ Groats on the North East coast of Scotland. There are some absolutely phenomenal cliffs there, covered in thousands of birds – puffins, guillemots, razorbills … The noise of the birds is incredible. So is their smell! I love this stretch of coastline so much as its vastness really helps me put things into perspective. However, please only attempt to paddle this stretch when the forecast is favourable, and with somebody else who is also knowledgable with reading tides and wind forecasts, and a strong paddler. There are several harbours along this stretch of coastline, but once out of harbour you have to really commit to getting to the next one, as there’s rarely anywhere to pull in between. Above Wick are some gorgeous beaches, and the Duncansby Stacks – enormous rock stacks sticking out of the water, covered in noisy birds, with seals dancing in the sea underneath. There are some really strong currents here, including one going straight out to Orkney, so make sure you’ve checked tide times really carefully, and the weather is favourable if paddling in this area. There’s an amazing book I used to check tides when I was up there ???????
4. The Exmoor coast, Devon
This is a really stunning place to paddle, and on a clear day you can see over to Wales. The coastline between Ilfracombe and Minehead is dramatic and stunning, with some of the UK’s tallest sea cliffs rising up out of the water. Lynmouth is a great place to stop off for a cream tea (cream first, then jam, please), and there are a few spots along the way you can stop for a picnic on a calm day. The currents in the Bristol Channel can reach tremendous speeds, so make sure you know when the tide will be flowing in each direction to avoid getting stuck going backwards. And look out for dolphins!
5. Glen Etive, Scotland
This is a truly special place, and one whose wildness is threatened by hydro-electric development (see my blog here). The River Etive, until now, was one of the last 1% of free-flowing rivers in the UK. Loch Etive is stunning, surrounded by breathtaking mountains. The loch is a sea loch, so there is plenty wildlife to be spotted, including, in season, midges. On the water you’ll generally be ok, but between June and September on a calm day, it’s best not to stop on one of the banks for a picnic or a camping trip unless you’re ok being eaten alive by the little buggers.
6. Derwentwater, the Lake District
The Lake District has loads of options for paddleboarding, but Derwentwater is probably my favourite. Surrounded by peaks, from the Keswick end the lake feels never ending. It’s often quite sheltered, and there are a few little islands in the middle to explore. Be careful if you see green swirls in the water, as that may be algae, some of which can be dangerous if ingested in large quantities, and keep an eye out for signs saying the lake is experiencing it. Always wash your kit very thoroughly if paddling in more than one lake, as there are non-native species in some lakes whose spread needs to be limited, and they can be carried by things like wetsuits and boards. Once you’re done paddling, head over to the best burger place in Keswick, The Round, which serves the best vegan burger you’ll ever taste (and a range of incredible meaty options too).
7. The Isle of Skye, Scotland
What a place. With the backdrop of the Cuillins, the waters around the Isle of Skye are intense, and can be dangerous. But get the conditions right and there’s nowhere like it. Sea eagles soaring above, enormous dolphins swimming next to you, otters at the shoreline, and playful seals around every corner (one of Europe’s largest breeding colonies is just off Uig). The tides around the Isle of Skye can be fierce, and I would highly recommend this book, without which I don’t think I would have stood a chance circumnavigating the island in 2017. There are so many gorgeous places to paddle, but I think my favourite has to be around Rubha Hunish – the most Northern point of the island, where the sea cliffs rise tall from the ocean, and there’s even a chance of seeing whales in the Minches, the channel between Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Be careful paddling here, and make sure you have the right safety and communication kit.
8. The Shropshire & Union Canal
Canals are brilliant places to paddle, because they are generally so safe. You’ll need a permit to paddle on the canals that are maintained by the Canals and Rivers Trust, but this can be obtained by having British Canoeing membership, which also has options for other insurance. The Shropshire and Union is a beautiful canal, although I think every canal has its own unique charm. These are also really easy places to do a Paddle Against Plastic, as there’s generally heaps of plastic floating in them to be collected. There are lots of access points at locks, and it’s easy enough to do an out and back to a pub along the edge of a canal, of which there are many! Be careful of boats, and swans.
9. Baggy Point, Devon
I love Baggy Point, and on a clear, summer’s day it’s one of the most special places to go paddleboarding. There are fairly strong tides that go around the point, and if there’s any swell it can crash heavily into the rocks on the point, so make sure you stay far enough away from the rocks. On a flat calm day, the paddle from Croyde beach, around Baggy Point to Puttsborough and back is a really lovely trip.
10. Llyn Padarn, Caernarfon
With views out to Snowdon to the East, this lake is a pretty magical place to paddle. I’ve also swam across it, which was bloody freezing but exhilarating! If you’re new to paddleboarding, or would like some guidance, Psyched Paddleboarding regularly has sessions on the lake. There are some lovely cafes around too, and it’s a great area to visit for all round adventures!
Stay safe out there, and enjoy your time on the water!