In the UK, you don’t have the automatic right to paddle on any lake, river or canal. Check out the British Canoeing website for places to paddle, official canoe trails and information on river licences or passes. If you don’t want to go out and buy all the kit before having a go, find your local canoe club and drop them a message. Most have a beginners class you can sign up to, hold open days or drop in sessions to let you have a go and these are usually run by experienced paddlers or coaches to help you get started. But if you have your own kit, check out these top 3 destinations to get you started!1. River Medway Canoe Trail - Kent
Find all the details about the trail on the official website and download the free leaflet here. We’d recommend starting at Tonbridge slipway (just by the castle) - from here, turn left and follow the river through town and under the bridge, stop for lunch about half way at Oak Weir lock, about 2 hours paddle downstream. Along the route there are a number of locks, all of which have a platform to get your canoe out on, carry around the lock (Canoeists call this portaging) then put back on the water below. But the best bit about the River Medway Canoe trail, apart from the scenic views, is all the locks have a canoe pass - you don’t need to carry around the locks you can take the slide around, none of these are difficult and as long as you remember just to point straight and keep padding you will stay upright (if you do happen to fall out, it happens to all of us) there is a large area just below to gather up your kit and get back in the boat.
Keep following the river until you reach Teapot island at Yalding - after lunch approximately another 2 hours paddle. You will know you are there by the giant teapot on your right as you come to a sharp left bend in the river. If you get the chance pop in, having a cup of tea and enjoy the teapot museum (last time I went in they had over 600 teapots on show!).
You can then take a short walk up to Yalding station to get the train back to your car at Tonbridge and it is a short 20min drive to Yalding to pick up all your kit.2. River Bure - Wroxham, Norfolk Broads
From where Norwich road crosses the River Bure in Wroxham you can launch at any of the boat hire slipways or from the Canoe Man HQ and paddle North along the river taking in the conservation areas right next to the river. A circular trip is possible from here; the broads are flat and you won’t encounter any locks along the Bure for quite a distance. After 30-45mins just below the church of saint Mary the Virgin Wroxham there is a large grassy area and a few benches to enjoy a picnic in the peace and quiet of the broads. If you continue along the main path of the River Bure after around 2 hours you will reach The Rising Sun Coltishall, a riverside pub welcoming to river users, with a great selection of food and drinks. Then take a relaxed paddle back to where you started, or grab a map of the local area and explore the broads - with many slipways, boat yards and riverside pubs you will be spoilt for choice.3. Loch Ard - Trossachs Scotland (Island Camping)
A large loch west of Aberfoyle, Loch Ard is quite sheltered and easy to access, perfect for beginners. I’d highly recommend the small island Eilean Gorm for your first overnighter in a canoe, whether you choose to throw all your camping gear in the boat or use the bothy on the island (always a backup in bad weather). Eilean Gorm is around 200m from the shore, but you can explore the whole loch for the day, with numerous bays and scenic viewpoints to enjoy lunch before venturing on to the island to cook and set up camp for the night.
Big expanses of water mean you are a lot more open to the effects of weather - strong winds, lashing rain cold temperatures can cause all sorts of complications for anyone without experience. So pick the correct day and get out there on the water and enjoy a night away! If you plan to venture out into the middle of the loch, be sure you have practiced falling out of the boat, filling in with water then emptying it and getting back in, with all your camping kit, just in case the worse happens - we’d recommend sticking to the shore and venturing across to the island if you are a beginner.
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