British Canoeing's Favourite UK Lakes and Rivers

Paddling is a widely-loved activity, offering the perfect mix of active and relaxing for people of all ages and fitness levels. We asked our friends at British Canoeing for their favourite paddling spots across the UK; here's what they had to say.

Central Southern England - Upstream River Thames Adventure

We’re used to seeing pictures of the Thames at London. But trace the river upstream from London and you’ll find a haven of wildlife, peace and tranquillity. The River Thames is around 215 miles long from source to sea, so there’s plenty to explore. One of our favourite areas is around Oxford. With sprawling countryside each side of the river and lots of campsites along the route too, it’s a great place for a family adventure or multi-day paddle trip.


Top paddling adventures for Upstream River Thames:


• Radcott to Northmoor

• Bablock Hythe to Oxford

• Or go to our dedicated River Thames page by clicking here for paddling routes, launches, and trails.


Please note you’ll need a licence for the stretch upstream of Teddington Locks as this section is managed by the Environment Agency. You can get a licence either through British Canoeing membership or directly from the Environment Agency.

South West – Tor Bay

Tor Bay, with its largely calm waters, offers all paddlers a great place to learn and build confidence along a stunning piece of coastline and where you will encounter plenty of wildlife.


Please note, paddlers can launch from any beach but you are strongly advised to avoid harbour slipways in the interest of safety.


Beaches that have particularly suitable access for paddlers are Paignton, Preston, Goodrington, Broadsands, Breakwater (Brixham) and Meadfoot (Torquay).


Safety information:


  • Don’t forget to always check the prevailing wind and tide conditions to use them to your advantage. 
  • Tell a friend where you are going and when you expect to be back, and if possible carry a mobile phone in a waterproof case or a fully charged VHF radio. 
  • If you are planning to cross open water ensure you inform the coastguard of your planned journey.
  • Do not enter the enclosed harbours at Torquay, Paignton or Brixham. 

South East - River Stour

The River Stour in Kent is a really charming paddle for those wanting to meander through the heart of the countryside. Paddlers will flow between lush green banks and reed beds for the most part of the river from source to sea. You’ll also come across pretty converted mill buildings, ancient bridges, and sites such as the historic city of Canterbury.


Top Picks for the River Stour:


• Grove Ferry to Fordwich

• Or go to our dedicated River Stour page by clicking here for paddling routes, launches, and trails.

West Midlands – River Avon

The River Avon offers paddlers the opportunity to paddle through Stratford-upon-Avon’s beautiful urban and rural landscape. On your paddle you will be immersed in all the history of this charming medieval market town that’s bursting with character, stunning architecture and wildlife.  


Top picks for the River Avon:


• River Avon from Stratford centre

• River Avon at Vale of Evesham

• Or go to our dedicated River Avon page by clicking here for paddling routes, launches, and trails.


Please note from Stratford Upon Avon to the confluence with the Severn at Tewksbury, the River Avon is a navigation. It is managed by the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT), so a waterways license is required on this section.

North West – Lancaster Canal

The Lancaster Canal is an engineering masterpiece, offering 41 miles of lock-free paddling – the longest stretch in the country. The canal links Preston to Kendal and will treat you to the delights of Lancashire – Silverdale Coast, Forest of Bowland, Market Towns and more. It’s one of the only coastal canal routes in the UK, so if you’re looking for a gentle paddle, no portages and beautiful scenery and views, the Lancaster canal should be high on your hit list.


Top picks for the Lancaster Canal:


• Tewitfield To Canal Turn (Carnforth)

• Garstang to Glasson Branch (No.1 Lodge Hill Lock Bridge)

• Treales To Cartforth

• Or go to our dedicated Lancaster Canal page by clicking here for paddling routes, launches, and trails.


Don’t forget, to access and paddle along any part of the Lancaster Canal you will require a Canal & River Trust waterways licence. 

Cumbria – Windermere

Escape the hustle and bustle by the shoreline of England’s largest lake and enjoy relative tranquillity out on the water. There’s nothing quite like experiencing this beautiful lake from the water! 


Top launch sites for Lake Windermere:


- National Trust Fell Foot Park

- Ferry Nab Marina (Bowness-on-Windermere)

- Waterhead (Ambleside)


Please note whilst here no there is no permit required to paddle on Windermere there are parking charges at the landing and launch site car parks. 

North East/Yorkshire – River Ouse

The picturesque Yorkshire River Ouse, 52 miles long, is formed from the River Ure in North Yorkshire and flows around 13 miles through the city of York, offering paddlers a unique way to experience the city as well as the nature and  wildlife along the way.


Top picks for the River Ouse:


• Nether Poppleton to Acaster Mabis

• York- Millenium Bridge to Naburn Lock

• Or go to our dedicated River Ouse page by clicking here for paddling routes, launches, and trails.


Don’t forget, to access and paddle along the River Ouse you will require a Canal & River Trust waterways licence. 

Thank you to our partners at British Canoeing fo their recommendations. For more information about getting out on the water, check out their top tips for winter paddling here.

Remember, if you are travelling to any of these routes, make sure you’re familiar with the local guidance in place before heading for a paddle - and don't travel outside of your local area against government rules.

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