A Complete Guide to Sea Kayaking in the UK
Sea kayaking in the UK
Sea kayaking, a thrilling variant of its peaceful cousin, river kayaking, is a captivating blend of endurance, balance, and pure fun. To get you started on your sea kayaking journey, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that explores the best locations across the UK, what you need to get going, and even how it compares to other forms of kayaking. The UK coast line is amazing and kayaking is a beautiful way to explore it. See below for our Top 10.
A Splash of Skills and Equipment
Sea kayaking is not about brute strength; it’s about technique. Mastering your paddle stroke, learning to steer, and understanding how to manoeuvre in currents are all part of the thrill. Add to that, mastering the art of the Eskimo roll, a skill to right your kayak if it capsizes, can be a real game-changer. Practicing the roll in calm shallow waters or in a pool with a quality coach is highly recommended to stay safe if you are early on the learning journey.
In terms of equipment, you’ll need a sea kayak designed for open, choppy waters, a paddle, a personal flotation device, a spray skirt to keep water out, and some form of communication device for safety.
Kayaking Types: Breaking Down the Waves
While all forms of kayaking involve a paddle and a sense of adventure, the conditions, equipment, and skills required can vastly differ. Let’s break it down:
- Sea Kayaking involves long, sleek boats, perfect for open waters, wind, and waves. It’s all about distance, exploration, and wildlife spotting.
- River Kayaking is a more tranquil, scenic experience, ideal for cruising down gentle rivers or navigating whitewater for the thrill-seekers. There are, however, some less tranquil variants of river kayaking:
- Whitewater kayaking generally refers to paddling on rivers, streams, or creeks with a significant number of rapids. This category includes a range of difficulty levels, from small, easy-to-navigate rapids (class I and II) up to large, dangerous rapids (class V and above).
- Creeking is again a subset of Whitewater and involves manoeuvring a sturdy kayak down steep, low-volume waterways. It’s extreme, technical, and not for the faint-hearted!
- Canoeing has a completely open deck and uses a single-bladed paddle. It’s fantastic for a chilled day on the water, with plenty of space for a picnic.
- Surf Kayaking is all about riding the breaking waves close to the shore in a high-performance kayak. For surfers looking for a twist on their favourite hobby, this is the one!
Now that you’ve got the basics down let’s jump into some of the best locations for sea kayaking across the UK.
Our top spots for Sea Kayaking in the UK:
1) Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, England – Intermediate to Advanced
Cornwall’s rugged coastlines and crystal-clear waters are perfect for an intermediate to advanced sea kayaking expedition. The UK’s most southerly point, Lizard Peninsula is a stunning combination of azure waters and dramatic cliffs.
Launch Locations: Start from Mullion Cove or Kynance Cove, both offering direct access to the ocean.
Best spot for lunch: Ann’s Pasties in Lizard is a local favourite. Nothing beats a hot pasty after a morning paddle!
Getting there: The A3083 leads directly to Lizard from Helston. The B3296 is your ticket to Mullion. Trains can be the best option during peak periods, London Paddington Station can take you directly to Cornwall.
Conditions: With open ocean swells and plenty of secluded coves to explore, it’s perfect for intermediate and experienced paddlers. However, the open coastline can be challenging with strong winds.
Best spot for lunch: The Beach at Bude – a classy spot with breath-taking sea views and a menu packed with fresh, local produce.
2) Anglesey, Wales – Beginner to Advanced
Tucked away in the Irish Sea, Anglesey is an island that has it all – stunning coastlines, tranquil wildlife, and the Menai Strait – the perfect playground for sea kayaking. Paddlers of all levels can explore the coves and caves, and if you’re lucky, you might just share a wave with a curious seal!
Getting there: Anglesey is a 90-minute drive from Chester. There’s also a direct train to Bangor from London Euston, and from there, it’s a short bus ride to the island.
Conditions: Calm conditions are best for beginners. Experts can venture out during stronger winds for a thrilling experience. Always check local weather forecasts before heading out.
Launch Location: Menai Bridge – There’s an excellent public slipway near the bridge, making it an ideal starting point.
Best spot for lunch: The Marram Grass Cafe, a delightful spot offering locally sourced food with a creative twist.
3) Isle of Wight, England – Beginner
This charming island on the English Channel is ideal for beginners, offering calm waters and plenty of sheltered spots.
Getting there: A ferry from Southampton or Portsmouth will whisk you to the Isle in less than an hour.
Conditions: Ideal for beginners, this location offers calm waters.
Launch Location: Freshwater Bay. With its easy beach access, it’s a great place to get your sea legs.
Best spot for lunch: The Garlic Farm – yes, you read it right! They do amazing garlic-infused dishes.
4) Pembrokeshire, Wales – Beginner to Advanced
Launch Locations: Put in at Lower Fishguard and let the waterways be your guide. For a different approach, Whitesands Bay is a popular launching site.
Best spot for lunch: Refuel your adventuring spirit at The Ferryboat Inn in Fishguard. Their local seafood is a treat not to be missed!
Getting there: The A487 takes you right into Fishguard from Cardiff or Swansea. For Whitesands Bay, the B4583 will get you there.
Descriptive overview: Pembrokeshire, with its rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, is a sea kayaking paradise. Navigating its coastline reveals hidden caves, playful seals, and seabird colonies.
Conditions: A variety of conditions, from tranquil bay waters to adventurous swells, means there’s something for everyone.
5) Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, Scotland – Intermediate to Advanced
Home to dramatic landscapes and wild waters, the Scottish Highlands provide an epic setting for experienced kayakers. Embarking on a kayaking expedition here is a life-affirming experience with hauntingly beautiful lochs and perhaps an encounter with Nessie, if you’re lucky!
This extensive trail along the west coast of Scotland takes you past white sandy beaches, through narrow sea lochs and around remote archipelagos.
Launch Locations: This 500km trail is dotted with multiple launch sites. Mallaig, Arisaig, and Castle Bay are popular choices.
Launch Location #2: Fort William, located on the eastern shore of Loch Linnhe, is an ideal spot to set off on your kayaking adventure.
Best spot for lunch: Treat yourself at The Fishmarket Restaurant in Mallaig, offering fresh, locally sourced seafood.
Getting there: Trains run directly to Mallaig from Glasgow, or you can drive via the A830.
Conditions: Given its scale, conditions vary widely. Paddlers can choose sections to match their skills, but some experience is recommended due to unpredictable weather.
6) Loch Lomond, Scotland – Beginner to Advanced
“A sea kayaking adventure on a lake? Isn’t that contradictory?” And yes, I hear you. But let’s clear up a common misconception right away: sea kayaking isn’t confined to the seas. Sea kayaks are designed to handle a range of water conditions, including the likes of vast, open lakes. Which is why the majestically serene Loch Lomond in Scotland had to be on this list. It’s not just the largest lake by surface area in Great Britain, but it also provides a range of conditions to test your sea kayaking skills, sans the salty water.
Launch Locations: Launch from Luss or Balloch for easy access to the loch’s waters.
Best spot for lunch: Duck Bay Marina offers lakeside dining with stunning views.
Getting there: The A82 runs along the western shore of Loch Lomond, with Luss and Balloch easily accessible from this route.
Conditions: With sheltered bays and open waters, Loch Lomond can accommodate all skill levels.
7) Norfolk Broads, Norfolk – Beginner to Intermediate
The Norfolk Broads are a network of navigable rivers and lakes in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. The expansive waterways here make it a fantastic location to explore using a sea kayak. With over 125 miles of lock-free waterways, the Broads present an excellent opportunity for novice kayakers and experienced paddlers alike to practise their skills and endurance.
Launch Locations: Hickling Broad and Whitlingham Broad are perfect starting points for exploration.
Best spot for lunch: Stop by the Pleasure Boat Inn in Hickling for a hearty meal overlooking the water.
Getting there: From Norwich, take the A1151 to Wroxham, then follow local roads to Hickling. The A47 leads directly to Whitlingham.
Conditions: Mostly sheltered and calm, it’s a beginner’s paradise.
8) The Lake District, England – Beginner to Intermediate
The Lake District – it’s right there in the name, isn’t it? But remember our chat about Loch Lomond? The same applies here. While this is an inland location, the likes of Derwentwater and Ullswater in the Lake District provide that expanse of water that mirrors sea conditions in many ways. They are perfect for paddling away in your sea kayak, slicing through mirror-like waters under the brooding gaze of the surrounding fells. Plus, there’s plenty of bays, islands, and inlets to explore – a bit like a mini coastal adventure, but without the seagulls trying to snatch your lunch. The dramatic landscape serves as a cherry on top of the already fantastic kayaking experience.
Launch Locations: Derwentwater and Ullswater are favourite spots for kayakers.
Best spot for lunch: The Pheasant Inn near Derwentwater offers comforting, locally-sourced dishes.
Getting there: Keswick, the gateway to the Lake District, is accessible via the A66. Ullswater is a short drive from Penrith on the M6.
Conditions: Both lakes are relatively sheltered, making them suitable for beginners and intermediates.
9) Isle of Skye, Scotland – Intermediate to Advanced
The mystical Isle of Skye is a paddler’s dream with its jagged coastline, seal colonies, and the opportunity to see the towering Cuillin range from the water.
Launch Locations: Portree Harbour and Elgol Beach provide excellent access points to the sea.
Best spot for lunch: Enjoy a hearty meal at The Rosedale Hotel Restaurant, situated right on Portree Harbour.
Getting there: Take the A87 towards Portree or the A881 towards Elgol from the Skye Bridge.
Conditions: The sea conditions can be challenging, so it’s more suited for experienced kayakers.
10) Northumberland Coast – Beginner to Intermediate
Northumberland’s coastline is a paddler’s delight, featuring unspoilt sandy beaches, imposing castles, and the chance to explore the Farne Islands.
Launch Locations: Beadnell Bay and Bamburgh Castle Beach offer fantastic launching points.
Best spot for lunch: The Ship Inn in Seahouses offers fantastic food with an array of locally brewed ales.
Getting there: From Alnwick, take the B1340 coastal route to reach both Beadnell and Bamburgh.
Conditions: While sea conditions can vary, the sheltered bays are a safe bet for beginners, and the open coastline is a thrilling challenge for the experienced.
11. Bonus – Firth of Forth, Scotland – Intermediate to Advanced
This sea kayaking journey takes you around the many islands of the Firth of Forth, offering views of historic lighthouses, bustling seabird colonies, and possibly some seals.
Launch Locations: Start your journey from the picturesque town of Anstruther or Port Edgar Marina.
Best spot for lunch: Enjoy a legendary fish and chips at the Anstruther Fish Bar.
Getting there: The A917 leads to Anstruther, while the A904 will take you to Port Edgar.
Conditions: Suitable for intermediate to advanced paddlers due to tidal currents and open water conditions.
Remember folks, safety first. Always check the weather conditions and local tide times before you head out on your sea kayak. Ensure you are properly kitted out with a life jacket, and know the proper procedures in case of an emergency. But most importantly, have fun and enjoy the ride!
I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.
For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.