The Best Canoeing in Scotland

5-minute read

Bending Branches ProStaffer Will Copestake has canoed all over his native Scotland. Here, he lets us in on what he believes are Scotland’s best canoe destinations.

 canoeing in Scotland

(Photo courtesy of Will Copestake)

It was hard for Will to narrow down his favorite paddling spots—there are so many to choose from! He begins near his own hometown:

Inverpollaidh Lochs

Far up in the wilds of northwest Scotland is the Inverpollaidh Loch region. Will and fellow Bending Branches team member Tim Hamlet co-own Kayak Summer Isles, an expedition company based in Ullapool. The Inverpollaidh Lochs are just north of Ullapool and is where they bring most of their canoe tours.

 map of Scotland and map of Inverpollaidh region

Scotland (left) with Ullapool in the northwest; (right) Ullapool at the bottom with Inverpollaidh Lochs circled

These are a series of lochs that surround the Inverpollaidh Mountains. “Loch Lurgainn is a beautiful little loch at the foot of Stac Pollaidh,” says Will. "While Stac is a Gaelic word associated with a pinnacled summit or ridge, Lurgainn holds its name from the Old Norse word for ‘dog's leg' describing the loch’s shape. This is just a window to the varied and cultured past of the northwest Highlands.

“Lurgainn is a lovely little loch with wonderful mountain views and a red sandstone beach. It’s a really nice place to camp and explore.

“If you fancy something a bit wilder, you can go into Loch Sionasgaig, which is just on the other side of the mountain. It’s probably one of the wilder areas of Scotland—a big, open body of water surrounded by mountains. There’s not much road access, and it has lots of little islands to dodge between and explore. Some of them make really wonderful campsites.”

Great Glen Way

“One of the more classic Scottish journeys by canoe is a really lovely journey called the Great Glen Way,” says Will. “It goes right across, coast to coast, through the middle of the country. You follow a series of lochs and canals, including Loch Ness (which has a monster in it, apparently!).

“You can do it in a (long) day if you get the right weather, but most people canoe it in three or four days.”

map of Great Glen Way 

Great Glen Way, circled in yellow, Scotland’s classic coast-to-coast route

Scotland has open access laws that give people the right to camp and access almost everywhere, except people’s private gardens.

“The Great Glen Way has slightly different etiquette,” explains Will, “because there are a lot of commercial outfits running there. So there are more formal campsites run by the Scottish Canoe Association. They’re remote, but some of them will have facilities. And you can absolutely bio-camp as well. Pick between the two.”

Rannoch Moor

For intermediate and advanced canoeists, Will suggests Rannoch Moor. “It’s more wild and slightly more ambitious,” he says.

map of Rannoch Moor 

Rannoch Moor is one of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses

“You start quite high on the inland lochs and descend through a series of lochs into quite technical whitewater. You’ll use every aspect of canoe technicality from lining to portaging to poling. Then it gets into more gentle long-distance journeying as you get further down. It’s quite good fun!

“The last time I did it, the canoeing section took four days. It’s much more wild camping, that one, as you start out. Further down, you end up in farmland.”

Loch Maree

Will’s other favorite canoeing spot in Scotland is Loch Maree, another large loch slightly south of Ullapool.

 map of Loch Maree

Loch Maree with its archipelago

“There’s a massive archipelago of islands all covered in Scottish pine trees. It’s got a proper old-school Scottish feel to it, with a bit of history. Some of the islands have ancient graveyards. It’s got Britain’s most lochs within islands, within lochs within islands, within lochs within islands.”

Camping isn’t allowed there from April through October to protect a couple of bird species and their breeding season. “But during the winter, camping opens up again with responsible access,” says Will.

Speaking of winter, Scottish lochs may get surface ice that lasts for a few days, but they don’t freeze over in the winter.

Will says, “Winter, from a canoeist’s point of view, really opens up options. We have higher rainfall and snow melts and it opens up more river options as the water is at a more suitable level.”

Lochs or Rivers?

When asked whether Will prefers loch or river canoeing, he says, “I’m a fan of both. I like a mix…and I’m really starting to enjoy canoe sailing quite a lot in the lochs.

“I’m a fan of the journeying aspect of canoeing, so I like to try and combine a bit of everything in a trip. Start on a river, go into a loch, get a bit of sailing down the next loch into another river. Maybe a bit of a portage.”

 canoes pulled up along a sand beach in Scotland

Canoeing with Kayak Summer Isles, Will's company (photo courtesy of Kayak Summer Isles)

Will’s Favorite Canoe Paddles

The Bending Branches canoe paddle Will uses most is the Expedition Plus. He says, “Most wooden paddles don’t take much of a hammering. Scottish whitewater has quite a lot of rock. I have absolutely battered those [Expedition Plus paddles]. It’s a really, really, good responsive blade. They’re my go-to.

“On the lochs, I’m toying between the Java and the Black Pearl. I also just got the Beavertail and Sunburst. I’m quite excited to go and play with those.”

On your next trip to Scotland be sure to look up Kayak Summer Isles and sign up for one of their canoe excursions. You can follow Will's adventures on Instagram.

 will copestake in a yellow canoe

(photo courtesy of Will Copestake)

Our thanks to Will Copestake for his time sharing his favorite canoeing spots in Scotland!

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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