The idea of getting into a canoe or a kayak and padding off down the river may sound daunting if you have never tried it before. But with a little knowledge and training beforehand, both are surprisingly easy to learn and are a great way to do something different with the kids. There are also a host of fantastic places to try either of the sports dotted around the country.
There are plenty of different sized canoes and kayaks that lend themselves to different levels of aptitude. For example, if you have never tried these watersports before, then a 16 foot Canadian canoe is a great place to start. These big boats can hold two adults, two smaller kids and even have room left for the dog and picnic basket. This makes for a solid and reliable type of craft that even a complete beginner can quickly master.
Choosing a craft is about finding the one that gets the kids involved but that the adults can also take over completely if needs be. Padding uses muscles that most of us don’t utilise much in daily life so the kids can quickly get tired. By using a family canoe for smaller kids, when their arms get a bit tired, you can continue on without their assistance.
Tandem kayaks come in two forms, closed and sit on top. The former are great if you have younger kids as they can get in and out easily and there is less chance of becoming trapped should the boat overturn. For older kids, closed tandem kayaks need both paddlers to be working so is a great activity to do with a teenager. This allows you to cover a wider area in a single trip.
Once you have selected what type of kayak or canoe you want to use for your trip, then the rest of the essentials need to be organised. The single most important piece of gear is the personal flotation device, or PFD, also known as a buoyancy aid. For an adult, these should have a buoyancy between 55N and 70N. There are some of these available for kids but a better bet may be a child’s lifejacket. The main difference is that a buoyancy aid allows you to swim but a lifejacket simply keeps you up out of the water and floating on your back, even if you are unconscious.
Getting the right paddle for the paddler’s size is also important but usually a boat hire company will help you with this. Don’t forget to pack a spare paddle in case something unfortunately happens!
A dry bag is an ideal place to keep all those essentials including spare clothes, food and first aid kit. If you opt for a closed cockpit kayak, then a spray deck may be worth thinking about.
Routes in the UK
Planning a route is the fun part because there are so many different options available around the country. The first thing to think about is the attention span and energy levels of your kids – go too far and they will spend half the trip napping or complaining because they are tired.
A good route will include the option to cut it short if the weather turns or if the kids have had enough. Some beginners often choose a circular or horseshoe route that allows them to circle back to their starting point. Once you become more experienced, you can increase the distance and your challenge.
One of the best starter routes in England is the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. The route allows great views of the River Severn at one end and also the novelty of disused hulks sunk along the banks of the canal. The start and finish of the route is in the village of Purton
Just south of the centre of Exeter is the River Exe and Exeter Ship Canal route. It is a 2.8 miles circular route that has great views of the city before becoming more rural and the route is marked by Way markers. The Canal Banks car park on the west side of the river is the start place.
Wroxham and Salhouse Broads is a great route around the Norfolk Broads and is a great place to do some wildlife spotting while paddling. The route starts from the Wroxham Broad’s car park and runs for around three miles to Salhouse Broads.
The River Derwent trail around Derby is a four mile route that is easy to paddle and includes a combination of rural and city locations. It starts from Darley Abbey and finishes at Pride Park.
To enjoy kayaking or canoeing without dealing with currents or winds, try the Snowdonia Lakes. Llyn Padarn is an old slate mine while Llyn Gwynant was used in Tombraider II film for its amazing scenery. Bala Lake is the largest nature lake in Wales and has miniature steam trains circling it.
Both the Llangollen and Montgomery canals offer great family-friendly paddling because both are relatively shallow. Kids can even get out and run alongside the boat if they want to stretch their legs and there is plenty to see from the water.
The River Wye is the top paddling river in the country and sees some three quarters of a million visitors each year. Paddling the river allows visitors a chance to see sights not available through paths or roads and routes can include Hay-on-Wye.
For a challenge, take on a section of the Glasgow to Edinburgh Canoe Trail. This is a massive 87km route linking the two cities but can be done in much smaller sections. It passes through Port Dundas and Falkirk as well as the sites of the two cities.
For a little wilder kayaking, try the Argyll Kayak Trail, off the west coast of Scotland. The project was organised by the local authority and offers some amazing views of the coastal landscape as well as the novelty of paddling in the sea.