Sea kayaking vacations in the UK

For Adriana Eyzaguirre, founder of our UK sea kayaking partner Explora Expeditions, responsible tourism means forging links with the communities where she takes her guests. She has spent years developing a network of kayaking coaches and instructors from the UK to Greenland to Greece, ensures her groups collect plastic wherever they come across it, and encourages them to eat in locally owned restaurants. The value of those strong relationships became immediately apparent a few years ago.

“In Greenland, one of our guests developed a wrist injury while we were kayaking in a remote area,” says Adriana. “To get them back to base using their insurance would potentially have taken days and cost thousands. But because I knew a local man with a boat, we were able to get the injured party back to where he needed to be in a few hours and at a fraction of the cost.”

True, in the UK you’re rarely far from the nearest town, but a little local knowledge can still go a long way. Off the coast of St Davids in Wales, Adriana and her guides know the best training waters for advanced kayakers and where to moor up if you want to stretch your land legs. In Dorset, they know the most sheltered spots for beginner kayakers. And in Devon, David Hughes and Susie Gillespie from our partner Sea Kayaking Vacations know where to pitch up for a picnic, plus where to position you and your kids during a morning paddle for the best chance to see dolphins and seals.

Where can I go sea kayaking in the UK?

Wales is a great place for sea kayaking whatever your level of ability, with the option to stay right on the Pembrokeshire Coast. You can opt for a week of pure paddling or combine the kayaking with a range of other adventurous activities, including surfing and coasteering. This part of Wales is immensely popular with surfers as well as kayakers, meaning it can be crowded in summer. Staying close to the coast and traveling in a shared vehicle places less stress on the roads and car parks here.

“We work around St Davids in Wales,” says Adriana. “There are gorgeous trips around here, it’s ideal for touring and there are great training waters for more advanced kayakers. If you fancy a break from kayaking, it’s a lovely area to hike too.”

Tailor made sea kayaking trips in Dorset allow you to enjoy uncrowded perspectives of tourist hotspots such as Lulworth Cove, Studland Bay, Old Harry Rocks and the Durdle Door arch. Routes can be crafted to your interests and abilities, with skilled instructors bringing with them top-of-the-range equipment.

The western Scottish Highlands possess sheltered stretches of water where you can learn the basics of kayaking or develop existing skills on Loch Torridon and around the Applecross Peninsula. On a small group tour launching from Inverness (easily reached by train), you dine expedition-style in the evenings, with everyone pitching in.

The wild coastlines and sea lochs of the Outer Hebrides promise world-class kayaking around islands such as Mull, Lewis and Harris, with marine life on display. This natural setting combined with fresh air and exercise can do wonders for mental health.

The Atlantic Coast is another option in Scotland, following a section of the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, the longest in Europe. Here, you’ll roam lochs such as Linnhe, Eil, Sunart and Moidart, around islands including Risga, Carna and Oronsay, between the Sound of Mull, and the wild and remote Rough Bounds. You’ll paddle through marine wildlife reserves, past beaches and the ruins of historic castles in the company of expert guides, with a guide-to-kayaker ratio of just 1:4.
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What does sea kayaking in the UK involve?

Trips range in length but are typically around five days long. All the equipment you’ll need will be provided, including helmets, buoyancy aids and often dry bags too. Oh, and the paddle – you’ll definitely need that. There are vacations suitable for families open to kids over the age of 12 who can swim with confidence.

Not all vacations see you kayaking for the duration – in some cases, you’re encouraged to add a rest day for a little sightseeing, walking or relaxing on a beach. On the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, you can find activity vacations that combine sea kayaking with coasteering, hiking and surfing.

You’ll be accompanied by experienced, highly qualified and often local guides on the water who will ensure your safety, give you tips, and escort you around sheltered bays, sea caves and river estuaries. Paddle alongside a guide, and you can focus on your stroke and the scenery, while they lead the way. First-timers can learn from scratch. If you already have some kayaking experience, then you can opt for a more advanced vacation where you can develop your existing abilities, from basic paddle techniques and understanding winds and tides, all the way up to rescue techniques and route planning.

Wherever you go, you can expect to see plenty of UK coastal marine life such as seals, dolphins, otters and white-tailed eagles. For that reason, early starts are recommended, as the wildlife tend to be most active in the mornings. You might kayak for a few hours in the morning, pause for elevenses on a beach, then carry on for a couple more hours before heading back.

How fit do I need to be?

Many UK sea kayaking vacations are suitable for – and indeed often designed for – the beginner or with families in mind. You will be out on the water for several hours each day, so if you’re new to this activity you can expect to have sore arms and shoulders for the first few evenings, but nothing too dramatic.

There are vacations for more experienced kayakers looking to develop knowledge and skills, but for the most part you’ll be paddling along at a relaxed pace rather than setting personal bests. On tailor made sea kayaking vacations, guides will be able to create routes that suit your fitness levels, abilities and interests.

“People will often do two days kayaking at a time and then have a day off to do something else,” says Adriana. “It can be quite tiring.”

Where do I stay?

Accommodations vary from private bunkhouses on loch shores in the Scottish Highlands, with wood-burning stoves to warm your cockles in the evening, to an award-winning ecolodge on the Pembrokeshire Coast. In the Outer Hebrides, you might spend a few nights under canvas, wild camping. Other UK kayaking vacations provide just the guides and the equipment, letting you choose your own accommodation according to your preferences and budget.

When to go sea kayaking in the UK

Most sea kayaking vacations in the UK run between spring and autumn, with set departure dates for small group trips. Summer is the best season for calmer, warmer waters, and for your chances of seeing marine wildlife. Winter is usually too cold and the sea too choppy for truly enjoyable sea kayaking in the UK.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Red Zeppelin] [Intro: Kayak Aberfeldy] [Dorset: Maxpixel] [How fit do I need to be?: Andy Waddington ] [When to go sea kayaking in the UK: Preseli Venture]