You can’t spend a day in our part of the Cairngorms without seeing a kayak, canoe or two. If you’ve never given paddling a try, the Strathspey area is a great place to dip a first toe (or paddle) in the water, with so many providers and gentle places to begin your paddling experience. For this blog, guest blogger, keen paddler and Aviemore local Colin Cadden gives us his top tips for a day on the water. Watch out though - it’s supposed to be very addictive!
What are the best places for a beginner to try paddling in the Cairngorms?
If you want to explore using a kayak or canoe for the first time then either Loch Insh or Loch Morlich should be your first port of call. Both have a range of boats you can try and both have all the correct safety gear. Loch Morlich is my favourite as the loch itself is relatively sheltered and there’s a lovely little creek to paddle up not far from the hire centre.
What sort of wildlife are you likely to see on a paddling trip?
The calmer lochs are home to various types of wildfowl. The local ospreys use many of the lochs for fishing and other eagles, buzzards and falcons can also be seen patrolling the air. Herons can often be seen standing around waiting for fish to pass. Dragonflies and damselflies can be found in some sheltered spots, often with fantastic colours. My favourite damselflies are a shiny, metallic blue. Otters are harder to spot but they’re around...
Is it possible to organise private trips and who are the providers you would recommend?
There are number of activity providers in the area. G2 Outdoor are one of the largest and have a wide range of activities. You can do some easy rafting from Aviemore to Boat of Garten or do some white water further down the Spey. They provide the equipment, transport and qualified guides.
Alternatively, you can hire a packraft (a very lightweight inflatable dinghy) and safety gear from backcountry.scot in Aviemore and plan your own journey. These packrafts make some of the logistics much simpler than hauling a large canoe or kayak and give you the freedom to explore many of the other lochs and river courses in the area. They’re particularly ideal for folk with some experience who can’t bring their own boats with them on holiday.
Is it possible for most people to take part? Is it a kid-friendly activity?
If you can get into and out of the boat then paddling is for you. If you’re not experienced, the hire centres at Loch Insh and Loch Morlich are ideal They can point you to the easiest, most stable boats and advise on safety gear and technique. One tip; take care not to venture too far without checking the wind direction. It’s easy to paddle when the wind is behind you - a lot harder when you’re facing into it. Both centres have life jackets for children and some folk even take their dogs with them.
What are your own personal favourite places to paddle in the Cairngorms?
Of all the lochs, I prefer Loch Pityoulish. It’s quieter than most of the others, especially as folk need to bring their own boats, it has a fantastic view of the mountains, and there’s a feeling of some remoteness about it. Loch Vaa is very sheltered so works well on windier days. There’s a natural island and a crannog (a man made island) to look at if you venture there. Of course, with a packraft, paddling down from Aviemore to Boat of Garten, having a beer at the hotel then getting the bus back is just sheer indulgence!
As always, let us know how you get on and please do share any of your paddling pics - we always love to see what you get up to on your Handpicked Lodges holiday!