Spending time by a fresh expanse of water can be revitalising for both your mind and body, especially when you’re being active. And, with everything from lochs and glens to rivers and coastlines, there’s no better place to enjoy the soothing powers of this natural element than in the scenic landscapes of Scotland.
This country may be small, but it was sculpted by glaciers and is surrounded by the sea, so you’ll find impressive waterscapes in almost every corner. What’s more, as 2021 is Scotland’s official Year of Coasts and Waters, there are many resources available to help you find some of the best undiscovered places. So, whether you want to try an energising water sport or seek out a quiet spot with a view, it’s easy to find stunning locations you’ll be able to enjoy without having to battle the crowds.
When it comes to planning your stay, swapping a jam-packed itinerary for a schedule that’s more leisurely isn’t just valuable in helping you to be more present, but it’s also a more responsible approach to tourism. It’s in this spirit of mindfulness that you should plan your next trip to Scotland, whether that be for the autumn of this year, or even further in the future.
For more information, take a look at the full Year of Coasts and Waters guide
Keep reading to discover just some of the magnificent waterscapes you could visit when the time is right…
Please check the latest government guidelines before travelling.
River Spey, Badenoch and Strathspey
Badenoch is a historic region of the Cairngorms National Park, right at the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Here you’ll find everything from ancient fortresses to beautiful cycling trails, as well as plenty of exciting attractions such as the Highland Folk Museum.
The River Spey, which flows majestically through this region, is treasured by distillers for its water and hailed by fishermen for its healthy salmon population. It’s also a great place to enjoy water sports, and the Loch Insh Outdoor Centre – which is in the western region of the park – offers a variety of invigorating activities to enjoy on the river, as well as on Loch Insh itself. You’ll be able to rent all the equipment you’ll need to go stand-up paddle boarding, plus you can even book a taster session where friendly instructors will teach you the correct technique.
If you want to spend a relaxing weekend exploring this picturesque region, then the Badaguish Cairngorm Outdoor Centre, which is about 16km away from the Loch Insh Outdoor Centre, offers a range of accommodation options, from cosy lodges to comfortable camping facilities.
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Fort William, Lochaber
Sea kayaking is an exhilarating way to explore Scotland’s rugged coastline, especially when you’re following the tidal stream that connects Lochaber’s Loch Linnhe to Loch Eil. Indeed, Fort William, Lochaber is hailed as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, and with rewarding views of Ben Nevis along this scenic route, plus the chance to spot the seals and otters that call these waters home, you’ll soon understand why.
While it may sound strenuous, sea kayaking can be a safe and enjoyable experience when you’re led by a trained guide – such as one of the friendly team members from Rockhopper Sea Kayaking. This Lochaber-based water sports company welcomes both individuals and families, and even provides double kayaks if you don’t want to go it alone.
After a day of adventuring, Ravenswood House B&B is the perfect place to enjoy a moment of calm. This stunning Victorian period property oozes character and overlooks the water close to where the Rockhopper centre is, so it’s well-placed if you’re keen to get back in your kayak the following day.
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Soldier’s Leap, Killiecrankie
You may feel as though wild swimming is out of your comfort zone*, but this sport is thought to have benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing. Indeed, taking a dip in one of nature’s own swimming pools is a great way to awaken your senses and energise your whole body, while trying something new can boost your confidence.
Wild swimming is permitted almost everywhere in Scotland, but Soldier’s Leap in Killiecrankie Perthshire, is a particularly sweet spot to visit. Hundreds of years ago, this wooded gorge was the setting for one of the most brutal battles in Jacobite history (The Battle of Killiecrankie, 1689), but now it’s a serene conservation area where people come to enjoy the lovely scenery and revitalising water.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, then head to Highland Fling Bungee at the beautiful Pass of Killiecrankie, where you’ll have the chance to connect with nature through adventure. This exhilarating activity may give you an adrenaline rush, but as you jump off the static platform suspended over the River Garry and into the fresh, clean air of the luscious surroundings, you’ll feel your worries melt away.
If you’re staying in this region, then consider spending a night or two at self-catered holiday home Squirrel Cottage, which is just a 10-minute walk away. It’s surrounded by magnificent oak wood trees and alive with local wildlife, which makes for a magical retreat.
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Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Inverclyde
As Scotland’s largest regional park, Clyde Muirshiel encompasses all the conservation areas on the South Clyde Estuary, which accounts for an impressive 280km². Within these hilly terrains you’ll find the serene Castle Semple Loch, which is a great place to learn how to sail, thanks to its still and sheltered waters.
In the park, the Royal Yachting Association offers a range of sailing courses tailored to suit people of all abilities, from young children to qualified adults – and, with wheelchair-friendly options available, everyone will be able to give it a try.
Just an hour’s drive away, the charming Law Castle is a great base if you want to explore the wider region, including the nearby town of Ayr. With five centuries of history within its walls, this regal building is enclosed by sweeping grounds and lavishly decorated, so you’re sure to enjoy your stay here.
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Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Often described as ‘the Highlands in miniature’, the Trossachs are a vast expanse of wooded glens and braes that lie to the east of Ben Lomond. The natural beauty of this region is said to have inspired the work of many notable poets and writers including Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott, and with mossy hills, pockets of heather and sparkling lochs, it’s not hard to see why.
As Scotland’s only natural lake, a great way to explore Loch Lomond and its picturesque surroundings is by boat. In Your Element is a top-rated outdoor experience company that specialises in canoeing trips in this region, and the friendly instructors will give you confidence to navigate the waters with ease. Go Country is another great activity provider that operates in the area, and it offers offers you the chance to take part in a variety of fun water sports.
Of course, you need more than just one day to explore everything the area has to offer. Ellanderroch House, a quaint cottage in the quiet village of Drymen, makes a fantastic place to stay while you’re here.
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Coldingham Bay, Scottish Borders
Scotland’s stretching beaches and clear waters make it one of Europe’s top surfing destinations. While surfing hotspots such as Thurso are frequently visited by enthusiasts, Coldingham Bay is a much quieter area that offers great waves.
The ideal time to visit is in spring or winter, when offshore winds from the west make for good wave-riding conditions. And, whether you’re already proficient or just starting out, St Vedas Surf School offers visitors the chance to take part in lessons and rent all the gear needed for this adrenaline-filled activity.
If you’re looking for a comfortable place to stay nearby, Old Manor is a newly refurbished home with stunning views directly over the coastline. From here, it’s a mere five-minute walk to the water and just an hour’s drive to Edinburgh, so it’s a great location to explore from.
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St Combs Beach, Aberdeenshire
If you’re longing for the sensation of sand between your toes and pining for the sound of waves crashing against the shore, then just imagine how good it will feel to stroll along the golden coastline of St Combs Beach near Fraserburgh, which is one of the sunniest – and quietest – coastlines in Scotland.
The fresh air combined with the rhythmic pattern of the sea always leaves visitors feeling more relaxed, so whether you fancy a dip in the water or just a quiet place to sit, there are plenty of ways to bask in this sandy Scottish paradise.
For a peaceful stay with a stunning view, Seafront Cottages offers a range of accommodation options, from the Luxury Glamping Eco Pod to the Fisherman’s Cottage. This rustic house was built in the 1600s and has kept its charm, but now features unlimited internet access and modern amenities.
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Ready for a change of scenery? Plan your trip to Scotland and discover even more of the country’s impressive waterscapes here
*Before you go wild swimming, it’s important to know how to stay safe. The Outdoor Swimming Society posts guidance to help you get the most from this activity, which you can read here