Winning tip: city and broads, Norfolk
I love paddleboarding on the River Wensum in Norwich. This stretch of the Norfolk Broads offers winding meadows, endless tranquillity and wildlife such as kingfishers, herons, swans and a family of non-native terrapin turtles. It’s an escape from reality only minutes from the city centre. We use Norwich Paddleboard Hire (£19.99 for half a day) every time the sun is shining: they have fantastic access to these waters and a pub on site for a beer or wine by the river when you finish.
Fairytale loch, Perthshire
Imagine a fairytale loch surrounded by majestic snow-topped Munros, with its own water horse or each-uisge living under the surface. This is the stuff of paradise. Launch your paddleboard from the deserted sandy beach and make your way across the shimmering water to a tiny shale beach only accessible by boat. You can gaze in amazement at Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin and wonder about the dark history of nearby Edinample Castle. Loch Earn offers watersports from wild swimming to canoeing and the mindfulness of paddleboarding.
• Paddleboard hire £15 an hour from Loch Earn Watersports Centre
Paddles at dawn, North Tyneside
Cullercoats Bay, between the better-known Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, is the perfect place to SUP, kayak or swim, especially at sunrise. You start off on the beach and can explore the piers, rocks, caves and even go round to the bigger bays if you’re feeling confident out at sea. Cullercoats Bay houses the RNLI lifeboat station, which is great peace of mind if you’re a beginner! CCBK Adventures hires out wetsuits and equipment (SUP from £15 for two hours) plus great advice about the tide, weather etc. It’s easy to get to via the Metro from Newcastle, and there are plenty of independent eateries nearby.
Camp and canoe, Cornwall
Stithians Lake (reservoir) water sports centre near Redruth in Cornwall is an established and friendly RYA-certified centre offering hire and lessons for paddleboarding, windsurfing and sailing. The adjacent campsite has some hook-ups plus new shower and toilet facilities. There’s a popular cafe in the centre and a good food pub, the Golden Lion, within easy staggering distance.
• Tent pitch from £16 a night, paddleboard hire from £15 an hour, windsurf, canoe or sailing dinghy from £20
Jurassic paddling, south Devon
The quaint, Regency town of Sidmouth provides a pretty window into a chocolate-box past. But hire a kayak or SUP from Jurassic Paddle Sports (based on the beach) and you can splash even further back in time along the Jurassic coast. Guy and the team gave me and my siblings directions to the enormous sea stacks of Ladram Bay, with lush cliffside greenery creating an absolutely epic, prehistoric scene. Be warned – it’s a couple of hours’ sea kayaking there and back, so consider booking a guide unless you’re experienced and completely confident on the water.
• Single kayak hire £14 an hour
Sheltered harbour or peaceful river, Dorset
Picturesque Mudeford and Christchurch harbour, watched over by ancient Hengistbury Head, is an extra-special location for all manner of watersports. It offers safe shallow waters within its harbour for kayaking and paddleboarding and is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Mudeford Sandspit, with its colourful beach huts, acts as a barrier from the open sea, where people enjoy windsurfing and sailing. Inland from the harbour you can gently meander along the River Stour to the quaint village of Tuckton with its traditional tea gardens and boat hire. Equipment can be hired from Shore Sports on Mudeford Quay (kayaks from £10 an hour).
Teapot time, River Medway, Kent
Teston Bridge country park, on the River Medway near Maidstone, has a recently built pass next to the lock to allow kayakers and paddleboarders to adventure up- or downstream. It’s a pretty little stretch of river: you can paddle hard up towards Tonbridge via Teapot Island museum and (takeaway) cafe, or just meander up and down close to the park and take in the countryside. There are always plenty of other rivergoers for friendly chat and advice but it never feels too busy.
Swap books for boats, River Wye
Hay-on-Wye is best known for books, but the River Wye running through the village is perfect for novice kayaking. The river is impressive: wide, fast and beautiful, yet surprisingly easy to enjoy. You don’t need an instructor; you can simply rent equipment from Ultimate Canoe and Kayak beneath the bridge and let the river carry you downstream along the meandering border between England and Wales. You don’t even need to paddle back upstream, because the company will come and pick you up from the pub on the bank in Whitney-on-Wye.
• Half-day trip Hay to Whitney-on-Wye, £25pp
High adrenaline, South Yorkshire
A trip to Sheffield Cable Waterski and Aqua Park in Rother Valley country park is great fun regardless of age and ability. Our group, which included three mid-teenagers, loved being towed around on a kneeboard by a wire high above the lake. If you complete a full lap without falling off, it’s quite an achievement. There’s waterskiing for the more experienced or adventurous, and a Total Wipeout-style inflatables course to clamber around.
• Two-hour kneeboard/wakeboard session £28pp
Honey for tea, Cambridge
Hire a punt at Scudamore’s beneath the Anchor pub in Cambridge, then drift along to the Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester for scones and tea in the apple orchard. You will pass swans on their nests, six ducks (they’re always there, in Paradise nature reserve), and goats. “It’s like being on the set of Red Joan,” said my sister. As you punt through Sheep’s Green, watch out for the wild swimmers!
• Punt hire £37.50 for 90 mins
This article was amended on 7 May 2021 to remove some personal information.