Scotland is one of the best places in the world for paddling with spectacular coastlines, pristine beaches and wild lochs. Scotland’s islands in particular offer some of the very best locations for kayaking and paddleboarding. We have spent years exploring Scotland’s special blue spaces by kayak and SUP and here we share some of our favourite island paddles.
SUP in Orkney
There are tens of islands off Orkney that are fabulous to explore but some of the best paddles in Orkney are from Mainland (the main island in Orkney). Here’s three of our favourites. Paddling around Stromness Harbour is one of the best ways to see the old wharves of this busy and colourful harbour and offers a real sense of the seafaring origins of this beautiful town. The best place to launch is from the slipway near the Point of Ness then paddle towards the town. A longer paddle starts south of Copland Dock and heads east along the coastline which then veers north to enter the Loch of Stenness. Head across the loch in a NE direction to see the famous Ring of Brodgar (12 km return trip). Another great location to paddle is in the legendary Scapa Flow, particularly around Churchill Barriers 1 and 2. The beach on the south end of Glimps Home is a good place to launch, then head north to Lamb Holm to see the Italian Chapel one of the highlights of Orkney.
SUP in Shetland
Shetland is a paddler’s paradise with plenty of smaller islands to explore and incredible coastlines to discover with beautiful beaches, caves, arches and more. A top spot for us to SUP is St Ninian’s – one of the finest sand tombolos in Europe, that connects mainland Shetland with St Ninian’s Isle. The St Ninian’s Bay coastline, on the south side of the tombolo, has plenty of caves, arches and hidden inlets to explore.
SUP in the Isle of Harris
With plenty of amazing beaches boasting white sands and turquoise waters a paddle on the Isle of Harris is a must with plenty of options to chose from. If you are going to do one paddle though make sure it’s from Luskentyre Beach into the Sound of Taransay for views of the Lewis mountains as a backdrop and paddling in pristine waters. Terns dive into the waters around you and if you are lucky an inquisitive porpoise might swim past – as it did with us and we nearly fell off the board with shock!
SUP in Mull
There are a huge range of paddling options on the Isle of Mull. A popular spot though for sheltered and shallow water, with great views of Iona, and beachside camping is to launch from Fidden Beach near the south west tip of the island. The marine landscape here is dotted with pink granite outcrops around white-sand bays and is a favourite spot for watching sunsets on the Isle of Mull, which turn the granite a deep red.
SUP on Arran
The Isle of Arran is easy to get to from the mainland and offers plenty of beautiful coastline for the paddler to explore. Lochranza in the north of the island is a stunning location for a paddle and boasts a dramatic castle, a distillery and plenty of wildlife in the surrounding area. For the more experienced a paddle to Holy Isle is a must. In the shadow of Goat Fell, the high point of Arran, the launch point for the trip the beach at Lamlash in the south east corner of Arran. Photo credit: “Holy Isle from Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran.” by User:Colinis licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
SUP on Barra
Almost at the southern tip of the Hebridean archipelago, one of the best things to do on the Isle of Barra is visit 16thcentury Kisimul Castle. Better than that though is a paddle around the rocky islet that the castle sits on, looking up at its historic ramparts, then exploring the inlets of Castlebay. There are some easy launch points to the west of the ferry jetty. Post-paddle treats include delicious handmade Scottish tablet from the Hebridean Toffee factory, a wee dram at the Barra Distillery or, a personal favourite a scallop pakora at the Cafe Kisimul.
SUP on Lewis
A paddle in Lewis is unforgettable, especially from Bosta Beach on the north coast of the small island of Great Bernera which is connected to Lewis by a small bridge. This sheltered and beautiful white shell beach is also home to an Iron Age replica house and a Tide and Time bell. It is an idyllic paddling location, from one of the best beaches on Lewis. Post paddle treats include the lovely home-baked food at the Great Bernera Community Association and Café. To get to Bosta Beach take the main island road north of Breaclet to reach the car park above the beach at the end of the road.
SUP the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye offers plenty of paddling opportunities, and these are our home waters. The east side is generally sheltered with Broadford and Portee offering interesting and generally sheltered paddles in their harbours. Closer to home for us though is the sheltered Loch Harport. There is easy launching from the small beach in the village of Carbost and plenty to explore along the loch – including looking out for the resident white-tailed sea eagles. Post paddle treats include a wee dram at the Talisker Distillery, the best coffee on the Isle of Skye at the Caora Dhubh Coffee Company, fresh seafood at The Oyster Shed and great music and beer at The Old Inn. The Carbost Community Shop has some lovely goodies to make up a picnic.
SUP on Bute
The Isle of Bute is a great destination for paddlers, with plenty of outdoor adventure on one of Scotland’s most accessible islands. There are a number of sheltered beaches to paddle from, namely Kilchattan Bay in the south east, Ettrick Bay on the west coast and from Rothesay, the island capital. We enjoy the relatively sheltered waters of the Kyles of Bute. Our favourite trip leaves from the slipway that serves the CalMac Colintraive – Rhubodach route to the north west of Bute. From here follow the island’s coast north to explore Balnakailly Bay and beyond to reach Buttock Point, the northern tip of Bute. On the return explore the Burnt Islands that are located between Bute and the mainland.
Check out other top places to paddle UK
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Top 5 places to paddle in Devon
Top 5 places to paddle in Dorset
Top 5 places to paddle in Somerset, Bristol and Bath
Top 5 islands to circumnavigate
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Top paddles on Scotland’s Islands
Top places to paddle on Welsh islands