Team member and adventure seeker Abi shares with us her recent paddle-boarding trip to Scotland, UK. Anecdotes, trip tips, and a whole lot of lochs* – if you want to do a SUP trip in Scotland, this is a must-read!
*Note: Loch is the Scottish Gaelic, Scots, and Irish word for a lake or sea inlet.
Visit Edinburgh under blue skies and you may never want to leave. Seriously, this city will steal your heart with the sandstone architecture and patches of green evenly distributed under the castle’s shadow.
However, we’re not here to talk about the Royal Mile or countless boutique stores selling your family tartan. This is about paddle boarding in Scotland.
As soon as you drive across the border from England, you feel the air change. It’s almost as if you can hear distant bagpipes in the wind. My advice, get out of the city and into the Highlands. That’s where the real magic is.
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The GILI Mako iSUP is perfect for these road trip adventures. It packs down into a lightweight backpack that is easy to carry and fits in the car along with the rest of my luggage. I’m only 5’2” and didn’t struggle at any point throughout the trip to hike down to the water.
I averaged less than 10-minutes to inflate the SUP using the dual-action manual hand pump is efficient for speedy pumping. It’s the best way to warm up before heading out as well!
Of course, I’m gonna be biased, but my GILI Mako stood out boldly on the Scottish waters against the other paddle boards. It’s safe to say, all eyes were on us as we glided across still lochs.
My Scotland SUP adventure began on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Just a 30-minute drive out of the city and you’re already stumbling across lochs. There are inner-city spots, but I was keen to get out on the road to find the magic.
Loch Leven is small when you look at it on the map. The road ebbs and flows along the shore, scattered with glamping pods and hiking trails. Be aware of the season you are traveling. I traveled in May, which is right in the middle of the native bird's nesting period. This does restrict your access points to the water. Kayaks, canoes, and SUPs can be launched year-round from Burleigh Sands on the northern shore.
Eager to get my first paddle in for this Scottish trip, I slung the Mako over my shoulder and marched out of the car park. Less than 100 meters through the woodland, a sandy beach opened up providing a panoramic view of the water ahead. With the water gently lapping in a rhythm, it was soon apparent how vast these lochs are.
Peaceful, remote, and a little bit eerie. Loch Leven is a quiet place to start a Scottish paddle-boarding journey. With not another soul in sight, I paddled out across the calm waters, venturing deeper into the loch. Mist rolled in across the water, sweeping through the woodland and shoreline. It was as if the loch itself was taking me deeper and deeper.
Besides kingfishers and wildfowl, this area offers the chance to spot otters and the occasional visits from the elusive white-tailed sea eagle. There is a 13-mile hiking trail that follows the shore of the loch – a fantastic route if you’re training for a marathon! From a paddle board, you can get a unique perspective of Lochleven Castle which famously imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots in 1567.
“The best road trips are all about the journey, not the destination.” Loch Morlich is the case in point of that saying for me on this trip.
A quick stop in Aviemore – Scotland’s treasured ski resort – and a chat with a local gave me the tip to divert from the main road slightly. Just a 20-minute drive from Aviemore, into the mountains, you will discover one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful places in the UK, Loch Morlich.
Loch Morlich is an award-winning location that is surrounded by golden sandy beaches and snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorms National Park. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The water was crystal clear at the shoreline, but as I got deeper it turned to black, keeping secrets from the past. I kept looking up and around me as I was paddling, pinching myself to be sure it was real. These views really are in the UK. This is on my doorstep…
When visiting Loch Morlich, drive all the way to the sandy bay at the far end. You will need to pay for parking, but it’s a small fee to have access to this beautiful spot. There are also public toilets and a cafe on the beach serving hot coffee that is perfect for post-paddle refueling.
Loch Ness is one of the most iconic destinations in Scotland and I was keen to get the chance to take the SUP out on the water. Before reaching the shores of Dores Beach, I began preparing myself for cutting winds and choppy waters – conditions often paired with the Nessie Monster! However, I could not have been more surprised…
Walking out onto the sandy beach at Dores, the clouds parted and the sun shone down. The water was calm and perfectly still. There was no wind. And there was a warmth in the air, lifting the typical mystery and wonder for a moment.
Paddling out onto Loch Ness under these conditions is extremely rare! I understand how lucky I was to be there – right place, right time. It has left a dreamy and romanticized impression on me and I now wonder if I can ever return to Loch Ness, as the chances of getting the same conditions are slim!
There are several locations on Loch Ness where you can launch your SUP from. Dores gives you an open window viewpoint down the entire length of the loch, with it disappearing into the horizon. Fort Augustus gives a similar vantage point.
Driving from east to west is the best way to see Scotland. The landscape becomes even more dramatic and vast. Around each corner is an equally impressive view, with remote waters and laybys for you to stop in for a paddle. It’s important to note Scotland’s ‘right to roam. You can park up and stay overnight anywhere, including these secluded lochs between Inverness and Dornie.
My final stop on this road trip was the Eilean Donan Castle – the most photographed fortress in Scotland. The castle has appeared in several major films including Highlander and James Bond: The World Is Not Enough. As the road sweeps around Loch Duich, the view opens up revealing this iconic castle and bridge sitting in the water.
Here, three lochs meet Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh. This means there are tides to take into account, along with the paparazzi crowds visiting the castle.
I dropped into the water from the footpath that leads up to the bridge. With it being slightly rocky at the entry I opted to only use the side bite fins and left the center fin off. As I paddled, I could see crabs and fish swimming beneath me in the crystal clear waters. Earlier in the day, there were seals and otters enjoying a swim as well.
If you choose to paddle here, do a lap of the castle and come under the bridge. It gives you a unique perspective of Scotland’s most photographed castle and is a pleasant 15-20 minute paddle route. You do need a high tide to do this though. If the tide times aren’t working in your favor, launch your SUP from the other side at the community center. There is a boat ramp access point; you won’t be able to go under the bridge, but you will get to see the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle from the water.
From Dornie I managed to squeeze in one last paddle. Coral Beach is a well-hidden gem offering sea birds and seals, colorful surf, and adventurous walks at low tide. Navigating the single-track road and giving way to the Highland Coo’sis all part of this experience.
It is quite a hike from the parking down to the beach. This is definitely a spot where inflatable paddle boards come into their element! But trust me, it is worth the trek!
Coral Beach is on the coast. It is sheltered by the Isle of Skye, but it was still a lot choppier than the lochs I had been paddling on. The whole time I was there, I did not see anyone else! If you are after real seclusion, this is the place for you.
I hadn’t even left Scotland and I was already planning my next trip and where I want to paddle board. You could easily return to Scotland, time and time again, exploring different corners and discovering your next favorite SUP spot.
My next trip will take me to the Isle of Skye and possibly even further to the Outer Hebrides – remote, rough, and rugged. Perhaps with a stop off at Loch Lomand on the way up…
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