20 best adventures on the water around the UK – from canyoning to white-water rafting

·9 min read
<span>Photograph: Lucas Vallecillos/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Lucas Vallecillos/Alamy

White-water rafting on the Snowdonia River, north Wales

A exhilarating, breath-catching ride over cascading rapids that sends the inflatable boats hurtling downriver, white-water rafting is a great choice for those looking to get the adrenaline going. One-hour taster sessions are available, with two-hour experiences offering the chance to have four runs down the bubbling rapids of the Upper Tryweryn River. Stay at Plas Yn Dre (doubles from £120 B&B; plasyndre.co.uk), a buzzy hotel and restaurant on Bala High Street. nationalwhitewatercentre.co.uk

Cycling the Monmouth and Brecon Canal

Meandering through 35 miles of glorious countryside, the pleasingly flat towpath along one of Britain’s most captivating canals is a delightful place for a cycle tour. Hire conventional or electric bikes in Abergavenny, and stop for lunch at the Star Inn at Tal-y-bont, or take a picnic and soak up the views of Sugar Loaf mountain. Stay at the Angel (doubles from £160; angelabergavenny.com) in Abergavenny, an elegant former coaching inn that offers legendary afternoon teas. canalrivertrust.org.uk

Fly fishing on the River Test, Hampshire

A man holding a brown trout just above the surface of a river
How now, brown trout? Photograph: Edgard Enrique Quezada/Getty Images

Oner of the UK’s premier fly-fishing rivers – and where the modern pastime of dry-fly fishing was invented – the Test is home to brown trout, Atlantic salmon and grayling, with fisheries dotted along the banks. Day tickets and tuition can be arranged, but the easiest way to enjoy the river is to stay at the 16th-century Greyhound (doubles from £175 B&B; thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk), which offers fishing tuition and has a private stream at the bottom of the garden. test-itchen.com

Learn to sail at Roadford Lake, Devon

Learn the basics of sailing in an RYA class, with Level 1 and 2 classes available for juniors and adults, while experienced sailors can launch their own dinghies for a small fee, and buoyancy aids are available. A half-hour walk from the activity centre, the Roadford Café offers restorative cakes and light lunches. Stay at Lewtrenchard Manor (doubles from £162 B&B; lewtrenchard.co.uk), an elegant Jacobean manor house converted into a welcoming, family-run hotel. swlakestrust.org.uk

Kayaking on the Beaulieu River, Hampshire

People on a kayaking lesson on Beaulieu River at Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum, New Forest, Hampshire, UK
Kayak class, Beaulieu River. Photograph: Susie Kearley/Alamy

A tranquil waterway in the busy New Forest, the Beaulieu River is a National Nature Reserve, rich in flora and fauna. Independent kayakers tend to set off from Lepe Beach, but most visitors book a half-day kayaking experience that includes some tuition. Stay at the Montagu Arms in the picturesque village of Beaulieu (doubles from £210 B&B, montaguarmshotel.co.uk), an upscale country house hotel with two restaurants and a top-notch spa. newforestactivities.co.uk

Waterfall swimming, Ddwli Falls, Brecon Beacons

An idyllic place for a dip, Ddwli Falls cascades into a glassy-clear pool – one of a string of 20 to be found along the surrounding five miles of the Fechan and Mellte rivers. On a sunny day, the spray throws up rainbows, and there’s plenty of shallow water to splash about in with younger children. Stay at the Rheolau Arms in Abercrave (from £80; therheolauarms.co.uk), a cosy B&B with lovely views over the Tawe. breconbeacons.org

Riverside walk, Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex

Young woman walking dogs along path at Cuckmere Haven
Winding walk, East Sussex. Photograph: Dan Wright/Alamy

Following the only Sussex river with no port where it joins the sea, the seven-mile walk along the winding Cuckmere is one of the most beautiful in the south-east. Start in the pretty village of Alfriston, after which the route takes in lush meadows and Norman churches, before arriving at the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters. Stay at the luxurious Star in Alfriston (doubles from £290 B&B; thepolizzicollection.com), which offers guided walks along the Cuckmere with Alex Polizzi. nationaltrust.org.uk

Family paddleboarding on Carsington Water, Peak District

The whole family can paddle together on Carsington Water, which offers super-sized paddleboards for up to six people (two must be adults). Standard boards are also available to hire – in junior and adult size – and Carsington’s calm, flat waters are ideal for every level, from complete novice to experienced paddler. Stay in nearby Bonsall at the Fountain Tea Rooms (from £90 B&B, thefountainbonsall.co.uk), a renowned café offering mouth-watering cakes and lunches, with two chic bedrooms above. carsingtonwater.com

Wildlife spotting on the River Wye, Herefordshire

This stretch of the Wye – latticed with walking trails – offers excellent wildlife-spotting potential, with fallow deer, peregrine falcons and barn owls often seen or heard. Badgers, stoats and weasels stalk through the lush woodland, along with many species of butterflies, bats and hornets, and the steep-sided river gorge is one of England’s most spectacular landscapes. Stay at the Saracens Head (doubles from £125 B&B; saracensheadinn.co.uk), a historic riverfront pub with walks from the door.

Aquapark at Alderford Lake, Shropshire

Inflatable playgrounds are a fantastic family activity and promise to keep you cool – falling in is pretty much inevitable. Wetsuits are available, along with mandatory buoyancy aids, meaning everyone can scramble over the obstacles in safety. A session lasts 50 minutes; each child under 12 must be accompanied by an adult (no under fives). Stay at the Bear Inn in nearby Hodnet, a classy gastropub with rooms (doubles from £120 B&B; thebearinnhodnet.com). alderford.com

Motorboating on Lake Windermere, Lake District

There are few better places in England to set sail than on Windermere, encircled by the peaks and forests of the Cumbrian mountains. Five locations around the lake offer motorboat hire, with boats available for up to 10 people. Sailing dinghies are also available, with classes for beginners. Stay at Gilpin, a family-run hotel with nine luxurious spa suites alongside 28 elegant bedrooms (doubles from £296 B&B, thegilpin.co.uk).

Punting on the Cam, Cambridge

Punts with tourists along the river, in front of a college in Cambridge
Take a punt, Cambridge. Photograph: Premier Photo/Rex/Shutterstock

There’s no better way to take in the grandiose architecture of Cambridge’s university colleges than gliding along the Cam. Tours – in a private or shared boat – are 45 minutes long, while self-punting boats can be hired for 90 minutes or three hours. Stay at the Graduate, a boutique hotel (doubles from £215; graduatehotels.com). If the city stretch of river feels too busy, head to leafy Grantchester, and have post-punt tea and scones at the Orchard Tea Garden (theorchard teagarden.co.uk). scudamores.co.uk

Canyoning in the Falls of Bruar, Pitlochry, Perthshire

Canyoning isn’t for everyone – a white-knuckle mix of cliff jumping, wild swimming and natural water slides – but it’s ideal for teenage kids and active families. Lower Bruar Falls combines dramatic waterfalls and rock features with pine forests, and the footpath along the side of the canyon offers great photo opportunities for those who prefer dry land. Stay at the Knockendarroch Hotel, a charming 18-room country house (doubles from £270 B&B; knockendarroch.co.uk). naelimits.co.uk

Running around Rutland Water

A group of three men walk down a road on a hot day to Rutland Water, England, as four children run past them
Tranquil trails, Rutland. Photograph: Michael Foley/Alamy

Flat, mostly tarmac-surfaced and with tranquil lakeside views, Rutland Water is a runner’s dream. A full lap is 17 miles – 23 if you take in the peninsula – but there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the views, or sit in a café to refuel before walking back. Stay at the Finch’s Arms, a 17th-century inn on the Hambleton peninsula, with simple but cosy rooms (doubles from £100 B&B; finchsarms.co.uk). discover-rutland.co.uk

Wild swimming in the River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales

With its large shingle beach, deep pools and an island in the middle of the river, the Appletreewick stretch of the River Wharfe could have been designed for wild swims. There are rocks underneath, so diving isn’t a good idea, but the water is crystal clear and there are two pubs within walking distance. Stay in one of the three en suite Shepherds Huts at the Craven Arms pub (two-nights from £180; craven-cruckbarn.co.uk).

Birdwatching on the River Nene, Northamptonshire

Home to one of the largest reedbeds in England, the Nene Valley is heaven for birdwatchers, who can enjoy golden plovers, lapwings, long-eared owls and stonechats, alongside dozens of other species. The Nene wetlands annually welcome more than 20,000 waterbirds, which come to breed, or pause on their migration. Stay at Kettering Park, a modern comfortable hotel with an excellent spa (doubles from £161 B&B, ketteringparkhotel.co.uk). nenevalley.net

Learn to paddleboard, Bewl Water, Kent

Water’s edge of Bewl Water reservoir in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. An empty boat and a windsurfer are on the lake with a small ferry.
Calm waters, Bewl, Kent. Photograph: Sarah Marchant/Alamy

The calm waters of Bewl are an ideal place for a first go at standup paddleboarding, with tuition available for adults (two hours) and families (90 minutes, no under-sixes). The surrounding woodland makes it a wonderfully tranquil place to paddle, with boards available to hire for those who are already proficient. Stay at The Bell, an old coaching inn with quirky rooms and lodges (doubles from £110 B&B, thebellinticehurst.com). turtlebayatbewlwater.com

Windsurfing on Loch Ken, Galloway

One of the best spots to windsurf in Scotland, Loch Ken catches the region’s famed south-westerlies, with a training bay set up to ensure beginners can learn in a safe, controlled environment. Taster sessions and Royal Yachting Association (RYA) courses are on offer, along with a wide range of equipment to hire for those with more experience. Stay at Airds Farm, a traditional Galloway farmhouse with cosy rooms and hearty breakfasts (doubles from £85 B&B, airds.com). lochken.co.uk

Dip in Annalong River rock pools, County Down

Leave the car at Carrick Little car park and hike along the Annalong River to reach a series of pools and small waterfalls. The isolated location means you’ll often have them to yourself, and the water is wonderfully refreshing, with spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains while you bathe. Choose from a luxury log cabin, shepherd’s hut or cosy yurt at Willowtree Glamping in Annalong (two-night breaks from £280; willow3.co.uk).

Pony trekking on Loch Lomond

A morning on horseback offers the chance to explore the rugged moorland that rises up around the loch, offering glorious views across the water. Treks last for an hour, and proceed at a leisurely pace (no children under 12). Stay nearby at Sheildaig Farm (doubles from £110 B&B, sheildaigfarm.co.uk), which has three comfortable bedrooms. lomond-ponytreks.co.uk