Canoeing the  Great Glen has become one of the most popular self guided expeditions in Scotland in recent years and we are now seeing a huge increase in bookings and enquiries  of enquiries for canoe and kayak  hire for self guided Great Glen canoe and kayak trips. Due to the increase in enquiries and there being a lot of common questions asked, we thought that a wee blog post with some useful information and guidance would be a good thing to do!

So Where To Start??

A good place to start when planning your trip along the Great Glen would be to do a little bit of research about what you are actually getting involved in, what your options are, what kind of water and paddling conditions to expect and then to have a self check against your own ability. We speak to a lot of people every season, some with none or very little canoeing experience or many that have done a few days here and there in very sheltered water. Although the trail is an inland waterway with some sections of very sheltered canal, only 22 miles of the Caledonian Canal are man-made canal with the remainder crossing four lochs including Loch Lochy (12 miles) and Loch Ness (22 miles). Even though the lochs are inshore, they are classed as open water by the Coastguard. Waves of over three metres in height have been recorded at the end of Loch Ness and it has it’s very own life boat!

To help you with your trip we have added a link to a few short safety video to highlight those conditions and the safety and rescue skills that you and your group may have to undertake when on the Trail as well.

Canoe Trail Equipment Video

Canoe Trail Safety Video

Canoe Portage Video

RNLI Video

There is also free downloadable Canoe Trail Guide Map which is designed to compliment the use of Ordanance Survey Landranger maps, not replace them. Safety information and emergency contact details are highlighted on the Trail Guide Map for your convenience.

Once You've Decided To Take on the Trip

there will be a number of factors to consider.

These include;

  • the type of craft (Open canoe, sea kayak or touring kayak) Please use this link for our canoe and kayak hire information
  • group size (safety in numbers/ size of group for wild camping)
  • experience in group (ability of paddlers including rescue skills)
  • guided or self guided
  • trip registration with Scottish Canals
  • duration of Trail visit (have you allowed enough time to cover weather delays?)
  • food planning (buying food on the Trail will help reduce portage weight – see Food & Drink and Other Services Section further on)
  • setting dates  (remember to register your trip 5 working days in advance)
  • insurance (do you have canoe / paddler  insurance?)

Simple rules to follow on the Trail.

On The Canal

  • Look out for and use the Canoe Trail pontoons
  • Paddle on the right hand side
  • Give way to other traffic – canoes are more manoeuvrable than yachts or cruisers
  • Be alert, make yourself and your canoe visible to approaching craft – wear bright colours and don’t paddle at night or in poor visibility
  • Watch out for wake caused by larger boats
  • Do not  canoe sail on the man-made canal sections
  • Do not swim in the canal, no matter how tempting it may appear
  • Biosecurity

Remember the canal is home to two fleets of holiday hire cruisers. These are often skippered by novice boaters and you should expect the unexpected when paddling near them

On the Lochs

  • Open water paddling is not for novices – get appropriate training or join a guided expedition
  • Ensure you have the latest weather forecast – pay particular attention to the wind strength and direction
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions
  • Stay alert and be visible to other boaters – fast RIBS operate on Loch Ness so make sure you can easily be seen
  • Choose a shore to paddle along and stick to it. Take OS maps for details of lochside road access & village facilities
  • Be aware that the water in lochs Ness and Lochy is very cold – often only 4C
  • Stay together as a group and look out for each other
  • Be prepared to take shelter should the weather change – build extra time into your schedule to allow for this
  • Paddlers of open boats should generally avoid being on the lochs when there are breaking waves – we strongly advise against the use of inflatable boats and sit on tops by inexperienced paddlers
  • Be very careful around water outlets and intakes of power stations and weirs along the lochs. Avoid them were possible
  • In the event of an emergency on the water, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard

Always wear a personal buoyancy aid when on the water. It is useful to also have a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch on your person or in your buoyancy aid should you fall out of your boat and need to summon assistance. (Reception can be patchy in some areas of the Trail). Have a contact ashore whom you call each day to let them know when you’re launching and then again when you’re safely ashore.

If you would like any more information on the trip or would like to hire boats, please give us a call on 01809 501459 or email info@activehighs.co.uk after looking at our canoe hire page.