kayaking ullswater canoe views

Yesterday me and my teen took a spontaneous day off to go kayaking at Ullswater in the Lake District.

A few months ago, we’d taken a short break in Ullswater and I’d got up early to watch the sunrise. On the way back to our hotel, I saw a couple of women taking a canoe onto the water and I was struck by how perfect and peaceful that must be.

So, inspired by the Canoe Ladies, we spent a few months kayak hunting. It’s not as easy as I thought! Since lockdown, sales of affordable kayaks have (apparently) gone wild, and they’re sometimes hard to find in stock. We eventually found a decent sit-on top kayak at an amazing price at Costco (currently out of stock) and a second kayak was in stock at Shore.co.uk (it’s currently out of stock, but is similar to this one).

Getting Kitted up for Kayaking

We are total beginners to owning kayaks, but we have certainly paddled a few in our time.

I’m a scout leader with a Sea Scout group, and we’ve taken multiple sea kayaking trips in California, paddling at sunset and exploring sea caves. With that in mind, I was quite confident about the sort of kayak we needed to buy, and the important accessories.

sit on top kayak

Both our kayaks are sit-on top models. This means they’re quite fast, but importantly they’re very stable, virtually unsinkable and reasonably easy to get back on, if we DO manage to fall off.

Alongside our kayaks, I made sure we had a throw line (this sort of rope can be a tow line, or used to secure a kayak), and a dry bag, so we could take a phone with us on the water. You’ll also need to make sure you have life jackets. Lastly, I decided kayak insurance was a good idea, in case a kayak gets bumped, or stolen.

We did also think about the size of the kayak and how we will transport it. To begin with we bought these soft roof bars. They sit on top of the car and a strap goes inside the car doors to hold them in place. They cost about 25% of what fixed roof bars cost, and I’ve used them overseas on rental cars, so I know they easily hold a kayak or paddle board. We used the two included load straps along with two extra ratchet straps to hold the front and back of the kayak, and the good news is it stayed put and there was no kayak flying off the car emergency!

soft roof bars

However, once we had two kayaks, we invested in some Thule roof bars and a Sports Bar, that we can attach two kayaks to.

loch morar

Where to Kayak in the Ullswater and the Lake District

We are so lucky that the South Lakes are just an hour from where we live, and we can get to the Western Lakes in under 90 minutes. We are also happy that (so far) most of the Lake District car parks don’t require booking, and most of the water doesn’t require a permit or license.

What I hope to do with our unexpected summer in the UK is to get the kayaks out on as many of the Lake District lakes as possible, so I’ve been checking out where we can go, and what permits, parking etc we need to plan for. In case you are inspired to get out on the water this summer, here’s what we’ve found:

Kayaking at Ullswater:

I started our Lake District mission at Ullswater because it’s easy to get to, relatively quiet compared to Windermere, and the views are so pretty. There’s plenty of public shore, which means you are allowed to launch boats from lots of different places. Top tip – if you park at Glencoyne, you can pay ahead of time using an app, and you can arrive from very early in the morning. The launch site is right across from the car park, so it’s a very easy walk.

kayaking ullswater

Kayaking at Windermere and Coniston 

You can paddle on Windermere and Coniston without any permits, but both are likely to be busy in the summer months, and allow powered crafts. I’m more likely to visit here during quiet periods of the year and using the Lake District website to find out which areas of the park (and car parks) are quiet, or busy.

Kayak at Buttermere 

There are no powered craft allowed in Buttermere Valley, which means it is gorgeously peaceful. You need a permit to canoe or kayak on these waters. If you need a one-day permit you can buy it from the parking machine at the National Trust car park in Buttermere, otherwise you can buy an annual permit over the phone from the rangers.

It’s best to get here early in the morning. There is a limit of ten crafts allowed on the water at any time (including canoes, kayaks and paddle boards), so you’ll need to beat the crowds in the summer. Park at Gatesgarth (CA13 9UZ) and it’s a 5 minute walk to the Southern edge of the lake, which is the BEST place to watch the sun rise.

kayaking lake district


The water at Bassenthwaite is also available to paddle, but you must buy a permit before going onto the water. You can do this online and a permit costs £50 per person for six months (or you can just buy a day’s access for £6).

There’s no specific car park here – the “parking” is a series of lay-bys along the side of the lake. My best recommendation is to “lake view spot” lay-by (that’s what it’s called on Google), which is about two thirds down the West side of this lake. Here you’ll find a gate with a path down to a launch site, and the slight bay here means you’re protected from wind and it’s a lovely spot for a swim and a picnic.

Kayaking on Derwentwater

We kayaked on Derwentwater when we visited relatives who live at the Northern end of the Lake District. Canoes and kayaks are allowed here, and access is pretty easy, just check the maps that are on the lakeside for public shore access. The views on Derwentwater are so pretty, and there are plenty of little spots to hop in and out of the water. If you park at the Lakeside theatre car park in Keswick there’s a launch site here that’s used by the local hire company. Remember to have change to pay for parking.

Kayaking Wastwater

Wastwater has some of the best views in England and you can paddle here, but there are strict limits on the number of crafts that can be on the water at any given time. Depending which site you look at, this is either 10 or 12 boats. I’d recommend looking to arrive here early in the day to get the best access, and visiting on quieter days if you can. I think we’ll end up here at the tail end of the summer to get the most peaceful experience.

kayak guide lake district

A Pretty Perfect Day

Honestly, kayaking in the Lake District is the perfect way to get to know our new kayaks AND get a bit of freedom and adventure during lockdown.

plus size wetsuit uk

Am I an expert kayaker? No. Do I look a bit daft trying to get out of a kayak? Probably. Do I care? Definitely not.

With everything going on in everyone’s lives at the moment it’s never a bad idea to take a little time out and enjoy some fresh air and open spaces.

It turns out that kayaking is also a pretty decent workout, and my arms and chest have a decent ache this morning after using lots of energy on the water.

Arriving before 10am meant it was very quiet, and for several hours, we were the only people on the lake. We paddled, we took pictures, we sang made-up songs and admired the view.

We took towels and dry clothes, so when we got out of the water we could get changed. I’d also packed a thermos flask full of chilli, plus some cheese and crackers. After we’d got changed, we had a gorgeous picnic by the lake, sheltering under a huge tree from the light drizzle of rain.

Nobody fell over, and we even managed to get the kayak strapped back onto the car in under 30 minutes.

I’m calling our first kayaking experience in the Lake District a 10/10, would highly recommend!


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.