White beaches, turquoise shores and crystal clear rivers. This might sound like the description of a Caribbean island and it could well be.
However, this is in fact a typical portrait of much of Scotland’s coastline and waterways too – traits enjoyed by many of the water sports enthusiasts that travel here in their thousands every year.
Be it sailing, canoeing, water skiing or scuba diving, Scotland has it all.
For example, the country is reckoned to be one of the best locations in the world for canoeing, offering fantastic white water sections, river and loch systems, and remote areas to explore. This is on top of the opportunity to travel across the entire country – either via the Caledonian Canal or by more adventurous routes.
Commonly paddled rivers include the Tay and Spey, with lochs Lomond, Earn, Morlich and Tay all being popular destinations too.
There are several companies offering instruction in basic and advanced techniques, as well as those offering guided trips and canoe hire. Many of the canoe clubs across Scotland now offer open canoeing as well as inland or sea kayaking.
For the sailors out there, Scotland has numerous marinas and pontoon facilities that have increased in line with the country’s popularity as a cruising destination. It is now possible to completely circumnavigate the country using only marinas or pontoons for overnight stops, with the longest passage being less than 70 nautical miles along the north coast between Kinlochbervie and Orkney. These modern and well-equipped facilities cater for all tastes and boat types, and have opened up the coast to all types of sailors.
Scotland is also one of the top ten diving destinations in the world due to the many wreckages and reefs that adorn its coastline and rivers. Dry suits are usually required for diving in Scotland, but the majority of dive schools hire out the gear as part of a package.
One of the best diving spots in Scotland can be found off Orkney, where the wreckage of the Second World War German fleet that was scuttled at Scapa Flow can be found.
Other great spots include Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders on the east coast, where there is a growing dive community and improving facilities for beginners keen to try their hand, and Oban on the west coast of Scotland is another great option.
Training is essential, however, and can be arranged through the Scottish Sub Aqua Club (SSAC), which offers diver training suitable for local conditions. SSAC has a number of branches across the country.
White Water Rafting
For those who are after even more of an adrenaline rush, white water rafting is perhaps the most popular adventure sport.
Rafting can be enjoyed all year round. If you're looking for something more gentle then try rafting in the height of summer. For thrill seekers, try rafting just after the snow melts in early spring, or after heavy rainfall, when many Scottish Rivers raft to grade four and five.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all water sports is kitesurfing, a fairly new sport that has developed over the past few years. It’s appeal seems to lie in the fact it’s very active, a lot of fun, but potentially dangerous.
The sport is a cross between windsurfing, surfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding and flying a very large kite. It essentially involves being pulled by a power kite across the water, while riding a surfboard/wakeboard.
As with all new sports, it is advisable to take a series of lessons from a qualified instructor before starting.
Most kitesurfing takes place just off the beach, particularly where there is an onshore breeze and shallow water. Popular Scottish kitesurfing locations include Tiree, Isle of Lewis, Troon, Nairn, Elie and Longniddry.
Ask any surfer what they look for and you might hear the words reef, tube, double-overhead, offshore and swell. If you ask a Scottish surfer they might add in the words minus six, screaming onshore and six millimetre wetsuits.
But they'll also tell you the waves can be world class and are never busy – they'll probably also make sure you know that the conditions were better yesterday and may well be perfect tomorrow.
Lindsay Gillies, a keen surfer from Glasgow, shares his experience of catching the waves in Scotland.
“I've surfed in a few different countries around the world and it's bliss to catch a wave in board shorts,” he said. “And, while I know it will be a rare day when I can do that in Scotland, I don't have to take a plane to a Scottish wave, and when I get to the beach, the few people there are always friendly. Our waves are as good as they come – Thurso East on the far North is an annual stop off for the Cold Water Classic competition – The Hawaiians, Australians and Californian's do look a bit perplexed by an overhead, tubing wall of peat black water, but the resultant wave can be perfect.”
More information on how to get involved in the water sports in Scotland