Canoeing The River Tay – Wonderful Water And Wild Camping

Canoeing The River Tay – Wonderful Water And Wild Camping

Canoeing the River Tay in its entirety had been on my trip list for a while. Previously I’d paddled sections of the river as day trips but never the whole river. Having been impressed by the qualities of the sections of the river I’d seen, I was keen to canoe the river from start to finish in a single multi-day trip.

The Tay flows into the sea on the east coast of Scotland, via the Tay estuary, or Firth of Tay. This tidal section is lenghty (to paddle the whole section as the tide is going out) and contains fast moving water but under the right conditions is navigable by canoe if you know what you are doing.

Wild camping in the woods near the river Tay
Wild camp in the woods by the upper reaches of the River Tay. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The River Tay proper starts at the outflow of Loch Tay at Kenmore and flows first east then south to Perth, where the river than becomes tidal. There are a number of tributaries flowing into Loch Tay, however, and the headwaters of the Tay system as a whole are generally considered to be on the flanks of Ben Lui.

Canoe on Loch Tay
Looking back at Loch Tay from the beach at Kenmore. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

I wanted to start our journey as far upstream as practical. We settled on putting onto the River Fillan near the village of Crianlarich. You may have heard of this place as it is on the route of the West Highland Way as well as the point at which two railway lines converge. One rail route serves Fort William, the other Oban.

Dusky setting with sunset clounds train crossing bridge
As we ready to put onto a flat water section of the River Fillan at dusk, the Caledonian Sleeper train crosses the bridge at Crianlarich. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

So, this is all quite far west. Indeed, Ben Lui is only 25 miles from the west coast. Starting at Crianlarich, then, our trip canoeing the Tay to this extent, meant we would be crossing a good chunk the lower Scottish highlands and ending up on the east coast. Indeed, the River Tay is Scotland’s longest river. The planned trip, then, would take us the best part of a week, with the intention of including the estuary section as far as Broughty Ferry.

Watch an account of the trip in the video below…

There is a satisfaction that comes from planning and executing a self contained, self-propelled journey. It’s a satisfaction independent of the details of the journey in question. For a trip to be memorable after the fact, though, it generally needs to have contained some challenges.

Even though we were early in the season, we had fine, sunny weather, which wasn’t entirely expected. The prevailing wind in the UK is generally westerly but on this trip we had and easterly wind, which was was against us as we crossed from west to east. Also, it had been a poor winter for snow, so there wasn’t much water in some of the tributaries. This combination of low water and headwind slowed us down, particularly in the early stages of the trip.

Despite the challenges, there were some wonderful wild camps, along the waterways and by the side of lochs, one of which we would never have witnessed had we stuck to our original plan. You can see more details of our camps in the video above.

canoe in the distance on Loch Tay with low sun
Working into the wind until late in the day on Loch Tay. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Loch Tay shoreline wild camp
Paul “Spoons” Nicholls in our wild camp on the rugged shoreline of Loch Tay. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

For this trip I invited Paul “Spoons” Nicholls to join me and the intention for him was for this trip to increase his experience of multi-day canoe tripping. Spoons had canoed the River Spey with Ray Goodwin and me but the Tay was going to be a more varied, and in some ways more difficult journey, with us having to apply a wider range of canoe journeying techniques, including lining and portaging as well as paddling.

There were small streams up to big bouncy rapids to negotiate, calm river sections of crystal clear water as well as at least one large lake, Loch Tay. This canoe trip down the River Tay exceeded our expectations, providing a magical mix of canoeing, nature and wild camping, with ample opportunity to apply everyday bushcraft techniques along the way.

Trees chewed by beaver on the river Tay
Clear sign of beaver on the banks of the River Tay. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Osprey at the top of a tree near the River Tay
We saw multiple Ospreys during our trip on the River Tay. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Pot hanger and pot over fire on rocky river bed
We wild camped for the whole trip, with minimal impact. Here we had a fire on the dried up bed of a section of a side-channel of the river. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

I hope you enjoy the virtual experience of joining us on the trip, canoeing the River Tay and wild camping via the video embedded above. I’d love to know what you think in the comments below. I read every comment on my blog and, as always, replies are from me personally.

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17 thoughts on “Canoeing The River Tay – Wonderful Water And Wild Camping

  1. Very enjoyable Paul, You and Spoons were a fun Team to watch and I liked learning of the methods you use to avoid swamping and or getting through difficult areas. Had you had time to film more of your camp set ups I would have liked that as well. Great Job, Thank You & as Always, Blessings from Oregon! … Mike.

    1. Hi Mike,

      As always, it’s good to hear from you. I’m pleased you found this video both fun and educational.

      I’ve noted your comments about camp set-ups. I’ll try to get more footage of this aspect on future trips.

      Warm regards,


  2. Great read Paul. Thank you. Looked a real adventure braced by craft and skill to make wild camping more comfortable and enjoyable. Great tips that encourage spending more time outdoors.

    1. Hi Murray, thanks for your feedback on this blog. I’m glad you appreciated what we shared here.

      Warm regards,


  3. Inspirational, proving wilderness canoe adventure is right on our doorstep and can be great fun. Thanks for putting in the time to get all the footage into an enjoyable watch.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your feedback. Yes, adventures can usually be found where you look for them. I’m happy you enjoyed coming along on this one with us ๐Ÿ™‚

      Warm regards,


  4. Hi Paul. Boy I can’t wait to paddle with you after the GBS. Watching this video is so much like what we are doing over here. I noticed that the canoes
    are outfitted with lash loops exactly like we do our boats. Thats awesome. Thanks for the video and see you soon.

    1. Hi Dale,

      It’s good to hear from you here on my blog. Welcome!

      I’m glad you enjoyed this video. I’m very much looking forward to our forthcoming paddling trip.

      See you soon!

      Warm regards,


  5. Great video Paul, thanks for sharing. Coincidentally, I have just returned from Ullswater on a family canoe/bushcraft weekend and I asked the young guide what his favourite experience was. He said โ€œcanoeing the length of the River Tay… with Ray Goodwin!โ€ (MBE)

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comments Mark. I’m glad you enjoyed the video. The Tay is a great river to paddle, with or without Ray haha.

      As for Ullswater, I also really enjoy paddling that lake. Lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Hope you had a good time.

      Warm regards,


  6. Paul, what type or brand of Canadian Canoe would you recommend for a big pup like myself I’m 6ft 6 and 24 stone.

    After a first canoe for wilderness bushcraft trips in my area. I want something sturdy and well put together that can carry me and good bit of kit but not too heavy for a portage or two. Think I’ll also have to book myself onto a course with you an Ray.

    1. Hi Russell,

      Sorry I missed your comment until now. My bad.

      I would look at 16ft boats. If you want something not too heavy then look for a second hand Royalex boat. If you don’t want too much gear in the boat, then look for a Wenonah Prospector (16ft). If you want to load a bit more gear, then maybe a Nova Craft Prospector (16ft). A really good boat for you if you want to do more white water would be be a new Esquif Prospecteur 16 in Tformex, if your budget will stretch to it.

      I hope this helps.

      Warm regards,


  7. That looked really good Paul ,can’t beat camping by river ,great filming .

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