Scotland’s varied coastline and inland waters in both urban and rural settings provide a wealth of exciting leisure and adventure opportunities all year round. In 2020, the country’s coasts and waters will be celebrated with a year-long programme of events that showcase the amazing array of aquatic things to see and do across Scotland.
Special events for 2020
A set of exciting events will put Scotland’s Coasts and Waters in the spotlight throughout 2020, including regular gems such as Crail Food Festival and the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy, as well as an expanded Clydebuilt Festival and The Fife Regatta. The Edinburgh International Film Festival will also run a special set of screenings called Scotland’s Shores, showcasing the nation’s spectacular coastal charms in addition to a special outdoor coastal experience.
Aberdeen’s position as a place to spot dolphins will be celebrated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at DolphinFest 2020, while National Theatre of Scotland is developing a production called Ferry Tales to celebrate Scotland’s waters and the journeys made across them. Scotland’s Boat Show and Kip Marina will also showcase ‘River of Light’, a special event featuring numerous illuminated boats in October 2020.
The country’s lochs, rivers and canals have helped to shape the nation’s history and the provide visitors with a wealth of experiences from boat trips and adventure sports to wildlife watching and diving with large marine creatures. In addition to the many events planned to celebrate the year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters, visitors can navigate around Scotland’s many isles and waterways, dive in to the country’s maritime heritage and embrace its waterways as part of a range of seasonal activities to be enjoyed at different points throughout the year.
The Loch Ness 360 Trail
Connecting the Great Glen Way with the South Loch Ness Trail, the Loch Ness 360° Trail is a new long-distance walking and cycling route around the striking Loch Ness landscape. Covering a distance of circa 80 miles, it will take walkers around six days to complete the trail, although the route can be split up into sections for more manageable experiences. Taking in the city of Inverness, as well as Drumnadrochit, Invermoriston, Fort Augustus, Foyers and Dores, there are numerous spectacular sights and stopping points along the way. For those wanting to discover more about the history of the loch and the surrounding highlands, guided tours and bike hire are available. Look out for the splendour of Urquhart Castle and the Telford Bridge on-route, alongside the Falls of Foyers, where the water cascades 165ft down over the clifftop.
With its unique mix of calm lochs, crashing waves and fast moving rapids in addition to more than 6,000 miles of coastline, Scotland’s waters are well-suited to an array of different water sports. Outdoor activity centres across the country offer everything from gentle introductory lessons to the toughest challenges, meaning there is something to suit all ages and abilities.
Diving and snorkelling
Scotland’s Coasts and Waters are home to wonderfully diverse marine life and numerous ship wrecks that are incredibly popular with divers. Nestled in the heart of the Orkney Islands, Scapa Flow is one of the largest sheltered anchorages in the world and is a graveyard of sunken ships. Explore the Sound of Mull with Lochaline or dive into the history of the Firth of Clyde on a Wreckspedition Dive Charter. Whether visitors are looking for day trips or even on-board accommodation on specialist dive boats, Scotland has a range of options to suit. The Puffin Dive Centre in Oban provides opportunities for beginners to discover the delights of scuba diving, while selected parts of the coasts of Berwickshire and the North West Highlands are designated snorkel trails, where visitors can catch a glimpse of everything from sea squirts and anemones to dolphins and whales.
Kayaking and canoeing
As a paradise for paddlers, both the inland and sea waters of Scotland are packed full of opportunities to try out kayaking and canoeing. The River Tay has conditions to suit both beginners and advanced kayakers, with both tandem and single craft available from Outdoors Explore. Alternatively, visitors can get to grips with a paddle on Britain’s largest body of fresh water at Loch Lomond, ably supported by Wild By Nature. Scotland’s eclectic coastline boasts an abundance of caves, cliffs, tunnels and secluded beaches to explore as part of a sea kayak adventure too. A range of day trips and multi-day expeditions allow visitors to uncover new sights, paddle alongside local wildlife and take in the region’s spectacular geography. The Orkney Sea Kayaking Association can help visitors to discover Orkney’s famous Old Man of Hoy while the Scottish Sea Kayaking Trail is a challenging 500km voyage around the most scenic parts of the Highlands and Isles.
White water rafting
The rivers of Scotland offer some of Britain’s most thrilling natural white water rafting experiences which can be enjoyed all year round by both first time rafters and adrenaline junkies. Calmer waters in the summer months are ideal for beginners, while challenging Grade 4 or 5 rafting follows the snow melts in early spring or periods of heavy rainfall. The River Findhorn in the Cairngorms National Park offers exceptional thrills and beautiful scenery, as the river drops 500ft over 18 miles. As one of Scotland’s last wild rivers, weather conditions often regulate which sections of the river can be used! The fast-flowing rapids of the River Tay are popular with thrill-seekers, while scheduled dam releases on the River Garry near Fort William provide highly graded waters from April to October.
Canyoning and coasteering
Whether leaping from rock ledges into natural pools or exploring shorelines without a boat, Scotland’s Coast and Waters offer plenty of exhilarating canyoning, gorge-walking and coasteering experiences. The country’s glens, forests and rivers provide a natural playground for an adventure trip that can be enjoyed by all the family. With support from qualified instructors and high-quality kit, it’s an opportunity to see the coastline from a new perspective.
St Ninian’s Isle on Shetland
Venture across a spectacular natural sand pathway to discover St Ninian’s Isle. The vast tombolo – a bar of sand and shingle – is the largest active feature of this type in Britain, and it provides a walking route to discover the historic remains of St Ninian’s Chapel, once the home of a Pictish treasure hoard that is now housed in museums across Scotland. Glance out over the rocky islets of Coar Holm and Inns Holm and see nature in all its glory.
Dolphin spotting - Banffshire Coast and Moray Firth
Known as the ‘Dolphin Coast’, the Banffshire Coast and Moray coast are renowned as being waters where visitors can see bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment. The colony of dolphins in the Moray Forth is the most northerly on earth and are among the biggest too, averaging nearly 4 metres in length. Chanonry Point near Fortrose and the imposing military fortification at Fort George are popular spots to spy on the dolphins from land, while chartered boat trips and wildlife cruises can take visitors on a memorable ride closer to the action.
Swim with basking sharks
Visitors can swim with the second largest fish on the planet during the summer months, as basking sharks are regularly spotted in waters off the west coast of Scotland. The huge species, growing up to 10 metres long, are placid, toothless creatures, meaning it’s possible to swim with them and a wide variety of other wildlife including dolphins and seals. Tours run from April to October, coinciding with the migration of the sharks to Scottish waters, and swimming, kayaking and snorkelling around the creatures is incredibly popular. Hotspots include around the coast of Oban, the Firth of Clyde and near the Isles of Coll, Canna and Tiree.
Isle of Jura
Explore the wild Isle of Jura, home to an award-winning distillery, incredible mountains, a swirling whirlpool and a thriving population of around 6000 wild deer. Tours of the Jura Distillery reveal how the island’s natural elements have influenced the production process while the Corryvreckan Whirlpool is among the largest permanent whirlpools on earth. Boat trips to the surrounding waters run regularly, allowing visitors to hear the incredible roar of the water.
Dip in the Firth of Forth
An annual custom since 1986, hundreds of people dive into the waters of the Firth of Forth in South Queensferry as part of Loony Dook. Often wearing fancy dress and all in the name of charity, the tradition to mark Hogmanay is viewed as a fresh way to start the new year. The name is an amalgamation of ‘Loony’ – short for lunatic – and ‘Dook’, a Scottish term for ‘dip’ or ‘bathe’. Visitors are welcome to take part in the custom or to cheer on the Dookers as they make their way down to the beach.
Surf the Atlantic
Scotland’s west coast features stunning scenery, rich cultural heritage and incredible surfing conditions as a result of strong prevailing south westerly winds. Thurso, on the northerly tip of the Scottish mainland, is renowned for its waves, while the Isle of Tiree provides abundant surfing conditions and is home to the Tiree Wave Classic in October, one of Britain’s premier windsurfing competitions.
Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa
Created some 60 million years ago by the same lava flows that were responsible for the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Fingal’s Cave is home to an incredible set of volcanic basalt columns. Found on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, the 69-metre-high cave has astonishing acoustics and can be viewed from cruise vessels in the summer months. The island is dominated by seabirds including guillemots, razorbills, gannets and great skuas, while puffins use it as a breeding site between May and August.
Up Helly Aa
Celebrated on the last Tuesday of January every year, Up Helly Aa involves a set of marches that culminates in a torch-lit procession and the burning of a galley. Held in the bustling seaport of Lerwick on the picturesque Shetland Isles, the celebration of the region’s Viking heritage is a superb spectacle as the fire festival lights up the night sky.
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