Articles - Canoe & Kayak Touring Guide to The River Tweed

Canoe touring on the River Tweed
Canoe touring on the River Tweed
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 06 Jun 2011
The further North we venture in the UK the more opportunities for great canoe and kayaking touring trips arise. One of our favourites is the beautiful River Tweed. Rising in the Scottish Borders the Tweed is home to some spectacular touring and steeped in history along its length. In the past the Tweed was a natural resource and route to trade for nearby towns such as Galashiels, Kelso and Newstead, but nowadays the river provides a fantastic touring trip for anyone looking for a paddling journey through forever changing landscape, with some small, fun rapids in between to add a little spice.

As the river is not as busy as some of the other great touring rivers in the UK, you can usually find moments of pure solitude. The river can be run from Peebles all the way to Berwick upon Tweed, a full 110km trip taking over three or four days. If you’ve done trips on rivers like the Wye and the other Scottish classic the Spey then you’ll absolutely love the stunning scenery and occasionally wild feel of the Tweed.Canoe 7 kayak touring on the river Tweed in Scotland

The Tweed Valley is home to some grand historic buildings and castles and runs close in parts to Hadrian’s Wall. The Tweed, the UK’s ‘international’ river does steer an extraordinary course through both Scotland and England, in parts forming the border between the two countries, on its way to the North Sea. Its source is Tweed's Well in the Lowther Hills, some six miles north of Moffat and located inside the western half of the Southern Uplands a rather rugged border country.

The Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was fought over for countless years between Scotland and England, and was the scene of much bloodshed, notably at the hands of King John and later King Edward the first. It changed hands between Scottish and English rule for centuries until it permanently came under English administration in 1482. The Tweed Valley’s countryside, ruins and castles are literally soaked in folklore, legend and historical fact and you can feel it as you travel along its dark waters.

It is recommended that the Tweed be paddled no higher up than Peebles and it can be paddled right through to Berwick. It’s very easy to break down each section and access to the river is easy as the road is never far off.

As for when to go, well it will depend if you’re planning on doing a multi-day trip, as May and June are great times to take advantage of longer days and good weather, but some of the rapid sections might be a bit rocky. They’re still good fun though. The warmer months also, hopefully, allow for great camping weather but the Tweed is pretty much good all year round and can be lovely as an autumn or even winter touring destination.

Walkerburn to Kelso
Grade 2/3

This section of the river is the most popular section and can be broken down in to smaller trips accordingly if you fancy a shorter paddle. You can easily access the river at Walkerburn and take out at Galashiels. Walkerburn is located 40-miles south of the lively city of Edinburgh. Not surprisingly for the landscape, here lies an outdoor Mecca for walking, canoeing, kayaking and of course the steep tracks created by the encouraging Forestry Commission for the mountain biker to get their fix for downhill adrenaline. This open invite to amble across the Scottish countryside seems to attract many outdoor enthusiasts. However if you’re into paddle tripping and want to get a real feel for the landscape then wild camping is a great option. Do be considerate and only have a party of three to minimise your impact. Canoe & Kayaking small whitewater rapids on the River Tweed

Paddling this section of the Tweed over two days allows for a great experience for paddlers who want to do a multi-day trip but are not quite ready for a really wild trip, such as crossing Rannoch Moor for example. Over the two days you can pass through a range of woodland valleys and towns. Taking in the great views on offer. From Walkerburn the river ambles with no real challenges, if you opt to do this trip in the spring then you will be able to enjoy the woodland as it bursts in to life after its winter hibernation.

The Tweed can be paddled at all levels, but like most whitewater rivers, rainfall will determine whether it’s quick and bouncy or whether you might have to pole, if you’re in a canoe, some of the rapids. Either way the Tweed provides a good jaunt, with some great challenges.

The river soon widens as it skirts the town of Galashiels, and in the summer, inviting local people to the river to picnic and soak up the much-missed sun. Continuing in the same benign fashion the river then drifts out of the busy banks and returns to the welcoming peacefulness of the countryside. In places it feels like you really could be right out in the wilderness, as you paddle along with the sound of silence producing a pure paddling nirvana; and to think people say that the UK is over crowded. Round every corner is a view worth seeing, the veritable outdoor-enthusiasts sweet shop. On occasions you’ll round a corner to find a vintage bridge standing high with grace and grandeur over the river, dwarfing you below. Looking up at these monuments with reverence you soon realise that you couldn’t see the bridge from below any other way than by boat. The paddler’s eye view of the Tweed is a special one indeed.

The river then twists and turns back on itself until you find your ideal wild camping spot. The most inviting prospect to any paddler, walker or mountain biker is the ‘right to roam act’ that exists in Scotland. It enables canoeists and kayakers to paddle most rivers and camp anywhere respectfully. There is always a threat to this law with people sometimes abusing this privilege, leaving litter and damage, so we must all do our best to respect the environment we are travelling through, and keep it. Without it we would never be able to experience wilderness camping and multi-day canoe or kayak tripping to it’s fullest.
The journey down to Kelso contains a few more fun rapids, in high water they can become rather sporty and in an open canoe, loaded with gear, a portage might be on the cards. The river widens as you arrive into a Kelso, a small and scenic town.

Kelso to Berwick- upon-Tweed

This stretch of the Tweed allows you to unwind and really take in the landscape as it widens out around you. Predominantly flat water, this section provides a little light entertainment with small weirs, shingle rapids, islands and fish drops to negotiate. It’s easy and scenic paddling as you pass through the widened valley.Canoe 7 Kayak Camping on the River Tweed, a great canoe & kayak touring river

The theme of islands and shingle rapids continues without any real hazards to worry about as you cruise along the waters of the historic Tweed all the way to Berwick. A post paddle pint or ice cream will then be in order as you enjoy the delights of this picturesque town.

Outdoor Mecca

Mountain Biking

There is some amazing riding in the Tweed Valley. There’s the fantastic and famous Seven Stanes centres at Glentress and Innerleithen, which have a massive reputation for some of the best mountain biking in the UK. If you’re heading south and have a spare bit of time then, you can pop in to Dalby and Kielder Forest, which also offer some great biking routes. For some information visit and

The Scottish Borders and neighbouring Northumberland has some cracking walking. Whether it’s an amble with a teashop as your goal, or a big blustery day out on the hill, the area will provide. For a good on-line guide go to

Sea Kayaking
The coast just north and south of Berwick is home to some rugged and dramatic coastline. Dotted with castles and historic buildings. A great way to explore the coves of the east coast is by sea kayak. If you’re into sea kayaking it’s well worth a trip.

Useful InfoCanoeing on the river Tweed. The Tweed is a great touring river but it has some white water rapids too


Campsite Finder

Further Reading
Scottish Canoe Classics by Pesda Press

Canoe & Kayak Touring map of the River Tweed

Check out more great places to paddle HERE

If you enjoyed this article then Check out Canoeing in the Lake District and Canoeing on Wastwater
A Guide to Canoe Camping

Useful Videos How To Canoe Video Tips

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