The light is returning, the weather improving and it’s time to go outside and get active. We have the most incredible outdoor playground: hills and mountains, lochs and rivers, and thousands of miles of coastline. The range of activities has also vastly increased: but do you know your canyoning from your coasteering? Or the best places to learn to dive or surf? Ailsa Sheldon meets expert instructors to find out more about their sports ...and how we can all get involved.


Ocean Vertical

Coasteering is a journey in the intertidal zone: the area of coastline between the high and low watermark. Stevie Boyle of Ocean Vertical says: “We explore the coastline using rock and water, swimming around, and jumping off things. The exploration is about what you find there, so all of the caves, gullies and things you can’t see from anywhere else.”


Coasteering is all about the journey and making discoveries. “We’re looking at all the marine life. We regularly see seals and occasionally dolphins and whales. And then at the microenvironments, so all the crabs, sea urchins and sea anemones that live in the cliffs and the rock pools,” says Stevie. “Then we also do all the cool stuff you’re not allowed to do in swimming pools anymore. Running around, having fun, jumping off things and swimming – the kind of stuff that makes you feel alive, but in a very cool environment. People love it, they feel really connected.”

Coasteering is not a sport you can do by yourself. It’s very important to go with a guide who is following the National Coasteering Charter Guidelines. Stevie explains: “Every venue has different characteristics. If we’re going to a new venue we’ll go at all tide states, we’ll go back over and over again, we’ll measure jump heights and water depths. That’s why it needs to be organised. The guides go through really robust training to keep you safe.”


Ocean Vertical takes small groups coasteering in Dunbar, North Berwick and Eyemouth and provides all the kit you need. It’s not just a good weather activity. “You can do it in all weathers and at most times of year,” says Stevie. “The only thing that stops us from going out is massive waves. The understanding of the sport is growing,” says Stevie, “and it’s up to us to let people know anyone can do it. If you’re okay getting in the water, you can coasteer. Your adventure level needs to be there, but there’s nothing we do that you can’t walk or swim round.

“The jumps are just part of the journey. It’s about finding your level and you can either try and push it or stay at your comfort level. It’s totally up to you.”



Skinny Tyres

The Hebridean Way spans 10 islands, six causeways and nearly 200 miles. Starting in Vatersay you’ll cycle all the way to the Butt of Lewis via Barra, Eriskay, Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray and Harris, travelling south to north in the hope of keeping the wind behind you.


While you can organise the trip yourself and carry all your kit, for an easier ride Skinny Tyres will be your pit crew: booking hotels and ferries, providing food and drink and supporting you on the route.

The Hebridean Way was launched in 2016 by record-breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont who completed the route in 12 hours. With Skinny Tyres you’ll take four days, with a day either side for travel to and from Oban. This will give you more time to soak up the scenery, wildlife and culture of the island communities you’ll pedal through.


Scot Tares, who runs Skinny Tyres, ensures cyclists are looked after.

“We have support vans that are fully customised with a workshop in the back, with spare bikes, spare tyres, spare wheels: so if anything goes wrong we can fix it on the road,” says Scot. “There aren’t just bike shops everywhere that you can pop into. We also carry people’s day bags with spare clothes and plenty of food and water.” This helps with the sometimes unpredictable weather.


“Last year we had one day when it started snowing on Harris so everyone was able to put on all their winter kit, then put it back in the van half an hour later when the sun came out. If you were doing it by yourself, you’d need massive panniers to carry all that stuff. It makes it a stress-free trip so folk can just enjoy the riding.

“It’s more of an adventure ride than a challenge ride,” adds Scot, and there’s no need to be a 100-mile a week club cyclist. I can’t think of anywhere else in Europe that has this kind of cycling, on and off ferries and riding over causeways between islands, every day is different and the scenery is incredible.”


If you’re not a cyclist, a separate walking route traverses the same islands over a slightly shorter distance – but it’s still 156 miles.



The Canyoning Company, Dunkeld

Canyoning is sometimes known as a more advanced version of gorge walking, but there’s more to it than that, as Ben Case from The Canyoning Company in Dunkeld explains.


“Canyoning is a perfect mix of different outdoor activities. It’s the descent of a river system by any means. It involves rock climbing skills, as there is often abseiling and rappelling. Jumping, sliding and swimming is an important part as most canyons have water in them. Oh, and it’s super fun!”

The Canyoning Company, which operates all over Scotland and runs overseas trips, has canyons in Dumfries and Galloway, Clackmannanshire, Perthshire and the Highlands.


“Scotland’s classic is the Bruar canyon,” says Ben, “Just 15 minutes from Pitlochry the famous Bruar Falls flows through the Atholl Estate. Bruar is a very special place for canyoning in Scotland. Its first descent was over 20 years ago and was one of the first venues in Scotland. It has exquisite waterfalls and rock features surrounded by beautiful pine forests. This canyon has everything to offer; awesome jumps ranging from two to 10 metres, flumes, vertical rockslides and awesome waterfall abseils. It is non-stop fun, with something for everyone!

“The canyon has a footpath running up the side so it’s great for friends or family to come and watch and take photos,” Ben says. “The Bruar canyoning experience is one you will remember forever and will leave you hooked on the sport. That’s a promise.”


I ask Ben how easy it is to get started. “These trips are suitable for everyone, especially families and larger groups, “Ben says. “The canyons are not committing, which means we can exit at most points during the trip. What we call our discovery canyons are great for people who have never tried it before, though these canyons are fantastic fun even for an advanced level.” The Canyoning Company will provide all the equipment you need and even take photos. “All you’ll need to bring, says Ben, is “a towel, swimwear and a sense of adventure.”



Blackhouse Watersports, Tiree

Iona Larg runs Blackhouse Watersports on Tiree with her husband Marti. They’ve brought their kids up surfing on the island and son Ben is now a champion surfer, so who better to quiz on surfing in Scotland?


“On Tiree, we’re really lucky, because we’ve got this really beautiful small island with beaches facing every direction,” says Iona. “You’re only ever a ten-minute drive from another beach with completely different waves. We get a variety of waves throughout the year so It’s a really great place to come and learn to surf.”


Over the years surfing holidays on Tiree have grown in popularity but you can still expect quiet beaches: “Before if people were coming to Tiree and they saw there was a surf school then they might come and have a go,” says Iona. “Now we have people specifically choosing to come to Tiree to learn to surf. It’s a really lovely place to learn. We’ve got really consistent conditions and it’s super friendly but never super busy.”


Surfing is brilliant for families. Iona says: “You can come and get a couple of lessons, then rent some equipment and keep practising and be out on the beach all day. You’re all outside and learning something together. Surfing is such a great leveller too,” says Iona. “Even the best surfers are going to fall in. You’ve just got to be able to go with it.”

Local knowledge helps the Blackhouse Watersports instructors plan great lessons for all abilities. “We’ll always work with the tides and the weather so people get the most out of their lessons,” says Iona, “and we’ve invested in really good quality wetsuits and the best equipment we can get. I’d say 99.9 per cent of people have a great time.”


To learn to surf, Iona says: “You just need the desire to do it, and not be afraid of falling in the water. For your first couple of lessons, you’re not going to be out of your depth. We take it at everybody’s level. We’ve had over-70s coming for their first go and loving it.” “We’ve got great surf and beautiful beaches on Tiree,” Iona say. “It’s great for learning but there’s great options for surfers at all levels, even really advanced surfers.”



Wild Roots Guiding

Join mountain leader Anna Danby and yoga teacher Lindsay Warrack for three days of walking, yoga, wild camping and mindfulness meditation in The Cairngorms.


The aim is to unplug and forge a deeper connection with wild places, in a supportive group environment. The trip includes time for reflection, journalling, reading and individual support for your yoga or meditation practice. As you travel through the hills, you’ll learn about the history, geology, flora, and fauna of the area, and develop your navigation and camp craft skills too. Expect to cover 10 to 15 kilometres a day over rough and uneven terrain so a good baseline fitness level is required, but no previous yoga experience is needed.


All the trips are accessible by public transport, and all your high-quality lightweight camping gear, equipment and food will be provided in an aim to remove barriers to access. The pair also run a trip in the West Highlands, starting in Fort William.



Beyond Adventure, Aberfeldy

Paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing water sports in the UK. I asked Ross Dempster, managing director of Beyond Adventure in Perthshire, why it’s so appealing.

“I think it’s the most accessible watersport for most people,’’ Ross says. “We’re careful not to call it stand up paddleboarding. We just call it paddleboarding because you can sit, you can kneel, you can even lie down on the paddleboard if you like. And you don’t have to feel pressured to stand up, it doesn’t matter. It’s such a fantastic way for families and people of all abilities to get out in the water.”


Beyond Adventure is based in Aberfeldy on the River Tay, allowing access to a wide variety of watery playgrounds. “We use the river quite a lot for paddleboarding,” says Ross, “and that can be from nice easy stretches or going into more whitewater settings as well. You can go for some lovely paddles on the lochside, whether it’s on Loch Tay, which is Perthshire’s largest loch, and places like Loch Faskally, a small kind of hidden loch in the middle of the trees which is absolutely breathtaking. We’re really lucky, we’ve got all this on our doorstep.”

Even on a calm day, when you’re paddleboarding you must be prepared to get wet. “It’s not necessarily about swimming, it’s more about water confidence,” says Ross. You’ll go out with a wetsuit, a buoyancy aid, a leash for your board and a helmet if you’re on the river – and wear water shoes or old trainers. Although paddleboarding is a relatively easy sport to get started with you do need to be water-savvy.


“Even in a calm loch with a westerly wind you can get into quite serious water,” says Ross. “We’re always making sure that safety considerations are built into the learning.”

Beyond Adventure have been running water-based activities for 25 years and teaching paddleboarding for the past eight – so you’re in very safe hands.

Make this the year you discover beautiful Perthshire from the water!



Kraken Diving, Birsay, Orkney

The shipwrecks in Scapa Flow make Orkney one of the most exciting places to dive in the UK. If that piques your interest then Kraken Diving, run by master scuba diver trainers Rob Slight and Margot Watson, offers a ‘Try and Dive’ session with 1:1 coaching.


Their course is special, Rob explains, because “in most other places you can try diving you’d be in a swimming pool looking at manky plasters. In our Try and Dives you’ll actually be in the sea looking at WW1 shipwrecks at the Churchill Barriers on your very first time.”

“Everyone can try diving, as long as you’re not scared of water, “says Rob. “We’ve had a few people who are and that was difficult.” On fitness levels, the hardest thing can be carrying the heavy kit, “but we can put it on in the water if you’re struggling,” Rob says. Participants have to fill out a medical and do a short online course before their dive. “We provide all the equipment including dry suits, people just need to wear thermals and bring hot drinks,” Rob says.


Kraken Diving also offers PADI Open Water training and specialised wreck diving courses for those who are ready to take their skills to the next level and take experienced divers on guided trips. If full immersion doesn’t appeal, Kraken Diving offers small group ‘snorkel safari’ trips to the shipwrecks.



Girls on Hills, Glencoe

Don’t believe you can run up a Munro? A course with Girls on Hills might convince you otherwise. Glencoe-based Girls on Hills was founded in 2018 by trail runners Keri Wallace and Nancy Kennedy with an aim of empowering women to run in the mountains. Over the past few years more women have been signing up for trail races, but gender parity has not yet been achieved.


Trail running courses are suitable for runners of all abilities, and you’ll soon be covered in mud and bouncing over the heather and learning mountain safety and navigation skills too. Some courses, such as the Bothy Runs, include an overnight stay in a bothy. These sell out quickly so it’s best to be on the mailing list. 


Girls on Hills also offers skyrunning courses with coaching on technical mountain running, and skyline race recces for the more experienced runner. For mixed gender groups you can still book a highly trained Girls on Hills guide.