With abundant rivers, canals and reservoirs, the Peak District is a playground for watersports and the hardy people of the area are happy to venture out whatever the weather.

There are courses and experience days across the Peak District with key locations being Combs Reservoir, Carsington Water, Tittsworth and Derwent River. Courses cater to both novices and those with more experience looking to build on or learn new skills.

Although activities vary, courses will typically include equipment hire, including safety equipment, and qualified guides who will make the experience both fun and informative.

Three Shires Head Peak District

Three Shires Head

Watersports courses & locations in the Peak District

Canoeing & kayaking in the Peak District

There are kayaking and canoeing courses at Combs Reservoir and Carsington Water as well as canoe hire at Tittesworth reservoir. A course or experience day typically includes equipment hire and expert guides who will teach you the basics of your chosen sport. Only then should you consider exploring the Peak’s reservoirs and rivers by yourself (and only where permitted).

Kayaking and canoeing is permitted on the Derwent River between Darley Dale and Matlock Bath, just outside of the Peak District boundary. Matlock Bath offers a faster flowing spot for the more experienced kayakers with an annual slalom through Matlock taking place every April. The area is open year round, but offers the most challenging experiences when the river is high.

For something more sedate, paddle along the Cromford Canal Canoe Trail between Cromford Wharf and Leawood Pumphouse. The three-mile section is great for beginners and families. The stretch offers bountiful wildlife and cafes as well as railway and canal heritage. There’s also a decent six-mile stretch of water along the Peak Forest Canal between Marple and Whaley Bridge in the High Peak with the added bonus of no portages. You will need a licence to use the canal.

Sailing in the Peak District

There are a number of sailing clubs found at the reservoirs surrounding the Peak District National Park, mostly just outside its boundary.

Carsington Water, between Cromford and Ashbourne, offers sailing tuition as well as wide-ranging boat hire including paddleboards, surfboards, sit-on-top kayaks and canoes and rowing boats.

Nearby Ogston offers sailing courses in a quieter location and further north in the High Peak, Glossop, Toddbrook and Combs all offer sailing courses, with Dovestone on northern fringes and Viking Sailing Club at Damflask Reservoir near Sheffield.

Inside the park, Errwood Reservoir offers training courses in spectacular surroundings.

Most of the sailing clubs offer RYA training for children and adults as well as racing opportunities. These are great places to learn to sail a small boat with clubhouses to change and warm up in if you do end up going for an unexpected dip.

Wild swimming in the Peak District

Wild swimming has become extremely popular in the last few years and whether you’re after the alleged health benefits of an icy plunge, a bracing workout or just looking for some fun without the crowds of a public pool, the Peak District has a lot of options.

If you’re up for a couple of hours hiking at the weekend, Slippery Stones, located in Upper Derwent Valley is accessible by a path from the car park at Fairholmes. During the week, there’s even closer parking at King’s Tree, just a mile from the swimming spot. It hosts a deep pool perfect for cooling off on hot days and grassy banks to picnic on.

Flowing along the front of Chatsworth house, the river Derwent is a great spot for both sports swimming and splashing around with the kids. With grassy banks to lounge on and the house offering a cafe and ice cream stalls, it’s a good spot to spend warm days relaxing with a section to swim short lengths. Upstream, the section between Froggatt Bridge and the next crossing towards Curbar is deep enough for a longer river swim.

Three Shires Head, where the counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet, requires a tramp up into the moors. It’s more of a spot for a quick dip than vigorous lengths. The icy river flowing straight from the hills is perfect for adventurous types, with waterfalls and pools to explore set beneath the old packhorse bridge that crosses the river Dane.

More easily reached is the small swimming area below a weir on the River Bradford at Youlgreave. With its wide grassy slope it’s perfect for family picnics and river pottering on a sunny day.

If you are looking for a potential meeting with a legendary creature, The Mermaid’s Pool, midway up Kinder Scout is the spot for you. Its waters are believed to offer healing properties. You are certainly likely to emerge from the pool caked in peat.

If you aren’t ready to take the plunge into the full wild swimming experience, Hathersage outdoor pool offers a good compromise. Look out for special events, including evening swims to live music.

Peak District Carsington Waters

Sailing at Carsington Waters

Paddleboarding and windsurfing in the Peak District

Carsington, Tittesworth, Combs Reservoir and Rudyard Lake (just a few miles outside the Peak District boundary) all offer paddle boarding (SUP) and windsurfing.

Both sports will have you balancing on large boards in the open water and are suitable for adults and children as well as offering a fun activity for larger groups. You can hire sit-on-top kayaks, canoes and SUP boards from Carsington and Tittesworth. Rudyard only hires out fishing and motorised boats, but if you have your own kayak, canoe or paddleboard, you can launch it from the reservoir for a small fee.

Raft building

If you’re looking for a fun alternative activity, local companies offer group raft building days in Derwent Valley. Using your group's creativity and problem solving skills, you will be creating rafts from barrels, planks and ropes and, if you do it well, you might avoid getting too wet, but it’s unlikely.

Need to know

Even in the warmest weather, the waters of the Peak District will never be described as tropical, so it’s important to come prepared with layers and perhaps a flask of hot tea for after your dip.

Wild swimming is prohibited in all reservoirs and flooded quarries. In cold water it is easy to get into difficulty, remember that if you get into trouble, the person coming in to assist you will also be at risk.

About the authors

Paddleboarding, Canoeing, Kayaking & Wild Swimming In The Peak District

Rosie Bellwood

Rosie is a writer from Sheffield who has spent the last couple of years pottering about Europe, Southeast Asia and New Zealand, writing screenplays and blogging about her favourite films.

Paddleboarding, Canoeing, Kayaking & Wild Swimming In The Peak District

Helen Moat

Helen Moat is author of Bradt Guides' Slow Travel The Peak District. She is also a regular contributor for Wanderlust, Derbyshire Life, BBC Countryfile, among others. Now settled in the Peak District, she is constantly inspired by the landscape and the people and places shaped by the Peak.

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