As we spun once again after dodging an angry swan and a large canal boat, we both drew a sigh of relief that we had not toppled our inflatable kayak and landed in the murky waters of the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Skipton. After a rocky start to our paddle adventure we had an amazing time in our inflatable kayak on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. From up-close wildlife encounters to stunning sunset views and making many walkers laugh it was a great day of kayaking! Yet there are a few things I wish I had known before attempting to kayak the Leeds-Liverpool canal in an inflatable kayak. As I sit here writing this with aching arms here are a few things to expect before you set off in an inflatable kayak!
Inflatable kayaks are slow
Our original plan was to kayak 20.5 miles (30 kilometres) from Skipton to our house in Apperley Bridge. I can report that we managed to kayak 15 miles which I am still very happy with but wow it took about 5-6 hours to cover 15 miles on the kayak. I vastly underestimated how slow it is to kayak in an inflatable kayak compared to a normal one. We were constantly being overtaking by walkers on the tow path!
As the kayak is further out of the water it is more susceptible to the elements and does not glide through the water. Inflatable kayaks are a little harder to control than normal ones meaning the person at the back spends most of their time trying to keep the kayak going straight. While we in no rush as it reached 8pm we knew it would start to get dark so hard to stop our canal adventure in Keighley.
UPDATE: Turns out we did not use the keels which would have helped with steering…
The wind & inflatable kayaks
As you are in an inflatable kayak the wind affects you more than in a normal kayak. While I probably could have guessed this, as there was no current in the Leeds-Liverpool canal the wind probably affected us more than in a river. As soon as we stopped paddling, we would begin to spin. Sometimes the wind worked in our favour and we would drift along for a while giving our arms a much-needed rest. Also, certain sections of the Leeds-Liverpool canal are quite exposed which is great for views but means it can get incredibly windy. We found the kayak much easier to steer in woodland sections. The trees helped block the northern wind!
How much the wind affected us was one thing that I wish I had known about kayaking in an inflatable kayak before setting off! I think I would have chosen a slightly shorter route haha!
You don’t wet in an inflatable kayak?!
I found that you don’t get as wet in an inflatable kayak than in a standard kayak.
In a traditional kayak you are much lower in the water compared to an inflatable kayak which sits on the top. During our fun couple adventures in the Lake District we would always get soggy bottoms as the kayak would fill with lake water. I was sure that our inflatable kayak would be similar. In fact, I was so sure I actually wore bikini bottoms. While you may get water in the bottom of the kayak in rough rivers, while kayaking along the canal we stayed surprisingly dry! I can happily confirm that we did not get soggy bottoms whilst kayaking the Leeds-Liverpool canal in an inflatable kayak.
The fact that it is easier to stay dry is one of the advantages of an inflatable kayak over a traditional kayak.
Inflatable kayaks are easy to transport on trains
When I first looked into renting a kayak, I was wondering how the hell we were going to transport it. I thought we may have to drive to the end point, get a train back to the start then kayak to the car. I was also genuinely measuring our kitchen debating whether we could fit a kayak in there…
When we managed to borrow an inflatable kayak, I no longer needed to worry about transporting it! One of the great advantages of an inflatable kayak is the fact that it is easy to transport on a train. It may have taken up a whole seat but it meant that we could get the train to the start of our paddle.
While the kayak itself is not too heavy, it is still very bulky. This means you probably would not want to carry it on your back further than a mile or so. Afterwards, when the kayak is wet, the bag is naturally heavier. Keep that in mind when you are planning your inflatable kayak trip.
You make everyone smile as you go past in an inflatable kayak
One thing that no one tells you about kayaking in that you become quite an attraction. People smile as they go past you and laugh when you limbo under swing bridges. While this may not be the case in the Lake District or at the seaside, kayaking in an inflatable kayak along the Leeds-Liverpool canal is not a common occurrence. Walkers along the towpath would start conversations with us asking us about it. Everyone asks where you have come from and where you are going. We also made quite a few people smile as we would chant “limbo, limbo, lim-bo” as we crawled under the various swing bridges. One couple actually ran ahead so they could watch us coming out the other side. Quite a few people would say what a great idea it was and yell “good for you!”. A few children would wave and we felt like miny celebrities. I am sure a few pics will be on social media of our various fails trying to steer and helplessly spinning. Overall though, it was quite nice comradery from other canal dwellers egging us on and wishing us all the best!
While we did not mind the attention once we got going, Alex did not appreciate the stares as we were setting it up. If you don’t like being the centre of attention, maybe don’t inflate your inflatable kayak in the middle of a popular market town. We had never blown up an inflatable kayak before so took a little while working it out. As we finally put the kayak in the water and I was trying to waterproof everything, quite a crowd gathered. I was sure they were waiting to see which one of us would fall in first. Alex clambered in without difficulty but I took my time assessing the best way to get in. Alex’s patience was at an end and feeling all the eyes watching us, barked quietly “Anna, get in the water.” I was not going to be rushed however and did not really mind the crowd. While I would like to report that my assessment meant I entered the kayak with perfect grace, that is not the case. I pretty much fell in but did not get wet! A few claps could be heard but I felt the mild disappointment of the crowd that I had not fallen in!
You spin me right round inflatable kayak
We have already mentioned this, but I wish I had known that steering in an inflatable kayak is trickier than in a traditional one. As the inflatable kayak is above the water, rather than in the water, the kayak is affected by the wind more. Also, we failed to add the little keels we would have helped with steering on calm waters! You should not add the keels on shallow, rocky rivers. However, you should add keels to the inflatable kayak if you are kayaking on a calm lake or kayaking on the Leeds-Liverpool canal.
Alex got pretty good at steering but occasionally we would just stop and the kayak would begin to spin. I would then start to hum “slowly drifting” from the hit tunes Waves by Mr Probz. Sometimes Alex would pipe up by musically quoting Dua Lipa’s Don’t start now “Did a full 180”.
I wish I had known that steering in an inflatable kayak is harder than in a normal one!
Kayaking in an inflatable kayak can be quite tiring
I wish I had known how tired my arms would get kayaking in an inflatable kayak along the Leeds Liverpool canal.
While this was not our first kayaking trip, this was my first full-day kayaking trip. We had kayaked in Thailand and in the Lake District plenty of times. However, these kayak trips had just been for a couple of hours. I completely underestimated how tired my arms would get after 4 hours of kayaking!
I was glad when we stopped for food and my arms could rest. After our tasty sandwiches and a vegan pasty, I had plenty of energy. A few hours later though the aching came back. Alex asked if we could swop sides as his right shoulder had begun to ache too. As we were kayaking along the Leeds Liverpool canal, there was no current to help us meaning we were completely dependent on our own muscle power!
Maybe try to warm up to an entire day before attempting a day long kayak in an inflatable kayak! I couldn’t move my arms when we got home and we had to get a take away for dinner haha! The next day was fine after a few stretches though.
Ducking under bridges in an inflatable kayak can be hard…
The Leeds Liverpool canal has a number of swing bridges. As the name suggests, these bridges can move for larger vessels. For kayaks, however you are supposed to get out of the water, carry the kayak to the other side of the swing bridge and get back in there. There are even little blue signs with diagrams of kayakers carrying their kayak. Alex, on the other hand, decided that there was really no need to carry the kayak and we could simply duck under the swing bridges.
Alex has kayaked along much of the Leeds-Liverpool canal as he did it for his Gold Duke of Edinburgh award. He would often talk about the nostalgic time of messing about on the canal with his mates and ducking under the swing bridges. In order to relive this, attempting to limbo under the swing bridges was in his opinion an essential part of kayaking on the Leeds Liverpool canal.
As we approached our first swing bridge, the gap between the bridge and the canal looked very tight! As Alex had been in a normal kayak during his Leeds-Liverpool canal kayak expedition, I feared he had underestimated how much further we were out of the water in an inflatable kayak!
Once we were at the bridge we leaned back and using our hands pulled our way under the bridge. I remember thinking that this side of the bridge is probably normally only seen by ducks and swans. Luckily the various spiders did not seem to mind us crawling under their webs. We ducked under more swing bridges, this time a little more prepared and chanted “limbo, limbo, Lim-bo” as we went under. Some swing bridges were so low to the water my life jacket scraped the metal bridge. Others gave us slightly more room. There was only one bridge where I put my foot down, well put my hands up, to stop us going under. I protested to Alex that there was no way we were squeezing under that one. He looked and agreed. We did get out and carry the kayak, realising that we were surprisingly quicker walking with the kayak on land than in water…
No one tells you that you partner may insist on your ducking under swing bridges when you kayak on the Leeds-Liverpool canal in an inflatable kayak. Just mind your head and get ready to limbo!
Inflatable kayaks are surprisingly comfy
Another thing that I did not know was how comfy an inflatable kayak was!
An inflatable kayak has a slightly softer base than a normal kayak. I almost always would get a numb bum in a normal kayak but I found an inflatable kayak comfier! Alex, on the other hand, could not get comfy for a while as he could not lean back as well as in a normal kayak.
For a little while towards the end I just lay back into Alex’s lap and let him paddle. Feeling the sun on my face and hearing the gentle sound of the oar in the water was heaven. I was incredibly comfortable. Then I realised that we were even slower with just one person paddling so I soon sat back up to help paddle again.
Inflatable kayaks are great fun
One thing that no one tells you about kayaking in an inflatable kayak is that it is so much fun!
We had such a great day kayaking along the Leeds-Liverpool canal in an inflatable kayak. Once the initial logistics of finding a kayak, checking the weather, deciding on the route and getting to the start were sorted – it was a very stress-free adventure! You are not constantly looking at a map or deciding where to go as you are just following the canal. It was wonderful seeing all the various wildlife up close. At one point, as we turned around a bend, left its perch in the river and flew into the air right in front of us! I had never been that close to a heron before.
The views were epic and it was wonderful to spend a whole day together just rowing and chatting.
Inflatable kayaks are a cheap(ish) adventure!
Another great thing about kayaking in an inflatable kayak is that it was very cheap for us.
A few factors which really helped keep the cost down were that we live next to the Leeds-Liverpool canal and we managed to borrow the inflatable kayak!
I posted on an outdoor Facebook group about where the best place to hire a kayak in the Leeds area would be. A very kind gentleman offered to lend us his inflatable kayak for the weekend. The kindness of the outdoor community in the UK is wonderful. We of course gave him a little something to say thank you when we handed the kayak back but maybe someone in your local area will lend you one. Otherwise, the decathlon inflatable kayak we used is quite reasonable compared to others in the market.
Inflatable kayaks are a sustainable way to travel
One of the best things about travelling in an inflatable kayak is that is a great sustainable way to travel! We managed to get public transport to the start of our kayaking adventure and used our arm power to kayak home. There were points where I almost wished we had a small motor but I was so happy knowing that we were not damaging the environment we were enjoying. One thing I did not know before we set off in our inflatable kayak on the Leeds-Liverpool canal was that around 300 pollution incidents are reported to the canal and river trust every year.
These various oil and fuel spills cause significant environment damage to the water and the wildlife in the canal. Furthermore, while living in Birmingham, I remember having to breathe in when I was cycling past canal boats due to the huge amounts of smoke emitted in the colder months. There is a section along the river Cam in Cambridge which has been compared to Shanghai due to the air pollution caused by canal boats.
Kayaking in an inflatable canal means that you are not at risk of polluting the canal like you are in a canal boat.
Would you go on an inflatable kayak adventure?
While our inflatable kayak adventure was much more tiring than we expected we had an amazing time. I would highly recommend either purchasing an inflatable kayak from Decathlon or seeing if you can borrow one from a friend. Would you consider kayaking in an inflatable kayak? Does this look like your kind of fun? Let us know in the comments below!