The nature is wild, but the water is wilder. Rupert Isaacson takes one of Britain's most exhilarating canoeing trips, down the River Tay in Scotland;
Running between Loch Tay and the Firth of Tay, the River Tay falls from wild mountain (and wild water) through gentle farm and forest, estuary and the beginnings of the open sea. As a river trip, it has to be one of Britain's finest, comprising white water up to international competition standard, easy paddling where you can relax and enjoy the scenery, tidal waters and waves - pretty much the whole gamut of paddling conditions. And you don't need to be an expert.

Croft-na-Caber, an outfit specialising in river trips (they also offer white-water rafting), will guide you down the Tay in kayaks or open Canadian canoes. Trips are open to both beginners and experienced paddlers. If you are experienced and relatively fit you can do the full length over four days. If you are a beginner with only a weekend free, Croft-na-Caber will guide you down the gentler stretches - though with enough white water to keep things exciting.

You can camp by the river bank or be ferried back to Croft-na-Caber each night. The centre occupies an old stone farmhouse and offers comfy B&B, full board or self-catering wooden chalets by the loch.

The only stretch of water that is out for beginners is the first bit between Loch Tay and the Isla Mouth, where the River Isla joins the Tay. The rapids in this stretch, known as Grand Tully, are fearsome and demand both experience and technique. If you still fancy giving Grand Tully a go, Croft-na-Caber will take you down the churning cataract in a raft. You'll still have to paddle like hell and do as the guide tells you, but the big inflatable raft makes the rapids safe to negotiate without lessening the adrenalin.

From Isla Mouth to Stanley there are more rapids, most of them open to beginners after sufficient instruction. Several small patches of white water are followed by a weir with a hole blown out of it by dynamite - you drop down through this in your canoe. At the end of the day, near Stanley, is the Cat's Hole, a rapid only a little less fearsome than Grand Tully. Beginners in single kayaks must not attempt this, but if you have opted for an open Canadian canoe your guide can sit in the back and shout orders so that you get through in one piece. The Cat's Hole is a wild ride, made all the more fun by the knowledge that if you fluff it the canoe may well capsize.

Once past Stanley, the landscape around the river opens out into farmland and you cruise slowly down to Perth, where the river becomes tidal. Most people stop here but to my mind the estuarine stretch (another two days) between here and the firth is one of the most magical - though you have to time it right to make sure you paddle with, not against, the tide.

After a while the river broadens out to well over a mile across. You camp another night in the forest on the southern shore, then, the next morning, do the final leg down to Dundee. The waters become choppy. Seals pop up next to you, often following for a mile or two before swimming away.

Canoeing the Tay is a great way to see nature. Because you make little sound, you often surprise creatures as you come around a bend in the river. Salmon leap over your bow. And you experience the landscape from a different perspective, following the water between the folds and spurs of the hills, the forests falling down to meet you, around you the scent of clean water and growing things.

Croft-na-Caber, Kenmore, Loch Tay, Perthshire PH15 2HW; Tel: 01887 830 588, Fax: 01887 830 649. FACT FILE


Open all year.


Croft-na-Caber is a large Victorian lodge. Choose between full board (pounds 40 per person a night), B&B (pounds 20), or self-catering chalets (pounds 50-60 for a four to six-bed chalet). Camping by the river bank (take your own equipment) is cheaper.


Half day pounds 26 per person (pounds 18 for children); full day pounds 38; two-day river trip pounds 64. Prices include equipment and tuition but not food or accommodation. Canoe and kayak hire costs pounds 8 an hour, pounds 16 for three hours, or pounds 25 a day.


Minimum age 12 years.


All guides are trained in river rescue. Helmets and buoyancy aids are compulsory.


Clients should arrange their own personal accident insurance


Telephone to make a reservation and get a booking form, which should be returned with a 20 per cent deposit within seven days of the booking date. Late bookings will be accepted if space permits.


Croft-na-Caber is just out of Kenmore village, on the south shore road of Loch Tay. Kenmore is six miles from Aberfeldy on the A827/A9 junction, two hours north of Edinburgh.