Scotland day 5 – Lower Findhorn

Returning from the pub around midnight last night, I retrieved my drysuit which was drying / airing outside our chalet and took it indoors. I was glad I did because it had frozen again – it could almost stand up on its own!

Waking up this morning we were greated with a thick layer of ice on the boats, cars and ground. The plan previously decided on was changed again, before we loaded up to head across to the Findhorn. The drive across was stunning – the many different colours of the leaves on the trees – the sprinkling of snow on the ground around us and the snow covering on the mountains around us.

Arriving at the get-in, we wandered down to inspect Randolph’s Leap. It was looking low,but slightly higher than when we ran it this time last year. There was only one thing putting us off hopping into our boats straight away and that was the cold. The majority of the group was feeling cold so an executive decision was made to head to the nearest tea shop!

Feeling considerably warmer following our hot drinks, motivation to run the river was much higher. A quick change later and we were sitting in the eddy above Randalph’s Leap, running through the required lines in our heads.

I peeled out of the eddy first, ran the first part successfully and broke out. The remainder of the group paddled down and joined me, with only Lucille having any issue. She had capsized on the first part, rolled up but failed to make the desired left-and line. Instead she them had to run the right-hand line into the Witches Cauldron. She managed to make it through without getting caught in it, but rolled immediately below before joining the rest of us in the eddy. The remainder of the rapid went successfully for all.

Dave S took a little swim in a hole further downstream when he dropped into it, capsized and failed to roll – despite an effort at a Palatta Roll! Continuing on again, there were some nice read-and-run rapids before we arrived at The Slot. With Doug on the rock providing cover, I ran the rapid but failed to quite make my intended line of starting centre and heading left, lifting the bow of my boat over the merry pile that was pushing all the water into the undercut rock face on the right. I didn’t manage to lift my bow over the pile, subbed out and was pushed into the rock face on the right almost upside down. Knowing that I really didn’t want to be upside down I fought to pull myself along the rockface whilst supporting myself from going over. After a few seconds I was successful in getting out of trouble and was able to escape into an eddy. The rest of the group, having just seen my effort, all decided to portage the slot. The remaining few rapids were again uneventful and the river soon opened up as we arrived at the get-out. Lucille decided to have a go on the rope swing into the river whilst Phil and I both decided to jump of a rock ledge about 5 metres up the bank into the river.

Once the other group had arrived and the hailstones, which had started falling just as we got out of our boats, had eased, we all changed, loaded up the cars and headed to the now compulsory tea room to warm up.

Scotland day 4 – Lower Tummel

Wednesday started slightly slower than the previous days – partly due to not leaving the pub until almost 0100 and partly due to no decision having been made as to which river to paddle today. Eventually we chose to head to Etive, but that was quickly changed to the Braan Gorge. Around 0900 we finally set off.

We had seen that the level was low, but we hoped that there would be enough water to paddle it. It sounded like an investing run – one definite portage around grade 6 Hermitage Falls, and potentially two other portages around a grade 5 and a grade 5+ rapid – all within a two kilometre run!

Arriving at the get-out to inspect the three potential portages, we spent a considerable amount of time looking at potential lines and portage points before all coming to the same conclusion – the river was slightly too low. There was too many rocks showing which would have made running it very dangerous. A few more inches of water to cover the worst of the rocks and it would have been a go-er.

Unsure of which other rivers in the vicinity would be running, we eventually decided on the dam-release Lower Tummel. According to one guide, this was paddleable on the minimum compensation flow from the dam. When we arrived at the get on, this was the level we were greated with so we got on. Having paddled it now, I would disagree that it was paddleable at this level. It was a bump-and-scrape most of the way down, with only the Linn of Tummel rapid providing interest. This was a double-drop rapid dropping 3-4 metres in total. A few members of the group discovered a little rock shelf upon landing the bottom drop on the left-hand side. Taking the bottom drop on the right offered a great opportunity to practice your boofs. We all ran this rapid multiple times to practice moves and try various lines. The worst line on the top drop came courtesy of Ken, who went for a fancy flair move but just ended up running the drop upside down. Winner of the worst line on the bottom drop was Simon, who bounced hard off the rock shelf. Having had our fill of fun, we moved on for the little flat water paddle to the get-out before heading to find a tea shop in Pitlochry.

Scotland day 3 – Middle Orchy and Arkaig

Waking up we were somewhat surprised to see the ground around our chalets covered with snow. Now, seeing the ground all white was not helping with the motivation for getting all cold and wet on river! Negating this, we headed across to the Orchy. Upon arrival the motivation was no higher and only half the group decided they were man enough to get on the river. Those not paddling were either going to the tea shop to keep warm or being camera vultures for the day. By the time we were changed and getting on the water, I had already lost feeling in my hands! Despite the cold, Vicky decided that she fancied a swim on the first grade 4 rapid. The remainder of the rapids before the first grade 5, some fun read-and-run grade 4, all passed without incident. This rapid did not look particularly pleasant, with the left line going into a stopper, right line going into rock and the centre line difficult to attain. Only Ken decided to run this rapid, opting for the left line through the stopper. We set up safety cover which was not required as he passed through the stopper without any problems.

Continueing downstream more read-and-run grade 4 followed before we arrived at the second grade 5, which was a drop into a smalll pool with a nasty stopper across all but a narrow line down the left hand side. Having made it down the drop whilst avoiding the clutches of the stopper the next part of the rapid was quickly upon you – a sweeping drop along a cushion wave into the pool at the bottom of the rapid. I decided to run this first. Clearing the top drop with a nice boof, I was straight into the sweeping cushion wave and quickly into the pool below with a big grin on my face. Ken, Doug, Phil all made it to the bottom upright. Vicky made it down, although she flipped on the cushion wave and rolled up in the pool. Ol flipped in the pool halfway down and ran the remainer of the rapid upside down – rolling up in the pool at the bottom. Ian got backlooped on the first drop, but managed to roll up before the sweeping cushion wave which up precededed to run backwards and flipped again part way down.

Next up we headed back to the Arkaig so that those not fortunate enough to enjoy it on Monday could find out for themselves why we were all still buzzing from it. Unfortunately for them, the level had dropped slightly which meant that, whilst the river was still big and great fun, it was not as good the day before. Knowing what was coming up also took some of the excitement out of it. Managing to successfully avoid the big hole, I turned around to see almost the entire group drop into the hole and emerge upside down. Both Stuart and Fred took a little swim. For those for whom this was their first experience it provided a similar feeling as it did for us on Monday. It was now time to head back to the chalets for some celebratory beers.

Scotland day 2 – Spean Gorge and Arkaig

Another early start was required today in order to achieve our target of the Coe and the Orchy, which meant leaving at 0830. Arriving at the Coe we were disappointed to discover that the level had dropped off too much meaning that it was too low to paddle. We decided to head back to the Nevis in the hope that would still be running. Unfortunately that turned out to be too low as well so we headed off to the Upper Spean at laggan dam. It had been on 5 pipes (out of 6) when we looked at it yesterday and we were hopeful that it would still be running. Upon arrival we were slightly shocked to discover that it was not releasing at all. Plan D was now required and Spean Gorge was the objective.

Four hours after setting off from our accomodation in Roybridge we were 4 miles down the road in Spean Bridge and we were yet to get into our paddling kit! Following a swift change into our kit we set off downstream, with the level reading at 2 on the guage. The run proved entertaining with the rapids proving slightly higher than anyone in the group had run them at before. Vicky took a swim on the first interesting rapid. Headbanger passed without incident, as the water level meaning that the narrow slot was washed out. Water was running over the right line at Constriction. Doug, Ian and Ken ran the tricky right line and all managed to somehow avoid getting caught in the stopper at the bottom of the drop. Lucille, however, was not so lucky. She subbed out upon landing and was towed back into the stopper. She recirculated for a few seconds before swimming and having to be rescued from the stopper. Before seeing this, I was intending to run this line – but Lucille managed to change my mind. I started looking again at my original thought which was the left-hand line, which looked more likely to flush through at the bottom so long as I was not on the right hand side going off the top. I accidentally overcompensated and went too far left – luckily this did not prove problematic and I flushed through without any problems. A few more interesting rapids followed before the end of the run.

Despite all of the faffing this morning before getting on a river, there was still time to run the Arkaig. This was sold as a relatively short, easy river with one interesting rapid on. In reality this description fell way short of was was delivered. Arriving at the get-on, the fact the road was flooded informed us that this was going to be a high water run down. Paddling under the bridge at the start of the run, we were greated with the sight of some trees standing in the middle of the river – surely they should not be there?! Very quickly the river rounded a bend, and as it went out of sight the river stepped up in difficulty. The fact that the river was in the trees meant that there were no eddies to break out into to inspect what was coming up. Simon went round the corner first, followed by myself and then Dave and Ol. The rapid was one of, if not the biggest volume rapids I have paddled in the UK. Dodging holes and big waves, I saw Simon suddenly drop out of sight, so I paddled across to the right to avoid what he just dropped into. I didn’t quite make it as I was caught by the shoulder of the hole and pulled into it. Surprisingly, for the size of the hole, it flushed me through quickly whilst remaining upright although it did liberate me of my left contact lens. Fortunately that was the end of the rapid. Turning round Dave had made it down successfully and Ol was washing out of the hole upside down. Replacing the lens we watched the other group come down – they all seemed to be practicing their synchronised rolling! Wow – what a rapid. The size and surprising friendliness of the rapid, along with the large volume of water going through it, reminder me of some of the rapids on the Nile I was running just over a month ago. From here to the get-out saw some great wave-trains and swirly boils, but none of us were able to stop smiling having just paddled that rapid. I have to say that it is one of the best rapids I have ever done, and even if we went and did the same run tomorrow at the same water level, no run down could ever beat that. The thrill of not knowing what was coming up added a considerable amount more excitement to the enjoyment of such a great river.

Let’s see if anything else we paddle this week can beat that!

Scotland day 1 – the Blackwater

The remainder of the journey to our accommodation in Roy Bridge was fairly uneventful, with just the heavy rain to contend with.

Following dinner, we headed to the pub for a swift drink, which very quickly turned into considerably more than just the one. Having decided to head east to the Blackwater today, and with the clocks going back, an early start was required – 8am was decided on. That would have been a lot more pleasant had some of us not been suffering sneaky hangovers.

The river starts of with Milton Falls – a nice, technical 4-drop rapid – a perfect warm up! The only incident suffered here was a certain Mr Surman having his deck pop in the first drop, requiring a quick empty. We continued downstream until we arrived at the entrance to the gorge. Vicky went first and nailed the line. I went next, and all was going well until I failed to get across to the desired line above the 3rd drop of the rapid. Dropping down where I was, I landed sideways in the stopper at the bottom, surfed along that to escape, before getting spun around and running the final drop backwards. My first ever attempt at a backwards boof failed miserably as I completely subbed before managing a nice backwards pop-out. Everyone else made it down with issue – with the exception of the same Mr Surman, who decided it looked to easy, had to limbo under a tree which separated him from his paddles leaving him to run the remaining 2 drops with paddles. It looked like he was going to make it successfully – until capsizing at the bottom of the final drop and swimming. We later discovered that Stuart and Phil had also taken a little swim each around the same place. The river then eased off with just one raped of note remaining. Both Ian and Ben managed to pin temporarily, but managed to free themselves.

We are now driving back to Roy Bridge, the temperature is a balmy 1.5 degrees and we are admiring all the snow that has fallen on the higher ground around us. Drying our kit is not looking like an easy task – leaving it out on porch will more than likely see up with ice blocks for kit in the morning. Hmmm… maybe not.

Scotland here we come…

The time has come around again to head north to the land of bagpipes and haggis – Scotland.

The outlook for the week is considerably different to the low water levels were had last year. The west coast has seen a generous helping of rain over the last week or so which has seen some very high levels. We are hoping that levels drop off slightly to enable us to do some of the more classic runs.

Currently we (Simon, Dave and myself) are travelling up the M6 somewhere around Manchester. It is raining, cold, the traffic is heavy and we have another 316 miles to go. It is going to be a long day.