Whitsundale Beck

Having driven up Arkengarthdale (in impressively heavy rain) to the Tan Hill, and then down over Park Bridge and up to the put-in for the Swale, I had to look at the map to work out where I was going to even find the top of Whitsundale Beck – it’s a bit off the beaten track ! Meanwhile, Dave Peel had managed to miss us by going down to have a look at the Swale, so we took a while to regroup and get vaguely organised – it was almost too windy to get boats off the roof. Sarah was not feeling good, and decided not to run, so it was a bit awkward that she isn’t insured to drive my car. In the epic wind, an Ikea bag managed to blow away, and into the Beck – so I chased downstream until well ahead of it, then waded out to intercept it. It wasn’t that deep, but quite fast flowing, so I was swept downstream a bit before getting hold of it and doing the rolling-across-the current bit to get back to the bank with it. Might have been better if I’d had time to get my buoyancy aid on first 🙁

After these minor dramas, we managed to shuttle and set off, perhaps a bit later in the day than we ought, given when we’d set off from Boldron. Most had had a look at the main drop, but as I’d been walking down the road, trying to spot Dave, and taking a few photos for geograph.org.uk, I’d missed this bit of reconnaissance, so the drop came as a slight surprise – I’d been expecting it to be quite a bit further on. Still, I rolled up and got facing the right way for the second part, which went without incident – a combination which left me feeling confident (read: invincible !)

This confidence was reflected in my attitude to Rainby – a drop I’d found to be the scariest thing I’d ever done the first time I was here. This time, Dave Brown and Anthony went for it, by different lines, and both had to roll. I had no doubts in my mind at all, but both Dave Peel and Michael decided to walk round. I hit the line, got a decent boof, but didn’t land in a low brace, so didn’t quite manage to stay upright. A swift roll bolstered the feeling of invincibility here, but at Hoggart’s Leap (AKA ‘the rapid’), all apart from Dave Brown were walking, and this undermined my confidence enough to portage too – much regretted later. Dave took the left side line (which wouldn’t have been my choice) and made it look less than easy, so I joined everyone else at the bottom of the rapid and headed on down to Catrake.

At Catrake, we all got out for a look, and I hung about on the bank to video Dave and Anthony’s run. I was back in my boat and just getting my deck on when Dave Peel pointed out that he and Michael were walking out from this point, and that Dave and Anthony had not been expecting me to join them, so hadn’t waited around. This was a blow, as I was feeling well up for Catrake and Upper Kisdon – but not running on my own ! I ummed and aahhed a bit, then decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and walked up to Keld with the others. Dave and Anthony didn’t run Lower Kisdon, and as this was Dave’s first time, I know he’ll be back to finish the job.

Having run the Upper Swale twice at 1m or thereabouts, and found Wainwath and Rainby fine at 1.2m, I was quite happy at that level, but have decided that it’s probably prudent not to run the river at more than 0.2m above the biggest I’ve run it before, as things do change quite a bit as the level comes up. So having missed Hoggart’s Leap and not run Catrake or the Kisdons at 1.2m, I need to get back here at that sort of level before going to higher levels. With luck, that will mean another opportunity to run Whitsundale Beck, or maybe Stonesdale Gill…

Anyway, here today’s video….

A long way for a little river – the Carron

The lack of water around Fort William was causing us to look further and further afield in search of rivers that would run in a drought. When we started seeing signs to Thurso and Wick, we knew we were getting a bit ridiculous, as we trekked up to Bonar Bridge to find our way to the Carron. This is a mostly easy river, but has a reasonable length of gorge in the middle which concentrates the flow, giving it a reputation for runnability in water levels that make mountain biking more of an option on a lot of rivers. It’s paddled sufficiently rarely that the directions to find the take-out were a bit vague, and the Croick schoolhouse, which is an important landmark, has become a private house since the guidebook was written, making it harder to spot. Luckily, they have a sign saying “The Old Schoolhouse” which will help when they get round to putting it up, instead of leaving it hidden behind their gate.

We started with a Bomb-flow moment…

We put in just upstream of the bridge at East Amat (having had a bit of an inspection just downstream of the bridge), and were immediately treated to a rocky rapid with not enough water, before paddling under the bridge. This leads to a short rapid into a pool, from where there is a deep drop into a boily rockmill from which exit looked problematical. This is known as “Granny’s Hole” and we decided that it was best avoided. That left a choice of two two scrapey routes further right, both of which went fine. Another flat bit leads to a shallow rocky lead in to a little slot which went surprisingly easily, but the boils below push you into the rocks on the left, just as some of us had relaxed too soon 🙁

It’s not the slot that gets you, but the boils in the narrows below

There’s then a long and quiet bimble (which really could have done with a bit more water) leading to the gorge section, which was actually rather good, and quite challenging in places.

The entry rapid to the gorge

I managed to stay upright on this one, mainly because I was forewarned of the danger of the innocuous-looking second rapid by Niki’s failure to do so.

The diagonal stopper was meaner than it looked !

The end of the gorge is marked by a lattice footbridge, which one assumes once served the schoolhouse for pupils coming from the left bank. Although the river now eases off again, it is not as flat as above the gorge, and several more rapids maintain interest (and one which we deemed worthy of portage at this level).

After the gorge, there were odd rapids between flatter sections

Choose a low camera-angle to make the river look fuller – Anthony near the end

We’d extensively scoped out the take-out before putting on, since the guidebook was so vague, and the river leaves the road, which would make for a long flat paddle to find another exit if we’d missed it.

A variety of lines here (some less scrapey than Dave’s) were entirely optional, as this is the take-out

A roundabout way up Beinn Bhàn

Since we’d come to Scotland for paddling in what turned out to be a drought, one group had set off to recce the River Meig, with its compensation-flow dam-release. They wanted to keep the party small and competant, with a view to taking others along later in the week. A second group were trying to paddle the Arkaig, or, if it really was too dry, just paddling on the loch. A third party went over to Aviemore for a day skiing. I took a day out for some walking, with the main aim of getting some personal points on geograph, and taking in a summit, but I hadn’t decided which one – it was going to depend how well things went. Unfortunately, one big block of potential goals was eliminated at a stroke when I found that the Loch Arkaig road was closed owing to major roadworks. I thus started from the same point as the Arkaig paddling group, and headed off round the foot of the Loch, and towards Glen Mallie.

There’s a very good track up Glen Mallie, though not quite where the OS map shows it, as it has been re-routed to avoid an area subject to flooding, and crosses by a new bridge. From beyond this, views improved of potential objectives, although, by now, I’d already decided that I’d got too late a start to head right the way up to Gulvain – a munro which formed a distant snowy backdrop to my view. By the time I’d got near where the track degenerated into a footpath, at a ruined building called simply Glenmallie on the map, it was clear that Beinn Bhàn should be the walk’s summit – a Corbett normally approached by a 3km walk from the south side. My 17 km route would therefore be unconventional, to say the least and I was hoping (correctly, as it turned out) that I would find some unphotographed squares for geograph. Glenmallie itself has changed a little since previous geograph pics were taken, with a new roof-shelter at the eastern end, under which were three rather faded pink plastic chairs with a good view back down the valley. This turned out to be a very convenient place to pause for lunch, as a brief shower passed.

My way now lay across the river (an easy crossing in the low water conditions which had me walking instead of paddling today) and up open slopes to the south. It was obvious that these would normally be a horrendous bog-flog but in the dry conditions, were merely springy underfoot and mostly very pleasant to climb. The decaying remnants of Caledonian Pine forest dotted the slopes, making for some fun photography, which led me into a slightly suboptimal location for the last bit of ascent onto Am Màm.

From here I juggled a desire to avoid losing height and having to reascend with an objective to cross at least the corners of every possible grid square, with some success as I probably only lost about ten metres of height in crossing the col to the slopes of the west ridge. As the view opened out to the south and Ben Nevis, I also got my first phone signal and was able to intimate that perhaps I would be a little later back than originally intended.

Here it did get rather steep and occasionally wet underfoot and, higher up, there was deep snow in some of the peat hags. The final ascent to the summit plateau was over hard ground with most of the snow avoidable up to the 771m west top. Easy walking then led east, with a fine view down into a big snowy corrie I’d glimpsed from the walk-in up Glen Mallie. There looks to be potential for a fine steep ski descent here, with the cornice avoidable at either side.

There were also by now fine views across to the Ben Nevis range, though this never quite came free of cloud. The last bit of climbing to the 796m summit was easy enough, and the cairn and trig point very obvious.

The best route down was less clear, and I was possibly a little nearer the north side of the spur than ideal. At one point I had to angle down across a steeper snow slope than I liked. Steep enough to slip on, but not too steep – I came to a stop immediately on sitting down. Further down, the terrain was much more confusing than you might guess from the map, and I had as my reference point the forest boundary and the buildings of Achnacarry I could see below. I might have been better quite a way south, but a steep slope gave me a choice of left or right to outflank it, and right seemed to involve retreating further from my destination, so I headed left as I could see a clear route that way.

The lack of any path, and eventually the proximity of the forest-edge deer-fence, confined me to a narrow corridor apparently much-used by deer, and definitely rather rough underfoot, so it was quite a strenuous descent. I worried that the narrowing of the stream towards which I was headed might mean I had to climb up by an obvious deer-track to the left, but on reaching this point, a path traversing above the stream became apparent, and no reascent was needed, for which I was quite grateful ! A bit more hacking led through a couple of gates and onto the road, with something like 28km behind me as I reached the car. The walk had netted me four geograph (first) points, my first since a similar day-off walk on last year’s Easter paddling trip.