Easter alternative:Scottish whitewater week

A dry spring has left us without a lot of paddling through February and March and the news is full of “Drought-struck Britain” stories. April, however, saw a certain change of fortune, at least here in the north. Four SOC and a few non-SOC friends started the spring with a week’s whitewater in Scotland, based from a rented house for ten near Fort William. We’ve had enough wet easters sea kayaking that a river week had to be a viable option…

With a trip on the Upper Tees for some of the group on their way up, grade 4 paddling was set to be the order of the week. Scotland itself started unpromising with the Orchy too low to paddle on Easter Saturday, but four of the group stepped up a grade to paddle the Etive, which is not too fierce at this low level.

Sarah on Right Angle Falls – bigger when the bottom pool is low !

Sunday and the water was still a little low, but the Spean gorge is a fantastic venue at low levels. One person ran the dreaded slot-with-a-siphon, but most regarded this as a compulsory portage. The narrows near the end was also a portage as it really was too narrow, but the rest went well, and by the end, a promising drizzle was looking set in. Next day the stream by the house was well up, but looked a bit of a hike, so we went for the next nearest river, the Loy. This was good sport, and not too serious, but was dropping off a bit by the time we reached the eerie tunnel under the Caledonian Canal at the end. A few then went on to the Arkaig.

Tuesday saw levels still reasonably well up, with lots of snow on the tops, melting lower down, so the Pattack was a bit higher than last time the Waddingtons had run it in October. No disappearing boats doing rapids on their own this time, and a really fine river. One set of paddles did decide to do the last rapid without their owner, but these were found and returned to their owner via the good offices of Glenmore Lodge.

On Wednesday, the Roy had dropped somewhat, and we felt we could tackle the Roy Gorge. Down to nine paddlers, we stuck as a single group, which did make for a rather slow trip. Almost everyone started straight in at grade 4 by running Rooster Tail, then barely enough water for the various little ledge drops before the gorge narrowed down for the portage at the remains of Headbanger.

Mary dropping down one of the little ledges near the start of the Roy gorge.

Most chose to do the left-hand drop at Brothers Grimm, and the interesting narrow section below (some more than once and one with a roll up in the middle to put previous swims and portages firmly in the past). We had a few more odd swims and then the drop with the siphon. Here we wasted far too much time, people got cold, others got psyched out when live-bait protection was being set up. Four of the six who ran the drop had to roll, or brace frantically, or wrestle out of a near-pinning. Mary then got a perfect line, and Andy swam… Sarah was now very cold, but Bill soon got us moving apace down the easier ground into the Lower Roy, but staying close and piling down proved less than ideal when the leader got stuck on a rock, the second piled into him. The next paddler had no gap to aim for, and soon all three were upside down. Andy rolled up to find Michael swimming – now that’s a novelty ! After that we kept a bit further apart and had no further mishaps, but were a bit late off the river. Thursday turned into a day off for everyone when some didn’t wish to paddle,and others headed for another crack at the Pattack but found it too low. Those on their way home today managed to field one paddler onto the Etive (where he joined another group in considerably higher water than earlier in the week).

Friday was the last day on the water, and seven paddlers found the level on the Orchy more to their taste than earlier, and the sun shining too ! One or two of the shallower rapids proved to contain tripping hazards, but all the named rapids provided good sport with the odd paddler choosing to portage one or another of the drops. Chicken Chute, Sore Tooth, End of Civilisation and the Witch’s Step all went and made for some good video.

The video made up to a 45-minute epic (distributed to those on the trip on a DVD-ROM). A shortened version appears on youtube, at 20 minutes (it was abridged for embedding on the SOC website), and mostly featuring only SOC members – ie. the Waddington family.

The video was shot in HD,so watch it on youtube for the full 1280×720 resolution.

An excellent week, and the SOC paddlers (Andy, Mary, Sarah and Michael) thank the others (Nicky, James, Ellie, Phil, Ben, Bill and Niki) for making up the numbers to fill the house as well as paddling with us and making the trip an all-round success.

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