Scottish Trip 2010

Well, it's that time of year again and Loz Jay organised our trip up to Scotland. An early start was called for to arrive at the Little Chef at Dumfries for 9.00am. Mike was a little late, so we rolled up about 9.20am, but we were not the last. Pete Burke had arrived at Carlisle where he was supposed to be meeting Elliott Kennedy, only to find that he wasn't there. A phone call later and Elliott was out of bed and driving like a mad thing across from Newcastle.

The first river, as usual, was the Nith, which for once went without a hitch. Water levels were reasonable without being spectacular, and it was a good warm up. Then it was off north to reconvene at the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, our traditional tea time stop. This historic pub, reputed to be the birthplace of the British Mountaineering Council, was for a long time one of the few sources of real ale in Scotland. With venison burger and both traditional haggis and vegetarian haggis on offer, it saved on cooking for one night. We then all moved on to our accommodation at the Inchree Chalets where we shared 3 chalets. Once we were settled in it was down to the bar for some Red Cuillin and malt whisky.

Sadly the trip came as we entering a very dry period, and the water we had found in the Nith was the dregs of the wetter weather we had just missed so this limited the choice of rivers to paddle. Some of the party wanted to do the Etive, believing that although it might be low, it would also be dropping and leaving it another day would only make it worse. The remainder of us did not fancy the idea of a low run on the Etive at all, so headed off to the other low water fallback, the Spean Gorge.

Sunday night was cooking in night, and our chalet had chicken curry with rice and nan, all washed down with plenty of red wine. We all then met up again at the bar to catch up on how the two groups had got on. Both rivers had been found to be very low, but we were unable to come up with any new suggestions, so the plan for the following day was to move fast, and the whole group would do the Spean Gorge followed by the Etive.

At the car park behind the woollen mill in Spean Bridge we bumped into Ian Beecroft who had put together a paddling trip to Scotland including some other old timers from the club such as Ross Purdy and Putty. Ian had brought over a couple of his friends from Switzerland, and they must have been very disappointed at the water levels.

Although the Spean Gorge does offer some challenge in low water, the levels we encountered were so low that most of the rapids were relatively easy. Fairy Steps can offer a series of very sticky holes, and in past years it has produced multiple swims, but this year it was disappointing. The only real challenge was Headbanger, or Witches Cauldron to give it its proper name, which did manage to produce quite a lot of capsizes and a few swims.

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John Horsey on Witches Cauldron

The low level allowed us to see the changes at the Constriction. In low water this used to consist of a narrow entrance into a bowl with a very narrow exit. It used to be fun watching in case someone got eddied out in the bowl, as then it was very difficult to break back in to make the narrow exit, and people would spend ages going round in circles. The narrow exit is now partially blocked by a fallen rock needle, which although it narrowed the gap considerably, it also turned the eddy into a boily mess, which was easier to deal with than the whirlpool that used to be there.

We paddled hard to the get-out in order to give us plenty of time to do the Etive. I had done this river a few years earlier in very low water, and had hated it vowing never to do it again. A couple of years ago I had therefore volunteered to video while others ran the river, and at that time the water had been a bit higher, and it looked good fun. Unfortunately this year the water was at least as low as it had been the first time I had been there, and I decided there and then not to paddle, and I followed them down the bank.

Triple Step caused a few problems as usual:

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Gavin Barry-Morgan on Triple Step

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Ben Tott on Triple Step

Finishing off at Right Angle Falls, a 6m waterfall, which some ran better than others, and some general fun was had jumping off the rocks into the pool.

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Mark Redshaw on Right Angle

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Pete Burke on Right Angle
Some Video of the Etive

At the end of all which it was getting late and as the sun went down behind the mountains we headed back to the chalets, but not before calling in at the Clachaig again to sample some more of their ales. This night Loz had organised a meal for us all in the bar at the chalets, so we spent the night there.

The next morning was depressingly sunny, and the only plan we had was a low water run on the Orchy on the way home, until Andy Brookes looked on WheresTheWater.com to find a yellow blob on the Lyon. This river is on the north side of Loch Tay, and was not too far out of our way, so we quickly decided that we would trust the internet and head off west, and what a lucky thing it was that we did. Driving up the river gave us a glmpse of a deep gorge with white water at the bottom, and when we arrived at the put-in it was clearly not low. The river started out fairly wide and shallow, but soon we were entering the first of many gorges. The falls came in quick succession, with just enough breathing space between them to get everyone together and rescue any swimmers, of which we had a few. I made the mistake of consistently underestimating the difficulty of the water, deliberately dropping into holes and boily eddies and having to extricate myself when I ran into trouble.

The run culminates in a long gorge with four falls which was graded in the guidebook as a 5. In common with many river with narrow gorges there was a story attached that involved someone running away from the authorities jumping over the river, and in this case it was called McGregor's Leap. We all pulled out to look at the gorge, three of us decided to run it, and the others set up for safety or camera positions. Fortunately, although the gorge was steep sided, it was possible to get close to the river at a couple of points so safety cover wasn't a great issue apart from the last drop. Although it looked intimidating, in the end it did not present any major problems, and we decided it was only a grade 4 at the levels we ran it.

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Dave Bradshaw at McGregor's Leap

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Elliott Kennedy doing the last drop in McGregor's Leap

Glen Lyon is a beutiful part of the world, and this was an excellent paddle to end our trip. Come on next year, only let's hope we have some more rain.

Photos all courtesey of Andy Brookes.

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