After several conversations over a month or two, the plan had come together. The small but perfectly formed UHCC Scotland trip was ready to roll.
The old boys – the tragic trio of Pete Barton, Spence Roberson and Tim Nolan + the young bucks Pete Guberg (well not that young!), Chris Power and Dan Jordan all met at Dan and Elaine’s new house in Keswick on late Friday evening. How convenient of them to have relocated half way on the way to Scotland! They made us very welcome with Pizza and beer, followed by a great breakfast on Saturday morning and a quick sightseeing trip around Keswick. How we did not succumb to visiting the world famous pencil museum I’ll never know……
We were then joined by Andy and Col, from Mansfield, whom some of us had paddled with before. Kit loaded into the van and boats strapped to the trailer we were off heading to the first river for a warm up.
Saturday – Low Levels
A great short but fun grade 3+ (5) river situated near Callender, only spoiled by some idiot leaving his spray deck in the car at the get out! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this river with most people electing to run the falls of Leny on river right, although Chris had previously run on river left. Which is the best / easiest line? Ask Chris. Trickiest move? Ask Spence.
Unfortunately, no pictures or videos were taken to my knowledge; we are still waiting for Mr Sharpenmyboard to post up footage on You Tube, as he was at the top of the falls filming us.
We then headed up to our base for the week in Fort William; very good accommodation (www.fortwilliamholiday.co.uk) owned by mountain guide Alan Kimber. Very convenient for walking into town and staggering back as long as you don’t decide to take a leak in the local constabulary’s car park!
Now choosing rooms in a bunkhouse can be a very delicate and serious undertaking, however this was fairly easily sorted on this trip. Northerners – in a room on their own, Snorers – Spence and Pete G ditto (Never, repeat never, share a room with Spence if at all possible) Light sleepers, light snorers and southernised Geordies – in the remaining room. Scotsmen on the floor in the lounge.
After a quick shop in Morrisons for beer, food and more beer we headed off to the local Indian restaurant to plan the weeks paddling
Sunday – Low Levels
Tom Downie an ex UHCC member and Graham Swanson a good friend who we have also paddled with several times before made the short journey up from Glasgow to join us for two days of fun.
An interesting section of the river Spean with some good rapids and rock formations, it goes almost any the time of the year. At this level, grade 3 with some grade 4 drops. We portaged Headbanger and Constriction rapids as they looked nasty.
Class 1 (4), short run of 3km that not many of us had done before. You put in on Loch Arkaig then paddle into the river and are almost immediately upon the only significant rapid (grade 3 -3+ at this level), we inspected from an island after fighting our way through the Rhododendrons. Spence certainly had the best line on hard river right, while others opted for left then centre where someone, who shall remain nameless, ended going down part of it backwards! Some fun play / surf waves followed with a particularly sticky bit where most of us were stuck, laughs all round.
Back to the bunkhouse for food.
Monday – Low Levels
We all head up the beautiful, but remote Glen Roy using the narrow winding road. Once kitted up we split into two groups, some guys ran the Wish You Were Here rapid, others couldn’t be bothered to carry their boats up to the rapid as the levels are low. From then on it was a fairly continuous grade 3 – 3 + at this level with some interesting rapids and a mega portage and walk out. Spence will confirm this, at one time it looked as though he might need mouth to mouth resuscitation – no takers there!
When my boat was on the trailer I noticed an ominous looking bulge underneath the seat. Upon further examination my worst fears were confirmed, it was just on the point of splitting. Strange that, as Chris had never paddled my Burn!
Head back to the bunkhouse via the Nevis bar in Fort William, look around Nevis Sports – (they do some great deals on second hand Gore – Tex jackets in red)
Eat at bunkhouse, then into Fort William for the odd drink in the Grog & Gruel and other pubs / youth clubs! – Happy days.
Tuesday – Sporting / Medium Levels
After raining most of the night, expectations were high for a great days paddling, unfortunately Tom and Graham had to head back to Glasgow.
After saying our goodbyes we headed to look at the Kiachnish, conveniently situated close to the bunkhouse. On looking at the river it was apparent it would be a challenging paddle, so we headed to look at the “oys”
Unfortunately I didn’t paddle this as I had to drop back into the A&E department for a couple of X-rays and packs of painkillers, but I was told it was a fun river. Short 2 km run, grade 3, I’m not sure whether the guys paddled through the tunnel under the Caledonian Canal………
The Upper Gloy
After getting out of the hospital and a quick phone call, I was heading as fast as legally possible in Pete’s car to meet the boys at the Gloy.
We had on numerous previous visits and after heavy rainfall gone to look at the Gloy to see if there was enough water to run it, we would look over the tiny bridge and always be disappointed that there was never sufficient water to paddle it. However, today was the day- bring it on!
I sped up the top of the Glen only to find that Andy, Pete and Col had just got on, fortunately Chris and Dan waited for me (Pete G and Spence decided to sit this one out) after a mega quick kit change and then trying to fit myself in Andy’s small Diesel and failing, I managed to squeeze into Dan’s small Burn.
What was the river like? Fantastic 4 km of continuous grade 3 fun, portage because of a fallen tree and a couple of class 4 drops, one of which we ran. It was well worth the long wait to paddle this river, big smiles all round!
Then jump back in the vehicles and head up Glen Roy again.
The Upper Roy
This needs a lot of rain to fall to run but it was holding the water well. This is a great stretch of river always guaranteed to bring a big smile to your face despite the sometimes bleak environment, gale force winds, horizontal rain etc. Again, it’s a short 2km run mostly grade 3 with the grade 4 rapids at the end Rooster Tail and Wish You Were Here.
The whole team ran this section and thoroughly enjoyed it. I paddled it in Andy’s Wavesport Habitat – very nice.
Head back to the bunkhouse for food and drinks, all tired but very happy!
Wednesday – Medium Levels
Andy had checked the on line gauges for the River Garry, a dam release river and it was releasing, so we headed up to the river.
Unfortunately, I think someone may have seen us and decided to spoil our fun by turning off the tap!
We scraped down the river which is normally a great 1.5 km grade 3 river with some super rapids and is apparently the local haunt for play boaters in the summer as it normally releases one day a week between April to October.
Disappointed, we head off to another river.
Access to the river is via a private track on the Ardverikie estate, used as film locations for “Monarch of the Glen” and “Mrs. Brown”
The put in is below the intimidating 10m Falls of Pattack, then follows 1km of grade 3 water then a grade 4 drop, more class 3 then you enter a small gorge with some more class 4 rapids. The UHCC team all rafted up to drop over the last grade 3+/4 rapid on the river, amazingly we all stayed upright!
Head back to the bunkhouse for food , drinks, temporary repairs to split boat and then slip into Fort William to visit some local hostelries and plan the next days paddling.
Thursday – Low Levels
An early start for the day as we head 90 miles to the first river.
Unfortunately, the river was low but still run-able. We portaged the first rapid by Randolphs Leap as this looked nasty, then a mixture of grades for 5 km, but all went ok. This river is really beautiful, but would be pretty scary at higher levels I would imagine, it also feels really remote, which it is!
We then head over past Inverness for another hour and a half.
The Meig (Lower/Gorge)
Eventually, we arrive at the get in which is below the Meig Dam. We kit up and carry our boats down to the river or should that be ditch? Some of us look at one another with the same thoughts running through our minds we have travelled all this way to paddle this??
The river runs on a compensation flow and it is FANTASTIC! It’s a steep narrow technical run of 2km of grade 4 water, not much in the way of bank inspection possible. Once you are in the gorge you are in, brilliant rock features abound. We split into two groups Pete G, Chris, Dan and myself picked our way down the river with the biggest smiles I have ever seen on all our faces!
The other group were close behind, all very happy people.
Would we make the effort to go all that way to do it again – definitely.
We head back 90 miles to Fort William, to the bunk house for a shower then off to the curry house and then the Grog & Gruel.
Friday – Low Levels
Our last day, so we need to paddle a river on the way home, lets think about what we could do? Not much thought required, it has to be the Etive, no Scotland trip is complete without running this classic.
As we make our way to Glen Etive, Andy’s trailer is making some very odd noises. Upon inspection at the get in it was apparent the wheel bearing was non existent. Andy made the tough decision not to paddle and take the trailer back to Fort William to try and get it repaired. Spence also elected to go with him for company, or so he said, the rest of us thought he was being a wimp!
The Etive (Middle)
A fabulous and arguably the most famous white water river in Scotland. Remote, set in a wonderful landscape, pool drops in nature with rapids with names such as Triple Falls, Letterbox, Ski Jump, Crack of Doom and Right Angle falls being the largest drop on the river, approximately 6m in height.
After Letterbox, my backside was feeling particularly cold and the boat was feeling a bit slow, I popped the deck and found I had half of the river in with me! The temporary repair had failed, I carried down the rest of the river having to get out every 4 /5 minutes to empty it out – not so much fun.
We only have to wait a short a time at the get out before Andy and Spence turn up minus the trailer, (that was to be recovered by the AA later in the week). We manage to put boats in and on the top of the van and on Pete’s car.
All good to go, we head back to Dan and Elaine’s, where we swap boats and gear into various vehicles, say our goodbyes and head back South reflecting on what a superb week we have all had.