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A Scottish Summer Adventure

When my friend messaged me a couple of weeks ago asking if I wanted to come on a trip to Scotland I thought it would end up being a hiking trip with maybe a couple of days kayaking thanks to the dam releases. It turned out to be the best Scottish week of kayaking I have ever had! On the first day we drive up to Scotland and arrive in the beautiful sunshine at the upper Tummel. In typical kayaking fashion, it turns out we know the kayakers who are already in the layby. We have time to fit in a couple laps of the upper Tummel which I had never done before. It was a lovely little g2/3 river with one bigger rapid in the middle. I was super stoked on our second lap as I managed to get a leany-boof on this drop. As I went down first however, nobody else got to see it! Still, it FELT amazing!

Fun little drop on the upper Tummel!

DAY 2: The next day we wake up early and pack down the tents in anticipation. The drive up had been full of roadside weather warnings for the rain that was coming to Scotland. Sure enough, at 7am the rain hits the west coast and the Highlands quickly become one giant puddle. We head over to the Etive which is already rising quickly. The Etive is without a doubt a Scottish classic. We get on quickly and have an amazing speedy lap down. This is probably the best level I have ever paddled the Etive (medium plus). The drops were fun but not too scary and the rapids in between actually had water. The only rapid I portaged was the waterfall at Right Angle. Unfortunately as myself and another friend walked round, I lost my footing on the other side and fell down anyway resulting in my kayak floating unattended in the big pool at the bottom. Luckily another friend had just royally messed up the waterfall (sideways is not a good choice of line for future reference) and so Frodo (my kayak) had another vacant boat to keep it company!

My friend Sam choosing a questionable line down… Photo: Becca Stairs

We paddled out and headed for a lap of a nice medium Coe. We then head over to the Orchy which was absolutely huge (2.4). We had a quick look at the entry tributary Allt Kinglass but ran away after seeing quite how big the holes had become. As soon as we got on, the Orchy was fast and raging. At times it was scary but generally it was just super fun. Doing a unintentional tailee in my Stout half way down a rapid made it into the scary part! Another fun moment was when me and my friend Becca were both getting (unintentionally) side surfed in adjacent holes on one of the rapids. Luckily my time at HPP paid off and I got myself out of the hole and back upright eventually! We got to the end and agreed that we had probably just had the best day of kayaking ever!

The river Coe! The first little gorge section is super fun!

DAY 3: One thing you should know about me is that I am a morning person! (6am is my happy time!) This does mean though I have to entertain myself whilst I wait for the rest of the world to wake up. Today I went for a walk to see the falls of Orchy and spent a good amount of time picking fantasy lines. I didn’t think this was generally a runnable rapid but a message later on from a Mr Nick Bennett confirmed otherwise! We started with another fun lap of the Orchy and then headed over to the Roy gorge and the lower Roy. Having never done either of these sections before, I really enjoyed them, especially with a bit of water! Our friend Jake (a previous child freestyle ninja) especially enjoyed his power flip on a microscopic hole on the Lower Roy. Luckily though he pushed off the rocks and found himself upright again. Once we had stopped laughing about this (Jake included) we paddled out and enjoyed the beautiful location we were in.

There are some perks to being a morning person!

DAY 4: I was given permission to do an early wake up call for today. The hard part is getting people out of their tents. Once out, the million or so midges trying to bite you generally ensure tent take down is speedy. We started with another full lap of the Orchy, although now significantly lower. Then back over to the Etive in beautiful warm Sunshine. This was a low but fun lap. Right Angle quickly became everyone’s favourite moment of the week however when the best paddler in our group, Steve, had an out of boat experience. This came about after an unfortunate combination of overhanging wall and capsized kayak. Steve is about a million times better at kayaking than me and has fished me out many times in the past so it felt vaguely satisfactory to go next and absolutely ace my line. He took our jests in good grace however and went for a second more stylish run. We paddled out and then headed to the Garry for a fun playful lap.

The most photographed waterfall in Scottish kayaking?

DAY 5: Today whilst waiting for my friends to wake up, I fit in a river swim, a walk and a hike to see the waterfalls (10,000 steps before 9am). Once the others were up we headed to the Spean gorge. I have only done the Spean high before so when we got there and the river level was below the gauge I assumed it was not runnable. Boy was I wrong! Apparently a low Spean is fairly standard and it was actually quite a fun chilled out paddle.

The Spean Gorge

We then took a bit of a drive over to the Meig where 4 of us got on. Despite arriving in pouring rain, the midges were still out in full force. We got on and the first rapid involved scraping down some rocks and avoiding metal poles at the bottom. Looking at my other two friends who this was also a new river for, we began to question what we were in for. The answer was a rocky messy adventure. Despite the river being full of sharp rocks, undercuts and siphons, there was not actually enough water going down for these to be of much concern. The paddle involved bashing into rocks and doing most of the ‘rapids’ on a brace. Whilst I am glad to have got to experience this adventure, I am not sure it is a river I am keen to go back to!

Steve showing us down the Meig

DAY 6: Today started with a long swim, made longer by the swarms of midges by the loch side I was unwilling to swim back into. We head back down to the Tummel, but this time to do the lower section which was releasing today. Beautifully warm, this was another lovely little river perfect for any club trips. Grade 2/3 all the way until the end with one larger rapid (the double drop). We had a quick scout and I went down first only to make a complete hash of it. For some reason unknown to myself and my friends in between the two drops I decided to throw myself over. Luckily I rolled up as I went over the second drop and had the closest thing to a roll-boof that I have ever had! Annoyed at my beater self, I got out and immediately ran it again, this time upright. We ended the river with a little game of ‘pull each other’s decks’ which resulted in 5 of us swimming on the flat. A perfect end to a perfect week!

Last rapid on the lower Tummel, take 2. Video: Becca Stairs

Thanks for the good times Steve, Jake, Becca, Sam and Alex!

Left to right: Becca, Steve, Sam, Alex, Jake and me!

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