This winter it just didn’t seem to stop raining in Scotland. A clear defined snow line meant that the tops of the hills were getting the snow and anything below that was getting rain, which meant if you were a West coast local you had the pick of what to do. In Scotland with rain normally comes wind so that means skiing is a no-go and boating is on. When there isn’t wind there’s normally not rain which means it’s time for skiing. Since I’m not fortunate enough to live in the hills, and with little funds, I couldn’t make the most of the high life and dedicated most of my time to going boating.
The hardest thing if you are new to British boating is the fine art of predicting levels. The “wheresthewater” website is great but it only updates in the morning. I am an hour and 30 minute drive from most places, which means I’ll have a look at the site then rush there, only to find a scrapey river. Another option is ringing friends to see if anything is going. The problem with having Scottish friends is that they have a horrific tendency to give a false reading. You have to ask them if it’s a locals low which normally means it’s a tourist high.It gets confusing and you’re often no better off then where you were before the conversation.
I got fed up of driving up to the West or up the East and decided to take refuge in my good friends Ted Piper’s house. Most boaters who base themselves in Fort William start twitching if they leave Lochaber and Ted is no exception. Living in the Fort you are truly spoiled with the white water that’s on offer. Boating with Ted really opened my eyes to how boating should be. As soon as there was rain I used to rush around cramming in 3 to 4 rivers in one day, I would get on anything saying “this will do”. I still do this from time to time. Ted takes a much more methodical approach. You wake up. Have some porridge with cinnamon apples raisins and honey, have a coffee. And then just send a leisurely text around to a few people to see what’s happening and pick a river. We would turn up to find that it was normally at the perfect level, have an awesome time go for a tea and then maybe go for another river, stress free. I certainly think this style of boating puts me in the right frame of mind for enjoying the river, taking it slow, catching eddies discussing lines cool things to do rather than just bombing down. It might just be me but at first it was hard for me to accept the slower pace, but on reflection I learned a lot from boating with Ted. He is my Sensei! I had an awesome winter and learnt lots of lessons on the water and off, I made mistakes, made stupid decisions, and had a belter of a swim, but I feel I’ve learnt from them and am always learning. It was a real eye opener.
I got to do lots of new rivers, meet loads of new friends and really appreciate how cool the British kayaking scene is. I also gave a lot of my money to the Clachaig Inn.
Here are 3 rivers that I’ve enjoyed and want other people to enjoy too.
The Second Drop on Inchcree
It’s a really cool drop. It looks easy from far away but once you get there, you realise its far more complex and there are loads of things you need to concentrate on. Which gives you great satisfaction when you get the line right.
The water wants to push you left so you have to stay on line. There’s a little room of doom on river left just at the bottom that if you’re in it you’re going to have an absolute whale of time and live the dream(!). The pool at the bottom leads in to the next few drops which look slightly unpleasant but you try and convince yourself that “It’s fine I’m in a Nomad, some old school Scottish fruit loop has done it in a Topo and was fine.” The get in it was quite tricky to get into just because of the steep banks. Scouting is a ball ache. Safety is actually quite good if you put the effort in. All these combining factors make it a little mini mission for one park and huck. Making it super enjoyable sorting out logistics; getting to use ropes to lower your boats down, using signals, you feel like you’re a pro. A good mission and getting a cool picture making it look like it’s a lot bigger than it actually is, is a bonus.
The more water the better,the Nevis was hit and miss when it was like this on the high side of fun, the more people the better. Would I do it again? I wouldn’t rush back because when levels are like this there are rivers to run. Would I recommend it to young keen been huckster that wants a cool picture and get a bit of freefall time and I know he’s going to be alright? Yer sure – I did it and was fine.
The Kinglass into Loch Fyne
With many rivers in Scotland your straight into the thick of it, Nevis you have boulder blast. Falloch you have the drop. But this beauty, you have a few km of groovy grade 3, big bouncy glorious grade 3 – an ideal warm up and you could just lap this. A sweet little run.
A mandatory portage past a weir indicates you’re ready for the exciting stuff. It’s an absolutely stunning river its always getting more exciting , it’s road side so if it’s getting to much you can just hop out if you have had enough. It’s got a tunnel that you can’t see the end of and your body tells you it’s a very very bad idea, there could be a tree in it, you know certain people would say this is absolutely dangerous which just makes you want to do it more . The river itself is amazing, many paddlers regard this as an up there run. It has no real big drops. No real hard moves. Just a continuous river filled with cruisy moves enough to make your bum hole twitch. You start in the hills and end up in the loch. The last section of the river is grade 2/3 and just gives you some time to reflect on the super time you have had and shared with your mates.
(if you have lots of money and aren’t too smelly the Loch Fyne restaurant is really, really nice and worth a visit for some sea food its 5 minute in the car away. There’s also a pub at the take out whilst your shuttle bitch does the shuttle.)
Stanley Weir – River Tay
When Lochaber locals leave the Fort and drive a few hours it’s got be something that is worthwhile.
With a big pile and nice shoulder to surf this wave is ace. I’m more a front surf kind of guy. It’s good for your soul and I can’t do much more. I have not surfed Hurley but it’s better. You can sneak out to surfers right and when you cut left you can get some good speed to throw any move you want. The more water the better for this thing to come in to play, over winter it was in loads and not a single soul was there to make the most of a beautiful wave . Unfortunately it has no eddy service but a short walk up the bank did no one any harm. If you don’t have a playboat, GoKayaking Scotland which is 10 mins away hire out playboats for a good deal to try out what the cool kids surf down south. For me it was a nice break to creeking. I didn’t spend the time scared, I was just enjoying kayaking surfing a wave that was actually really quite big. More people need to know about this gem.
The Scottish kayaking scene is one of tales, rumours and creatures that you could only aspire to be and there will always be those solid paddlers that no one knows about that sneak away on their little missions and huck the shit. I like that mythical status that Scottish boaters have. They’re not interested in writing things like this or gopro’s, making edits, but it would be cool if they were to just showcase how the good the white water is up in Scotland when the rain’s in.