Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Canoeing on the River Spey

The lure of experiencing Autumn from my canoe has been increasingly difficult to resist and this trip to Scotland was to produce a couple of firsts for me. I had never paddled on the river Spey before, nor had I done an overnight camp with all my kit packed into a canoe.

We began our journey at Newtonmore which is higher up the river than normal. Easy water on the already broad river took us through pretty scenery. However, brutally cold headwinds sapped our strength and slowed our progress towards our first night stop at Loch Insh.

Feeling the bitter cold of a Speyside November evening, we were glad to have booked into the hostel at the Loch Insh Watersports Centre.

By morning there had been a sprinkling of snow. As we launched our canoes onto the loch the temperature had not yet risen above freezing. We were thankful that the wind has eased and that the river flow had gained pace, but there was no escaping the cold. As we made our way down river there was more snow on the banks. Our feet grew numb.

At the end of our second day we reached Boat of Balliefurth. We found a patch beneath some pine trees which was clear of snow. I made a hot drink, got into my tent and thawed my feet in my sleeping bag.

After supper, we kept ourselves entertained by getting a small fire going...

The morning brought even lower temperatures and a biting chill. The river began to drop more steeply with more exciting rapids. As the sun rose gently into the sky we encountered the named rapids of the 'Washing Machine' and then 'No-can-do' (at Knockando).

We eventually washed up at Craigellachie to camp at Fiddich Park. This evenings entertainment was to be in the Highlander Hotel Whisky Bar.

Our final challenge was to paddle from Craigellachie to the sea at Spey Bay. I started the day by easing my way into my frozen drysuit which had taken on a cardboard like form. The morning chill seemed to intensify as we made our way downstream.

As we left the rolling hills and sandstone cliffs behind us we were greeted by a more open landscape. Shingle braids and banks of pebbles led the way; and although we could sense that the ocean was near, the water was still powerful and challenging.

We reached Spey Bay feeling cold weary and hungry, which is the sign of a good trip! My thanks go to Chris, Dawn and Andrew for their company on this wonderful journey.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tyne Tour

The Tyne Tour is run by Hexham Canoe Club and is a weekend of sociable paddling on the North and South Tyne rivers.

At this time of year the Autumn colours are at their best and this year the festival was blessed with excellent water levels.

Most stretches of water are grade 1-2 with occasional grade 3. This is perfect territory for open boating, and for those taking their first steps in white water kayaking.

The most anticipated rapid is Warden Gorge just before the North Tyne confluence with the South Tyne. This normally provides a sporty grade 3 rapid but this time it was more like a huge volume grade 4 and few open boaters took the challenge. Those that did were swamped.

In the meantime the kayakers were making the most of the conditions.

The Saturday night festivities began with the Hexham Round Table bonfire and fireworks display. An excellent way to kick off the evening with a bang. Afterwards, the dancing went well on into the night with the ceilidh.

In the morning it was time to explore the upper reaches of the North Tyne near Bellinghan and Wark. It was nice to engage yet more of the Tyne's Autumnal beauty before heading for home.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


A few years back I tried my hand at canoeing. At the time it was all about developing my paddling skills in preparation for doing some coaching qualifications. At first I was not all that enthusiastic but after a while, I began to enjoy the occasional trip with a single bladed paddle. It was challenging but with, time and effort I began to enjoy the slower pace of life.

Recently I bit the bullet and bought my own open boat. Its an 'Old Town Guide 147. Just big enough for paddling tandem and hopefully small enough for me to handle on my own for solo trips. It was a long drive for me to collect it from Devon but it seemed a good way to use up a Saturday when the weather was pretty lousy.

My next challenge was to do some outfitting. The canoe had no airbags or kneeling thwart. It always seems wrong to start drilling holes in a boat. Especially as I had only just bought it! Some time and some swearing later I had fitted airbags and a kneeling thwart and I was ready to take my new canoe out on the river.

Photo: Andy Hamilton
Overnight rain had brought the River Goyt into condition so I joined a group from Manchester Canoe Club on one of their regular Sunday morning outings. I had a few wobbles with my first tentative strokes but soon got the hang of ferry gliding below the second weir at Brabyns Park. After that, running the grade 2 rapids was fairly straightforward.

Whether I'll try more challenging water remains to be seen. Perhaps I'll leave that until the weather gets a bit warmer.