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.

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