We’ve paddled it lower (then again, maybe not)

Arkaig in Scotland 2015 by Olga Beschastnykh

Gemma Wilson reports on Regent Canoe Club’s recent trip to paddle a week’s worth of Scottish rivers

A few weeks back, a motley crew of Regenters were highland-bound to take on the mighty rivers of Scotland. This was my first trip to the land of tartan and tripe for … er … quite some time and having heard tales at the pub of trips past, I was told I should brace myself for some pretty extreme paddling! Car Park rapids anyone?! (Sorry Debs).

Alas and alack, the weather gods did not look favourably upon us (or maybe they did – have you ever seen Scotland in the sunshine? Neither have many Scots. Simply stunning!) and as such the rivers were dry. I cannot recall who coined the phrase “paddling a river of Krzysztof ‘s tears” but I have now stolen it and claimed it as my own (I’ll buy Krzysztof a pint for copyright).

So, seeing as not much paddling got done, here are 10 things a kayaker can do in Scotland when she/he can’t find any water.

Paddle anything you can find, even if it’s a mill pond: Believe it or not, Aisling and Krzysztof did manage to paddle every day – quite frankly a miracle all things considered. No, not all the rivers were challenging but they did manage it.

Most of us got on the Etive on day one (which was unrecognisable to some) and ran the drops. On the plus side I think we managed to get a week’s worth of photography out of one afternoon. Huge thanks to the Regents’ paparazzi (Tommo/Alex) on securing some pretty impressive shots!

Other rivers which were conquered were the Spean Gorge (which was more portage than paddle) and which has some very kayaker-friendly named features, such as Head Banger and Crack of Doom. Oh the joy. I have to say, as a paddler I do rather prefer the more deceptive names for features, such as Fairy Steps, which means I am not cacking myself before I run it, but I digress…

Also managed during the week were the Awe, Roy Gorge and Lower Roy. The Moriston (dam release) looked impressive in parts, but the bit in the middle was voted overall as a bit dull. Meanwhile the Garry (also dam release) was good fun and quite short, so many of us ran that at least 2-3 times.

And then there was the Arkaig which even if it was crazy low was so beautiful I still think about it now.

So you see? Even when there is just a trickle you can still get your boat wet.

Paddle new things: The “play-boys” – made up of Sean, Daryl and Joey – did get the scoop about a ‘play’ wave on the aluminium smelting ditch just outside Fort William. Not being funny, but the idea of putting in for a roll in the waste water from an aluminium plant (spelled correctly, pronounced like a Canadian) does not sound that appealing. I am not sure the boys were all that impressed with it either.

And Ben McPhee tried his hand at the Falls of Lora which is probably not for the faint of heart. If you do happen to swim, you are off to the Isle of Mull. Look it up though, it’s pretty cool!

Climb Ben Nevis. Climb any mountain in fact. This would be my first choice of non-kayaking activity in Fort William. Contrary to what I had heard, the path up Ben Nevis is well marked and very do-able at a steady pace, even by yourself. Once you start seeing the cairns you are very near the top. Best done on a clear day otherwise you will end up with your head in the clouds.

Go Mountain Biking/Go Ape: Too much sun meant another day with dry feet so a few of us went mountain biking and did Go Ape (clambering about in the tree tops with a harness). Both these activities got a thumbs up as non-paddling options, and a morning of whizzing through forest left us with a healthy appetite for…

Haggis nachos!* Possibly the biggest disappointment with this dish was the distinct lack of nachos, it is best described as a bowl of haggis swimming in cheese. Sounds gross, tastes lovely (or maybe we were just bored/hungry)! *not suitable for vegetarians.

Whisky tasting: When in Rome and all that… all reviews of the Fort William whisky tour was that it was good, but if you are looking for quality over just getting nicely sozzled in the afternoon, some research into other whisky tasting options may be worthwhile for the connoisseur. I missed this but apparently I didn’t miss much.

Go swimming: If all else fails there is a local pool in Fort William where kayakers can catch up on some swimming practice. As they say on the river, we are all between swims!

Go for tea at Liza’s mum’s House: Not actually Liza’s mum’s house but rather what people imagine it would be. Tea and cake aplenty with some very comfy sofas to boot. Recommended by all who went.

Visit the Harry Potter bridge and have more tea in a railway carriage: More commonly known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct, this is an impressive train bridge to look at can be followed up with a nice cuppa in a vintage railway carriage nearby. There is a long-lived rumour that when the viaduct was being built a horse fell into one of the piers holding up the bridge. Alas the story is not true (the horse and cart are actually in the pier of the Loch nan Uamh Viaduct instead).

Visit a castle. There are lots of them.

Apparently no trip is complete without a stop at the Green Wellie on the way back to London for everyone to fuel up on sausage sandwiches, whiskey at over inflated prices and boxes upon boxes of Walker’s Scottish Shortbread (exactly the same as the kind you get in Sainsbury’s, except you bought it in Scotland and that makes all the difference, apparently).

Huge thanks to Sean for organising a great trip and putting so much effort into finding alternative rivers and alternative activities. A great laugh was had by all!

Inspecting the Moriston, Scotland 2015. Image by Olga Beschastnykh

Inspecting the Moriston, Scotland 2015. Image by Olga Beschastnykh

Main image credit Olga Beschastnykh