Tay Descent – An Overnight Trip from Kenmore to Perth

Finally, an overnighter in my canoe on a two day journey down the River Tay from Kenmore to Perth. Two of us had been looking for a trip to do which would take a couple of days and allow us to use our hammocks to give us more flexibility in our chosen spot for the night as tents can be a bit more restrictive on where they can be pitched on tree-lined river banks.

We set off from Kenmore on the eastern shore of Loch Tay and headed off with Ben Lawers up ahead, part way along the Loch, showing the first of this winter’s snow on its summit. A quick rounding of the little point which part of the village lies on had us changing direction and beginning our journey down the river picking up some speed with the flow almost immediately – great! The stone arched bridge which carries traffic over the river at this point would be the first of many we would paddle under over the following two days.

Each of us had previously paddled a couple of stretches of the Tay but neither of us new all of it. That said, between us we had been on all the stretches with the rapids we would need to be aware of and had done our homework about the rest. Two rapids over the 80km journey would have to be portaged rather than paddled and we knew where these were well which meant we could relax and take in the scenery and autumnal colours along the rest of the way.

Within minutes we were getting in to the flow of things (literally) and enjoying the views and good weather we had been blessed with. Our first rapid which we had both paddled in January at a different level proved to be straightforward if just a little splashy and some bailing and sponging excess water taken on followed in the slow flat water beneath. This was something that we experienced a little on the bigger wave trains throughout our journey but no major swamping nor any swims took place thankfully.

Kenmore to Aberfeldy was over in not much over an hour – amazing to think we had previously drawn this stretch out over a day – and likewise Aberfeldy to Grandtully, our first and longest portage, was similarly quick considering it too has been drawn out to a day previously. We watched some kayakers on the rapids at Grandtully but were quite happy with the decision to walk it (boats wheeled on trolleys) and avoid any accidental carnage.

Leaving Grandtully the scenery and weather changed. A bit of grey crept in to the sky and some slight drizzle appeared occasionally too, whilst at the same time the river slowed and widened as it passed into a flatter valley-floor-like scene than the previous, much steeper-sided section.

At the point where the River Tummel joins the Tay, we stopped on a pebbly beach and took advantage of a picnic table to have a bite to eat. Time had been getting on and we had preferred to get some mileage in rather than eat till now to increase our chances of getting to our intended destination for the evening. At this point drizzle turned to shower but this was short lived and in any case sudden peckishness was not going to be held up by a bit of rain.

Closer now to the A9 but not too close, the road noise never really spoiled things, the views (much more open now) and seeking out the slightly faster currents in the river focused our attention on better things. Eventually we paddled beneath the A9 getting the reverse perspective form this spot we are more used to on driving back and forth this way. Tiring by now, this was a welcome landmark as we new we were approaching Dunkeld and therefore just a final few kilometers to our ‘camp’ spot for the evening.

Through Dunkeld, passing beneath the town’s stone bridge with the sunset colours casting a hue on the trees above, we picked up some pace with an increase in flow but not enough to keep us paddling all the way we had thought we would. We stopped just two kilometers short with enough light left to get ourselves organised for the night; hammocks up, chairs, stoves and firebox out and set up for dinner and comfort – just what we needed after 42km on the water.

A good night followed, with food, drink and chat all with the background noise of the Silvery Tay flowing swiftly past. How many million liters of water flowed past us over the course of that evening? A reasonably early night followed with both of us seeking sleep and recuperation from aches developed over the day.

The forecast proved correct with our second day being the better of the two – sunnier, warmer, drier and again with no wind to bother us. We woke to light misty conditions on and above the river but the obvious sign that this would not last much into the morning. Some geese were gathering in groups and setting off southwards as we would do shortly after.

We set off on a slightly lower river but still with a decent flow, in fact, we must have been tired when we finished as it was now obvious that what had seemed barely to have been flowing at previous day’s end was actually helping us along quite nicely.

Leaving a misty, enclosed scene behind us, we now paddled on to another more open scene with the feeling of a hard day’s paddling in our knees and other body parts. A good time to focus on efficient paddling to get the most out of our efforts.

Throughout our journey so far, we had felt the river and its banks were pretty quiet but from here on this became even more so – a definite feeling of having the place to ourselves and of remoteness, brilliant!

Our next goal was Campsie Linn, or at least just above it as this would be our second portage. We were still doing well for time but each kilometer was hard worked for.

More stunning scenery and colours all along the way and soon enough the islands that indicate the Linn appeared as expected. We got out and inspected our options for getting down / past this point. The choice of portage over paddle was an easy one – we would have easily swamped and the portage was short, very short, over a rocky shelf.

A familiar stretch this one and we didn’t hang around, taking advantage of the river’s increase in pace to get us down the weir (after inspecting), and beyond to the next rapid downstream which was pretty much washed out and easier than on previous paddles.

Our final few kilometers from Luncarty to Perth were slow but actually not that tiring, possibly adrenalin or happiness at reaching a long sought end-point. Perth’s stone bridge came into view all to soon and with it significant numbers of people out enjoying the day. With that we were soon off the river, wheeling our boats across to our pickup point after 80km in about ten great hours of paddling.

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