Lochaber River Running

I had collated a list of rivers up to grade III to work on canoe paddling, and it so happened that four of these rivers could be combined in pairs and in the same weekend to provide a very productive two days’ paddling.

Two others, Tom and Jim, joined me and we met up by Old Inverlochy Castle which would be our end point on the first day. From there we drove up to Loch Arkaig dropping Jim’s car en-route. This would allow him to drive the stretch of Loch Lochy connecting the River Arkaig and River Lochy, our first day’s paddle route, whilst Tom and I paddled the loch – something which we did tandem (towing second boat) to help overcome the wind we found our selves paddling in.

Loch Arkaig…
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The River Arkaig is a very short run of water and quite soon after getting on it, we were back out the boats, admiring and then portaging round the grade IV fall that was beyond myself and Tom’s ability. More lesser, yet interesting rapids provided interest further down the river with the final one, which had looked pretty innocent from the bridge crossing below it, causing a slight hiccup for Jim and myself with ‘stealth’ rocks forcing both of us to take unexpected actions. It is a very short river and now we were on the stretch of Loch Lochy we had driven along only about an hour earlier.

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Looking east up Loch Lochy…
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View across to the Aonachs…
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Meeting up again at the canal locks, we began some heavy carrying of boats from the loch down to the river (Lochy) where lunch was reward for our arm-stretching efforts. The sky darkened and sure enough we launched with drizzle starting and it followed us a good part of the way down our second river of the day.

The Lochy proved to be a pleasant bimble with just the odd shingle rapid along the way and good open views, a contrast after the hemmed in feel of the Arkaig. Views to Ben Nevis were good, but significantly curtailed by cloud cover and clag. Soon enough we could hear and and finally see the river’s main rapid, Torcasle. We got out and scouted the rapid from one side before running it. I managed to lose grip of the top of my paddle part way down and found myself heading for a rock wall, only just managing to regain grip and slow myself to soften the impact – not an elegant descent!

Immediately after running the rapid we continued on foot a short way to check round the corner to see if the rapid continued on out of sight as Jim remembered from a previous visit. As it happened, there was nothing else to concern us, the river being lower than on that occassion, and we were soon on our way again to our destination, enjoying views along the way and bizarrely, the company of a lonesome seal quite high up the river.

Torcastle rapid on the Lochy, the main event for our paddle and one that had to be checked out and a route planned…
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Ben Nevis …
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Next day, we set our sites on a run of the lower stretch of the River Roy which feeds in to the middle section of the River Spean. I had previously paddled part of the latter but not at the same level and time is not good for my memory at all so all would be fresh anyway.

We set off feeling tired from the previous day’s efforts, sleeping in cars overnight and the steep zig-zag carry of boats and gear down to the Roy. What a reward though, a gorgeous, hidden place to set off on our way down to Spean Bridge. The flow was swift from the start and rounding our first bend had us on, what seemed like rapid after rapid, with pauses now and again to bail out water taken on by waves pouring in over the bow and sides.

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Like the Arkaig, the river had an enclosed feel to it, but more so with the higher sides and narrowness of the river. The rapids provided an endless amount of entertainment and challenge right till the end of the Roy with success all the way until the last, and most challenging rapid where I messed up a pre-planned route down and tested my dry suit for the first time. Swim! Cold fingers and dented pride but worst of all some boat damage though nothing too serious.

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The Spean was just round the corner and so we paddled on to it and found ourselves a convenient spot to have lunch in a much more open and brighter setting.

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The rapids I recall from my previous trip here were almost unrecognisable with the higher level of water this time, in fact with that there was less challenge getting down the river to Railway Bridge Falls, something we missed on the previous visit, and with good reason. Much too serious for the bigger boats, so Tom and I skirted and scraped our way down a route to one side. Jim, however, showed us how it can be done in his smaller boat and very smoothly too. Maybe one day I’ll be at that level.

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All in it had proven to be a very useful and varied weekend, four rivers with a lot of rapids to enjoy and work on. The Roy and Lochy are so different and I can see both being re-visited very soon again for different reasons.

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