Archive for the Open Canoe Category

Loch Lyon and Beinn Heasgarnich

Posted in Hiking, Hills, Open Canoe, Paddling with tags , , on April 16, 2016 by Jinja Coo

My first time in the canoe for ages – more than a year and a half – as time just has been passing too quickly and other commitments taking up weekends.

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Two of us headed to Loch Lyon to take advantage of its sheltered setting, which would allow us to paddle without too much trouble despite some forecast winds. We set off from the dam at the loch’s east end, loaded with comforts and both dry – after sitting out a shower in the car for a few minutes. Winds above were clearly evident as clear patches and ominous clouds swept across the sky, warming us one minute and cooling us a few minutes later.

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Within a couple of hours we had paddled all the way to the west end, including a lunch stop at the north arm of the loch, and having discounted a potential site suggested by the map at the west end, we retreated back to another one we had passed en-route. It offered a good starting point for a hill walk and looked to have some flat ground too.

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Flat ground does not necessarily mean dry as with so much runoff from the wet hills above, we struggled to find a suitable pitch and we ended up on the well drained gravel of the shore instead. All good so far, but a snapped pole and consequent hassles meant it was a cold hour before we were able to get changed and into warm clothes … and the fire on too. Chairs up and food on the go, we could properly relax and enjoy the noise of curlew flying about as darkness set in. The fire did its job keeping us warm on what was a cold night. Cold enough for snow to fall and lie as low down as the lochside. We woke early to a much wintrier scene with the hills white against a blue sky.

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Over breakfast we made use of the firebox again, using some of the wood and coal leftover from the previous night and were in danger of not getting up the hill behind us, Beinn Heasgarnich (Sheasgarnich), but motivation returned as the sun rose and soon enough legs were straining up the steep ascent, gaining height and views as we went. Views were coming and going with the wind driven cloud up high clearing every now and then. Up top we had a quick bite, but views to the south stubbornly refused to reveal themselves and it was just too cold to hang about any longer, only clearing after we had descended to the flat shoulder sitting to the north, still impressive even from there.

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Most people approach this hill from Glen Lochay in the south, so our ascent might well be a route less traveled, but no reason for that as there is a good 4×4 track in from the Loch Lyon dam and our route seemed to avoid the bogginess referred to in route descriptions from the south.

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Lochaber River Running

Posted in Open Canoe, Paddling with tags , , , , on January 30, 2014 by Jinja Coo

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.

A Deelightful Time

Posted in Open Canoe, Paddling with tags , , on December 17, 2013 by Jinja Coo

Same forecast as that the previous day which had changed plans to go out on the sea, but this planned trip was not going to be revised from that of a recce of a stretch of the Dee, in preparation for a future, multi-day descent of the Dee. Winds were a bit of an issue at times but only made progress harder than ideal, most of the time we were sheltered or the current outweighed any headwind, and at times we even had a tailwind.

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Putting in beneath the main falls of the Linn of Dee, we expected an easy and rapid free passage all the way to just beyond Invercauld, about 17km downstream, where we had left a car. The first rapid of merit on the Dee, listed in guidebooks, is that at Invercauld Bridge and we had stopped to check it out before commencing our paddle. From the bridge there was nothing too concerning and we could see an easy place to stop before a rapid slightly out of sight just beyond this.

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Off we went then, gliding along in a nice swift and gentle current with no challenges expected other than the wind for the next couple of hours, but within a couple of minutes there was a surprising amount of noise from up ahead and before we knew it we were descending an unexpected rapid, with a fallen tree lying bang in the middle. This was probably one of the trickiest rapids I’ve run in a canoe and thankfully there was no swimming, just a bit of sloshing about in the boat from the water taken on. Another rapid soon followed which was at the upper end of anything I’ve paddled, great fun, but why no mention of these in the book?

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Another kilometer passed and an obvious, longer rapid lay ahead, time to get out and see what we were in for. We agreed a route down and then took it in turns with the other two providing safety from the side. Another challenging one – this was proving to be a much more useful (and fun) day than expected. Here though we noticed that with about 4 hours of good light, we had only paddled 2 of our 17km in an hour and thoughts and chat started to turn to options for not getting to the end, did Braemar have a taxi service we could fall back on?

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All was well though, the rapids were over now till Invercauld and with that, less delays. Our high forecast winds too helped out largely being from behind at this point so we made up for lost time most of the way to Invercauld and thankfully so, as light was changing visibly as we inspected our last rapid, the one that had been out of sight from Invercauld bridge. Another one to decide on a descent path and run it as planned (hopefully). Plenty of water taken on in the waves but it was just a kilometer or so to our finish so we paddled on in half empty bath tubs in fading light to finish a really enjoyable day.

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A cracking day out, much more interesting and challenging than expected and possibly a good choice of stretch if we don’t manage to get water of the same level next time which could force us to start lower down, missing out on the initial interest we found this time.

Re-reading the guidebooks since, I can see the reason for no mention of the early rapids is that generally canoes put-on the river lower down, perhaps then the high water we had was unusual in allowing us to start so far up the river.

Avon Water

Posted in Open Canoe, Paddling with tags on December 17, 2013 by Jinja Coo

What to do when the forecast winds preclude any sensible paddling on the sea (as intended), head for a sheltered river instead. We chose the Avon Water in Lanarkshire and descended an interesting stretch from Larkhall down to Ferniegair, about 6.5km of grade 2/3, passing along the depths of a gorge like section of Chatelherault Country Park.

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It started dry and brighter than expected but soon enough the winds were notable by the swaying trees high above us and there was occasional evidence of recent falls beside and in the river. Rain started about half way and grew heavier as we went which was not so nice for getting changed at the end, dry on the river, damp in the car!

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Thankfully the recent days’ rain had swollen the river to just the right level for an unimpeded float down with the just the occasional scrape over shallower stretches. The flow was swift and we cruised along nicely between the rapids, two or three of which were a good technical challenge for me.

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A very nice stretch of water with quite a scenic feel despite being so close to sizable towns.

Lower River Orchy and Loch Awe’s Archipelago

Posted in Open Canoe, Paddling with tags , , , , on November 26, 2013 by Jinja Coo

Many a time I’ve driven past the same short section of Loch Awe on the road to and from Oban, but it has never really seemed like a place I was keen to paddle on in a hurry despite having some points of interest in the islands, castles and crannogs it possesses, elsewhere until now had trumped it for whatever reason. However, for the second weekend in a row I hooked up with Chris for a paddle and we opted for Loch Awe as a destination. The forecast was good, very good even, and we could make an interesting and varied day of it by combining a stretch of the River Orchy and Loch Awe, the former flowing in to the latter beside the impressive ruins of Kilchurn Castle.

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With the seasonally short daylight hours, we opted to start on the river at Dalmally rather than higher up, this would give us a short river paddle with good views over to the Cruachan hills as well as the interest of the river paddle itself before heading on to the more open space of the loch, with views all around and interest in the islands a short journey to the southwest. We had left one car by the castle where we would finish paddling for the day.

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The river this low down has hardly any rapids, just a couple of small ones, but our pace was definitely aided by the flow in a few places and on slower stretches we could drift along and spin about taking in the view in front of and behind us.

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Soon enough, we rounded a corner giving us our first glimpse of the loch itself. Ahead, our path widened out revealing nicely wooded hillsides to the right and the impressive ruins of Kilchurn Castle to the left, between them a distant layer of mist sat above the loch, and our target, the islands, seemed to sit just beneath this.

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Easy paddling in still conditions had us pass by the village of Lochawe, gaining a new perspective on the place to that which you get on passing through on the busy road running through it. Previously unseen buildings by the shore and higher up on the hill reveal themselves from this angle and they must enjoy great views over the loch.

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We arrived at the islands just in time for a well earned lunch. We stopped first on Fraoch Eilean, which has the ruins of a castle on it and we ate here and explored the place for a while. Our landing spot had some blue/green algae present in the water, something I’ve never seen before and it actually looked quite unnatural in the tone of its colour.

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Continuing on, our next stop after enjoying views and reflections which seemed to be getting better and sharper as we went, was Inishail Island. This had quite a different look in terms of the trees on it to the previous ones, greens being largely replaced by yellow, and it has the ruins of church and a cemetery on it. Lots of interesting headstones, some a decade or two old, others hundreds of years old and some of which have images of knights for example rather than text.

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To avoid fully retracing our route out and to get a closer look at some of the crannogs on the loch, we hugged the eastern shore on our return, enjoying a different perspective and arrived back with the mist almost following us as the temperature and light began to lessen. I got out the canoe wondering why had did it take so long for me to come here as it had turned out to be a really stunning place to paddle in the end and somewhere I am looking forward to coming back to in future.

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Some good info on the sites we visited available here:
Kilchurn Castle
Fraoch Eilean
Inishail Island (cemetery) and here.