LCC – Open Canoe Descent of the River Spey (24 – 27 October 2021)
The five members of the party convened at our planned launching point near Kingussie at around lunchtime on Saturday and soon got busy with the car shuttle to Spey Bay, where we intended to finish the trip four days later. This involved a 130-mile round-trip, and it was early evening before we were ready to put the boats on the water and paddle to our first campsite – which was 100m downstream! (It should be noted that one of our party – Graham – had launched early on Saturday morning, much higher up stream than the rest of us, and had paddled 20km further). We were in our sleeping bags shortly after it got dark at 6:30pm.
The next day we were out of our tents at 7:30am and ready to paddle by 9:00am. This was the pattern we would follow for the rest of the trip. There was not much flow on the river, but a strong south-westerly wind helped us make good progress. We soon reached Lochinsh and were swiftly blown across it. It was a pity that none of us had had the foresight to bring a sail. First lunch (or was it second breakfast?) was taken in a sheltered spot at the eastern end of the loch, where Graham engaged a couple of anglers in fish-orientated conversation.
We took third breakfast (or first/second lunch) at Aviemore, and then continued to an excellent camping spot on an island just upstream of Boat of Garten. We lit a small campfire and chatted around it until the ungodly hour of 8:30pm! I think whisky might also have been imbibed.
The following morning, we packed our kit and paddled a few kilometres to Grantown on Spey, where we stopped for elevenses/second breakfast/first lunch etc. etc. Up to this point the paddling had undoubtably been pleasant, but it had also been rather flat. However, from here to Spey Bay, some 90km away, we would be treated to a continuous series of fun grade I/II rapids. The flow of the river also increased, making our daily progress less of an effort to achieve. The surrounding countryside swept past, and before long we met the infamous ‘Washing Machine’. This is a fairly straightforward Grade II wave-train, but it has a reputation for swamping open boats. Most of us donned helmets (just in case) and dropped into the rapid. We emerged unscathed, with only the minimal amount of water to be bailed out of our boats. That night we camped on another small island, just upstream of the Knockando rapids, and were lulled to sleep by the sound of tumbling water.
The next day we packed the tents in the nick of time, just before the rain set in. The run down the Knockando rapids went without incident. Our next stop was at Aberlour, to use a ‘propper loo’ (!) and to visit the co-op. Thereafter, the river maintained plenty of interest, with numerous small rapids and the added bonus of leaping salmon. None actually jumped into any of the boats, but we lived in hope. That night we pitched camp near Fochabers. Shortly after our arrival we were visited by a couple of gents employed by the local landowner, who I think wanted to make sure that we weren’t a group of ne’er do wells intent on nicking their fish! They quickly realised that we were respectable canoeists (albeit slightly smelly by this stage) and Graham chatted to them for some time – about fish (again).
As usual, we arose around dawn and were soon paddling seawards, towards Spey Bay. Easy rapids just kept coming and coming, right up to the point where we could see the sea and smell the salt air. We paddled out of Spey Bay to the edge of the North Sea, and then eddy-hopped back into the bay against an ebb tide. We landed within a few meters of our parked cars, within earshot of the waves crashing onto the beach. As ever, the Spey had been a delightful mini expedition. The scenery was wonderful, and the paddling had been continuously interesting without being scary.
Paddlers: Mike Alter, Ruth Alter/Edwards, Graham Rowe, Anthony Brockway & Andy Garland.
Data sheet for the full journey / trip down the River Spey