Open Canoes on the River Tweed 2020 A bank holiday adventure

Open Canoes on the River Tweed 2020

A bank holiday adventure


The August Bank holiday was fast approaching, and several ideas were put forward, white water, sea kayaking and Open Canoeing. Strong winds on the Llyn Peninsula, lack of white water resulted in a three-day trip down the river Tweed on the Scottish border. Club open canoes were available, but we ended up with 6 paddlers all paddling their own craft: Brian, Keith, Ian, Graham, Andrew and Gareth. We all headed up on Friday evening / night and camped, bivvied or stayed in a hotel. We met up early on the Saturday in Peebles.


Graha.m Rowe

Gareth Jones



Andy Garland

Day 1 (Saturday) 29th August – Peebles to Melrose

Brian, Ian and Andy had borrowed a small trailer and travelled up together very late last night and had kipped in the camper in Kingsmeadow Car Park. Keith and Graham had found a small forest track and camped while Gareth had booked a room in a hotel and enjoyed breakfast. We all met at 8:30am and were on the water by 9:00am. The plan was jump a taxi at the end for the three drivers and this would give us the flexibility to finish where ever we liked.

Most loaded the boats with a couple of large dry bags with tent, stove and three days food and clothes. The river was high for August with the current flowing swiftly – 1.5m to 2m on the Norham Gauge. Consequently, paddling was a delight with many small waves and ripples, a few tricky bits but we were whizzing down the river being pushed quickly by the current.

We paddled past large houses, wooded valleys, castles and great countryside. This was going to be a relaxed trip with improving weather. We sped through Innerleithen and found a good spot to stop for elevenses at 11:00am! and immediately put a brew on and enjoyed a quick snack.

Back on the water we soon approached a level horizon, a sure sign of a weir at Walkerburn. We could hear the white water below and standing up we tried to spy a safe route through. One of gillies with a client called out “you will need to inspect it”. We landed on the left and Graham immediately pronounce he was going to line his Cedar Strip homemade canoe down. Ian and Keith decided to run a small gap on the left with Andy following. Brian and Gareth decided to line their boats safely down.

The next 10 or so km were very enjoyable with many small rapids and good scenery. Ashiesteel rapids followed by Yair Cauld (weir) and Fairnilee rapid. All a good grade 1-2 and ideal of open canoes. We passed Abbotsford house on the left and soon came across Melrose Cauld (weir). This had waves below and was mostly washed out.

Soon after we found a left-hand bend with cut-off making a kind of island with a large red cliff on the river right (30m high). We decided to stop on a small stone beach and camp for the night as we were well out of site of the houses of Melrose above. Stoves were fired up, tents erected and most managed to find a comfortable spot. Only Andy failed to test his sleeping spot and suffered a pebbly and uncomfortable night. We chilled out next to the river, Gareth made used of an old “men at work” sign to set his stove up on. We were early to bed after our late evening the day before.

Day 2 (Sunday) 30th August – Melrose to Upsettlington

After a good night’s sleep, we were up and sorting breakfast and packing tents away early. We were on the water for 8:30am but the river had dropped a little from the previous day but was still at a very good summer level. We very quickly came across the triple bridges (An old railway Viaduct / Old road bridge / new A68 road bridge).

We soon came across Merton Cauld (weir). This had massive waves below and most portaged on the river right. Keith got out on river left and managed to find a good route over a sloping weir face with plenty of water. Clearly there was far too much water to take the slot in the middle.

After a further 5km we were expecting another weir (Rutherford Cauld). There was a small rapid ahead and it did not look like a weir,  so we drifted up to the edge and then one after another paddled over. The waves were considerably bigger than expected but we had little time to prepare and get settled in our canoes. Looking back, I saw Brian out of his boat, but it had remained upright – he was holding on to a cow’s tail at the back and was waving and smiling so all was good. Ian managed to get to him as he drifted downstream still in the wave train and Brian managed to climb over Ian`s canoe and into his. We all eddied out behind a fisherman`s wing dam or wing dyke (artificial wall into the river) to bail out.

We were now approaching 58 kms downstream from Peebles marked by Makerstoun House on the Left. The three rapids that followed are the most difficult on river however with the river so high they were relatively easy. Upper and Middle Makerstoun rapids were large grade 2 in these conditions and paddled down through picking our way and floating over any rock ledges or obstructions which were fully covered. Lower Makerstoun rapid is normally more difficult with a line down the right. Today it could be shot on the left, middle or right and we did all three. The rapid was an easy grade 3 minus but could be tricky for open canoes if low. We stopped for lunch on the river left to try and get away from the Mayflies. An MSR stove was fired up and we soon all had a warm tea or coffee and food to recharge our energy levels.

We paddled on a Further 7 kms or so and soon came across Kelso and Kelso weir. This was easily shot on river right, but various routes were available in the middle which are more suited to kayaks. Graham again lined his cedar strip canoe down to prevent any damage and we were soon paddling through the town and over another small weir below the road bridge in the town.

After some more small rapids and 5kms we  came across Banff Mill and its weir which we took on river left. This had a series of 4 small drops or weirs with a wave train through the last.

More rapids and a couple of small weirs led us to Coldstream which was approach around a large looping meander bend. There is a statue high on a column on the left bank. The high walls of the town lead to a road bridge with a weir immediately below. (Shoot through the right and arch if the bridge).

7km more led us onto the last of 6 maps and we started to look for a camp for the night. We found a large river terrace on a left-hand meander bend just past Upsettington Estate. This had a levee or embankment which would hide us from the few houses and a fisherman’s cottage beyond. We dragged the canoes up the short slope and started to set up tents and make the evening meal. It had been a long day, but we were easily in reach of tidal parts of the river and the sea beyond.

Later a salmon fisherman and his partner stopped to chat about the river and our journey. It turned out they were from Chester and regularly came up to Berwick to fish. There is of course no fly fishing on a Sunday which is why we had seen very few during the day. Gareth found time to walk into Norham and find a local pub run by a family from Merseyside who were serving food and beer. He tells us he returned shortly after dark, but we were all fast asleep by then.

Day 3 (Monday) 31st August – Upsettlington to Berwick-Upon-Tweed

The plan was to get up early and paddle into Berwick for a late breakfast. We all rose early after a great night’s sleep, stoves roared away as we packed up our gear and enjoyed a quick breakfast of porridge. We slid into the water shortly after 6:30am and paddled past some gravel islands and the first of 3 bridges. Shortly after Horncliffe the river becomes tidal and we had timed it exactly right  to have the last of any dropping tide scoot us along to the outskirts of Berwick-Upon-Tween and the A1 road bridge. We paddled through the town and harbour area towards the lifeboat ramp and an adjoining slipway and landed for a late breakfast at about 9:00am

After a few photos we unloaded our boats and carried them up either slipway or rocky beach. Gareth rang for the pre-arranged taxi and the guy said he would be about 20 minutes but was a little surprised that we were at Berwick and not Coldstream as arranged a few days before. The use of the taxi had saved a lot of time on the first day with the shuttle taking more than 3 hrs there and back. In the end we paid £100 for the taxi, which was about £17 each, a bargain in the end which reduced the number of car journeys from 9 to only 3!

We soon packed up, loaded our canoes and cleared the slipway which now had 3 boats waiting to launch on the incoming tide. They were more than patient with us and were interested in our bank holiday adventure. We were all on the road heading south before 1 pm.

More Photos……….    

Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 9 (Friday) 16th August – Kyle of Lochalsh to Brochel Bay (Rassay)

Club Expedition to Skye 2020
“Team Alaska go on a Skye #staycation!”

Day 9 (Friday) 16th August – Kyle of Lochalsh to Brochel Bay (Rassay)

We woke up to find a fog bank bridging the sound. Annoyingly, as Chris and Jenny opened their tent another tent pole snapped under the tension. It was a mirror image of theother tent pole breakage so they remained with only 1 porch for the rest of the trip, but plenty of spare poles if anything else broke. Off we went to have “nineses” on Pabay the fog coming in around us from both directions.

We saw porpoise as we set off to Longay noting the compass bearing of 320 degrees. We carried on past the Skerries rocks (Sgeir Dhearg and Sgeir Thraid) and went north up the east coast of Raasay. There were loads of sea birds, 2 circling us looking for food. We had elevenses in the fog before finding a waterfall with a freezing cold down draft for a freshen-up. Jenny got to test her hood finally!

There were no sign of any submarines training, but Ian was adamant there could have been. We soon popped out the other side of the fog bank to find sea eagles and rock climbers on the landslides and cliff falls. After 16.6 miles we stopped on a gravel beach of purple brown pebbles (Brochel Bay) to camp with great views towards Appleby and the NW with many seals watching us.

After dinner, a pod of bottle nosed dolphins were observed in the distance some jumping fully out of the water as if being chased or playing. Jenny had a swim while Keith got Ian to refold his maps once again. After dinner, a singing seal could be heard from around the corner. It was a very starry night with the Milky Way clearly visible.

Jenny Brown     More Photos……….    

Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 8 (Friday) 15th August – Loch Hourn to Kyle of Lochalsh

Club Expedition to Skye 2020
“Team Alaska go on a Skye #staycation!”

Day 8 (Friday) 15th August – Loch Hourn to Kyle of Lochalsh

With good weather and the tide with us this was our longest day at 21.7 miles. It was also the longest day as at 3.10am a few of us were woken by the sound of the tide getting rather close to the tents. A mini rock pyramid was built at the waterline as a marker and by 4.10am Jenny was happy the tide was finally dropping and went back to sleep.

We packed up in a midge-free breeze and Chris and Jenny’s tent was caught in a gust and tumble turned towards the sea where thankfully it was saved. We paddled off at 8am along the northern shore of Loch Hourn with the wind behind us, wildlife spotting for birds, otters and seals. The sea was clear and deep with large shells, urchins and a variety of seaweeds on the bottom. Small fish flitted about the rocks. We had elevenses in the shelter of the Sandaig Islands as the wind dropped and the sun shone. A few boats were moored with snorkelers splashing about.

We were thinking about stopping before the narrows, but we had made good time, the tide was racing along with us so we decided to push on to the other side of the Bridge of Skye. The heather on the mountains was starting to come out creating a purple tinge, which then got stronger through the next week. As we went through the narrows there was some frisky seals making a good splash and a head wind picked up. We crossed Loch Alsh to go along the north coast to shelter from the wind. We all had a snigger at someone doing naked yoga on a rock and battled on against the wind to stop for a quick shop at Kyle of Lochalsh just as a fog bank started to drift in.

We stopped on the beach behind a rocky outcrop just north of the bridge on Skye as the fog really came in. Chris and Jenny went to work on fixing a broken tent pole – success, but as it was foggy outside, they stayed inside with only 1 porch up for the night. Later at 10pm the fog had lifted and there was a lovely pink sky.

Jenny Brown     More Photos……….    

Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 7 (Friday) 14th August – Teangus (Castle Ruin) to Loch Hourn


Club Expedition to Skye 2020
“Team Alaska go on a Skye #staycation!”


Day 7 (Friday) 14th August – Teangus (Castle Ruin) to Loch Hourn

A lazy start as the wind dropped. 10am and we went straight for the crossing over to the white houses at Airor. The wind was force 3 making a fair chop on the sea. The tide was still low, so it was quite a carry to get on the water. The team were now so efficient we were on the water before Keith!

We stopped for elevenses at Airor as the wind started to drop then paddled around the coast into Loch Hourn. As we got to the headland there was a rock covered in seals with their pups. They all launched into the water on our arrival. Lots more trees along this coastline and fish farms with jumping salmon in. Vic got his line out again and caught dinner while we paddled with the wind now behind us.

After 13.3 miles we found a Tombolo (a beach joining an island to the mainland) to camp on and enjoyed the afternoon watching the seals and someone flying a kite further up the loch. There was a lot of mica in the rocks that sparkled in the sun. Vic hiked off for water from a nearby waterfall and Jenny was pleased to have got to Knoydart, this had been on her to do list for a few years. Ian and Vic enjoyed a swim and another paddler stopped to say hello.

Jenny Brown     More Photos……….    

Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 6 (Thursday) 13th August –Point of Sleat to Teangus (Castle Ruin)

Club Expedition to Skye 2020
“Team Alaska go on a Skye #staycation!”

Day 6 (Thursday) 13th August –Point of Sleat to Teangus (Castle Ruin)

As we were expert at packing boats by now, we were on the water by 7:40am. There was nice breeze and no midges. A strong wind was building, so plan A to go to Knoydart was turned into a plan B to stay safe and camp on Skye again. We hugged the coastline to stay out of the wind. The Scottish coast looked impressive with the mountains engulfed in low cloud.

After an hour or so we found a beach with a stream and hammock for elevenses. Great to refill water, have a wash and a quick swing/snooze. The rock pools had a great selection of anemone and shellfish in the crystal-clear water. The beach had grey and pink stripy cobbles.

We continued along the rocky shore where there was a sea Eagle chasing some seagulls. As we passed the Armadale ferry terminal it was a quick dash against the headwind and waves to clear the terminal as we realised the boat was coming in.

White horses were growing out in the sound as the winds increased to a force 5. The crossing to Knoydart wouldn’t have been much fun so we took shelter after 10.5 miles behind a headland where there was a castle ruin. On arrival, a swordsman practising his moves against the castle skyline – aka Brave Heart.

There was a selection of 3 beaches so we picked the one with the easiest carry, but still decided tomorrow would be a 10am start to let the tide come in over the rocks and allow the wind to drop if it followed the forecast. An otter was spotted while we scouted out the beaches before landing and as we pitched, we were watched by some lambs in the field above.

After dinner a few of us went to sit on the rocks to watch for the otter again and saw 2 as they ran round the outcrops and jumped in for an evening fish – which is just what Vic was doing too. Before we returned to camp, a fish was spotted jumping, so we wondered if it was being chased. Some walkers turned up that evening and pitched in the castle ruins, we thought they might get blown away that night – but they were still there in the morning. A couple also came down to the beach searching for some pipe they wanted to salvage for a drainage system they were putting in.

Jenny Brown     More Photos………. 

Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 5 (Wednesday) 12th August – Soay to Point of Sleat

Day 5 (Wednesday) 12th  August – Soay to Point of Sleat

Not a bad morning for midges this morning! Or so we thought, but then they descended just as we started to pack the boats. That sped us up and we were on the water for 7:40am. The weather was overcast, but the clouds over the Cuillins and Rhum looked spectacular while we paddled along on glassy water. There was a mist on the horizon as we made our crossing back to the Point of Sleat. Ian took the bearing as SSE just in case the mist came in. Mid-way the wind started to pick up and the waves grew. The spray on the rocky shore made a nice change in sea state, but we were all pleased not to be under the high cliffs exposed to the growing waves.

Later the sun returned, and the mist went. There was another whale sighting and lots of ferries out crossing to the smaller islands. As we went round the headland we landed on a white sand and gravel tombolo beach – spectacular! We’d done 12.8 miles, and this was going to be our camp site for the night. A great view and gentle wind to keep the midges away. A few sheep came to watch us as we pitched on their grazing area. We spent the afternoon enjoying the sun and said hello to some other paddlers that had landed for lunch. Ian and Keith made a driftwood bench, while Vic went out fishing for Mackerel – success! He enjoyed a late fish and limpet lunch. We all had a walk to the lighthouse to enjoy the views and see where we’d paddled before bed.

Jenny Brown     More Photos……….    


Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 4 (Tuesday) 11th August – Loch Brittle to Soay

Club Expedition to Skye 2020
“Team Alaska go on a Skye #staycation!”


Day 4 (Tuesday) 11th August – Loch Brittle to Soay

Up we got sticking to our 8am start. Not many midges, until boat loading then it was full attack! A cool fresh rain shower soon sorted them out resulting in a “who can put their cag on at sea unassisted challenge?” Jenny nearly got to test her hood – she was already in it as it was the best resistance against bites as Scottish midges seem to treat Deet like ice-cream (human) sauce.

The rain drops fell on the calm sea surface, which again was like a millpond. Over 5 miles the cliffs built up and so did the wind and waves, which were reflecting off the cliffs.

We stopped at a sea arch before deciding a circumnavigation might not be the best idea as thunderstorms were on the forecast and we were about to be exposed on the northwest headlands with limited landing options. Plan B – play in the caves and head to Soay to camp hopefully going to Knoydart and the small islands around the east coast. The swell caused the cracks and caves to gurgle and thump as we paddled along. Ian did some unplanned rock hopping – oops, I don’t think he was expecting that wave to suck away so quickly!

We stopped at another waterfall to fill up our bottles and a deer was on the beach. Sadly, an emergency wee break meant Chris and Jenny were a little behind and missed it – “oh dear!” The pebbles on this beach were amazing pinks and purples and we were sheltered from the weather and waves. Three other groups of paddlers were also about on the headland, but all paddled off to other destinations. It was a brilliant sunny, breezy evening so we sat out and enjoyed the views and watched the ropey Soay sheep. When we went to bed, we could hear loads of sea birds which were still out and about. Another 14.3 miles complete!

Jenny Brown     More Photos……….    

Club Expedition to Skye 2020 Day 2

Club Expedition to Skye 2020
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Day 2 9th August (Sunday) – Camas Barabhaig to Port an Luig Mhoit

We left at 9am – the water was like a millpond and we completed 20.7 miles round the Point of Sleat, crossing Loch Eishort and Loch Slapin.

A few guided groups were out paddling for the day from near the Armadale ferry terminal (South Skye Sea Kayaking). There was a bit more “ocean motion” round the headland as the sea had a slight surge up the rocks. We enjoyed super views of the Cuillin Range with the black and red colouring clear to see. More porpoise, shoals of fish splashing, and sea eagles were spotted as we paddled along. Plus, those big jellyfish – a bit off-putting for a swim!

There had also been a sea otter swimming about that day. We had lunch in a rocky cove just around the Point of Sleat. The water was clear and green with loads of different seaweeds below us. Eigg and Rum appeared on the horizon.

While crossing Lochs Slapin and Eishort we realised there were loads of tiny, tiny (size of my little fingernail) crabs floating about in the water and swarms of smaller pinkie purple and blue jellyfish. Turns out jellyfish are surprisingly dense when your paddle stoke swipes one. Plenty of whale food here as we had our first Minke Whale sighting – good spot Chris!

Prince Charlie’s Cave

There are many Prince Charlies Caves in the Highlands, caves where  Charles Edward Stuart was said to have sheltered when on the run from the  Duke of Cumberland, after the defeat at the  Battle of Culloden.[1] There is one such cave supposedly located at Elgol.

On to campsite on the headland (next to Prince Charles`s Cave). This needed a bit of a rocky carry to where we pitched and fell asleep before waking up to the sound of sheep walking about on the beach and me wondering if I’d put my boots in the porch or if a sheep could be wondering off chewing them.

Jenny Brown      More Photos……….    

“Team Alaska go on a Skye #staycation!” Day 1

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Covid-19 might have led to a change of plan as this year’s Alaska trip was cancelled but we couldn’t have asked for a better alternative. Keith, Ian, Victor, Chris and Jenny headed off for 12 days paddling and wild camping around the Skye coastline and surrounding islands. A total of 192 miles covered allowing us to see: whales, otters, dear, dolphin, eagles (+ other birds I can’t name), seals, over friendly midges, porpoise, jellyfish, crabs, sea urchins, extinct volcanoes, mountains covered in purple heather, spectacular rock formations and colourful rocks galore! The trip got Keith’s “seal of approval” and Jenny had a “whale of a time”!

Jenny Brown Chris Thompson Ian Bell /Newsletter/Articles/Recent%20Letters/2018%20Alaska%20-%20Prince%20William%20Sound%20Expedition_files/image022.gif Victor Leather

Day 1 – 8th August (Saturday) – Balmacara to Camas Barabhaig

Off we went at 11:15am from Balmacara, after a few of us finished the long drive north. It was a lovely sunny day as we set off. The tide was with us through the narrows and overfalls so we whizzed along covering 17 miles before finding a campsite later that evening. The water was clear and there were plenty of porpoise and massive red jellyfish with tentacles like cobwebs. There were loads of seals along the rocky shore and a variety of sea birds as we paddled along.

We enjoyed lunch in the sun and some of us checked our boats for leaks as it was the first time we had packed a sea kayak for an overnight paddle. However, it turned out to be Ian’s front hatch that had been slightly caught on a deck line so had a slightly soggy inside. The dry bags did their job and the seal was double checked during the afternoon paddle – all dry, phew!

Then started the “seal of approval” jokes for the rest of the trip. It was finally time to find camp. We slightly doubled back on ourselves to find a beach after deciding the promising bay around the headland looked a bit of a boggy midge risk and had too many rocks to land safely.

Jenny Brown     More Photos……….    


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