We started at Loch Insh near the northern end and paddled to Boat of Garten where we camped by the side of the river. This first stretch was fairly gentle except for one small rapid at Aviemore that went through a tree if you weren't careful! Kirsty, who works at the Loch Insh watersports centre, joined us for the day. We also picked up Izzy from Aviemore where she'd arrived by train. We arrived at the campsite (well, bit of riverbank) in good time only to discover that the club had managed to leave all their food in the car at the top of the shuttle! Dinner for them was a bit late, but Davey and I were fine as we had ready prepared bolognaise sauce and pasta to heat and eat! Yum.
|Loch Insh in the sunshine.|
|Chilled out amid the chaos.|
|New tent on its first time out :)|
The next day was a considerably longer stretch all the way to Blacksboat. After getting mildly lost on the shuttle we set off! Not long after starting we were passed by the Speyside railway steam engine which made me ridiculously excited. The river was deep and slow all the way down to Granton on Spey. At Granton there are a couple of grade 2ish rapids which required steering (not a strong point in the group) but we got through ok. We stopped for lunch at Spey Bridge, just below Granton and took over a small fisherman's hut to escape the sun! My ham and cheese bagel was quite well toasted from sitting at the top of the drybag, oops. Below Granton the river picks up the pace a little which was nice as it meant less paddling! Just above Blacksboat bridge we found a field edge and open forest area to camp for the night. Unfortunately for the club they had not learned from the previous night so their dinner was still very late! We had sweet and sour chicken with noodles at our tent, washed everything up and wandered over to the group fire and they still hadn't had anything to eat! After their dinner we had an amusing game of werewolves and got eaten a bit by midges before retiring to our secluded tent spot in the woods.
|The steam train!!!|
|An old railway bridge pillar provides amusement.|
|No rush, we'll hand paddle the rest of the way...|
|Hiding from the lunch time sun.|
|The faster moving water meant less paddling after Granton.|
|Peaceful campsite in the woods.|
|Not so peaceful dinner time!|
The next day started super hot and quite a few of us went for a morning cool down in the river. The midges were out in force under the trees and the tent went down in double time! Shuttle done we gathered for a pep talk from Sarah and Calum, since this was to be a day of rapids! Off we went down the river, passing the mouth of the Avon and coming quickly up to the infamous "Washing Machine" rapid. Eek! Davey, completely cool and collected, piloted us down dry and happy despite my girly squeaking. The rest of the group were in an eddy at the bottom, bailing out copious amounts of water! Some small rapids came after this then we came upon Knockando, a series of islands with winding grade 2 channels between them, exciting stuff! We were less dry at the bottom of this and joined in the bailing party. Paddling on we reached the bridge at Carron and stopped at a beach for lunch. It was super hot so most people went swimming, though James's swim was not so intentional while practising ferry gliding! However, it gave some practise in rescue techniques for Patrick and Calum.
Suncream reapplied, we headed downstream towards Boat o' Brig where the cars were parked. A sneaky grade 2 rapid capsized Andrew and Jonny and we all got a good laugh, hee hee. It wan't long before we arrived at the two bridges at Boat o' Brig. After large amounts of faff we decided upon a campsite under the bridges and Davey and I set up our tent about 100m downstream! Pasta, cold beef and stir in tomato sauce made a tasty meal while those with either more bravery or less brains jumped off the road bridge into the river (yes, they had forgotten the food again). Later on we joined them for toasted marshmallows by the campfire and there was a very scientific experiment to decide whether there is a difference between white and pink marshmallows (there is).
|Ready to set off!|
|Washing machine is in the background of this picture.|
|Bailing party below Knockando.|
|Finally the butchered milk bottle comes in handy!|
|Lunch stop at Carron.|
|Tired of paddling, Calum decided to gunnel bob.|
|More rescue practise! Andrew and Jonny getting wet...|
|Boat o' Brig, deciding where to camp.|
|Our nice campsite that was not under a bridge and so much quieter!|
|Lots of boats.|
The final day we woke up to a wet morning. Summer had gone back into hiding. Waterproofs and thermals were raked out of the cars and a quick shuttle was attemped, only the silly people at Transport Scotland had built a new road and we went in circles for a while! A quick tour round the Baxters factory car park and we figured it out. Spey bay was found!
Back to Boat o' Brig and we set off down a river full of fisher folk. Slaloming around them, we whooshed down the river and soon saw the Pillars of Hercules, amazing sandstone pillars on the right bank. Sean even found a tunnel that rain had worn away from the top of the cliffs to the bottom. A surprise grade 2 threw Maiken and Bex into the river but the rescue went so smoothly the fisherman round the corner didn't even notice. On we paddled, under the Fochabers bridges and past an amazing sand bank that had a sand marten metropolis in it. Further down, the river split around shingle banks and countless large trees were washed up all over these, a scary reminder of the power of the Spey in flood. An accidental ramming incident saw Izzy and Emily having a dip in the not so cold water, but Spey bay was only a short distance away. Paddling under the old rail bridge, past the sinking golf course and down to the sea we completed our journey in one of the strangest estuaries I've ever seen. The tidal section of the Spey is about 500m long, if that! Hauling the boats up to the cars we were done, all 108km of the Spey. The RAF helicopter entertained us for a while as they practised manoeuvres just off the coast. Packed up and ready it was home for tea and medals.
|Wrapped up and setting off at Boat o' Brig.|
|Sandstone cliffs of the Pillars of Hercules.|
|Swimmers! A smooth rescue enacted.|
|The two bridges at Fochabers.|
|Sand marten metropolis.|
|"Accidental" ramming incident.|
|The old rail bridge near Spey Bay.|
|Sinking golf course!|
|Back to the cars.|
|Watching the RAF helicopter.|
|Packed up and ready to go!|
Many thanks to Sarah and Jon from STAUCC for a great trip.