I’m not really keen on water. I can swim, but don’t care for it. As such, I’ve always avoided water based pursuits, but having missed out on seeing the guys due to work commitments of late, when Dave suggested a weekend canoeing the Spey, I thought ‘sod it, let’s do it’. I’d been kayaking before when I was at school, didn’t like being pinned into a floating deathtrap by the legs. But this was Canadian canoes, open and more stable, so I felt more comfortable about it.
Three canoes, six guys, only one of which had any proper skills. Malc used to kayak competitively when he was younger but hadn’t done anything for quite some time. The canoe hire place seemed happy enough with Malc’s qualifications anyway, so we didn’t need a guide.
As were were getting organised another group of canoeists drew up and mentioned we were going straight into a grade 2 rapid under the bridge downriver. I was feeling quite pleased with myself when paddled through without incident, only to realise later that the river was high and subsequently calmer than usual. We were only likely to encounter grades 1 and 2 over the 27 miles from Grantown to Craigellachie. I partnered up with Malc, Bob/Dave and Colin/Brian combinations in the other two canoes. The original intention had been to swap about, but we found that these pairs worked well as Bob, Brian and myself are the heaviest, were sat at the back of our respective canoes and steered.
Our technique at the rapids was ‘keep it straight and paddle like a bastard’, it generally worked and by the end of the first day we were feeling pretty confident that we would manage to stay dry, well, as dry as you can stay whilst in a canoe. We’d been pushing on, unsure exactly where on the river we were and on the lookout for a good camping spot, we came to a point were the river narrowed much more than we’d encountered with two anglers on the left which we’d need to avoid. Malc and I were last to go through and saw that Colin and Brian had capsized and were floating along downriver. We nudged a rock which tipped us and were in the water too, we popped to the surface quickly enough, but when I should have been grabbing the canoe, suddenly realised I was about to lose a shoe, I managed to push it back on with my other foot. Until this point, the Spey had been pretty shallow, easy to stand up in in most places, but beyond the rapids it was deep enough that I couldn’t touch the bottom, we managed to grab the canoe and I gave the anglers and nonchalant nod of acknowledgement as we floated past.
We got the canoe into the side and tipped it to drain the water, the adrenaline was still pumping. I’d developed massive Popeye arms where the water had filled my waterproof jacket, I loosened the cuffs to drain it. We took stock and realised I’d lost my paddle, thankfully the spare was still there. Colin appeared on the bank above to check we were OK and we paddled downstream to meet the others. Our search for a camp spot was suddenly over, somewhere around Blacksboat. 🙂
Bob the pyromaniac got a fire going, not something I’d usually do, but thought it best as we were quite cold. The midgies had fun whilst I got towelled off and changed into dry clothes. Around this time I realised that my walking pole for the Tarptent Contrail was floating downriver somewhere, I’d be sharing a tent tonight…
We also managed to lose a bag of food from the other canoe, we made to with what we had and tried to get as much dried off as possible. A few beers and noodles with smoked sausage made everything OK.
Late on, the rain started, then the wind, which continued all night, into the morning. There was a long discussion about pressing on or phoning the canoe hire guy for an uplift. I was set for going home, we were supposed to be having fun after all, but in the end we pressed on. I’m glad we did, the weather brightened up considerably, but with the odd shower here or there. We’d come much further than we thought the first day. Brian and Colin capsized again after hitting a submerged branch after only about 10 minutes in the canoe, but were instantly back up for it. Happily, Dave and Bob capsized shortly after. Malc and I managed to stay dry 🙂
The day drew out with a fairly leisurely paddle past Aberlour. We even found our lost food bag downstream. Speyside is stunning [and full of distilleries], I’ve been thinking about walking the Speyside way since we got back. Many parts of the riverside have manicured banks and little cabins for the tweed clad anglers. I guess the hunting estates up there make a ton of cash from this river. I reckon even I could have caught I fish here, they were jumping both days.
As for the canoeing, I enjoyed myself, especially when the sun came out. I learned a lot and made some mistakes. But I’m glad I did it. I doubt I’ll be rushing out to buy a canoe though. We’ve resolved to get together more often for this type of thing, Ski-touring was mentioned, which is something which has appealed to me for quite some time. Hopefully we’ll have another good winter this year…