RIDING THE SPEY
Last summer our Aviemore store team took on a 3-day descent of the River Spey from Grantown-on-Spey to its mouth near Buckie on the north-east coast. Louise & Bruce shared a boat along with a very excitable cocker spaniel, Pollaidh - would they make it to the sea without getting wet? Read on to find out.
Bruce | The start point of our journey was Grantown-on-spey in the heart of the Cairngorm national park. Here, we put the boats in the water and spent some time with our guide Stephen, from Scottish Rock and Water. In this calm stretch of water Stephen taught us some basic paddling skills, to give us some confidence and make sure we wouldn’t wash away down river! We set off on our mamouth paddle but almost as soon as we rounded the first corner we had an encounter with some rocks which rocked our confidence. For our first time in a canoe on moving water it did take some time to get into a routine with my partner Louise in the boat. I wasn’t sure how we would cope after that first rock, both of us being quick to panic at the thought of going for a swim. After that first day Stephen told us our canoes were often referred to as ‘divorce boats’...definitely a sink or swim scenario!
Louise | Pollaidh may have over 100 munros under her paws and be quite the adventure dog, but it was going to be a new experience for us both embarking on a canoe camping trip. Cocker spaniels are known for their crazy personalities and for Pollaidh this is no exception! I had no idea how she would fare being asked to sit still in a canoe for three days. I had visions of her jumping ship and making a bid for shore, or trying to chase after ducks on the water. Not only that, Pollaidh and I are usually a 'one girl and her dog duo' – this trip would be spent with five other members of the Tiso Aviemore team, two huskies, and Stephen, our guide from Scottish Rock and Water. Would she be able to contain her excitement?
I can't say Pollaidh was overly enthusiastic about getting in the canoe, but once in she really took to it. I was more than surprised and admittedly felt sorry for setting my expectations of her behaviour so low. Perhaps she sensed she was safe and secure in her Ruffwear Float Coat, or maybe my pep talk really did the trick! Pollaidh rode in the middle of the canoe, choosing a pile of drybags as a good perch to peer out over the river and ride the rapids. My worries of her launching herself out the canoe were put to rest, and although the numerous birds and ducks we passed caught her eye, she showed no sign of going in after them.
Bruce | The next morning, we loaded the boats knowing that we’d hit the worst of the white-water sections of the river, and although no one would admit it I think we were all a little anxious; I know I was. Loading the boats and setting off felt like routine, but in the back of mind I did question whether I was ready for what was ahead. We’d heard about the worst rapid on the river, the dreaded “washing machine”, the one we were told that was most likely to capsize us. Once we were on the water though it all just clicked. Louise and I fell straight back into the same routine as the previous day. I was at the front “reading the water” and looking out for rocks while Louise steered from behind completely relying on my directions. When we eventually hit the washing machine we watched on as our colleagues in the first boat capsized and Stephen pulled them into the river bank. Despite this pressure however we made it through. We trusted what Stephan told us and took our time lining up the canoe, stuck to our line straight through the rapids and just sailed through riding the waves. It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
Louise | It is true what they say though - pride comes before a fall. Further down the river we found ourselves wedged on three rocks across a rapid section of the river. The water was being driven into our canoe and the decision was made to step out and try to pull the canoe to shore. As we watched some of our dry bags float downstream, Pollaidh somehow managed to stay on board and was calm and collected throughout. Had I needed to I would have had no problem being able to grab her using the well positioned handle on her Float Coat, but from where I was (in the water) it looked like Pollaidh was in a better position to grab me. I'm sure she was thinking our pep talk should have been the other way around.
Bruce | The final day of paddling included plenty of rapids, but they were small and shallow, and our focus was on avoiding the trees on the river banks and getting over the shallows. At the end of the day the river began to open, and when we could feel the headwind coming from the sea there was a definite feeling of accomplishment, but we were all pretty quiet knowing that it was coming to an end. It was the kind of trip I had wanted to do since I was a kid and it did not disappoint. We had rapids and hazards all down the river with the most serene stretches of water between them. It was sad to see all that end. I can honestly say that I would have been happy continuing for another few nights if it wasn’t for our wet food bag, courtesy of yesterday's capsize.
Louise | As seagulls took flight beside us Pollaidh still remained on her best behaviour, even taking the opportunity to stand at the front of the canoe and take in the stunning views and salty sea air. To think two days earlier I had been anxious about taking her on an adventure out-with both of our comfort zones seemed so silly. I watched my crazy, can't-sit-still cocker spaniel become a cool, quiet and calm water dog and it filled me with a lot of excitement and anticipation to get planning our next trip.
Bruce | When we could smell the sea, our spirits were quickly lifted. We rounded the last bend and seeing the open sea, the feeling of accomplishment was incredible. To look on a map now and see the distance we travelled makes me proud. We passed the tourists and bird watchers at Buckie bay feeling like explorers and continued to the sea for one final photo before heading to the river bank for the last time.
The Aviemore team were lucky enough to be guided on the Spey by Scottish Rock & Water. If you fancy planning your own trip, they should be your first port of call for information, advice and local knowledge. You also need to have the right kit to take on a trip like this - here are some highlights the team put to good use.
Hou Prospector Canoe | For this trip you need a boat that can swallow loads of gear, handle fast moving water and be paddled easily on smooth stretches. Enter the Hou Prospector. Designed to the tradition of frontier explorers, the Prospector is built for adventure. Whether loaded to the gunnels or paddled solo, it's a confidence inspiring boat ideal for adventures on the rivers and lochs the world over.
Ruffwear Float Coat | If you plan on taking your best pal on the water, you've got to make sure they're as ready for a soaking as you are. The Float Coat comes in sizes to suit all dogs and acts as a buoyancy aid should swimming be necessary. It's highly adjustable and features reflective panels to aid visability, plus the strong handle helps to lift the dog clear of the water. An essential for all watersports.
Palm Meander PFD | A personal flotation device has got to be lightweight, provide freedom of movement, be durable and most of all keep you safe if you go for an unexpected swim. Sophie managed to give the Meander a good test on this trip and felt confident it would keep her out of trouble. Incidentally, the front pocket is ideally sized for a packet of Haribo (other sweets are available) making the Meander a real winner.
Ortlieb Atrack T Zip 45L | Keeping your kit dry on a river trip is the name of the game. Dry clothes at the end of the day can really make or break a trip. And if you're camping, a wet sleeping bag could mean game over. The Ortlieb Atrack comes with all the durability and top notch waterproofing you expect from the leader in waterproof packs, enhanced with a comfortable rucksack harness. Versatile and totally waterproof.
Camping At Tiso
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