Written by Sean Payne
So, to set the scene… we are stood beneath beautiful snow-capped mountains in all directions – it’s honestly wall-to-wall, panoramic picture-perfect views and all basking in beautiful sunshine… believe it or not we are in Scotland, and yes it really is sunny! You’d be forgiven for thinking we were in the Alps or the Pyrenees, in this scorching weather it really is breath-taking.
We’ve taken a quick driving break at Glen Etive and some of the braver members of the group have opted to check the water levels and head off for a quick paddle. You may need to forgive me for the use of several adjectives throughout the following trip review, words such as stunning, beautiful and pretty may come up repetitively, but they are the key words required when describing our environment during our week’s trip in Scotland.
Vicki and I are stood somewhat apprehensively looking at Triple Step, one of the first features on the Etive which is in low flow, with dangerous looking rocks jutting out at tricky angles. We’re trying to decide how scary it looks, and the consensus is… “Yeah, we can do this!” (How we will feel about it when we’re actually in a boat, in a few days’ time still remains to be seen)
Just to point out we are both fairly-new to kayaking, having completed our spray-deck test last summer as part of the FSRT training. Before then, we always opted for a nice wide stable canoe as our preferred method of river transport. Despite this, we were eventually coaxed into signing up for the Scotland white water trip with the promise of plenty of fun and a crash course in kayaking prior to the Scottish adventure.
We fast forward now to the following day, everyone’s now checked in and had a good night’s sleep, some more so than others, with complaints of loud snoring coming from some of the dorm rooms. We all awake to the glorious smell of cooked bacon (a veggie option was also available). Following our hearty breakfast some of us go our own way, desperate to find the last snow of the season before the hot sun kindly adds it to the rivers for us. We do surprisingly end up with a fantastic day snowboarding but are still somewhat jealous when the rest of the group relay to us their days paddling exploits on the river Garry. During the evening an amazing curry was cooked and eaten, with a team effort to ensure all pots and pans were cleaned and put away. We stayed up late making the most of a fun day that ended far too quickly.
Again, we awake to the smell of cooked bacon...
Today feels like a big day, today we are paddling the Etive. There’s been much talk leading up to the trip, of hydro-electric stations being built that may ruin Glen Etive and of the scary features along its river, for example, Crack of Doom and a waterfall called Right Angle. Everyone seems to have a soft spot for this river and we are keen to find out why… maybe it’s because it’s a beautiful paddle through rocky valleys between sweeping hills, again it’s stunning.
We set off tackling Triple Step and not content with an early first swim, I climbed up and tried it again, this time staying in the boat! Vicki didn’t fare so well and was ready to throw in the towel and put all her kit on Ebay, I think she was just upset that we’d forgotten to pack snacks for the day!
Luckily after a second, more successful attempt she was much happier, and we continued down through several more exciting features. Sadly, the water was too low for Right Angle but that didn’t stop us jumping in from the high banks, minus boats. We also trekked up to another section of water where we slid down natural rocky slides, fooling around and jumping in.
Over the following few days more cooked bacon miraculously appeared each morning. We paddled the Arkaig and the Feshie, both of which are beautiful rivers in amazing countryside. Other members spent time mountain biking and climbing Ben Nevis. We all had a lovely barbeque one evening and on another, we had fish and chips and played some competitive games of pool. The group paddled the damn released Garry for a second time, so Vicki and I didn’t miss out. The Garry provided the water we had been waiting for, with plenty of what we would call “giant rapids” most club members would probably describe them as “small waves”. Needless to say, our group leaders got to practice their rescue skills while we had an awesome time paddling/swimming, with the reward of a much more successful second run through the features, which was mostly spent within boats and big smiles on our faces.
We had a group meal on the final night before packing and loading up for the long drive home. As we left beautiful mountainous Scotland, stomachs full on a breakfast of miracle-bacon, the highlands were gradually replaced by hills and then flat lowland. I don’t think I was the only one reflecting on why we’d been sunning ourselves in shorts and t-shirts and dragging ourselves through empty riverbeds throughout the week, with it then finally deciding to rain as we departed, filling the rivers we now leave-behind!
We now have 12 months to practice and get ready for next year’s trip, which hopefully comes with more water! One last thing, a quick thanks to the bacon fairies and thanks to the club for inviting us on a beautiful Scottish adventure!