Pitlochry Weekend 12th/13th November 2011
by Clive Hall and Tony Johnson
Tony: I'd really been looking forward to this trip and having not paddled since March I saw it as a great opportunity to build my confidence for the winter season to come. Confidence is not something I possess in any great quantity, so after finishing work at lunch time and loading up the car there were at least three trips to the loo before I was ready for the off.
I picked up Clive on my way to Durham and a rendezvous with Penny plus the dogs, Jack and Sam, and somehow we managed to cram ourselves and all the kit into Penny's Astra for the journey up to Pitlochry. We'd got the timing just right, leaving Durham at three meant we negotiated the A1 around Newcastle without any delays and had a clear run right up to Edinburgh before grinding to a halt due to an accident on the M8. Not to worry, Penny's hard shoulder/offroad and general cutting-people-up-at-roundabout skills came to the rescue and we were soon on our way again.
By the time we got to Logeirait and the lodge we'd rented for the weekend Mary and Ann had already arrived, picked the best bedroom, settled in, got the fires on, and sussed out the local restaurant.
Clive: Mid-meal Friday night, it was noted that it was raining. Not to worry - have another drink, we only have to dash a hundred yards to the cabin. 11pm and sure enough we dashed the 100 yards to the cabin amid heavy precipitation and retired to bed. Still no warning bells...
Saturday and one of the party was up and about exceptionally early raising others with the kettle and lights on, polite souls grudgingly joined this early riser and it was not until after breakfast that the offender realised, on enquiring of the time, that their phone alarm clock was still set on BST !!
The early rise did enable an amiable inspection of the Tay some 20 metres from our door and the volume of water sweeping past certainly amplified the sound of the alarm bells in everyone's heads. Now the rivers had people's attention. The weekend had been classified for beginner/improving paddlers so storming technical grade 3+ and 4 rivers were out of the question. It was decided that a large "safe" river would be the better option and so we packed and headed east for the Dee.
Tony: "Over the top" from Pitlochry to Braemar and on to Ballater to team up with Jonathan and Steven and put in for a run down to Dinnet. We actually met Jonathan before Ballater as he was gallantly trying to rescue two young damsels in distress who'd managed to put their Ford Focus in a ditch. Despite Penny and Carolyn standing back mocking our efforts to retrieve the car, retrieve it we did and eventually met up with Steven a little later than planned at Ballater.
First job at Ballater was to check out the local loos but forgetting we were north of the border none of had taken any change with us. Second job was to take a look over the bridge at the Dee moving along at quite a pace below us. Car shuttles done (big thanks to Carolyn) we were ready for the first section. I suddenly started to panic that I'd forgotten how to break in and that I'd immediately get pinned against the bridge. Silly really because as soon as the first paddle stroke hit the river I felt comfortable in the boat.
After a few hundred metres of fast flowing but fairly flat water we gathered to set a running order for the bigger water to come. Steven led with me somewhere near the middle and Clive not too far behind ready to spring into rescue mode if required. Many of the technical features of the rapids had simply been washed out, including many of the eddies, but it did make for an exhilarating bouncy ride at times. I felt I'd done really well and had remembered many of the lessons from last winter in relaxing and letting my upper and lower body work independently.
However with the end of the trip in sight at Dinnet the rapid beneath the bridge came into play and having seen a member of the group take a swim, I suddenly tensed up and also found myself falling foul of the big standing waves. Clive, as promised, was on hand to rescue me but not before I hit my lower back and knee on some submerged rocks. Not the finish to the run I'd hoped for but not too much damage was done.
Clive: Off the water and a quick lunch stop then Potarch and section 2 beckoned. Another car shuffle and all paddlers, undeterred, were back on the water for the afternoon sport.
Similar conditions prevailed for the second section with only one grade 3 needing to be scouted from the bank and a previous swimmer opting for the very pleasant, sunny, dry, bank side stroll around that rapid (very tempting). Regrouped we continued towards Banchory without further mishap, until just before the get-out a stopper jumped up and ate two people with a third narrowly avoiding its jaws. Finally we were through, clear and on the bank to await the driver shuttles, pack up boats and gear and make our way back to Logierait for well earned showers, food and drink.
Tony: Sunday morning dawned and could be best described as "dreich". After packing up all our kit we set off for Kenmore on the east side of Loch Tay, a much shorter drive than on Saturday. We stopped off at Grandtully to scout out the slalom section for later in the day. The river was again running at quite a high level so I had already made my mind up that I'd only attempt the first section from Kenmore down to Aberfeldy. This section of the river Tay offered me an opportunity to practice breaking in and out and ferry gliding which was very welcome but there were also long sections of flat water that were very tiring to paddle in white water boats.
Clive: The last section had a peaceful introduction with the river moving us along at a fair pace without too much effort. Things began to get interesting with a short, high volume grade 3 after a right hand bend and a number of smaller sections of rapid before Grandtully came into view (well, at least, the top of the bridge did). A cautious approach and scouting from the boat with a couple of break-outs saw all three paddlers hit the correct lines and safely make the get-out. A quick change, stowing of gear and it was into the tea shop for chocolate fudge before commencing the journey home or, in some cases, to Glenmore Lodge for a week of white water paddling (jealousy is such a sin).
Tony: This was my first weekend away with SOC and will certainly not be my last. A thoroughly enjoyable couple of days with good company and an opportunity to paddle the Dee at levels seldom encountered on previous trips.
Thanks to Clive, Ann, Mary, Penny, Tony, Jonathan, and Aberdeen Steve for the organisation, river knowledge and great company.
Article copyright © Tony Johnson and Clive Hall 2011; photographs copyright © Tony Johnson 2011