Ahh, Scotland, it was probably winter 03 or o4 I first ventured north of the border to do some paddling, I remember doing the Gary and the Meig, the Meig is one of those rivers you do not forget doing, just like the Chaoruinn, you don’t forget the WTF am I doing here moments, or the elation at dropping down a feature.
The Allt Chaorinn was one of the ditches we ran on a course with Dennis Newton in 2005, Park n Huck, a week of boating that changed my perspective of rivers and what could actually be paddled, it was an eye opener of a week.
My very vague association with the river started before this tho. In 2004 I was in Whistler mountain biking with Kira, a Whistler resident, “we’re going to dinner tonight with a fellow ski patroller” she says, “he’s a Brit, he’s done some paddling, you’ll like him”. We rock up, have dinner and drinkies, Al it turns out has done quite a bit of boating and I know the name from somewhere, at the time I just couldn’t place him tho, never met him, never boated with him, but I knew the name Al Collis. At some point after getting home the penny dropped, the Scottish Rivers guide book, yea that’s why I know the name, a very good proportion of the write ups are credited to Alastair Collis, who along with Andy Jackson paddled extensively all over Scotland and the Chaoruinn is one of Al’s write ups
But I am getting ahead of myself, the Chaoruinn was the last day of our week that started with the Spean Gorge and the Arkaig on day one, rivers that can be run at all levels, we could have done with a bit more water, but both rivers go at low flows, and I decided the take the topo, so something that wasn’t too pushy was ideal.
Day 2 saw us on the Orchy, again a touch more water would have been nice, but we’ll take the conditions for mid November, a bit of water and warm, we drop the Kinglass to start, a short ditch of a trib into the Orchy.
Our third day is the Roy, the entire run, upper, gorge and lower, we catch the river at a good level, the upper and lower could have taken more water but the gorge is a nice smooshy level and a day of running rapids on sight, inspection and portaging follows, a classic day on the river.
Thursday and it is the classic that is the Etive, the James Bond river, well road, full of goddam grockles, but home to Triple Step, we park and huck, running the lines, trying to get our timing right, so much of what we do on the river is down to timing, the right stroke of course, but, at the right time. I am taken back to the trip mentioned earlier with Dennis, Den is a great advocate of visulisation and I have been trying to do this all week, plan the strokes needed and when!
Our section of the Etive finishes at right angle falls, the fall is the easy part, the dog leg lead in is a touch more tricky, Ali is keen to drop this, tidy, real tidy.
And so to our last day on the Chaoruinn, a blue sky day, we could not have hoped for a better day, Glen Etive in a warm glow of low sun and autumnal colours, these are the day we dream of, we hope for, and sometimes we get to achieve.
So where does the week leave me? I’ve been boating for a shade over 20 years. I never, ever envisaged it would take me to the places I have been, to see and paddle the rapids I have. Since last year I have replaced all my boating kit, not the boats, lets not get carried away, but my personal kit has been brought up to date. Boating takes me to the places in all of the pictures above. I walk round some stuff, I always have, my brain sometimes doesn’t allow me to actually paddle stuff I am capable of.
Am I scared of stuff? Probably not. Of the consequences, yea, dam right if I get it wrong, I’ve got shit to do before I leave and I want to do it. I am back to somewhere near to where I want to be in a boat. Am I as on it as I was back in 09, no, will I ever be….. doubt it, but that’s ok, I’m ok with that. I have aches and pains these days that will prevent me from dropping into something that could kick my back issues off, there’s no suspension in a boat, impacts are boat and body with no cushion, like anything if it goes well, happy days, if it doesn’t, well, Dr’s appointments, physio, osteopath…. and I have quite enough of using furniture to stumble and support me round the house.
This has been another week or reinforcing the thoughts, it’s not just about the river, the rapid, the move. It’s the place, the time, supporting others as they support you, achieving your best, being your best self, if that’s running a rapid, putting safety on for another or taking pictures to capture that moment that means so much to someone then that’s it, job done. The best time is now, the best place is here! Whenever or wherever it is!