GUIDE TO THE RIVER ORCHY
(Bridge of Orchy to Falls of Orchy)
NAME OF RIVER: Orchy.
WHERE IS IT?: A major river in Glen Orchy (no surprises there), the A82 from Glasgow to Fort William passes it at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, a good meeting place for paddlers.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Either begin on the Upper Orchy, or put in near the Bridge of Orchy Hotel (NN 2964 3964). There is a turn-off the A82 for Glen Orchy just south of the Hotel and there are plenty of parking possibilities on this road. Note the Allt Kinglass tributary which is a possible extension to your trip in high water. The take-out is described below, but don't get it wrong, running the Falls of Orchy (NN 2434 3227) by mistake wouldn't be amusing.
APPROX LENGTH: 6 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 3 hours or more.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: We've paddled this in bank-full high conditions and also in lower conditions. The river is paddleable in surprisingly low conditions but the trip will be correspondingly scrappy. I haven't paddled it in very high water but am told, "it can take as much water as you can throw at it" and still be paddleable. Remember though that different people have different definitions of 'paddleable'!
Frazer Pearce adds...'On the Orchy cross the bridge at Bridge of Orchy, the gauge is on the bridge arch downstream river right. You need to scramble down the bank.
Below zero don't bother getting on, it is a long scrape.
Between zero and 2 feet it is a grade 3(5) paddle, quite a long day but fun for beginners.
Above 2 feet the river is excellent, close to 3 feet it is becoming more continuous with grade 3 between the grade 4 bits. The big falls come up fast. Easan Dubha becomes easier, Eas a' Chathaidh harder as the level rises.
I've never done it above 3 feet.'
Thomas Downie (Dec 2003)...'There are 2 gauges on the Bridge of Orchy beside each other. There is the old one that goes from 1-13 and a new one from 1-5. The gauge levels on this guide refer to the old one that goes up to 13. The new one gets completely submerged at 3 on the old gauge.'
GRADING: Grades 3-5.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Perhaps one of the best trips at this grade in the UK, with more volume and power than many British paddlers will be used to...beware! There is apparently a good easier section above the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, but I haven't done this. From the confluence of the Allt Kinglass the river is mainly of a pool-drop character, and I'll just describe the bigger rapids here. I won't Grade them all, look for yourself. Easy water begins the trip, until eventually you reach...
A rapid with a big rock in the middle.
A big rapid called 'Chicken Chute' which name rather irritatingly gives away the fact that there is indeed a zig-zag chicken chute, river left...
'Sheep Trolley Gorge' a long rapid with notable waves and holes as it channels right, some nice playspots hereabouts.
Easan Dubha (grade 5) - you don't want to miss this one, it's a sharp 3-4 metre drop with a choice of routes. Figure a route out for yourself, but be aware that the river left channel has a hidden ledge at the bottom, which serves to make the stopper there very grabby. This fall was the site of a major rafting tragedy some years ago, with multiple drownings...respect it in high water particularly.
'Sore Tooth' rapid. A long rapid with some big stoppers to avoid or enjoy, depending on your taste.
'Roller Coaster' rapid barely needs describing given the name...
'The End of Civilisation' rapid. Who comes up with these names? Do they serve any useful purpose? Decide for yourself. This rapid is quite long and feeds towards the river left side with various potential playspots if you get the breakouts.
Eas a' Chathaidh (Grade 5) - you WILL want to get out and look at this dangerous fall, I didn't bother inspecting last time and got deservedly caned. It's a choice of a river right 4 metre drop or a river left channel leading over a small drop onto a twisting ramp. I've never personally been near the right-hand route, but the left-hand route is enjoyable...if you get it right. Apparently there is a route in the centre in very high water, I haven't seen this.
A little way below Eas a' Chathaidh is a river left hole which is perhaps the best playspot on the river. Thomas Downie (Dec 2003)...'The playhole after Eas a' Chathaidh is (suprisingly) extremely retentitive at higher flows (2+ on the gauge) and can hold you for a long time. It take a lot of effort to get out. It can also recirculate swimmers.'
Last Drop is called 'Witches Step'. It's a step, which has nothing I'm aware of to do with witches.
You probably want to get out at the road (river left) here as the next rapid is the ludicrously dangerous Eas Urchaidh, the Falls of Orchy. The Falls of Orchy should appeal only to people with something pointless to prove to themselves..? Let us know if this is indeed you, I guess it'd be interesting to hear about. Having said this, apparently there IS a less dangerous chicken-chute. There is also a good easier section carrying on below the Falls of Orchy.
OTHER NOTES: Ron Cameron offers the following advice on the names of the falls, intended for those living south of the border...! 'Lots of people have trouble with the Gaelic names for the falls. Here are some very rough phonetics.
Easan Dubha. Pronounced essan doo-ah. To sound more ethnic put your tongue behind your top front teeth when saying the d in dubha. Eas means a waterfall. Easan dubha means black falls.
Eas a' Chathaidh. Pronounced Ess a cha-ay. As always in Gaelic, the ch is as in loch (Gaelic word for lake) and not as in church. 90% of Britain's population will have no chance. It means spray waterfall.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Frazer Pearce, Thomas Downie and Ron Cameron.