Guidebooks - 1st descent info

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geyrfugl
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Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by geyrfugl » Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:15 pm

If I buy a climbing guide, for pretty much every route there will be the date of first ascent and the names of the first ascencionists. In an area in which I'd done a bit of climbing, I could deduce as much, if not more, about the nature of the climb from that information than from the actual route description.

In a caving guide, for the cave as a whole, and often for each part of a larger cave system, I am given the name of the club which first explored or extended it, again with a date, and from that I can usually find where to go and read the original exploration report and find a survey.

Mountaineering guides, too - not just summits but high passes and cross country routes.

So, paddlesport - how come we don't get first descent info for rivers, rapids and falls ? It would add a huge amount to the interest and not a little to the information value of any guidebook. With the New English Whitewater guide coming out soon(-ish), how about setting a trend and researching this information ?

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Betty » Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:59 pm

Guess most of this info is lost in the mists of time.

I think it might also be the ephemeral nature of rapids. A crag will stay roughly the same for decades and rapids change with differing levels and beyond recognition from year to year.

A climbing guide records specific routes on a crag, paddling guides describe a series of rapids, not a specific line/s down them.

Ultimately a climbing guide simply records the first person who could be bothered to describe a particular route, which might be a different person to the first person who ever climbed it... so in that respect there is no reason why the first descents of falls and rapids can't be researched and recorded.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by geyrfugl » Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:15 pm

I think it might also be the ephemeral nature of rapids. A crag will stay roughly the same for decades and rapids change with differing levels and beyond recognition from year to year.
You get first ascent info in guidebooks for ice climbs which are pretty ephemeral...
Guess most of this info is lost in the mists of time.
It's true that climbers tended to be much more into recording this sort of information with "New Routes" books in local hostelries for bragging rights. Why is paddlesport so lacking in literature describing exploits and explorations compared with other wilderness sports like climbing, ice-climbing, mountaineering, caving, ski-touring and so on ?

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Pyro » Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:51 pm

geyrfugl wrote:...It would add a huge amount to the interest and not a little to the information value of any guidebook.
Would it?

I debated this with a friend around the climber's SPA award, where (if it still applies) you were asked about first ascents and historic climbs. To me, while it's a nice bit of trivia, that's all it is. It adds nothing to the value of the climb, nothing to my preparedness, technique or ability, it's just trivia. The same goes for first descents of a river - I wouldn't read that information and say, for example "Dave Burne did this first, I bet it's really good, I'll have to have a go" or "Tom Laws got a first D on that, I'll bet it's horrible and chossy, I'll avoid it". I'd read it, read the guide and maybe go have a look at it, and make my decision based on that, not on who's gone before me.
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Poke » Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:56 pm

How do you class a first descent?

Take Cauldron Snout for example. The first person I know of running it is Nick Doll (see the pic in the old NE Guidebook). He broke both ankles. Was that a successful first descent. The first full descent I heard of with no injury was Joe Alexander, but that was in levels low enough to climb down it if you so desired...
Or was it Sam Ellis impressive high levels descent?

Same goes for whether the first people to paddle a section did every rapid. If you portaged something, was it a first descent? If you portaged everything and just paddled the flat bits, was that a first descent?

Climbing is much more binary. You got up the crag (without a top rope) or you didn't. Kayaking is much more grey.

Semantics aside, the main reason the info isn't there, is because the info doesn't exist in the vast majority of cases...

My opinion on why this is is because climbing has evolved from mountaineering. The early history of mountaineering generally involved people with the financial where-with-all (and geographical awareness) to actually leave the country. i.e. they were generally well-off well-educated people, probably in the same social circles, with a propensity for recording things. Climbing evolved alongside mountaineering, and as such detailed records were kept for first ascents of climbs too. Kayaking did not evolve from people on grand expeditions to far away places. It evolved from people messing around in boats on their day off on a local river. When this got boring, they started looking further afield, completely unaware that they may be the first people down a river. It's a bit like recording who was the first person to climb Snowdon, or Ben Nevis.. As time progressed, people started exploring further and realising they may be doing firsts, there wasn't a system in place for recording them, or any desire to, so they carried on boating, rather than keeping detailed records of what they'd done and when... I'm sure scraps of info could be gleaned from various sources, but the info would be very much pub speculation in so many cases that it really wouldn't be worth doing...

Just my 2p anyways!!
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by neil.farmer » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:53 pm

I am quite sad that we as kayakers cannot be bothered to record/research such history. It is a real shame & loss to our sport.

To Betty - I would argue that winter climbs change much more than most rivers & change grade with conditions as much if not more. They have recorded first ascents.

To Pyro - yes, the information would add value to rivers, as all history adds value to anything. I think knowing that people "explored" Eas-an-Cataidh in the 50/60's is relevant to us "pushing it boaters" - which side did they explore first? Early descents of the Braan/Keltie by slalom boaters is good to know about. The history of pushing limits on the Fairy Glen/Nevis/Falloch are all valuable memories, not trivia.

Will we ever record this, I doubt it & I don't think that we will as a community realise that it is important until it is too late, then kayaking becomes a sport with no history. Will it affect me? No! Will it directly affect anyone? No! Will anyone care, maybe in retrospect yes......!
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by banzer » Fri Dec 28, 2012 6:00 pm

I agree that it would be nice to have this info. Not everyone would be interested by it, and that's fine. But it would help to colour the history of kayaking now that it's been around for a fair while. Some of the best stories come from first descents - several of these are described in the New Zealand guidebook which is all the better for it.

The difficulty as others have said, is in the definition of a first (successful?) descent. Boats in their current plastic form have only been around 25 years or so. Do we discount any descent before then, in a fibreglass boat, a rubber dingy, or a wooden raft? Anyone that has walked up past Clapham towards Gaping Gill (Yorkshire Dales) will have read of the boy in about 1900 that decided to take the school row boat down the falls in the village, a grim class 5 even by today's standards. (He survived with two broken arms I think!)

Perhaps any effort to clarify the first descent of a river or major rapid would need to distinguish between modern era and pre-plastic era? There is very little chance of getting anyone to agree on the first descent of the Upper Dart - some say the 60, but I have read 20s somewhere as well.

How do you solve the Cauldron Snout example, which I'm sure can be repeated on many rivers? You would need to spell it out, first descent with portages / first complete descent (low) / first complete descent (high). But one person's high doesn't match the next. So I think you have to bin the high/low bit. The first descent therefore goes to Nick Doll, as it takes some balls to be the first down something whatever the level. Injuries I think are irrelevant - where do you draw a line between two broken ankles, and a cut on the finger? You could argue for a (S) for a swim as it is debatable whether a swim constitutes a successful descent.

Alexandra Falls, Canada
(S) Ed Lucero 199-
(NS) T Bradt 2007
(?)

I suppose you could add (P) and (NP) for portages and no portages where relevant, or even (HW) / (LW) if this is especially relevant, as in the case of Cauldron Snout due to being dam release?

Afon Mawdach
Before Modern Era
(NP) Franco Ferrero (or whoever it was) 198-


Afon Goch / Rhaeadr Fawr
C Sladden (P)
T Laws (NP / HW)


Bit complicated but might work, if only people can agree on who did what!
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Jonny Briggs » Sat Dec 29, 2012 12:42 am

Pyro wrote:
geyrfugl wrote:...It would add a huge amount to the interest and not a little to the information value of any guidebook.
Would it?

I debated this with a friend around the climber's SPA award, where (if it still applies) you were asked about first ascents and historic climbs. To me, while it's a nice bit of trivia, that's all it is. It adds nothing to the value of the climb, nothing to my preparedness, technique or ability, it's just trivia. The same goes for first descents of a river - I wouldn't read that information and say, for example "Dave Burne did this first, I bet it's really good, I'll have to have a go" or "Tom Laws got a first D on that, I'll bet it's horrible and chossy, I'll avoid it". I'd read it, read the guide and maybe go have a look at it, and make my decision based on that, not on who's gone before me.
Climbing is different, the first acsentionist is important. A Don Whillains route was known to be thuggish, brutal, utilising jams, strength and determination. It tells you something about the climb.

I guess an analogy in kayaking would be steep creek and big water, but because we don't get the extremes in the UK I don't think this would be important. Where as in climbing can consist of slabs, cracks, overhangs and faces on the same crag.

Mountaineering literature is almost as important as the mountaineering and part of that is guidebooks and well thought out books. There is no £50k prize for an author of a kayaking book (Boardman Tasker Prize)

For the Yorkshire Whitewater I am aiming to document the progress, because someone has to start I guess.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by nutterboy » Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:34 am

Also, are first descents not often done as a team effort, leading to either giving a team credit rather than an individual, or giving individual rapids a first descendant?
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Simon » Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:19 am

banzer wrote:The difficulty as others have said, is in the definition of a first (successful?) descent. Boats in their current plastic form have only been around 25 years or so. Do we discount any descent before then, in a fibreglass boat, a rubber dingy, or a wooden raft?
I've just re-watched the canoeing down Everest dvd I got for Christmas. It is still an epic.

I wonder how Dave Mamby will like the idea that his Dudh Khosi trip does not count as a first descent because it was done in GRP boats and not plastic.

It's a bit strange getting used to the idea that what you did in a kayak is seen as historical, and not part of what people now think of as kayaking. But I suppose that is part of getting old.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by ian the badger » Sat Dec 29, 2012 8:14 pm

You wait till you've been paddling for fifty years plus, even the canal was a first descent then!! Canvas, wood frames, I could go on forever about how paddling has changed since things were in black and white, and powered by steam.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by edhunter » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:25 pm

I think it would be pretty interesting, not important but pretty interesting. I get that it could be somewhat murky as to what a decent is but I think people are doing that oh so ukrgb point of being overly pedantic by talking about only paddleing the flat bits and walking the white stuff in a white water guide and whether or not that is a decent and about injuries. I think a certain amount of common sense and just commenting on the important developments would add a nice aside to any guidebook. That is assuming that the information can be found.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by ian the badger » Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:05 pm

Looking at the gear we now carry, makes me wonder how we ever survived so long in the dawn of WW kayaking in the UK. I remember watching the late John Liddell surfing a monster stopper on Erbistock weir in a wooden boat with wooden splits, nor really expecting him to find away out, but not expecting him to drown either. There is a huge litany of such events in the late sixties, that were never recorded, unless you can find old copies of 'Canoeing in Britain' and, I think Whitewater magazine. We just got on with it, ask Dave Manby, that's what we did.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Big Henry » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:36 pm

geyrfugl wrote:If I buy a climbing guide, for pretty much every route there will be the date of first ascent and the names of the first ascencionists. In an area in which I'd done a bit of climbing, I could deduce as much, if not more, about the nature of the climb from that information than from the actual route description.
First ascent lists and history sections in climbing guides seem to fall into one of two camps: The first are tediously boring and never get read beyond a couple of sentences by most, the other is both funny and a good read (a perfect example being the Llanberis guide by Paul Williams from 1986):
1986 Apl. 27
Solvent Abuse
M Crook and a 'cast of thousands'
One of the most bizarre first ascents in the annals of climbing - J Redhead seconded the route naked, with a loop of the climbing rope attached to his 'private parts' - ascending routes in such a fashion is probably more psychologically demanding than even soloing! The other members of the party were more formally attired.
There has to be equivalent stories of first descents in paddling to make such stories worth including in the guides!

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by banzer » Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:59 pm

Big Henry wrote: There has to be equivalent stories of first descents in paddling to make such stories worth including in the guides!
Such stories enliven a guidebook for sure! The first descent of the Chia-Aig from the Scottish WW guidebook for instance: "...how many have we got.... how many did we start with? Thump... " etc. More of these please, guidebook writers.
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by chris s sladden » Tue Jan 01, 2013 7:38 pm

From the Welsh point of view I think a lot of the information has faded into the mists of time. I've sometimes wondered how many firsts I did- could have been 30 or more but it may have been way less or none at all. I'm not sure there is anyway of knowing for sure. Certainly, when I did the first S Wales book I had very little information to go on, but that didn't mean that someone hadn't done some/all of them before.

I remember running a big drop on the Nevis in ?1983 but I can't believe someone hadn't popped over it before- there were no books or notes that I had seen but it seemed like the thing to do at the time- I suspect that many rivers/ drops were done in similar circumstances.


The history of paddling in Wales by Daz in "The Welsh Rivers", seemed the best approach- vague and no doubt partially accurate and truthful.


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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Big Henry » Tue Jan 01, 2013 10:51 pm

If the story is good/humorous/extreme enough, does it matter if it's a first descent? (As long as it's suitably brief and it adds something to the guide!)

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by geyrfugl » Wed Jan 02, 2013 3:40 pm

Obviously, climbing books may give several "first" ascents - as climbs went with less points of aid, so you might get a first ascent (any ethics), first free ascent, first on sight ascent, and so on. Guides often mention where climbs needed gardening or if an ascent was in some way controversial. This is more the case for guides to long routes / big crags, as climbs which can be described in one or two lines would take up far more guidebook space if lots of first ascent info was overdone.

A first descent in a fibreglass boat would certainly count - modern equipment makes things easier, not harder ! After all, first ascents in nailed boots, or bare feet, or socks over boots, etc. etc. all count, are often mentioned, and give you a feel for the difficulties.

Climbing guides do recognise that first ascents are a team effort - usually all the climbers in the party are mentioned, along with detail like "alternating leads" or occasionally "second could not follow". If a first ascent was by a rope of six, you can make deductions about the route, too !

You might not want to list all the early descents for something like Cauldron Snout (although they are recent enough that at least people still remember), but the conditions on the first descent would certainly be a relevant thing to mention.

Guidebooks that just tell you the route are really quite dull - you wouldn't read them for entertainment, whereas the history of a crag in a climbing guide is both relevant to getting a feel for the style of climbing and worth reading even if you never aspire to climb the routes...

Maybe as a start, guidebook authors could appeal for information in the next edition, with a view to incorporating something in a future edition ?

Andy

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by chris s sladden » Wed Jan 02, 2013 5:25 pm

geyrfugl wrote:Obviously, climbing books may give several "first" ascents - as climbs went with less points of aid, so you might get a first ascent (any ethics), first free ascent, first on sight ascent, and so on. Guides often mention where climbs needed gardening or if an ascent was in some way controversial. This is more the case for guides to long routes / big crags, as climbs which can be described in one or two lines would take up far more guidebook space if lots of first ascent info was overdone.

A first descent in a fibreglass boat would certainly count - modern equipment makes things easier, not harder ! After all, first ascents in nailed boots, or bare feet, or socks over boots, etc. etc. all count, are often mentioned, and give you a feel for the difficulties.

Climbing guides do recognise that first ascents are a team effort - usually all the climbers in the party are mentioned, along with detail like "alternating leads" or occasionally "second could not follow". If a first ascent was by a rope of six, you can make deductions about the route, too !

You might not want to list all the early descents for something like Cauldron Snout (although they are recent enough that at least people still remember), but the conditions on the first descent would certainly be a relevant thing to mention.

Guidebooks that just tell you the route are really quite dull - you wouldn't read them for entertainment, whereas the history of a crag in a climbing guide is both relevant to getting a feel for the style of climbing and worth reading even if you never aspire to climb the routes...

Maybe as a start, guidebook authors could appeal for information in the next edition, with a view to incorporating something in a future edition ?

Andy


Hi Andy,

Modesty aside, I probably know as much about Welsh paddling as anyone- but the accurate history of who did what still escapes me. It is almost impossible to dig out the truth of what really happened, and when. I know at least 4 different groups/individuals who feel they were the first down the Fairy Glen, and this illustrates the issue. Daz Clarkson's history of paddling was the best we could come up with given the reticence of pioneers, and in some ways the magical mystery of boating the rivers of Wales. If more information becomes available we would love to consider it for future editions.


Happy paddling


Chris

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by jmmoxon » Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:20 am

William Bliss (writing in 1934 & having been canoeing since at least the 1890s):
The Dart...is canoeable from Dartmeet, but only by canoeists who do not mind some wading and lifting down rocky rapids and dodging between rocks down narrow falls and (almost certainly) getting a ducking or two in the process.
The Dee...from the Horseshoe Falls to the aqueduct has been done once, by my nephew Cecil Wray Bliss, but I don't advise anyone else to try it. {by the 1947 edition the BCU had produced an itinerary that included the section through Llangollen}
The Lune...has been canoed (I will not say it is always canoeable) from Tebay Station...It is a rapid all the way. Under Lune Bridge, half a mile below Tebay Station, it falls in a small Niagara, and at the inn a mile farther down you will be glad to get out and empty the water you have shipped.
The Tees...is canoeable from Winch Bridge, two miles or so below the High Force Hotel...below Cotherstone, a mile and a half above Barnard Castle, under a double railway bridge, is a tremendous rapid. At Abbey Bridge by Westwick below Barnard Castle are a succession of exciting rapids.
The Teifi...is canoeable from Tregaron, but Pont Llanio Bridge, five miles farther down, is the best place to start from as the station there is on the river, while at Tregaron it is nearly half a mile away...It is very picturesque all the way to Llandyssul, where the fun begins in earnest. {description of the drops follows}
The Ure proper is canoeable from Askrigg...From Askrigg to Wensley is about enough for the first day, for you must portage at the great Aysgarth Force, which is never shootable...From Wensley to Masham seems a short day, but there is some difficult water to negociate and several places where you should get out and reconnoitre before going down...and below Masham you get the best bit of all...The whole long stretch of rapids is good, but Hack Fall is terrific.
The Usk is canoeable from Senny Bridge...It is a difficult river at all times...Below Brecon is the dangerous part...All the way down to Abergavenny there are continual rapids and falls, some of which must be portaged, especially in low water. But it is a river to be done by all rapid-river lovers, and the portages are not long or generally difficult
The author has canoed {the Wharfe} from Kettlewell, and it has been done from Buckden, some seven miles higher up...There is a drop opposite Kilnsey Crags and a definite fall, which must be carried, a mile below Coniston. The Linton Falls below Grassington are never (in the author's experience) shootable, but might possibly be in floods...The 'Strid', a mile below Barden Bridge, is always quite impossible
The Wye is canoeable (just) from Llangurig, but down to Rhayadr, though the tiny river is wild and beautiful, it means a lot of wading (unless you wait for a spate), and only the enthusiast will attempt it.
All of the above are classic grade 3 (sometimes 4) runs which the author states he paddled the majority of some years before the book was published, and he rarely claims to have been the first. Descriptions are included of most of the runs.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by jmmoxon » Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:22 pm

Similarly Alec Ellis from 1935 includes:
River Leven...There is a weir just below Newby Bridge of no great difficulty, and at Backbarrow there is a dam which makes necessary a portage of 200 yards.
The Tay...between Crianlarich and the point where the Tummel joins the Tay, the fall is 300 feet...Thus, on this stretch, the river falls 300 feet in 30 miles. This means that there is very rough water in many places, approaching the limit of what can be done in a faltboot, and occasionally going beyond it. The Tay must be classed as a difficult river and the part just referred to as very difficult. The Tay is only suitable for experienced canoeists in trustworthy canoes...The falls at Killin appear to be quite impassable under any circumstances.
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Mark R » Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:51 pm

Ellis...which book is that?
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by jmmoxon » Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:20 pm

The Book of Canoeing by Ellis includes about 100 pages on where to take your canoe, Canoeing by Bliss has over 180.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by scottdog007 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:53 pm

May be we kayakers/canoeists don’t have such big egos as those in the climbing and caving fraternity and need our name in print?
.

Tee he I be that will upset a few people.

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Mark R » Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:23 pm

I just had a quick check of the bookshelf - I have four of Bliss's books, nothing by Ellis, as far as I can see. Will look out for a copy...
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by jmmoxon » Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:53 pm

I know Bliss wrote Rapid Rivers & The Heart of England by Waterway, so what's the fourth?

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Mark R » Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:55 pm

My mistake - for some reason I have two copies of 'Canoeing' by Bliss.
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by jmmoxon » Mon Feb 25, 2013 7:11 pm

Are they different editions, as 2nd came out in 1947?

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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by Mark R » Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:33 pm

Both 1934, completely identical. No idea how/ why I have two copies.
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Re: Guidebooks - 1st descent info

Post by jmmoxon » Mon Mar 04, 2013 5:43 pm

R. Angus Dundee in "The Heart of Scotland by Waterway" published in 1934, wrote of a trip down the Tay where they (unsurprisingly) portaged the Falls of Dochart at Killin and the rapids at Grandtully, but paddled the Campsie Linn (with unloaded boats).

The trip was unusual enough that they made the local paper and became something of an attraction at the villages and towns they passed.

He also mentions plans to paddle the Awe & Spey and from the Mull of Kintyre to Ireland...

Mike
http://kayakworldguide.forums-free.com Links to websites with info on white water, touring, sea & surf.

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