Ossian and Ghuilbinn

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Mark R
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Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by Mark R » Mon Jan 26, 2004 9:57 pm

I'm writing a series of river guides for 'Paddles' mag and have just penned one for the wonderful Abhainn Ossian and Abhainn Ghuilbinn up near Fort William. I haven't done this trip for a few years though, have you? If so, I'd be grateful if you'd take a look over this draft and check for bloopers (eg. is there now a motorway up the valley, etc?)...

Cheers,

Mark Rainsley
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CLASSIC PADDLES:

THE OSSIAN AND GHUILBINN

The whitewater rivers up on the west coast of Scotland around Fort William are well known; practically every whitewater paddler in Britain has made the pilgrimage to this paddling Mecca. Described here is a magnificent trip on a major river within sight of Ben Nevis and the Spean…yet few have experienced it, and you are unlikely to meet other boaters in the eddies…or anybody at all, for that matter. The river is really two rivers, flowing into one another through a chain of Lochs; the Abhainn Ossian and Abhainn Ghuilbinn (Abhainn is Gaelic for ‘River’) make up a magnificent single trip. Twenty-five kilometres of paddling and portaging, all hidden away from roads and civilisation in the grandest of Highland surroundings. Are you up for a real adventure?

Section 1 – Getting there!

This deserves to be treated as a river section in itself, as it is half the fun. There are three options to access the rivers…Firstly, drive up. This is unlikely to be possible. The only roads up this valley are private Estate tracks; you would need to know the right people, catch them in the right mood and you’d perhaps need a 4WD. The second option is to walk. Some paddlers have carried their boats from the end of the trip (where the Ghuilbinn meets the main road) miles up the valley to paddle the last section of the Ghuilbinn…to cherry-pick the best of the whitewater. Arguably, this is missing the whole point. It is highly recommended that you go for the third option, which will allow you to enjoy the whole trip by making use of – wait for it – the West Highland Line Railway! Trainspotters will be in their element here, as the ability to translate a railway timetable is needed. You need to transport you, your mates and your boats to high, remote Corrour Station (GR 356664). Coming from the direction of Fort William and the Spean valley (Tulloch Station is ideal, it even has a bunkhouse), choose your train carefully. The morning trains are usually just commuter coaches…no room for kayaks on board! The evening train to Glasgow usually has a guard’s van with plenty of room for long plastic luggage. Be nice to the conductor; ask him sweetly if he has any objection to your plan. In our experience the conductor has been happy to allow us to shove our boats onboard; but note that he doesn’t have to...pray that you don’t get a Jobsworth. Having made it up to Corrour, you can dump the boats and return to your warm bed by the following train that night, returning in the morning. Alternatively, if you are Scottish (and therefore hard), you can bivvy/ bunkhouse/ youth hostel up in the arctic cold at the Station. Either way, it should be clear by now that this trip needs thinking through beforehand! A final thought…watch the weather. Ideally things will be fairly wet, but this can backfire. We once timed a trip to coincide with a band of rain coming in from the west. The rain arrived right on cue…as a blizzard! Take warm gear and note that you are going to be a long way from anywhere.

Section 2 – Corrour to Loch Ghuilbinn (13 km, Grade 2)

Standing around at Corrour Station (altitude 450 m) at the crack of dawn in boating gear…this is a weird experience. There is nothing there other than wind, moor and mountain. The trip begins with a twenty minute carry. Slog with your boats to Loch Ossian and paddle the whole five kilometre length of it. Oh, you brought your S6? Best hope that the wind is with you! The stream flowing out at the far end is the Ossian. This tiddly river winds aimlessly for a while in the vicinity of Corrour Shooting Lodge. It then joins a sizeable tributary and generates occasional easy rapids on small ledges. If you’re bored at this stage, then you don’t have a soul…the scenery is inspiring, a beautiful open and wild Glen. Head on down until you reach Loch Ghuilbinn. Your patience will be rewarded; the real paddling is still to come…

Section 3 – Loch Ghuilbinn to Loch Laggan (12 km, Grade 4-5)

Loch Ghuilbinn is a kilometre across and the outlet is surprisingly hard to find (in a blizzard, anyway). You now find the reason you have come this far, the start of the River Ghuilbinn. From Loch Ghuilbinn the river finally gains some gradient and after coming close to the trees on river left, spills over a two metre waterfall. From this point on, the Ghuilbinn surges through a long succession of open gorges. These make for excellent technical grade 4 paddling which cannot fail to keep you entertained. In spate they are a bit too entertaining, grade 5 with kicking stoppers. Whatever the water level, one particular narrow drop between confined walls seems insignificant but has an evilly sticky stopper...only one way to find out which one it is! The final gorge leads to a constricted 4 metre waterfall with jutting rock, about where your head would be. This is usually portaged. The Ghuilbinn’s final twist then hoves into view. An enormous stepped reef offers numerous possible lines, none of them straightforward and some with dangerous sumps. It is worth making the whole trip just to see this bizarre mega-rapid! Below, tedious flat water ambles into Loch Laggan. The road is obvious, over at the far bank (GR 425829). If your planning has all come together, the shuttle driver will be waiting with a flask of coffee (or something stronger). If that was all a bit easy, you could instead paddle down the lake, portage Laggan Dam and paddle the Upper Spean as well!

Other Trips – The rivers around Fort William should need no introduction. The Ossian and Ghuilbinn flow into the Spean, which has numerous classic sections. Further up the Spean valley is the Pattack, offering similarly wild but more accessible whitewater. Down the valley, the Roy is superb. There are also numerous spate runs for those with strong legs and a creek boat (for instance, keep your eyes open along the road between the Ghuilbinn takeout and the Laggan Dam)…and we haven’t even left the Spean valley yet. For further info, see http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk (from which this article was adapted) and the inspiring SCA guidebook ‘Scottish Whitewater’.

Mark Rainsley, http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk. Thanks to Perception Kayaks and Nookie Kayaking Equipment for continuing support.

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Ossian and Ghuilbinn bloopers

Post by Bothy Ben » Mon Jan 26, 2004 11:31 pm

This is a fair braw read but A dinnae ken wit a "lake" is. Mind you the las time A wiz enjoying a wee dram at the CLachaig, there wuz some tourists in, drinking pints an pints o lager and lime. Efter a few roodns they all said loudly that they were "JUST NIPPING OUT FOR A LAKE".

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by neilfarmer » Tue Jan 27, 2004 12:35 am

Might be worth mentioning that this is also suitable as a 'very easy open boat tour', all the rapids on the Ghuilbinn can be portaged very easily and, I am told it makes a very worthwhile trip - the grade 4/5 tag might put these people off and that would be a shame!

I had heard relatively recently (~1year ago) that you could no longer take the boats on the new 'sprinter trains'. No idea if this is true, will try and think of someone to ask.

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Trainspotting

Post by letsgoboating » Tue Jan 27, 2004 10:40 am

Thats a great trip and far too long since I have done it! Description sounds good to me. Might be worth mentioning that there is now a good bunkhouse and surprisingly good restaurant at Corrour. http://www.corrour.co.uk/

I haven't stayed in the bunkhouse but I have eaten in the restaurant a couple of times. You get loads of good home cooking at a very affordable price, pre booking essential. This makes beginning the trip with an overnight stay at Corrour a very attractive option.

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Re: Trainspotting

Post by Jim » Tue Jan 27, 2004 1:40 pm

Just a note, the Guilbhinn is also possible by hiking up a private road. You won't get quite to the loch but apparently don't miss much. I heard a rumour that a group that sought out permission to drive the private road were given a lift up, I don't think this should be expected, but it is always nice to know that people in the area are friendly towards us, and you may get permission to drop boats near the top. Obviously it would not as much of a classic trip done this way - unfortunately it's one I still haven't done.

As for Scotrail's use of modern sprinter trains, firstly there are only 3 each way per day! Scotrail have a policy of carrying bikes for free, most trains have an area that will hold 2 bikes, although I was on this train from Tyndrum to Glasgow a few weeks ago, I forgot to check out the potential for carrying kayaks. There was a lot of luggage piled up near the back end and the guard didn't seem bothered about it, um she also never bothered to sell me a ticket which I thought was quite strange as I was the only person to get on and I got on at the door she was operating the controls from....????
If travelling from Glasgow please remember that the train splits at Crainlarich and half (probably the rear based on the order they go together coming back) of it goes to Oban instead.

JIM

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Re: Trainspotting

Post by Mark R » Tue Jan 27, 2004 2:20 pm

Thanks for all your comments, I'll take them onboard. Fair point about the Loch/ Lake thing, my wife will give me a hard time over that mistake.

Jim, I think I covered the drive/ trek options already in the article?

Cheers,


-----------Mark Rainsley

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Re: Trainspotting

Post by siwiles » Tue Jan 27, 2004 6:26 pm

Mark,

I think 12 miles or Km's whichever it was of 4/5 is probably overstating the difficulty. I rememeber maybe 3-4 k's of good stuff at the end. Although I was freezing last time, and may have blacked it all out

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Re: Trainspotting

Post by Jim » Tue Jan 27, 2004 8:42 pm

"Jim, I think I covered the drive/ trek options already in the article?"

Yeah, I admit to skimming it first time (lunch break running out) and missing the cherrypicking comment. Still might be worth noting that the estate seem friendly towards kayakers if you talk to them, possibly not a good idea to mention that they gave a group a lift once in case some people expect that treatment.

JIM

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by rhysb » Thu May 02, 2013 8:02 pm

So it's an old post. But considering this little adventure very soon?

Any one done it recently got any tips

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by Mark R » Thu May 02, 2013 8:58 pm

Someone posted up a link to a blog post about this recently?
Mark Rainsley
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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by Poke » Thu May 02, 2013 10:03 pm

Yarp. <-- click link
Uniyaker - Uni expeditions
Team Pyranha - My adventures

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by davidmaltby » Sat May 04, 2013 11:57 am

Ive done it twice in the past year, novemeber 12 and feb 13.
Both times when it was a combination of rain and snow...and as you can see from the link to the big blue tree story it can be more than a little chilly!
So biggest advice would be make sure you have enough warm clothes and pogies/gloves are almost essential even if you take them off for the bigger rapids (i didnt have them and when my hands warmed up i could hardly use them from swelling, they felt like they were burning for days. )
other advice would be that wetter is probably better. The ghuilbinn gets some interesting lines at high flows, and both times ive had to portage a few rapids, but the ossian could easily become a rocky bump and scrape at low levels and might not be much fun and once you've paddled the loch your pretty much committed. there is a gauge, but its helpfully about 2/3 of the way though the trip below the 1st drop on the ghuilbinn. As a rough judge both times ive done it it has been quite high to very high (i think...dont really have any way to judge)
this is the 1st drop, from the 1st time i ran it, 2nd trip was a bit higher levels again...it is still a very manageable trip at these levels as all rapids are easy to inspect +/- portage (which you will probably do once or twice). Its a bit higher than the photo in the guide here and I must admit i think the ossian could be quite scrapey at levels in the photo in the river guide
Image
if you get good weather then you get great views like this...
Image
we got a whole herd of deer crossing the river
Image
if the weather is not so good it might look like this..... (all photos from same trip!)
Image

(btw if anyone wants to add these photos to the guide your welcome to)

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by davidmaltby » Sat May 04, 2013 3:20 pm

realised I had missed a key bit of what I was trying to write above about judging levels. it was supposed to read....
"As a rough judge both times I've done it it has been quite high to very high (I think...don't really have any way to judge)" and all the rivers in the area on where's the water have been very high- huge. So my thoughts would be its probably only worth it there's lots of red/pink dots on where's the water. (but someone may correct me on this)

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by nickbennett » Sat May 04, 2013 11:18 pm

neilfarmer wrote:Might be worth mentioning that this is also suitable as a 'very easy open boat tour', all the rapids on the Ghuilbinn can be portaged very easily and, I am told it makes a very worthwhile trip - the grade 4/5 tag might put these people off and that would be a shame!
Good luck persuading the very nice train guard to try and fit an open boat in the bike compartment......

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by rhysb » Mon May 06, 2013 2:10 pm

Well we went out and did it this Saturday.

Took the boats up in the morning on the first train. Only 2 and sort of just fitted went from tulloch station so only one stop. There was a fair bit of water in the Ghuilbinn when we got there. But that made for a excellent trip and a awesome section of river. Defiantly recommend it to anyone

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by Yew » Mon May 06, 2013 8:51 pm

The conditions of carriage forbid that carriage of boats. (well, there are maximum dimensions that a boat will not fit within) however the Guard and staff can use their discretion. Obviously something more likely on the sleeper, with its luggage compartment in the 4/5 carriage train, than in a 2 car sprinter with only a bike rack.

It also might be bearing in mind this quote from scotrail if the staff have been particularly accommodating
I can confirm that sleeper staff can accept tips if the passenger wishes to give them one, it is then up to the individual staff member whether they accept the tip.

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Re: Ossian and Ghuilbinn

Post by Gawage1 » Wed Oct 26, 2016 5:09 pm

So I was hoping to do this, this weekend but I hear it takes a lot of water... there seems to be a bit of rain on Thursday but not a lot ... just thought I'd post up for advice ... does it run low or definitely need a good few days of rain and is it worth the trek if it's low?

Cheers

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