GUIDE TO THE RIVER TILT
NAME OF RIVER: River Tilt.
WHERE IS IT?: Old Bridge of Tilt – Near Blair Atholl.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The take out is at the public car park for Glen Tilt (NN 87450 66278). Park here and strap your boats on your back! Take the track up the glen which has a helpful sign telling you not to take your car up it. The first possible put in, if you’re short on time or the river is high and you don’t fancy the upper gorge, is at the first bridge over the river (NN 88112 68495). This is about half way! The top put in is reached about a kilometer after you pass the next bridge over the river. You’ll cross a small stream - turn off the track into the field and head for the far corner where at lower levels there’s a sandy beach (NN 88428 70473).
APPROX LENGTH: 6-7 km for the full trip, about 3km for the last gorge
TIME NEEDED: With the walk in, this is a full day’s paddling and has been known to benight groups paddling in the winter months. Make sure you bring plenty of food!
ACCESS HASSLES: Private road owned by Blair Atholl Estate. Vehicular access has now been stopped but the estates office state that they have no objection to paddlers using the river so broad shoulders are required.Some people drive up to the put in and drop their kayaks off so they don’t have to carry them on the walk – PLEASE DON’T DO THIS – not only does it actually take more time than just manning up and carrying but we really don’t want to damage relations with the locals on this river! In days of old you used to be able to pay a fee to drive up the road, but the estates said that too many people drove up without paying so they introduced a blanket ban. Actual access points and also egress points are very limited due to nature of river - deep gorge.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Needs recent heavy rainfall. This river rises and falls very quickly and can be quite difficult to catch at the right level. Spring snowmelt will also bring the river up. As with the Alps, the later you are on the river, more water there will be. Gauge available here: SEPA gauges
GRADING: Grade 4(5)
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The top gorge contains some must-run and difficult to inspect grade 4 drops (unless you brought a climbing rope). It would be wise to check this gorge on the walk up for trees.
Chain Bridge falls (Grade 5).
This description is for medium levels.
From the top put in you are straight into the action with Genesis (grade 3/4), watch out for a meaty hole near the start. There is a brief chance to gather the pieces below this before the river charges down some excellent grade 3+ to the first bridge. This sets the tone for the river to come so if you have had a lot of swimmers it would be wise not to continue. After the bridge there is a long grade 3 which leads straight into the entrance rapid for the upper gorge - Tory Backbencher (grade 4). The name says it all on this rapid as you have to stick on the far right. The left feeds into a massive undercut so treat the lead in rapid with respect. Inspection and portage is possible river right. Once you run Tory Backbencher you are committed to running the next rapid – Roller Coaster (grade 4). This is an intimidating horizon line with no way to inspect or portage, but it runs really nicely on river right (left is bad – a theme on this river!). After Rollercoaster, there is time to get a swimmer out if you’re quick before you get to Sam’s Hole (grade 4). This drop seems innocuous but can deliver a serious spanking if you get it wrong, especially in low water as more of the flow pushes into a large pothole on the left. It does clean up considerably in higher water. If you didn’t check it on the way up, make sure you scout this entire section river right to check it for trees.
Relax a little now as the gorge opens out. Exit falls (grade 3+) are the next horizon on a huge bend in the river and shouldn’t pose any difficulties. Some easy water leads down to the middle gorge and the descriptively named Boof and Narrows (grade 4). This is a long rapid that splits into 3 sections in lower water - a very retentive hole, a narrow slot that is somewhat undercut and another narrow slot that is confused and boily.
The halfway bridge is after here - easy access downstream on the right.
From here the river opens out a lot and there is continuous grade 3+ paddling until the banks start to wall in again and there is a large river wide ledge followed by a sweeping dog leg in the river. This can form a big hole in high water and is also your warning for the upcoming Chain Bridge Falls (Grade 5). Inspect on the left. The right hand channel is a series of rocky drops and stoppers that look uninviting. A chicken shoot (grade 4/4+) opens up in medium water on the left. If you don’t fancy it, the seal launch from the rocks is great fun and leads you straight into the follow up rapid known as particle accelerator for reasons that become obvious in higher water
Down from here is a nice little L shaped drop which gives a fantastic boof if you get it in just the right place (river left on the apex of the L), then you are into the lower gorge - a fantastic grade 3/4 paddle full of blind bends, tiny eddies and spectacular rock formations, but no nasty surprises. The Allt Fender coming in from the left is spectacular but can be hard work to pass when it’s honking. Once you’re out of the gorge there’s just one more rapid to go - Sting in the Tail (grade 4) or The Slot, is easily inspected from the right and is undercut on the left. It looks horrible but the line is surprisingly smooth – inspection often makes things worse! There’s several big eddies on the right at the bottom - scramble up the bank and the path will lead you back to your car!
Flows above 1.2 on the guage on the Tilt will generally add a grade to most sections. The top gorge becomes continuous grade 5, while stopping before Chain Bridge Falls on the lower might be an issue.
Calum Strong has run this at monster flows and notes that while everything is runnable, swimming is not an option and it is a very serious undertaking.
OTHER NOTES: One of my personal favourites in the UK.
Upstream of the put in the river becomes kind of like a mini Orchy – mainly flat, interspersed with the odd bedrock rapid. Quality boating, but no one can ever be bothered to carry their boat any further! About 20 km upstream is the falls of Tarff if anyone fancies a first descent – they look runnable but to my knowledge no one has bothered to carry their boats that far!
Jim Wallis adds: 'You have a photo of the last rapid on the Tilt, named the slot. It appears that at least some Scottish people know it as the Sting in the Tail. I'm not really bothered what its called, I ran it quite low, backlooped on the first drop and had to run it backwards - into the undercut river left which gave me whiplash. My neck still isn't right and that was back in February! I'll definitely not forget the rapid!'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Dave Francis, also Tom Crow, Jim Wallis, Matt Stockman, Slippy and Frazer Pearce. 2016 update by Kirsten Rendle and Jon Harwell.
Walking in - nearly there! Paddler James Burch, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Genesis. Paddlers Andre Phillips, James Burch and Jon Harwell, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Tory Backbencher. Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.
Rollercoaster. Paddler Kirsten Rendle, photo by Jon Harwell.
Rollercoaster. Paddler Jon Harwell, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Boof and Narrows. Paddler Jon Harwell, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
The seal launch just above Particle accelerator.
Sting in the tail. Paddlers Jon Harwell and James Burch. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Atholl Estates welcomes paddlers to the estate and the River Tilt. However, we would like to remind you that no vehicle access is allowed up Glen Tilt. Closest parking is at the Glen Tilt Car Park. This applies to all recreational users of the glen]
Please take note of this and walk up Glen Tilt. Continued driving up will get paddlers a poor reputation.
A totally mindblowing section at this waterlevel, but also dangerous in the extreme, a swim could easily end in drowning with very little chance of getting to the side unassisted. Swimming really isnt an option.
The good news is everything is still runnable. New rapids appear and old ones disappear but everything was runnable, albeit moving like a freight train and considerably more powerful. Well worth knowing the run before attempting it at this sort of level as it is very difficult to stop in any of the gorge sections, the eddies get pretty trashy.
Chainbridge falls gets pretty huge with two truck sized offset holes, you ride a super cool wave/ridge right to left between them.
IMPORTANT POINT: one of the bouldery "fan" style rapids forms a very sticky nearly riverwide hole about 1km past the bridge halfway down the run. This very nearly caught us out as we were relaxing a little between the two main gorge sections and narrowly avoided a serious trashing.
Currently no major tree problems in the run.
At this waterlevel easily one of the best/most exhiliating runs in the UK.
Go and get some!!