NAME OF RIVER: Black Water
WHERE IS IT?: The Black water is a major tributary of the River Brora, which runs into the sea 55 miles north of Inverness at Brora.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The take-out is the bridge over the river on the road from Pittentrail to Loch Brora at NC 80672 11010. There is a layby with space for 1 or 2 vehicles a couple of hundred meters down the road. There is a short path from here to Balnacoil falls on river left if you want to go have a look and gauge the level.
The put-in is 4km up the estate track on river left. Depending on whether you can sweet talk someone into letting you drive up, you might be shouldering your boats up here! The best place to put in is immediately above (or below if you’re looking for more of a warm up) the first drop at NC 79075 14538. This is very obvious from the track as it returns to river level and the river above here flattens out.
APPROX LENGTH: 4km
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours to run the river, plus time for walking or shuttle.
ACCESS HASSLES: The track to the put-in is private but previous groups have been able to get permission from the estate to drive up. This is a fishing river, so exercise the usual cautions.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This is a decent sized river with lots of bedrock and a large catchment, and hence it holds its water pretty well and shouldn’t need too much to bring it up. There are no direct gauges, but you can use the gauges for the Brora and the Helmsdale as a rough guide - both should be at 1.0 on their respective gauges as a minimum flow, and 1.3 on the Helmsdale gauge made for an ideal medium level. Once at the river your best bet is to look at the rapids above Balnacoil falls - if they are easily floatable then it’s on.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The gorge in the middle has a large grade 4 that ends in a big hole that is pretty much impossible to set safety on. Balnacoil falls are also worth a look!
The action starts without a warm up on the first drop (grade 4). This ran great on the right, with Jon’s spraydeck barely getting wet. This is followed by lots of fun ledge drops (grade 3/4) leading down to the gorge.
The first significant horizon line is After you (grade 4+), a long ramp that leads to a drop into a big hole that might or might not spit you out, have fun. Setting safety on this is not really possible, but portage is straightforward, if a little strenuous, on the right. Don’t relax yet, next up is Thou shalt boof! (grade 4), a weir-like drop that could dish out some serious beatdowns in high water. Portage, photography and safety are all best done on the right.
The gorge opens out and grade 2/3 water lets you enjoy the scenery for a bit.
When bedrock starts to show again with some small drops, you’re in the lead up to Mystery move (grade 4). This rapid is recognisable from the huge boulder in the middle of the river. It runs river right, though getting too close to the boulder resulted in some unintentional downriver freestyle for both of us.
The large pool below is a good place to get out and check out Balnacoil falls (grade 4+), a tight constriction under the footbridge. Portage is easy river right. You’re now just a short float from the bridge and your car!
In high water there is apparently more quality whitewater on the River Skinsdale, a tributary of the Black water, however this would require permission from the estate to drive up, or a really really long walk!
There looks to be another section of whitewater on the upper reaches of the blackwater just beside the Ben Armine lodge -it has a promising gradient and evidence of rapids on satellite photos. No promises of quality but if you can sweet talk your way into getting a car up there it could make for a long and epic trip! Let us know what you find!
CONTRIBUTED BY: Kirsten Rendle and Jon Harwell
Jon Harwell runs the first drop, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Chris Dickinson on the lead in slide to After You. Photo by Sean Mulligan.
Jon Harwell makes the boof on Thou shalt boof! Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Jon Harwell on Mystery move, about to do a mystery move. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Jon Harwell on line through Mystery move, photo by Kirsten Rendle.