NAME OF RIVER: Cuileig
WHERE IS IT?: The river Cuileig flows from Loch a’Bhraoin under the A832 through a very deep canyon to join the Abhainn Droma 15 miles south of Ullapool. There are 2 sections separated by a portage, this description is for the Lower section.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in is at the get out for the upper section. Look from the bridge (NH 18618 77735) and work out access into the canyon for yourself. We walked down the first gully on river left, seal launched in and ferried to river right to portage the first drop. This may not be possible in higher water and the drop is pretty manky. Access is also possible down the second gully on river left but take a long (50m+) climbing rope as it’s a long way down.
Take out river right after the confluence with the Abhainn Droma, wherever you can get parked along the A835. There is a forestry commission car park (NH 19562 80577) just after the road comes back to the river, involving an extra bit of grade 2/3 on the river Broom.
APPROX LENGTH: 2km on the Cuileig, then 1km on the Broom to the car park
TIME NEEDED: 4 hours at least. Combined with the upper section this feels like quite a full day.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: As for the upper… Some but not too much! Everything else in the area should be ‘almost going’ but a bit boney for the Cuileig to be in. I have only done the lower in fairly low water, so can’t claim to be an expert! Although I would definitely recommend lowish water for a first run.
There is a gauge calibrated for the upper section on Where’s the Water, but this will only give you a vague idea of levels in the area. It's on a loch quite a way up stream with a hydro and several large tribs coming in downstream of it.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: In a similar vein to the upper section, this run is at the bottom of an even deeper box canyon which flows away from the road. There is a must-run grade 5 and plenty of tree hazard which can’t really be well controlled.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: There are less ‘distinct rapids’ in the lower section of the Cuileig gorge, and it is in general an even more serious and less clean run than the upper. From the put in below the manky first drop, about 200m of rocky, technical grade 4 leads to an intimidating horizon line. This is Boyakasha (Grade 5), an impressive rapid. The first half is portageable, which is just as well as in lowish water rocks at the base of the drop made it an unappealing prospect. However, the second half is difficult to inspect, must-run, and getting out of the gorge at this point will not be easy (some of those big bastard birds from Lord of the Rings that always save everyone would probably be needed to get out of there…). In low water this involved sliding off a tabletop rock into a slot with a bit of a cave on river right, although would likely clean up with more water. After this is plenty more steep, rocky grade 4 as the gorge walls become progressively narrower and more claustrophobic. Escape from this section is impossible without significant outside help and there are a few trees stuck in unhelpful places as of April 2018, so keep your wits about you! After a while, the gorge walls relax their claustrophobic grip and you can look forward to the icing on the cake. The lower falls are fantastic. A section of bedrock drops around 300m long in a lovely mini-gorge out of the main canyon with awesome fun lines and is easy to lap. After all the toil of the gorge you really feel like you’ve earned it! See the guide to the lower falls for more details on running just these drops.
This run is fantastic, a true highland adventure especially combined with the upper section. However, it does hold significant hazard. It is probably wise to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be off the river by, as well as carrying some food, shelter, split paddles etc... If an unportageable log is stuck in the depths of the gorge you could be, well… F***ed.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Duncan Stewart
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Duncan Stewart on the "Bridge of Death", photo by Murray Peden.
Seori Ormiston on Boyakasha, the must run grade 5. Photo by Fraser Gillies.
Deep in the gorge. Paddler Seori Ormiston, photo by Duncan Stewart.
Portaging an awkward log in the gorge, photo by Duncan Stewart.
Tom Hodge on the first of the brilliant lower falls (low water). Photo by Duncan Stewart.
Seori Ormiston on the last fall (low water). Photo by Duncan Stewart.