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 upper section.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: At the bridge over the river on the A832 (NH 18016 76887) there is a large layby on the left heading towards ullapool. From here, bushwhack down to a large unrunnable fall. It is possible to abseil into the gorge down 4m into a small gully river right of the fall.
The take out should be inspected before getting on. At the next layby down, park and walk along the road 50m to a fence and follow the fence down to the river. This bring you out at a sketchy old bridge (NH 18618 77735) over an enormous waterfall that separates the upper and lower sections. Get out is a small eddy river right above the lead in to the fall. Best not to miss this…
APPROX LENGTH: 1km
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours at least. Although short, there is considerable faff in scouting the section before putting on and then psyching everyone up to drop into the canyon.
ACCESS HASSLES: None known
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Some but not too much! Everything else in the area should be ‘almost going’ but a bit boney for the Cuileig to be in. Gauge available on Where's the Water HOWEVER this gauge is not on the paddled section - it is on a loch quite a way up stream with a hydro and several large tribs coming in downstream of it. The reading should be taken with a large pinch of salt, and you should make your own judgement at the river!
GRADING: 5, only really one grade 5 rapid but as you can’t walk it or set meaningful safety for the first person down it seems reasonable to call the run a 5.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: This run is pretty serious stuff, starting with an abseil into one of the most committing box canyons I’ve seen in Scotland below a large unrunnable fall, and finishing in a tight eddy above an even larger and even more unrunnable fall! The first drop is portageable but the rest are in effect ‘must-run’ and should be treated as such.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Sitting below the put-in waterfall it is a spectacular view down into the canyon ahead. 50m of flat leads to a small ‘’eddy’’ where you can scramble out to inspect the first 2 drops. The first drop ‘MacSwamAway falls’ (grade 4/5) is an awkward 10 footer into a big hole. It is possible with some difficulty to climb out of the gorge here on river left. This is followed almost immediately by the first real must-run, after which escape becomes increasingly difficult. ‘A Healthy Fear of Commitment’ (grade 5) is another 10 footer with an awkward lead in, this time on a left hand bend and into another big hole which kicks hard into the right hand wall. It’s impossible to set any meaningful safety from above, so if you go first don’t make a balls of it…
After this there is a last chance gully to escape from on river right before the next horizon line. ‘Kick up the Arse’ (grade 4-) can be scouted from river left and goes fine with an autoboof right of centre. After this the river is mostly grade 3+, however nothing can be scouted and nothing can be portaged. There is one slightly larger drop on right hand bend worth mentioning ‘The Devil’s Butt Crack’ (grade 4-) leading to yet another tight slot canyon, which as of September 2017 had a tree wedged in it. At medium-high levels we were able to paddle over this.
This leads to the final grade 3+ rapid ‘DBS’ (or Dinnae Be S***). Quite straight forward but a capsize would be potentially catastrophic as there is not much time to make the eddy on river right before the river squeezes over one more small drop into a tight defile and ‘The Gorge of Eternal Peril’ (Grade X) under the ‘Bridge of Death’ mentioned earlier. Climb up a steep grassy gully on river right and breathe a sigh of relief.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Duncan Stewart and Murray Peden
Calum Hogg abseils into the gorge, photo by Duncan Stewart.
Duncan Stewart on MacSwamaway falls, photo by Calum Hogg.
Calum Peden running 'A healthy fear of commitment'. Photo by Murray Peden.
Duncan Stewart in the bowels of the gorge after 'A healthy fear of commitment', photo by Murray Peden.
Calum Peden running 'Kick up the arse', photo by Murray Peden.