GUIDE TO THE RIVER THURSO
NAME OF RIVER: River Thurso.
WHERE IS IT?:Take the A9 to Thurso and turn left, signposted to Westerdale. After about two miles cross the bridge over the river at Westerdale, keep on going for another two miles until the river can be seen from the road below right hand bend [first time the river becomes visible from the road after Westerdale].
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in for the best section of the river, Dirlot Gorge, is about two miles after you cross over the bridge at Westerdale. There are two lay-bys on the left hand side of the road.
The take out is about a mile and a half back down the road to Westerdale. Take the first right, up a gravel road through the quarry [v. bumpy] and keep on going for about a mile until you see a small fishermans hut on the right, more or less on the banks of the river. You will pass through a number of farmers gates, please shut them after you.
APPROX LENGTH: Approx 2.5 miles?
TIME NEEDED: Depends on the level, if high, there a number of fairly good waves and the trip down would probably take about 3 hours. You could probably blast it in 1.5 hrs though...
ACCESS HASSLES: During the fishing season [February to October] access, apart from a Sunday, is pretty sticky [I've been invloved in several confrontations with anglers!]. However out-with the fishing season there are no access restrictions. See also the SCA ACCESS NOTES ON SCOTLAND.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: As you pass over the Bridge at Westerdale take a look at the falls downstream, if it looks awesome with a big stopper in the middle of the river, Dirlot Gorge will be a good run. If a lot of bedrock is showing river left downstream of the bridge, the Gorge is probably not worth the drive up.
If you happen to pass through the village of Halkirk [about 5 miles down stream] there is a gauge under the bridge on the upstream side, river left. Graduated in inches, Dirlot gorge is a good run from about 24 inches upwards [medium level], the highest I've personnally run it is at 52 inches and it's a real blast.
GRADING: 3 in high water, 2 in low/medium water.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: None, however there are a couple of fairly large stoppers and boils in the gorge itself that may trip up the inexperienced or the unwary...
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From the put in there are a number of man made weirs that support some good waves in high water [grade 2] - there are limited eddies though, and quite a bit of flat water in between! The countryside is very flat in these parts, not the place to be with the wind howling round your ears!
After about a mile or so the Gorge section is reached, the banks start as gentle grassy slopes. The Gorge itself is about a mile long and in high water, is an excellent and continuous grade 3 run - all pretty good safe stuff!
The river then flattens out again for about half a mile until you reach the get out beside the fishermans hut.
OTHER NOTES: The falls at Westerdale are a good grade 3 when in spate, the only problem is that there are miles and miles of flat water above and below this short section. Due to its location, the Thurso is a bit off the beaten track [to say the least] - however if you've ventured up to Thurso for the surf break at Thurso East and it's not running, the river is well worth a look. Traveling south on the A9 there is a good section of grade 4/ 5 on the Helmsdale River at Kildonnan - you might even find some gold.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Colin Matheson.