GUIDE TO THE RIVER DEE
(Above Braemar to Potarch)
NAME OF RIVER: Dee (Scotland).
WHERE IS IT?: Flows from Braemar to Aberdeen. OS Map Ref: Sheet No. 37,38,43,44
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: See below for start. Finish is at the riverside car park at Potarch Bridge, about 6 miles upstream of Banchory on the North side of the river.
From Helen Howie... (November 2005) 'For a 2 hour, Grade 1-2, 7 km trip, We put in at the white pedestrian suspension bridge at GR 197 908, where there is space for 2 cars to drop off canoes kit at the bridge itself, and a layby across the road for longer-stay parking. Steps make getting down to the river easy. Get out was where the B976 crosses the river, just 0.5 km downriver of Balmoral Castle (I don't recommend stripping down here - we didn't see any security cameras, but then you wouldn't, would you?). There is a large car park between the bridge and the A93, with good public toilets located under the visitor centre - an unusual hexagonal building apparently built on top of the original public conveniences block.'
APPROX LENGTH: 25-30 miles?
TIME NEEDED: Unknown.
ACCESS HASSLES: There are often many fishermen on the Dee during the week which apparently costs them a fortune as this is one of the best Salmon fishing rivers in the UK. However, in six years of paddling the river and using some common courtesy, we have never encountered any problems. (Except once scaring off poachers during a night paddle).
For the most part, the landowners seem friendly and as long as you don't cause any damage, there should be little problem with Bivi'ing. You should also be able to gain shelter from the elements easily as the riverbank is almost continually tree-lined.
From Helen Howie... (November 2005) 'No problems encountered, although we paddled out of the fishing season. Evidence of a very popular fishing river. The fishing season finishes on 30TH SEPTEMBER, which makes the river ideal for October Half Term. We paddled lower on the river the next day (Banchory section), and again had not a single encounter with anyone, even though fishermen's huts were evident all along the river. A beautiful time of year, with all the trees turning golden. You can't beat this river for unspoilt countryside. There is now a legal right of access enshrined in the Land Reform Act 2003, but this does emphasise the need for all users to be respectful of the rights of others.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: A general feel for the water level can be gained from Potarch bridge. Upstream of this there is a small rapid which is indicative of the main difficulties.
The river is canoeable all year through as there are numerous tributaries throughout its length which help to keep it flowing even in the height of summer. However, given its size, it is surprisingly susceptible to heavy rainfall, which can bring the river into spate conditions overnight. Once up it would normally take a week or so to return to normal conditions. During high water times, the section from Potarch to Banchory can become a bit hairy, especially for beginners and open boaters with large 7-8 feet standing waves in sections. However, this is fairly uncommon and the river is usually a much more placid animal.
The best times to paddle it I feel would be from mid summer to late Autumn. September and October is my favourite time on this river as the surrounding countryside becomes a miriad of brown, red and green as the trees change colour. It really is quite beautiful at this time of year. Late February to April usually sees the best water levels with melting snow and our usual springtime deluges bringing the river up to quite exciting levels. November and December are often very cold with a biting North wind, which for some reason often seems to blow directly up the river. As the river is quite large, often over 50 metres wide, there is not much shelter and this can lead to unpleasantly cold conditions.
From Helen Howie... (November 2005) 'This upper part of the Dee seems to rise and drop quite rapidly after rain. There had been torrential rain for 3 days, followed by 1 dry day, and the water level was already dropping. The popular Linn of Dee to Victoria Bridge (GR 103 895) further upstream didn't have quite enough water in it, hence this route was found as an alternative. Most of the rocks at the put-in were covered, and down the river it was clear that the river level was just above many of the river boulders.'
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Linn of Dee is a portage, GR 062896. Wire fences.
AIS (Oct 2006)...'There is a wooden fence spanning the river at Braemar, but this does not require a portage currently (October 2006), as someone has created a canoe-sized space on the left of it. If portage is needed, there is a gate on river right at the fence.'
From Helen Howie... (November 2005) 'In the trip we made (see above), be ready to break out river left immediately after the bridge at the get-out. The river is moving very fast at this point, and there are large rocks under the bridge, so care is required.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The Dee starts high in the Grampian mountains above Braemar. The first notable rapid on the river is the Linn of Dee. This is a very twisty and narrow fall, which has never even tempted me to think about running it. However, below this the river is mostly plain sailing all the way to Aberdeen.
The first few miles to Braemar sees the river meandering through the open and somewhat barren glen that is Upper Deeside. However, shortly after Braemar the valley closes in a bit and the river is much less exposed to the elements. Immediately below Braemar there are wire game fences across the river which it is necessary to portage.
The next stage of the river is from Braemar to Ballater, some 25 miles and takes you through the beautiful pine forests of the Balmoral Estate. For most of this section, the river happily meanders though the countryside, rarely rising above Grade 2. However, just at the upper end of the Balmoral estate the Invercauld bridge (GR185911) crosses the river at a series of shallow ledges which reach grade 3 in most water levels.
Passing Ballater and moving on down to Aboyne there is plenty of opportunity to relax and admire the scenery and wildlife which is usually in abundance with Herons and Deer often frequenting the riverside.
The river slowly builds in grade from Aboyne to Banchory with a few shallow shingle banks and small straightforward rapids leading up to Potarch bridge. The next section to Banchory is the most commonly paddled.
From Helen Howie... (November 2005) 'Trees of many types, including the lovely Scots Pine. A winding route opening up new vistas of mountains on every turn. And the river - well, friendly and fast flowing. Easy enough to be relaxed, but with enough boulders in the stream bed to keep your attention at all times. Plenty of easy ripples. No flat sections - paddling is only required to steer, never to propel you downstream.'
OTHER NOTES: If like me you are remotely interested in looking at beautiful water features you should take a look at the Rivers Quioch, Garbh Allt and Feugh, all of which have spectacular water features within a mile of their joining the Dee.
From Helen Howie... (November 2005) 'The youth hostel in Braemar is reputed to have the best drying room in Scotland - and certainly did the trick with our wet gear.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Kris Waring, also Helen Howie and AIS.