GUIDE TO THE RIVER DEE
(Potarch to Banchory)
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: Potarch to Banchory is the most commonly paddled section. Put in is at the riverside car park at Potarch Bridge (NO 60765 97395), about 6 miles upstream of Banchory on the North side of the river. The take out is just above the main road bridge (NO 69703 95314) over the Dee in Banchory and involves climbing up the embankment on the north side of the river to reach the road. Car parking is available about 100m up the road from here in the main Banchory car park.
APPROX LENGTH: 6 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 3 hours +.
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.
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. Gauge info: SEPA gauges
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.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: There are two long powerful rapids, (grade 3) which can cause problems for beginners.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The Dee is a stunning river, particularly in the Autumn when the trees are changing colour and there has been some rain. It is an ideal trip for people who are trying to build their experience on moving water and are looking to gain more confidence. The trip starts very slowly, with large swirling eddies for those wishing to practice breaking in and out with extensive flat sections separating every rapid. The rapids build in strength for several miles as you progress down the river until you arrive at Cairnton, the first main rapid.
This is identified by a white pumping station on the left bank. The rapid begins about 500m below this and builds quite quickly into a lengthy rollercoaster ride with little of technical difficulty except the continuous standing waves, which are apt to capsize beginners (High Water). At lower water levels, this is more of a boulder garden and beginners need to pick their lines carefully to avoid the rocks. This is followed by a short flat section before you arrive at Invercannie, the trickiest rapid on the river.
Somewhat shorter than Cairnton rapid, Invercannie is more demanding technically as there are several large sloping standing waves and small stoppers which emenate from the right bank. In high water it is possible to avoid these by paddling to the far left of the river, however, in low water this is impossible as all of the water flows down the channel on the right. Again, there is ample opportunity to rescue swimmers below this rapid.
The river then continues in a similar manner for several miles to the get out, without ever reaching the same levels of difficulty.
It is worth noting that this is a long trip, especially in winter when the North Wind often seems to blow straight upstream and this often led to some very cold beginners trips in the past. One university trip on this section ended up with 9 swimmers and 3 rescuers on the Invercannie rapid in high water!
For the more experienced paddlers there are plenty of opportunities to perfect all the latest moves during the trip, and in very, very high water the rapids become very powerful and continuous approaching grade 4, however, this is unusual on what is normally a very friendly trip.
Consider carrying on.
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.
Within half a mile of the get out there is a fun rapid on the River Feugh which flows from the South, into the Dee. This consists of a large fall 7-8 feet on an angled bend. This is good fun, although many find it intimidating. For those posers among us there are always plenty of Tourists ready to gather on the bridge camera in hand. Considerable down-time can be gained in high water!
CONTRIBUTED BY: Kris Waring.