GUIDE TO THE FINDHORN GORGE
(Lower section: Randolph's Leap to Mains of Sluie)
NAME OF RIVER: Findhorn.
WHERE IS IT?: NE Scotland.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Get in at Randolph's Leap (NH 99997 49536). There is a large layby here and tourist paths through the woods to view the rapid from above. Chose to put in above or below. To find the get out, drive north to the A940 and turn left. There is a small sign for Mains of Sluie marking the turn off for the car park (NJ 01304 52513), it’s easy to miss. Park here at the main road. When you finish the river, the drivers can run up the road and bring the cars down to the houses at Mains of Sluie (NJ 00693 52636) to pick up the boats. There is a small pull in off the track just a 100m or so up from the houses with plenty of space for a large group to load and get changed (sign posted for the Sluie walk I think). The residents here are quite friendly, so long as you don’t leave your car outside their house or get changed in front of their windows.
APPROX LENGTH: 4 km.
TIME NEEDED: 2 - 4 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: To restate - don’t park in front of the houses at Mains of Sluie! Use the public car park by the main road.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Gauge available here: http://canoescotland.org/where-go/wheres-water
Best place for water level check is at the main drop at Randolph's Leap - if only the right hand channel is possible, the river is low. If the centre channel is just paddleable (about 2 feet wide) then the river is medium. If the right hand centre channels are about 6 feet wide or more then the river is high. If all the rocks are covered you'll probably want to walk away - go and do the upper section instead!!
GRADING: 3/4 (5)
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Randolph's Leap. Undercuts. The Slot.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This is a great section on any level and although on low/ medium levels there are quite a few flat sections between the drops - it never loses interest. Start above or below Randolph's Leap, a grade 4/5 (depending on water level) section through a series of scour holes; there's a siphon or two thrown in as well. The difficulty varies considerably with level, we did it with no requirement for bank support at what I think was a medium to high level. Bank support can be set up on river right by descending the cliffs down a path at the top of the rapid and walking along the rocks. Getting in below is simple enough - there are a few paths to river level down the cliffs in various places, the easiest (but furthest to walk) being at the confluence of the Divie and the Findhorn.
Paddler Howard Aspinall. Photo by Daryn Hubbucks.
Once past Randolph's Leap - either paddled or portaged with an excellent seal launch off the top of the rocks below - the river quietens for a few small single bed rapids before you reach the start of the gorge proper (Look for the White house on river right). There is then a short grade 3 section with a small hole half way down and an excellent surf wave on the corner below. Past here is the start of the main drops...
Triple step: The first is a long rapid grade 4 with some nasty holes and a HUGE rock to get around. Immediately below this is a grippy stopper/ looping pool depending on the level. Inspect river left along the boulders.
Fiona Weatherall in the middle of Triple Step, photo by Luke Partridge.
Corkscrew: The next drop is on a right hand bend- inspect river right - this is a gnarly grade 4 in low water - but actually gets easier in higher levels, grade 3.
A series of Grade 3 rapids.
The Slot (grade 5): A few more drops and you finally reach the final drop of the gorge. This is badly undercut river right and often has trees wedged in below. Inspect river left - on high levels get out before the final eddy as this becomes non-existent and opens up a chicken shoot which drops you straight into the hole and the undercut!! NB - this drop has changed significantly over the last few years and looks horrible on high water. Mark R adds (Easter 2000)...'at medium/ high levels we found the chicken chute paddleable without being shoved into the (awful looking) main fall. Inspect for yourself and decide.'
Jon Harwell runs the slot. Photo (and stand-by throwbag) by Kirsten Rendle. A simple move, but it would suck a lot if you got it wrong!
A short paddle out with some grade 2/3 brings you to the Mains of Sluie - look for the large red cliffs on river right and get out before them. Scramble up the goat track on the right and follow the path up to the farm buildings.
OTHER NOTES: Mark Gawler's Opinion...'A high quality bit of water, although I think it has been over-hyped in the past. I got off feeling short-changed. The best and most technically challenging part of the river is the first 100m (Randolph's Leap).'
Or perhaps consider Dorback Burn if it was all too easy?
CONTRIBUTED BY: Dave Francis, Mark Rainsley, Kirsten Rendle and Mark Gawler.
Reading the guide I can't agree with Mark Lawler - Triple Steps and Diagonal(?) were very entertaining at that level, and there were some nice features on some of the other minor rapids too.