GUIDE TO THE RIVER NORTH ESK
(Scout Camp to Edzell)
RIVER NAME: North Esk.
WHERE IS IT: Angus in Scotland (40mins north of Dundee (70mph)). Take Aberdeen Road from Dundee and just after Brechin take the turn off for Edzell. Drive through Edzell and you cross the river 2 mins later at Gannochy Bridge.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The get out is at the road bridge just after Edzell (Gannochy Bridge: NO 60033 70915) where you cross the river. There are steps carved into the rock by fishermen from the eddy on river left just upstream of the bridge leading up to the walkers path and the infamous “Blue door”. If you miss this get out it’s a bit of a walk back from the next access point out of the gorge downstream.
To find the put in, drive 100 yards north of this bridge and turn off to the left up the glen. There is a large layby here for additional parking on busy days at the take out. Head up the glen here and chose one of the following put ins:
In very low water you can cut out a scrapey start by stopping at a gate (NO 58411 74144) by a forestry plantation and walking down the track to the bridge. There is essentially no parking here, try not to upset anyone and park further away once you’ve dumped boats.
The standard put in is a large layby (NO 57577 75110) on the right a bit further up the glen. There’s lots of room for cars here if you’re creative, so you might want to leave more vehicles here than in the busy laybys at the bottom. You can slide down the hill opposite in various places, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. At the bottom, find the pathway that goes through the next hill (it’s fairly obvious) and you’ll be at the river.
Alternatively, after about 3 miles and you will see a sign saying "the retreat". Just before this is a track heads down a hill turning back on the main road. We normally go down this track but not in a new car. There is a scout camp across the river to use as a reference point (NO 57365 75223).
TIME REQUIRED: 3 hours with inspection. Longer with playing.
ACCESS: Iain McKendry advises: 'As far as access goes, at the get in, as long as cars aren't parked blocking either the main road or the tracks, and no fences are climbed it's pretty much OK. the "Retreat" marker is a good pointer as in the first guide.
At the get out, the path marked "private" isn't a problem, just be courteous to all the walkers (i.e. avoid planting them with the nose of your boat!). PLEASE don't park on the grass above the layby - the bloke in the house is very friendly and reasonable until someone leaves tyre marks in his newly mown lawn! If the layby is full, there's space at the start of the Glen Road, just on the left - not as handy as the layby, but let's keep the peace folks!'
Jim Wallis adds: If you check the takeout before you get on you will find steps hewn from the rock a short distance above the bridge. Probably for anglers originally, but makes a much more feasible takeout than the SCA takeout below the bridge! I paddled the section during a fishing competition, luckily the only angler we met was at the put in, he was leaving and quite friendly, and thought he was furthest downstream (which he was) - I wouldn't fancy ruining someone's competition!
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Doable at surprisingly low levels. Only serious drought will make the river too low. Gauge available here: http://canoescotland.org/where-go/wheres-water
The gauge currently used by Where's the Water is near the sea, after several other rivers have joined, so the level is a good indicator, but may not be accurate, especially in cold weather. There is a new gauge here: http://apps.sepa.org.uk/waterlevels/?sd=t&lc=371579 and the SCA team are trying to calibrate it. If you paddle the river regularly, please fill in a level report form on the Where's the Water website.
If there is a little shingle beach river left just before the take out bridge it is low. If not it is high.
MAJOR HAZARDS: Two big grade four rapids. Prone to tree blockages.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From the top get on it is grade 2 down to the first bridge.
Just after the bridge is Awkward Boulder - grade 3 (also known as shoulder boulder) which is only an issue at low water. A few small rapids and you come to the grade 3/4 tight and twisting Shotgun (also known as Rock garden or S bends).
Ben Fitzhugh on Shotgun in low/medium flows, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Just below here is a nice surf wave at some levels. Not far through some more tight bends is Witches Step (grade 3), a tight slot drop of around 1-2m depending on the river level. This rapid, while easy enough in normal levels becomes considerably more difficult (grade 4) in very high water levels.
Kirsten Rendle on Witches Step in low-medium flows. Photo by Luke Partridge.
Andrew Hunter on Witches Step in high levels (0.9-1m on the SEPA gauge). Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Easy water leads down to Rocks of Solitude (grade 4). Inspect, protect and portage on the left. Two large drops form big holes, with the second being fairly sticky. Maximum stickiness is around 0.55m on the SEPA gauge! A line down the middle with good speed will get you through. It has been known to recirculate swimmers at levels around 0.55-0.65 so if in any doubt, get someone to run down with a throwbag.
Ben Fitzhugh on Rocks of Solitude about 0.5 on the gauge (low/medium), photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Rocks of Solitude around 1m on the SEPA gauge. Paddler Andre Phillips, photo by David Rendle.
The gorge just below Rocks of Solitude at 1m on the SEPA gauge. Paddler Ben Powell, photo by David Rendle.
The narrow gorge below ends in Presidents Corner - grade 3+. It is definitely narrow enough to pin a boat across, however the pool below is large, plenty of room for multiple swimmers!
Helen Tatlow going into the narrows of Presidents Corner at high water. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Several grade 3 rapids follow pool drop style until the river flattens for a significant paddle to the top of Fishladder Falls. Easy to recognise by the change in rock type (you just crossed the highland boundary fault!) and the tower on the rock bank on the left. Land on the left to inspect, protect or portage. A nice path leads through the trees. The lead in to the falls is generally more problematic than the falls themselves - Victoria's hole waits part way down to claim the unwary. The line on the falls is left beside the fishladder as the right has a hidden rock ledge. An auto boof kicker does have a tendency to fire you into the cliff at the bottom, but in low to medium water there is plenty of room to pick up any pieces. The fishladder for which the falls are named has been run, though it is not particularly recommended and has been known to break paddles!
PLEASE NOTE: In recent years Fishladder has been catching a lot of trees and has sometimes been unrunnable due to logs in the gorge below. Inspect before you commit!
Jamie Mackay about to boof Victoria's hole. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Jamie Mackay runs Fishladder Falls (medium water, around 0.6 on the gauge). Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Andre Phillips runs Fishladder Falls at a very low level. Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
It’s a short distance to the take out with a few possible surf waves and some small grade 3 drops.
OTHER NOTES: Runnable at most levels. Is hard at high flows but an excellent trip.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jim Wallis, Kris Waring, Phillip Skinner and Iain McKendry. 2016 update by Kirsten Rendle and Jon Harwell.
If you would like to submit updates, new guides or photos, email ukrgb.scotland AT gmail DOT com
There is still a large tree in the gorge below Fishladder falls, making the rapid a portage at most levels.
Tree in the water after the fishladder on N'esk, not a problem if you stay up right, but if you dont stay up right and have a dodgy roll id think twice on running it...
If anyone's looking for half of the bridge that used to be at the Scout huts on the Esk it has been moved 2 or 3kms downstream and is now approx 100mtrs above S-Bend/Complex. It's not a problem at the moment but it could move with another spate.
Also the tree is still stuck above Fish Ladder but still passable.. A few other new bits of wood here and there, all avoidable but be cautious. There's a tree on the very last section just above the get out, it's right in the middle of the river but it's pointing downstream, not across the river so you can get past on the right.
Calum Peden (3/1/16):
The bridge was certainly not visible today my bet would be that it will have shifted and may well be wedged somewhere underwater downstream. I would recommend that anyone running it in the next few weeks keeps and eye out as it could easily have wedged in fish ladder or any of the other constrictions as it will have been bounced along the bottom of the river.
The tree itself has fallen above on the gorge but the branches are hanging over on to the river. At a decent medium level (Saturday) they weren't much of an issue (could duck under and paddler through) but a wee bit more water and it could be a bit a bit of an issue, especially since its not on a main rapid.