GUIDE TO THE RIVER SPEY
(Ballindalloch to Tandhu Distillery)
NAME OF RIVER: Spey.
WHERE IS IT?: Speyside, NE Scotland, flowing out of the Cairngorms.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The section described below runs from Ballindalloch down to the Tandhu Distillery, OS sheet 27 (1:50 000) Grid ref : 158369 to 192416.
APPROX LENGTH: 4-5 miles?
TIME NEEDED: 3 - 4 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Access is easy at many points along the river and the only point to note is that it is a prime Salmon river so on weekdays and evenings many fishermen can be encountered. Fishing is illegal on a Sunday so if you want a fisherman free trip this is the day to do it. If you do encounter fishermen please be courteous and pull over alert them to your presence and ask them which side of the river they would like you to pass. All of the fishermen we have encountered are friendly if approached in this way, as whilst they may not accept the intrusion into the section they are fishing they do appreciate manners. Local Gillies who respect the shared use of the river also accompany many of the fishermen. (Fees for the most commonly paddled stretch, described, can be up to 500 per day for fishermen!).
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Can be paddled at all levels. Indeed I took a group from work down it when it was in full pumping flow and only one swam more than once.
GRADING: Up to Grade 2...this river is one of the most popular in the area for open boats and beginners offering over 80 miles of easy paddling from flat water through the tranquil valleys around Aviemore to it's hardest section which is no more than grade 2.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS:
Angela Kirk (June 2004)...'3/4 mile below Fochabers there is a dangerous tree strainer on a right hand bend - local ghilly asked me to put this on a web-site following a bad boat capsize and pin on 4/6/04.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The best stretch in terms of variety of water has two main rapids at grade 2 and is detailed below. It runs from Ballindalloch down to the Tandhu Distillery. OS sheet 27 (1:50 000) Grid ref : 158369 to 192416 and will take about 3-4 hours to paddle with a novice group in normal flows. It is equally suited to open boats and kayaks.
This is a fun scenic bit of river that all paddlers should enjoy ideal for groups on their first river trip, or as a start to a longer tour in Scotland, as it gives a bit of everything without being too hard (or wet) and can be paddled at all levels. Indeed I took a group from work down it when it was in full pumping flow and only one swam more than once. Non paddlers can walk the Speyside way, which follows the river (RH bank). Afterwards during summer you can always visit the distilery for a wee dram!
From the put in the river strolls down at a leisurely pace to the old railway bridge shortly after this the river bends left and the River Avon (pronounced Arn) joins from the left. This confluence causes a short easy rapid just round the right hand bend immediately after this rapid is another easy rapid with a wave in the centre of the river. This wave is good for training novices to surf and how to plan strokes ahead as you have to come onto it by ferry gliding from well upstream of it.
As we pass this rapid the river opens out and drops a couple of metres in the next 500 yards or so it then bends gently left and this is the first major rapid (grade 2). Blacks Boat Rapid, this is a simple rapid in all conditions although if the river is up it will be washed out. On approach you will see the river suddenly drops about 3 metres in about 50m length this is just a long ramp of fast water with a wave train following it. The line on this rapid is currently to the left as going right will land you on a shale bank. About 1/2 a mile from here is an alternative get out at the road bridge.
From here the river again eases for a couple of miles with many short rapids and small wave trains until we reach the bottom and second main rapid. Approach to the bottom is noticed by a sweeping right hand bend followed by a large island with many big trees on it. The best line around the island is the left hand channel as this is less likely to cause grounding. From here the river again sweeps left with the flows from each side of the island mixing. This bend can be quite hard in high flows due to the effects of the eddies on the bend creating weird flows and eddy lines.
This should have brought you to a large pool with a fishing hut on the left on a small grass platform. In front you will see another large island with trees and right of this there will be another smaller island with small bushes. From here is the final rapid, the best line is just to the right of the large island. This takes you down a small (1-2 foot) drop into a pool then a chute with a small burn entering on the left. Round a right hand bend (watch out for the small hole river centre) and then the two flows around the smaller island rejoin again. The rocks on the left bank hide the take out which usually has a rowboat moored in the eddy. The distillery is just up the steps behind this eddy. If you have chosen to go right around the smaller island at the top you just have a gentle chute to carry you to the bottom and the take out is as above.
OTHER NOTES: Anyone paddled the other sections of this river? Let us know.
CONTRIBUTED BY:Moray Canoe and Kayak Club, also Angela Kirk. Also, for more info on the Spey have a look at this... Adam Sawyer's Website. There is a useful article on paddling the Spey on the Reports page.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency
28 Perimeter Road, Pinefield Industrial Estate, Elgin, IV30 6AF