GUIDE TO THE RIVER SOUTH ESK
NAME OF RIVER: South Esk
WHERE IS IT?: Glen Clova, north of Dundee
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in at Gella Bridge (NO 37310 65274) on the B955. There are car parks either side of the river - the one on river left has easier access to the water though it does flood at higher water levels, so it might be best to leave your car in the higher one! The take out is in Cortachy at the bridge, though there is no parking here. There is a public car park beside the primary school that is just a short walk from the river (NO 39323 59685).
APPROX LENGTH: 7km
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours
ACCESS HASSLES: None known of.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Gauge available here: http://canoescotland.org/where-go/wheres-water
0.7 on the SEPA gauge at Gella Bridge should be considered the absolute minimum. At this level the run will be bouldery Grade 2/3 with two Grade 3 Rapids. The run comes into its prime after heavy rain, or with a good snow melt,and it rises (and falls) quickly. Anything above 1.0 on the SEPA gauge should provide a good trip. As the level rises the river provides more interest - becoming fast, bouncy and continuous grade 3 with the rapid in the gorge reaching Grade 4.
See other notes below for details of flood levels.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Tree hazards are a possibility
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The South Esk runs from Glen Clova via Finavon to the sea. The upper stretch from Gella Bridge to Cortachy providing the most interest for paddlers. A good run for the intermediate paddler.
There are two Rapids of note. The first is around 2km from the put in at Gella Bridge. There is a small wooden hut on the river right bank that warns of its imminent approach and inspection of the drop can be made from either bank. There used to be a bridge over the rapid, but following the 2016 floods, only the left side is still standing. At low flows, a bouldery run in leads to the river dividing into two channels. The right being narrow and best avoided due to debris.At higher flows you are in for a bouncy run in with a couple of powerful diagonals. An eddy river right after the drop gives an opportunity for collecting people and kit before a short stretch of grade 2 leads to a right hand bend over a small rock weir (run hard right) and this marks the beginning of the small gorge above Cortachy. At low levels the gorge is a bit of a boulder bash. At high levels it offers good sport at class 4. A destroyed bridge (as of Feb 2016 there are wires hanging down into the river on the right which may provide a hazard to the unwary at higher flows) marks the lead in to the hardest rapid of the trip. This can be inspected from the left hand bank. The rapid is formed by two large boulders, giving left, middle and right routes at low flow. In higher levels the boulders become a pour-over that is best boofed on the left.... watch out for the nasty swirly eddy river left immediately after the drop! Bank based protection for the eddy and drop can be set up river left.
The gorge section mellows to grade 2/3 following this. A split in the river is best taken down the left. A left hand bend signals the approach of the road bridge at Cortachy. Catch the eddy river left before the bridge and scramble up the bank to the road.
OTHER NOTES: Notes on flood levels from Kirsten Rendle: “We paddled this in massive flood in January 2016, about 2.5 on the SEPA gauge. The river was mostly very continuous (and scarily good fun) grade 3/4 but with a lot of tree hazards and debris. The rapid on the corner by the bridge was grade 4 as the bridge stanchion was a massive pourover. The gorge was about grade 5, which when you’ve no chance to stop is pretty terrifying! We managed to escape (with difficulty) from the swirly eddy mentioned above and walked out to the road.”
This section is infamous for groups losing kit - a top tip from Graeme Kidd: "I've paddled and retrieved boats (4) on the section running Cortachy to Finnavon the day after losing them. There's plenty of places where they could get fouled on the way down. (trees, small islands etc). Best time is to paddle this section as soon as possible after losing them. It's a G2-3 bimble, with one weir as I recall."
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jennifer Hartnett and Kirsten Rendle
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