GUIDE TO THE BIG WATER OF FLEET
NAME OF RIVER: The Big Water of Fleet.
WHERE IS IT?: South West Scotland, near Gatehouse of Fleet.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Follow the B796 North out of Gatehouse of Fleet, after Approx 3.5 miles take minor road on the right, follow for about 1.5 miles to Old Fleet viaduct. Get in under the viaduct. For the get-out, follow the B796 out of Gatehouse of Fleet, after Approx 2.5 miles take the first(?) minor road on the right, after one quarter of a mile you will come to a road bridge over The Big Water of Fleet, this is the get out.
APPROX LENGTH: 5 km.
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not known. See the SCA ACCESS NOTES ON SCOTLAND.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This is a spate river, the higher the better. At the get-out the water should be up to the concrete support of the central bridge pillar to avoid a scrape on the last 2 km. At the get-in, if its just about "scrapeable" the first 3 km will still be fun, the lower section may require some walking.
GRADING: Grade 3 plus one fall of Grade 4 in low water. Grade 4 in high water.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The top section is very narrow, steep and twisty in places. After Approx 3 km there is a large two tier fall.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This is a very seldom paddled little river. Do not be fooled by its name, at the get-in it's not much more than a ditch with boulders in. It soon starts to widen out with frequent small ledges and drops to provide relief from the frequent boulders. There is never a dull moment all the way down to the major fall some 3 km after the get in. The fall is a two tier drop with plenty of time to roll between drops if you need to. The first drop of 12 plus feet is taken river right, there are a number of rocks to throw you off your chosen line. The second part is a river wide straight drop of about 10 feet requiring a boof in high water to negotiate the stopper below. Having shot these falls the excitement is over, the remaining 2 km is much flatter and wider with trees becoming the main hazard. About 0.5 km before the get-out the Water of Fleet joins from the left adding a little volume to the last part of the trip. See below for information on this.
Donald Gibson adds...'We first paddled the River Fleet in the late 80's and would agree with this description in the most part. We named the main fall the Wall of Death as you appear to be heading straight for a wall at high speed before the water pushes you past it just to it's left. I felt that the fall was worth Grade 4+ for its seriousness though not for its difficulty. If you start on the correct line - immediately to the right of the rock in the centre - you will probably make it through. If you started at the right of this chute you would probably go straight into the wall with a good chance of being pinned up against it.'
I remember the fall below that as being much smaller - perhaps 4 ft high - rather than the 10ft mentioned here, though steep and with a deep plunge pool producing a reasonable play spot - the only real one on the river.'
OTHER NOTES: Donald Gibson...'The river that joins the Big Water of Fleet near the get out is the Little Water of Fleet. We checked it out several years ago with a view to paddling it but it is too blocked with trees. It needs some philanthropic person with a chainsaw and a couple of weeks to spare to get in there.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Bob Evans with updates from Donald Gibson.
When assessing level from the takeout bridge, be aware that the volume doubles when the Little Water of Fleet joins it a few hundred metres before the bridge (flat water). Would have been excellent with a bit more water, the glen is gorgeous!