GUIDE TO THE RIVER ETTRICK
(Ettrickbridge to Selkirk)
NAME OF RIVER: Ettrick.
WHERE IS IT?: The Ettrick Valley in the Scottish Borders. The river is easy enough to find, simply drive to Selkirk in the Scottish Borders, the A7 being best road to take. Once in Selkirk head on up the Ettrick Valley (all sign posted as they have tried to make it a tourist attraction).
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: There are a number of places you can either put in or take out on the Ettrick. The best put in point is just above Ettrick Bridge at the Ettrick Shaws hotels private bridge. Just keep driving up through Ettrick Bridge and after about 1 mile the road comes back down the riverside and there is a small private bridge. Park in the lay by just before the bridge (room for 2 cars or 1 minibus + trailer) don't drive across the bridge as it is in a very poor state of repair and driving across is totally unnecessary and just likely to upset the hotel owner.
An alternate put in is available just below Ettrick bridge (2nd last turn to the right before Ettrick bridge at some houses about 400 meters from the Welcome to Ettrick bridge sign) this misses out the hardest rapid section (Ettrick Gorge).
You can either take out at the 2nd get in if you just want to paddle the gorge section or at Colins bridge further down the valley (the road passes right by the bridge and it is the only road bridge passed by on the way to Ettrick bridge (you can cross over to the Yarrow valley on this bridge). Alternately you can paddle down and take out at Selkirk swimming pool.
APPROX LENGTH: About 3 or 4 miles to Colin's bridge and another 3 to Selkirk from there.
TIME NEEDED: About 1 1/2 hours to Colins bridge (taking in the gorge section) or about 3 hours to Selkirk (very much depending on water level as the Ettrick runs quite fast in high water).
ACCESS HASSLES: I have never encountered any problems paddling this river, just dont drive on the private bridge at the get in.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Go down to Selkirk road bridge (near the swimming pool) and look upstream, if it looks like you can paddle down the flat section above the bridge then the river is runnable (even if it may be a bit low). The Ettrick comes from the same source hills as the Border Esk, so if it is runnable then so will the Ettrick be.
Also, looking at the river on the way up the road, if you can see any shingle beds on the banks, the river is too low.
GRADING: 2/ 3 (3+)
Dave McCraw (29/11/03)...'The gradings suggest this run is considerably harder than it actually is at medium water levels. 2(3) is how I'd grade it on an average day. Anyway, we paddled this in semi-spate today...the beginners sat out while three of us ran it (chase boating). Looking up from the bridge at Ettrickbridge, the river was running powerfully on both sides of the rocky ridge. At this level Manse Falls is a big, pushy 3+ (maybe even 4-) and there are a number of strainers and holes to watch out for on the descent. However, the gorge has mainly washed and we put the rest of the run at powerful 2/3. Too hard for beginners, not exciting enough for grade 4 boaters although the falls are worth a look if you're passing by.'
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: There are 4 major Hazards to be negotiated on the Ettrick.
1. The Manse Falls (3+): this is a simple 2 tiered grade 3+ fall. Watch out in higher water as the current will push you onto a large rock wall (I dont think its undercut but still not very pleasant). The fall is best run down the middle however there is an alternate route down the right side which is much harder.
2. Ettrick gorge(2/3): the main rapids of the gorge are below the pool after the manse falls. Take the river right channel down the section just above the bridge and not much can go wrong. In higher water the rocks down here create some mean water features but can easily be inspected from the bridge on the way up to the get in.
3. Ettrick weir: This is a straightforward weir to paddle (no vertical drops or anything like that) however in a recent flood part of the center of the weir was washed away creating some mean tow back in the center of the weir, hit the weir down the far left and everything should be fine, it is easily inspected.
4. Iron spikes: Why someone would go to the bother of putting a row of iron spikes in the river is beyond me but there they are about 500 meters below the weir, keep to river right and go round the side of them to keep on the safe side as in the past we have had a paddler rather nastily pinned on one of the spikes (not very fun).
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From the get in described above, more adventurous paddlers will want to take a look at the Manse Falls, which is about 100 yards upstream of the get it. Access is by the river right bank, and you can inspect/ protect easily from here. The rapid is a two-stage boulder drop - about 2m in total - with lines possible down the centre and river right. The river takes a sharp left at the bottom of the falls, leaving a nice cliff face for the unwary to run into!
Paddling on from the get in the river quickly narrows into the Ettrickbridge gorge, which should be pre-inspected from the bridge, as it's now too late to get off. The run in is bouncy grade 3 with a few play spots, and then the rapid splits around a small island just above the bridge. This can be run left or right - the left is rocky, while the right hides a surprisingly meaty stopper. At high flows, this gorge becomes much more intense and fast flowing.
After the gorge the Ettrick settles down the some solid grade 2 paddling, nice introduction to white water. Alternately the gorge section can be combined by a quick drive with a paddle on the River Yarrow (2/3). If you find that the gorge is a bit of a scrape dont bother with the rest of the river as you would be better walking down it than trying to scrape a boat down.
OTHER NOTES: This is a Tweed trib so be prepared to meet a few fishermen in and above the Selkirk section, Tweed fisherman are noted to be some of the rudest around. If the river level is very high then there is another rapid section further up the valley which becomes paddleable at high levels on a small Ettrick trib (I believe it is called the Tima but dont quote me on that).
If you have the time, this trip can also be combined with the Yarrow, which is only 15 mins drive from the get out.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Iain Bethune, Edinburgh University Canoe Club www.eusu.ed.ac.uk/clubs/canoe/, also Dave McCraw. Rewritten by Douglas Rae of Heriot-Watt CC, 2004.