GUIDE TO THE RIVER AWE
NAME OF RIVER: Awe.
WHERE IS IT?: OS Sheet 50; Loch Awe (GR045287) to Loch Etive (GR 011325) This river is situated on the A85 Lochearnhead to Oban road near Taynuilt.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Access is from the layby at the Pass of Brander Barrage on the main road. Various takeouts...see below or read Duncan Mackay's suggestion...
'When we paddle the river we normally don't bother taking out at the Smokehouse, instead continuing down to Loch Etive. The comments about the weir are a little outdated, in that remedial work was carried out a while back. The weir is now no more than narrow chute with a stopper at the bottom. Sometimes out of caution (mainly due to the fact that the river here is extremely shallow and quite fast flowing) we get beginners to walk round the weir, but any reasonably competent paddler could easily run it. Walking round is best done on the LH bank and is quite simple. from here on it is a short paddle down to the loch where you get out at the jetty. To find the car-parking, simply follow the main Oban road till you get to Taynuilt, turn right just before the railway crosses the main road and follow the signs for Loch Etive cruises. keep going until you get to the jetty where there is a huge carpark.
Personally, I like this take-out point for a number of reasons. Firstly, the carpark at the Smokehouse is quite small and although we have never been told not park there, I occasionally get the feeling that we are in the way. Secondly, this adds a bit extra onto the river, especially if you put on at the campsite. although there are no extra playspots, I does make you feel like you've been on the river for much longer. then there is the fact that you avoid the struggle up from the chain bridge to the Smokehouse. Down on Loch Etive you get out right next to the car. Lastly, I think there's something deeply satisfying about paddling out of a river and into a loch. For much the same reason I really like the Arkaig, as it gives you a deep sense of satifaction. There are not many rivers where you can do this, also, if the weather is nice, the jetty is a really picturesque place to be. Normally when we go up there from May onwards, we have a BBQ packed away somewhere. The shop in Taynuilt is open till 10pm ish every day including sundays, and it also sells beer!'
John Picken, SCA (October 2005)...'Put in for the River Awe. The pool below the barrage on the River Awe is an important one for fishing interests as it can contain some of the best fishing on the river. The tailrace from the barrage also provides some useful whitewater and this means there can be several parties all interested in the same piece of water. You can help avoid any problems by speaking to any fishermen who may be present when you first arrive at the river, before unloading boats. Often a friendly introduction helps to reduce any tension. Discussing your plans with the angler gives the angler sufficient time to arrange their fishing and move downstream before you play at the barrage. The angler can then continue their normal fishing when you pass on down the river. Friendly communication can go a long way to ensuring that the needs of both paddlers and anglers are accommodated.'
APPROX LENGTH: 6 km.
TIME NEEDED: Unknown.
ACCESS HASSLES: See comments below.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The barrage keeps the level fairly constant and again is a good river to know when all else is low. There is a full release after periods of heavy rain and weekly which is currently OVERNIGHT ON SATURDAY (9pm TO 9am). During release the river can increase by over a grade and is a serious undertaking (All 3 sluices open equals hard trip). When not in full release the stretch from the Barrage to where the river passes under the A85 at Taynuilt known as the graveyard, is often very low and rocky and unforgiving to the plastic on your nice new boat. Prior inspection from the washed away bridge just before where the river passes under the A85 is a good indication as to what you should expect.
From Duncan Mackay, Glasgow Caledonian University CC...''ve been paddling this river for more years than I care to mention now, and I feel that your description is slightly misleading. whilst you are absolutely right about it's potential seriousness in high water, at "normal levels" the Awe is a great easyish touring river. in the 15 years or so that I've been going there, I've only ever once seen it at full release, ie. with the two relief gates open. I have to say, that if anyone were to see the river like this, they would be under no illusions as to its difficulty. At noraml levels I would find it hard to describe as "intermediate/ advanced".
To deal with the issue of water level, I found out by accident a few years back that the river is deliberately run low over the winter (ie: out of the fishing season), in order to discourage illegal fishing. Thus, the Awe is one of the few rivers that is not worth a visit in the winter. as a rule of thumb, we don't usually bother going until at least April, but you're almost always assured a paddleable level right throughout the summer (failing this, the Falls of Lora are nearby...). You're right about the release on the Saturday night, but unless you fancy paddling in the dark, it's a waste of time - the river runs down very quickly after the water is shut off.'
GRADING: Grades 1 to 3.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Dodgy weirs.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: At the get in point there is a nice surf wave formed by the barrage and is perfectly safe. It is worth noting that this is also a popular pool for stroppy "all canoeists are sent by the devil to scare away fish" fishermen who all drive Range Rovers and do not know the meaning of the word compromise. Mind you it does cost them a few quid to fish there. From here to the A85 bridge is a series of rocky grade 2 rapids which will claim a pin or two but are not too serious. Just before the road bridge where the old bridge has been swept away is a scrape "over" the old bridge. The river levels out for a short while before another small rapid then leads onto the best rapid on the river- Magnetic rock. This grade 3 rapid takes you hurtling towards a rock before just as you think about buying that new nose cone the current sweeps you to the left. Under mag rock is a nice playhole which provides much entertainment for most paddlers. For the more nervous among you the river is flat below this rapid, so swims are no problem. From here to the egress point are a few small rapids of no more than grade 2. Egress is by the iron suspension footbridge, then a walk through the cow field on the right bank to the car park at 'Inverawe Fisheries and Smokehouse'. I dont know if there is an SCA arrangement to use this car park but we have never been met with any problems. On the downside do look out for the bulls in the field especially if you have a red boat. Below the footbridge is the weir at Inverawe Power Station which looks straightforward enough but contains lots of loose wire and is a magnet for trapping canoes and has led to at least one fatality. The weirs just above this are also dangerous and should not be attempted. The weirs are marked by a line of buoys across the river. Don't be a wally, get out at the bridge.
Dave B (May 2006)...'All references to weirs at/ below the take out are obsolete. There are no weirs any more and the warning signs which survive can be ignored (unless there is any plan to rebuild them?). We could scarcely tell that the weirs had ever been in existence.'
OTHER NOTES: St. Andrew's Uni say...Not too out of the way and a decent trip for all standards. Sent from heaven in dry conditions.
Andrew Rankin...(March 2006) 'The Reasoned Approach. I have just found this page on the internet and although it is probably quite old, I would like to say this. Before I start I should say I am not a paddler.....I am A FISHERMAN! I would agree with your para that it is always a good idea to speak to the rods on the river or before you make a start. However I would say in all the 30 years I have fished there. No one has ever tried. If I can just say that the belief that canoes will scare the fish away is not a factor, it is a well known fact that a bit of disturbance can make a fish move off a lie but this can sometimes prove a benifit. The two main problems are canoes coming through pools, while a fisherman is in the middle of a cast without an excuse me and thrashing about in a pool practising the turn over drill and the like. This would be better done a little further downstream when there are no fisherman about. IF POSSIBLE! I am not a Range rover driving old buffer....I am a 40 year old hard working person, who pays a bit for his fishing, a little common courtesy would go a long way to allow us all to have fun in what is a fantastic part of the country.'
From Duncan Mackay....(19/9/01) 'The weir at the bottom has now collapsed again. There looks to be a just paddleable line down it, but you've got no way of knowing what debris is sitting under the water below it. Really not worth the risk. You can easily portage it river left, or else finish the trip at the Smokery (ie: get out by the footbridge.'
Also from Duncan...'I disagree with some of the descriptions. In my opinion the graveyard section is not really worth the hassle. A few years back it was a great rapid, with a couple of good play stoppers at med-high level, but the flood that washed away the old road bridge also moved some of the large rocks that form this rapid. As a result, the only paddleable line at any level except total flood is river left, and this is invariably a total scrape. It is also the only place that I've ever had any trouble at, when taking beginners trips. To be honest, if it wasn't for the barrage wave, I would always put in at the campsite. As for the magnetic boulder rapid, this is normally little more than a grade II (again, except for flood conditions).'
From Mal .....'Three of us paddled the river (early May this year) in open canoes as part of an extended trip from Loch Awe, via River Awe, on to Loch Etive. It's difficult to comment on water level as this was the first time I have seen this river, however, the week before had seen plenty of rain and one sluice was open - it certainly wasn't a scrape. The trip was excellent even with open boats heavily loaded with gear for several days camping. We paddled every rapid, with the exception of "magnetic rock" which we chose to line down. Egress was at the point suggested in the guide (a fairly long portage down to Loch Etive). In my view this is an excellent open canoe touring river.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: St. Andrew's Uni, also Duncan Mackay, Mal, Andrew Rankin, Dave B and John Picken.