GUIDE TO THE RIVER COE
(Loch Achtriochtan to Glencoe Visitor Centre)
NAME OF RIVER: Coe.
WHERE IS IT?: Wait for it....Glencoe. Follow the A82 north of Glasgow or south of Fort William and sooner or later you'll come to it.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put-in where the river leaves Loch Achtriochtan (NN 13926 56685). There is a large tourist car park here, try not to get run over by a coach party.
Take out in a large eddy on river left close to the new Glencoe Visitor Centre and campsite (NN 11430 57477). Sketchy parking is available for one or two cars near the river on the side of the main road, but a short walk will bring you to the ample parking at the visitor centre.
APPROX LENGTH: 3.5km.
TIME NEEDED: 1-2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It really needs to persist it down for this river to come into condition. As a minimum, you need to be able to float from the loch. Becomes a grade harder in flood levels.
GRADING: 4 (5)
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Quite narrow, there's often one rock or another about where you'd like your head to be. The Coe gorge may be blocked by trees...inspect first!
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A great trip in a great valley...but actually quite short. From the Loch, enjoy some fast technical grade 3 with nice surf waves.
This leads very quickly to the biggest fall of all, Back Door Man, a long steep slide into a rock-infested hole. It may be Grade 5, but as you barely need to put your paddle into the water, it's certainly at the easier end of the grade. Avoid the various river left routes on this fall, there are iron stakes and similar unwelcoming stuff stuck in the river bed at low water.
Patrick Styles runs the river right of Back Door Man. Photo by Kirsten Rendle. More photos here.
More grade 3 water leads on, with a short grade 4 rapid, Entry Falls, warning you that the Coe gorge is imminent.
Entry Falls in low water. Paddler Calum Fisher, photo by Kirsten Rendle.
You can see the river steepening, narrowing and accelerating towards the mouth of the gorge. Ominous stuff! At medium levels, there is nothing too worrying inside, but it's half a mile of continuous read-runnable grade 4 with stoppers and vertical sides. Pretty impressive! It really is comparable to Chateau Queyras in the French Alps. Be aware that the gorge ends with a very large mid-stream rock that makes a good tree catcher.
The Coe Gorge, low water. Technical grade 4 at this level, it gets more continuous and more fun with more water! Paddler Craig Burns, photo by Kirsten Rendle. More photos here.
After the gorge, the best of the river has gone but there are a couple of grade 4 pool-drop rapids to keep you alert. The first of these falls becomes a constriction at low/medium levels. The second fall is a rocky, slanting drop into a rock wall on river right normally. This can deal out severe stopper beatings at certain levels!
After this, start looking for a take-out spot which will get you to the road... the river eases to Grade 1-2. You could carry on down to the sea but be aware that somewhere in the vicinity of Glencoe Village is a fall/ gorge which will need portaging in the interests of longevity.
Update from Bob Evans....'The dangerous falls mentioned at the end of this river are a few hundred yards after the road bridge at Glencoe village. I have not paddled them, and would not want to!!! Inspection at low water shows a seriously sharp, under cut and sculptured mini gorge. A theoretical route is there but the consequences of a mistake are not pleasant. The gorge section from the visitor centre can offer good trip in relatively low water, if there is enough water to float at the visitor centre, it`s on, although it`s a better trip at higher levels.'
Frazer Pearce adds...'I've paddled the Coe pretty high a couple of times. Everything (including the gorge) washes out. At its hardest it is continuous (perhaps the most continuous I've paddled in Scotland) grade 4 for the top 400 yards or so. Great. Lots of stars on this one!'
OTHER NOTES: If your surname is Campbell you may not be welcome on this river...
Pudgy adds (12/12/00)...'I inspected the gorge in low water. One hour later the river had burst it's banks and was flowing through the trees. At this level there were big waves and big holes, but they all washed through OK. I guess the weight of water and the commitment nudges it to grade 5, but it's a really good blast. The two drops below are worth looking at. I took the line in Frazer's photo, disappeared in the stopper, reappeared to do some acrobatic airtime, vanished for quite a long time and then did a big pop out a long way down stream; I suppose it does wash out kind of, but it's worth checking out a decent line in flood.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, with additions from Frazer Pearce, Pudgy, Jim Wallis, Ian Williamson, Bob Evans and Kirsten Rendle.
This was quite a big group (on a Glenmore Lodge trip) but it only took an hour all told - we were on our way to the next river by 11 !