GUIDE TO THE RIVER GHUILBINN
NAME OF RIVER: Ghuilbinn.
WHERE IS IT?: In the middle of nowhere...a tributary of the Spean.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: See the River Ossian guide, as you need to paddle that to get to this river via Loch Ghuilbinn (NN 41747 74934)....unless you fancy a LONG carry cross-country upstream from the take-out. The Takeout is a car-park beside the road near where the Ghuilbinn flows into Loch Laggan (NN 43303 83047). You really need to look at the OS maps to figure this one out.
APPROX LENGTH: Total length of Ossian and Ghuilbinn trip, about 15 miles.
TIME NEEDED: Probably a whole day...but you'll have an early start due to the Train times...
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown. There won't actually be anyone around to complain...
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: You can get an idea of the level by walking up a mile or so from the Spean valley to check the last 'reef' fall. We've done this in low water, but it is much better after heavy rain. We once set off on a morning when this was predicted...but got a blizzard instead. Be warned.
A hydro has been built part way down this river with the following effects:
It was with great disappointment that I saw the sheer scale of the hydro installation on the Abhainn Ghuilbinn today. At a flow that is ideal for the section, the lower falls and the first gorge upstream that finishes in the grade 5 fall are as per normal. The second gorge upstream, with its beautiful rapids, was empty. The new powerhouse and outflow sits at the base of this gorge and gobbles up ALL of a normal flow. Therefore to paddle this gorge in the future will need a higher flow...and unfortunately that will make the lower falls almost out of order. Tricky. This is a heads up to paddlers who might be thinking of going there, as it is quite a long walk in. This scheme is much larger than the average run of river scheme you come across. First three pictures (see below) show the "damaged" section (was possibly one of Scotland's finest sequence of rapids) and the last the flow we had on the lower river. This upper gorge will still run from time to time, but much less often and will be totally out of sync with the section below with regards flows. Of course the power house may be turned on and off and so it may even be a complete lottery. - Chris Dickinson
GRADING: Grade 2-3 for the first few miles, then 4 and 5.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Remote, committing...and usually bloody cold.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A mini-expedition! You will have started on the River Ossian. From Loch Ghuilbinn the river gains gradient and after coming close to the trees on river left, falls over a river-wide 2-3 metre drop. From here the river flows through a long series of open gorges. These are technical grade 4 in low water, but develop some kicking stoppers in higher water and would presumably be pretty full-on in flood. One memorable narrow drop between confined walls seems insignificant but has a horrendously sticky stopper...only one way to find out which one it is!
Eventually, the river reaches a constricted 4 metre waterfall with jutting rock about where your head should be. We've walked around this both times we've been there. Next is the final twist, a remarkable mega-rapid...an enormous stepped reef with numerous possible lines, none of them straightforward. Grade 5 by the centre route? Worth the whole trip just to see this bizarre rapid. Below is Loch Laggan. If you were feeling really fit, you could perhaps paddle down the lake, portage Laggan Dam and paddle the Upper Spean!
OTHER NOTES: The nearest thing to an expedition you'll get in the UK? Take appropriate kit.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley and Chris Dickinson.
If you would like to submit updates, new guides or photos, email ukrgb.scotland AT gmail DOT com
Pictures from the hydro installation:
The hydro installation, photo by Chris Dickinson.
Portaging the boof ledge, now emptied by the dam, photo by Chris Dickinson.
The empty gorge, photo by Chris Dickinson.
The lower river, once the hydro has put the water back in, photo by Chris Dickinson.