GUIDE TO THE RIVER ORCHY
(Bridge of Orchy to Falls of Orchy)
NAME OF RIVER: Orchy.
WHERE IS IT?: A major river in Glen Orchy (no surprises there), the A82 from Glasgow to Fort William passes it at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, a good meeting place for paddlers.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Either begin on the Upper Orchy, or put in near the Bridge of Orchy Hotel (NN 2964 3964). There is a car park on the other side of the bridge with easy access down to the river. There is a turn-off the A82 for Glen Orchy just south of the Hotel and there are plenty of parking possibilities on this road. Note the Allt Kinglass tributary which is a possible extension to your trip in high water. Anyone accompanying you that would rather not paddle it can easily put in from the road bridge for the 100m of flat to the confluence.Take out immediately below Witches Step, the last drop (NN 24611 32659). There is a new car park here suitable for mini buses, vans etc, built as part of the SCA Access path for Eas a' Chathaidh.
The road follows the river and alternative put in/take out points are possible and fairly obvious. If the top put ins are busy then the Allt Kinglass or just above Big Rock make good alternatives. If you want a shorter day then the Easan Dubha/Sore Tooth combination (obvious from the road) makes a good take out or put in to cut the trip approximately in half.
APPROX LENGTH: 9km.
TIME NEEDED: 3 hours or more.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Gauge available here http://canoescotland.org/where-go/wheres-water.
Since the Orchy has many tributaries, the level at the SEPA gauge (at the Falls of Orchy near the take out) may not be representative of the level at the put in, so be aware when it is raining the lower rapids could be at a higher level than you expect.
There are 2 gauges on the downstream river right side of the bridge at Bridge of Orchy. Use the one that goes up to 13.
- Less than 0: empty
- 0 - 1: Low, will be scrapey between the big rapids.
- 1 - 2: Medium, good for a first run down.
- 2 - 3: High, probably the best level. The rapids are good but not too challenging.
- 3+: Very high, Eas a Chataidh will likely have a center line running. It will feel very big!
- 5+ (or thereabouts): Many of the rapids will completely change characteristics with easy ones getting harder and hard ones easier. The road can get pretty sketchy!
GRADING: Grades 3-5.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Perhaps one of the best trips at this grade in the UK, with more volume and power than many British paddlers will be used to...beware! There is a good easier section above the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. From the confluence of the Allt Kinglass the river is mainly of a pool-drop character, and I'll just describe the bigger rapids here. All rapids can be portaged on river left with some right next to the road to make it even easier.
Easy water begins the trip, until eventually you reach...
Big Rock (grade 3): A rapid with a big rock in the middle.
Paddlers: Calum Fisher, Jon Harwell and Jonny Bell. Photo: Kirsten Rendle
Chicken Chute (grade 4): A big rapid which the name rather irritatingly gives away the fact that in medium to high water levels there is indeed a grade 3/3+ zig-zag chicken chute, river left...
Paddler: Jon Harwell. Photo: Kirsten Rendle
Sheep Trolley Gorge (grade 3): a long rapid with notable waves and holes as it channels right, some nice playspots hereabouts.
Paddler: Jennifer Hartnett. Photo: Kirsten Rendle
Easan Dubha (grade 5): you don't want to miss this one, it's a sharp 3-4 metre drop with a choice of routes. Figure a route out for yourself, but be aware that the river left channel has a hidden ledge at the bottom, which serves to make the stopper there very grabby. This fall was the site of a major rafting tragedy some years ago, with multiple drownings...respect it in high water particularly. Be aware that this rapid feeds directly into...
Paddler: Jonny Hawkins. Photo: Kirsten Rendle
Sore Tooth (grade 4): A long rapid with some big stoppers to avoid or enjoy, depending on your taste. All the rocks point the wrong way making for an unpleasant swim.
Paddler: Craig Burns. Photo: Kirsten Rendle.
Roller Coaster (grade 3): rapid barely needs describing given the name...
Photo: Kirsten Rendle
End of Civilisation (grade 4): Who comes up with these names? Do they serve any useful purpose? Decide for yourself. This rapid is quite long and feeds towards the river left side with various potential playspots if you get the breakouts. It is very easy to paddle into this without the chance to stop as the rapid is not obvious from above and there are few eddies.
Paddlers: Calum Fisher and Craig Burns. Photo: Kirsten Rendle.
Eas a' Chathaidh (Grade 5): you WILL want to get out and look at this dangerous fall, I didn't bother inspecting last time and got deservedly caned. The lead in can be recognised when you go over a sloping weir-like drop into a pool. Get out here before you go around the left hand bend. There are eddies after this, but they are fairly small. There is a new path on the left so inspection and portage are easy. It's a choice of a river right 4 metre drop or a river left channel leading over a small drop onto a twisting ramp. The left-hand route is enjoyable...if you get it right. The right side is rarely run and has a monstrous towback in higher water. Apparently there is a route in the centre in very high water!
Paddler: Calum Fisher. Photo: Kirsten Rendle.
A little way below Eas a' Chathaidh is a river left hole which is perhaps the best playspot on the river. Thomas Downie (Dec 2003)...'The playhole after Eas a' Chathaidh is (suprisingly) extremely retentitive at higher flows (2+ on the gauge) and can hold you for a long time. It take a lot of effort to get out. It can also recirculate swimmers.'
Witches Step (grade 3+): It's a step, which has nothing I'm aware of to do with witches. Various lines are possible and you could run it a few times while someone runs the shuttle!
Paddler: Jennifer Hartnett. Photo: Kirsten Rendle
You will want to get out at the road (river left) here as the next rapid is the ludicrously dangerous Eas Urchaidh, the Falls of Orchy. The Falls of Orchy have been run on occasion in very high water when the line cleans up marginally to grade 5+. There is also a good easier section carrying on below the Falls of Orchy.
OTHER NOTES: Ron Cameron offers the following advice on the names of the falls, intended for those living south of the border...! 'Lots of people have trouble with the Gaelic names for the falls. Here are some very rough phonetics.
Easan Dubha. Pronounced essan doo-ah. To sound more ethnic put your tongue behind your top front teeth when saying the d in dubha. Eas means a waterfall. Easan dubha means black falls.
Eas a' Chathaidh. Pronounced Ess a cha-ay. As always in Gaelic, the ch is as in loch (Gaelic word for lake) and not as in church. 90% of Britain's population will have no chance. It means spray waterfall.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, Kirsten Rendle, Jim Wallis, Frazer Pearce, Thomas Downie and Ron Cameron.
Guidebook levels were always based on the gauge on the downstream side of the bridge NOT the one you can read from the bridge, you need to go over the stile and clamber down to read it.
The Orchy has quite a few small tributaries, plus the Allt Kinglas which is quite big - when it is properly wet the gauge on the bridge tells you relatively little about what to expect downstream of Allt Kinglas and it gets progressively less relevant as you move down river, so you will find people who have run it a lot saying things like "it was only 1 foot but it felt more like 2 by the time we got to....". Despite knowing this, in my mind 3 feet equates to about when water starts flow over the centre of Eas a Chataidh :)
Unfortunately with SEPAs gauge being just below the falls the opposite is true there, when the tribs are running high it will read high and you may have relatively little water at Big Rock and Chicken Chute, but at least you will have some idea that it is likely to get meatier as you go on. There is a fairly significant trib entering river right just below witches step.
So direct translation of SEPA levels to old bridge gauge levels is not really possible (tribs above the bridge have delayed influence due to having to raise the level of Loch Tulla first before affecting the river). What we really need to do is to try to forget about the bridge gauge and re-learn what the SEPA levels roughly mean in terms of the main rapids since the bigger rapids are closer to that gauge and it will if anything slightly overestimate where the bridge gauge can massively underestimate.
I've been running the river since about 1994, but not very often now so I am not going to find it easy to re-learn the levels, no doubt there are others in the same boat.
Paddled the Orchy yesterday, we got in at the kinglass so didn't see the bridge gauge but we were chatting about the level and I guessed at 3ft compared to previous runs. checked sepa when home and it was about 0.8m
It would be good to get a proper update by somebody in the know tho.
think its a case of converting feet to metres for the gauges...
Unfortunately I don't think that's the case in this instance.
That old gauge on the bridge has been there forever, and the SEPA gauge is way downstream:
Would be useful if someone can come up with a correlation between the two though.