GUIDE TO THE RIVER ROY
(Head of Glen Roy to Access Track)
NAME OF RIVER: Roy.
WHERE IS IT?: Unsurprisingly, up Glen Roy...a tributary of the River Spean valley near Fort William.
This trip feeds into the lower Roy, and it is usual to paddle both at once. If you want to skip this section, the take-out is a long slog up the track to the road! Not far after the final 1m slot of the gorge, old bridge stantions mark a boulder beach. Climb out here up a long track to the large layby on the road (NN 29521 84676).
APPROX LENGTH: 3km
TIME NEEDED: Three hours?
ACCESS HASSLES: The river is in a National Nature Reserve. So killing and eating the wildlife is probably out.
'I'm the local Area Officer for Scottish Natural Heritage, and we own the National Nature Reserve in Glen Roy. I would like to confirm that there is no problem at all with access to the River through the NNR. The southern boundary of the NNR lies at the viewpoint in the Glen, and the northern boundary lies just slightly short of the end of the public road in the Glen. The River Roy forms the eastern boundary. Ground north of the NNR is owned by Braeroy Estate, and ground south of the NNR is owned by Forest Enterprise. The crofters do ask that car drivers drive carefully in the Glen during the lambing season, as there have been one or two problems in the past.' - Best wishes, Debbie Greene Area Officer, East Lochaber (Summer 2002).
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: At Roybridge, if you can see a rocky reef uncovered in the river to your left looking upstream, it will be low. If it's completely covered, the river is high and possibly quite hard. The river is usually somewhere in-between. The gorge works quite well in low water but obviously is then much easier.
GRADING: 3/4. Can reach grade 5 in very high water.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: A portage...see below.
Mark Rainsley (November 2006)...'The siphon described below (final notable rapid in the gorge, about halfway down) caused a fatality in October 2006. A paddler paddled out of the main current (on river left) and rested up against the rock on river right, right on top of the siphon. The paddler capsized and was sucked into the siphon. The drop should not be a major concern to paddlers, as long as you follow the current down the obvious river left chute. The siphon is actually upstream of the rapid and should present little hazard to paddlers following the correct line. More info.'
Andrew Arnott (March 2006)...'We did this at very low water on Saturday (25th March 2006) and the last significant rapid in the gorge has a siphon on the right. Above the rapid there is a large eddy on river left behind a cliff. The rapid is the one which forms an S bend in low water and has a tight exit on river left. However, as we found out it also has an even tighter submerged exit on river right which led to a few scary moments and an hour and a half trying to retrieve a lodged boat. Portage is long and difficult (involving climbing out of the gorge on river right, and climbing back in again further down) and perhaps the gorge should be avoided at such low levels.'
A long rapid leads you down towards the grade 4 Roy Gorge. Be on the lookout for the PORTAGE. This is where the river used to flow under a narrow undercut which has now collapsed, paddleable at grade 5 in high water but pretty dangerous.
Directly below the portage, you'll have to seal launch into the gorge to run a ledge and narrow s-bend rapid, perhaps the trickiest part of the Roy. If there are no rocks exposed in the water above this ledge, the river is high and the stopper is a 'nasty'...I watched a friend get four 'ends' in this stopper in as many seconds, which would have been great if he'd intended it.
After this, you have the rest of the Roy Gorge to contend with. A detailed description is pointless, but there are plenty of grade 4 moves to make, stacked quite closely together. There used to be a diagonal river-wide ledge and stopper early on, but this is no longer there. Instead, perhaps the biggest challenge is where the gorge reaches its narrowest, and the water s-bends to the left of a rock into a confined gap.
The gorge is a remarkably continuous piece of grade 4 water, more so when it's high...inspection/ protection is not always easy either. Enjoy it, for it's one of the best stretches of Grade 4 paddling in the country. Eventually the river flows through a metre wide gap...and the gorge is suddenly over.
The track up to the road is on river right but it's best to carry on into the lower Roy.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Debbie Greene, Andrew Arnott and Miles Barker.
If you would like to submit updates, new guides or photos, email ukrgb.scotland AT gmail DOT com