GUIDE TO THE RIVER SPEAN
(Inverlair Falls to Monessie Gorge)
NAME OF RIVER: Spean.
WHERE IS IT?: Keep going up the A82 from Fort William and you'll find it, flowing through Spean Bridge. This section begins directly downstream of Inverlair Falls, an awesome sight.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in DOWNSTREAM of the Inverlair Falls, see below for details of how to access the river. The takeout is very dangerous, read the noted below for more details.
APPROX LENGTH: Unknown.
TIME NEEDED: About an hour.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Complicated. With the Dam releasing it's time to do this trip, or preferably the trip from Laggan Dam. However...three or more pipes open on the dam may be too much water for your taste. If the Laggan Dam has no pipes open, then the Spean Gorge will be worth a look.
GRADING: Mostly grade 1-2 with some big harder rapids (grade 4) at the start.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: You wouldn't want to overshoot the take-out and enter Monessie Gorge.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The gorge below Inverlair Falls has a grade 5 rapid which you can't get to (without running the Falls...any takers?) followed by a large Grade 4 rapid which you can get to, with difficulty. When we paddled this section on three pipes releasing, we lowered our kit with ropes down a long ramp into the gorge on river left. Not sure it was worth the hassle, though. However playboaters take note...with five pipes releasing last week (Easter 1999), this large Grade 4 rapid had become THE MOTHER OF ALL PLAYSPOTS. If you were prepared (unlike us) to make the dubious looking seal launch slide down the ramp (the base was washed out offering a soft? landing) you got to surf an immense river-wide breaking surf wave...forget the Zambezi! Below the gorge the banks fall back and the river is grade 1-2 for three miles (I haven't paddled the last mile of this section)...a possible easy trip? However you MUST get out before the river thunders over a huge waterfall into Monessie Gorge...this begins where the river bends sharp left as it meets the railway on river right. From here to get out you must cross the railway tracks up to the road, not easy and probably illegal?
OTHER NOTES: The section above is much better quality, you should certainly paddle it before this section. Spean Gorge is an unusual and brilliant trip, well worth a look if the section from the dam is switched off. The Spean also has some excellent tributaries; consider the Roy, the Pattack, the Allt Ionndrainn and the remarkable Ossian and Ghuilbinn trip.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.