GUIDE TO THE RIVER SPEAN
(Roybridge to Spean Bridge)
NAME OF RIVER: Spean.
WHERE IS IT?: Keep going up the A82 from Fort William and you'll find it, flowing through Spean Bridge.
David Lloyd (Dec 2005)...'Why bother with the heart-attack egress at the bottom of the Roy Gorge section when the lower Roy takes about 30mins to paddle down to the nice egress at Roy Bridge? This lower section of the Roy is really very pleasant in its own right (2/2+/3 all the way) or as a warm down after the gorge above. As a trip you can combine it with the middle Spean which I have to say is a long flat and utterly desperate grade 1 slog (no pipes but 10" snow melt!) all the way to Spean Bridge. EXCEPT for the half-way falls (better name than railway bridge?). We paddled this section with the Roy fairly stonking (over quartz ledge at Roy Bridge) and the 1 1/2m ledge in the middle of this trip creeps up almost invisibly and river left is one very ugly deep circulating stopper with a tow back that some weirs would be proud of. Don't go there. It is possible to pick your way to some sort of island/bank thing on river right, inspect and it was shootable down a ramp on the right - the exit from which is guarded by an annoying placed boulder to pin on. The left is definitely a nasty 4 at this level and the right 3+ to 4 depending on that rock... Leaders keep a good eye out for it. Middle Spean is grade 1 (4) and it lulls you into a very false sense of security! A scary proposition for a novice group where the rest of the river would be fine!'
APPROX LENGTH: 6 km.
TIME NEEDED: Roybridge to Spean Bridge is about an hour and a half.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Paddleable at most levels.
GRADING: Grade 2-3 (One fall of Grade 3+ or harder) from Roybridge to Spean Bridge.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS:Railway Bridge Falls has some big stoppers in high water.
Dorine (Oct 2004)...'Railway bridge falls is described in the guide as halfway down and grade 3. We found a huge nasty ledge/ hole near the end of the trip, completely unexpected and impossible to avoid at lower levels - unless you have got out to inspect the lead in which is also challenging for beginners/ open boaters. We thought we had already paddled railway bridge falls halfway down (where indeed there was a railway bridge) which was a grabby stopper. BEWARE of the ledge/hole especially if you have novices /intermediates in the party. Take out river right above the falls. There is a railway line above river left, which makes portaging difficult.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: You can start on the River Roy itself by paddling the River Roy or launching at Roybridge for a short distance down the river into the Spean. There is a grade 3+ rapid before the river joins the Spean.
I've only paddled this section in very high water. It was Grade 2 with the occasional big surf wave. After a few miles, you go under a railway bridge and the river steepens into a big grade 4 rapid with a huge hole at the end on river left. I understand that at lower water this is a Grade 3+ ledge fall...but best look for yourself first.
Grade 2 water leads to Spean Bridge where you can take out river left above the bridge, or carry on to do the Spean Gorge.
OTHER NOTES: The Spean Gorge is an unusual and brilliant trip. There are more possibilities on the Upper Spean. 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, also Dorine and David Lloyd.