We got to test out a load of great Haglofs kit on this trip which we shall blog about later. What follows is a an account of the adventure itself.
As ever Scotland threw a mixed bag of conditions at us as we paddled 65km through snow and hail to arrive sunburnt at Spey Bay on the Moray coast, soggy yet thrilled with our efforts. I won’t look at a tree in a river the same way again.
We met up with our fellow campers in the mountain cafe in Aviemore and a coffee and cake later, headed off to ours digs at the Alvie estate just south of town.
A mixed group of guinea pigs with varying canoe experience had assembled from various outdoor retailers. They had come from far and wide - exotic places like London, Bristol, Livingston, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Somebody also pitched up from Banchory ;-)
Tents, sleeping bags and other various pieces of clothing and camping kit were issued by Team Haglofs for our use on the river.
One of the more surprising aspects of the trip was that Haglofs rep Gus turns out to be a dab hand in the kitchen. Who knew? Spag bol for dinner and an aperitif or 2 then off to bed.
Day 2 began with porridge and a first meeting with our new river gurus Bastien and Jerry of G2 outdoors. I don’t think they were impressed with the motley crew of land lubbers before them but by the end of the trip we were able to prove them only mostly right. Wetsuits were fitted and off to the river we went, buddied up into inflatable canoes (or “Duckies” as they are known in the trade).
The first day on the river involved the biggest rapid on the Spey dubbed the Washing machine. It was “tatties o’er the side” for myself and Dave (Craigdon, Edinburgh) as we promptly capsized our canoe and went into the drink. Nice save by Bastien to catch my paddle. Thanks Bastien.
First river camp was on an island. We may or may not have been the first people to ever set foot on it. There were no feral goats or red squirrels on said island but it was an excellent camping spot. It turns out drying wet clothes and wetsuits in the snow isn’t easy but much fun was had sitting round the fire eating dinner. I like Cherry Bourbon.
Our 2nd day on the river began with a re-shuffling of pairs. Olly from Bristol had proved to be adept with a paddle so was rewarded with a canoe to himself while Alex from London moved into a boat with me. A mellow but speedy day ensued with a brief lunch stop before arriving in the town of Craigellachie. A place name beyond the grasp of both Alex and Ollie.
We pitched camp in the park in Craigellachie. Gearpest Gus and I went to visit Joe in the Fiddochside Inn, at 90 the oldest barman we had met on the quest so far. At this point I must confess the lure of a venison burger in The Highlander proved irresistible so we saved our dehydrated dinner for another day. Credit to the die-hards who ate in the soggy camp, but we have no willpower whatsoever.
Our final day on the river proved the toughest. The river's rate of flow reduced meaning more paddling for us. The winter’s floods had also altered the many braided channels as it makes its way to the sea, sending trees downstream blocking various routes. Those of us new to this game were surprised to learn that it was not the rapids that experienced canoeists fear most but fallen trees of the semi-submerged variety. Get swept into those things and the consequences can be very serious. Navigating this danger involved a bit of man handling our boats across the banks of shingle. The smell of the sea gave us the extra energy needed to finally reach the surf where our most welcome pick up was waiting.
A change of clothes, a quick bite and some irn-bru, then back to Aviemore. The weather had turned for the better treating us to a spectacular alpenglow across the Cairngorms as we devoured Fish and chips by loch morlich. A fitting end to a spectacular trip.