Saturday, 8 December 2012

Packrafting the Tweed - 2012

It got dark early, so I read half a paperback in my sleeping bag before going to sleep.

December 2012

As I left Edinburgh on Saturday morning last weekend, it was cold but clear. There had been ice on the pavements as I walked to the bus stop, but not a sign of snow.

I snoozed on the bus for maybe twenty minutes and woke up among the hills in the borders, which were finally white with something other than heavy frost. In Peebles there was a couple of inches lying on ground and the centre of town felt very festive. There was even a brass band playing carols to the Christmas shoppers.

I made my way down to the snowy river bank, just a few hundred yards from the high street, and began to get myself ready to paddle. When setting off down river from Peebles I always make use of the same convenient spot to put my boat in. People will often stop and chat. They seem surprised to see a boat emerge from a backpack. This time, though, there was a bit more attention paid. Some comments gave me the distinct impression I was considered lunatic by the rapidly assembling townsfolk.

As the day wore on and I got further down river, the snow on the hills all but disappeared under the sun. It was an enjoyable day of paddling on what is now a very familiar river. I've had a dozen or so trips down one stretch or another of the Tweed. I often combine the paddling with walking in the Tweeddale hills or the hills separating The Tweed Valley from the Clyde Valley. It is mainly because the area is cheap and easy to access that I end up returning to do such similar routes time and again. But there are lots of good opportunities, and the Scottish Borders are generally under-rated due to comparison with the Highlands.

This weekend was all to be downriver, however, and I had no intention of walking very far. I'd planned a spot to camp, which I've often looked at but never got around to stopping at. It was a cold night and in the morning the remaining snow had been reinforced with a heavy frost. The weather forecast I had seen at home before leaving predicted an overnight low of -6c.

Tracks of a large Otter.

I wrapped up warm and after breakfast in my shelter, which was nestled in amongst gorse and hawthorn bushes, I took my coffee to the river bank to drink where I disturbed a pair of small Otters playing on the river bank a little downstream. Looking around I could see their tracks, and also tracks belonging to one which must have been considerably bigger, making paths all along the river bank. They had even explored the edges of my shelter!

I was in no hurry to get going and had a couple more cups of coffee before finally loading my boat and setting off.

I'm sure it didn't climb above zero degrees during the whole day. By the time I stopped to exit the river, a short walk from the excellent beer and log fire at the Clovenford Hotel, my spray deck was frozen crisp with water splashed up from the river. The straps attaching my drybag to the boat had also iced up and even my paddle blades were frozen to the shaft with globules of ice

I took this before setting off on the second day. "Yer off yer heid, pal!" is what I was told when setting off from Peebles on the first.

April 2012

My second trip down the river during 2012, back in April, was the first outing for my Spot tracking device, and my first experiment with the Social Hiking tool. A friend and I set off from Peebles, up the ridge which leads to the summit of Dun Rig which we had walked from the other direction during the winter a couple of years before. He has no boat to paddle, so the idea was to walk together for the fist day, through the hills and up to the Cheese Well on Minch Moor, and while he continued on foot for the second day I would drop down to the river to paddle.

Making coffee on a frosty Spring morning.

I've done almost the exact same route a couple of times, it is a good use of a weekend. There are a great many possible variations, though. I've made a loop starting and finishing in Peebles on one occasion, by paddling down the river from there as far as the town of Innerleithen before looping back through the hills.

Other possibilities present themselves if you explore the map. The hills can't be said to be dramatic by Highland standards, or even by comparison to many other areas of the Borders. But they still have quite an appeal for me.

May 2012

This was another 'river only' trip, with little walking involved, notable for the superb weather which saw me not bothering to set up my tarp. At the end of the first day, after only paddling a fairly short distance, I stopped to camp at a place I've camped on several other occasions.

There was not even a wisp of cloud in the sky.

At a point shortly after the Innerleithen bridge, the river bends and loses some height. It is joined by a burn which can provide water clean enough to drink when boiled. A large gravel bar protrudes into the river, and on the banks are a jumble variety of trees and bushes. This makes for a great place to camp or bivvy (unless the water is high, in which case it is under water) because it is possible,without leaving a trace, to have a raging fire with the dead fall from the trees and wood that has drifted down river to be come entangled in the bushes during high water spells. The remains of a fire can easily be kicked into the gravel and all last remnants will be erased once the water rises.

Reading by the light of a headtorch, I was in no hurry to go to my bivvy bag.

(The map below is from a different weekend in May, when the weather was less appealing. Same route, though)

June 2012

This was possibly my favourite 'weekend only' trip this year. I'd often felt curious about the hills to the south of Biggar, sandwiched between the rivers Clyde and Tweed. They look pretty empty on the map, rise to a reasonable height and the key attraction for this trip was that I'd never been into them before. Neither had I paddled the upper stretch of the Tweed, but after a week of rain (such as we often get here during Summer!) I was confident there would be enough water to make it possible. Although there was enough water to paddle comfortably, I think the upper stretch of river will be a lot more fun in higher water. There are some rapids which I think will be much more entertaining with more water running through them and some small chutes which will scrape a lot less during a period of higher water.  So I will definitely be repeating this stretch of river in the coming Spring, but probably in combination with some different hills.

The hills themselves, again, were not overly dramatic. But they have the attraction of being empty and, for the most part, pathless. The more dramatic area towards Gameshope, with the higher hills of Broad Law, White Coombe and Hart Fell, can also be seen from the summits. 

I took very few photos, and absolutely no decent ones. The picture below was taken from my boat on the approach to Neidpath Castle, a relic of the 13th Century.

Neidpath Castle -- Originally built in the 13th Century, once visited by Mary Queen of Scots.

Of other trips on the river this year, more could be said and shown. But mostly I would just be describing other days spent repeating what I've shared above.

For next year, in the same hills and on the same river, I have different plans.


  1. Cold and wonderful. Otter tracks too. Really like your reports and the whole mixed boat, walk travel in the hills.

    1. Thanks Martin. It's good to have a nice river within reach.


Creative Commons License
Grid North by David Hine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.