Monday, 23 December 2013

Uisge Dhè

Cold River from david hine on Vimeo.

It was dark as we drove north on Friday night. It's fair to say I was was in high spirits, wriggling around in the passenger seat and drinking fermented apple juice. David was concerned his aged car might not make it over the high and snowy pass of the Spittal of Glenshee. A car had spun out of control, left the road and teetered precariously at the edge of a high embankment. We stopped to offer assistance, but help was already on its way so we continued on ours.

We passed through a wintery Braemar around 10pm and finally pulled up near the Bridge of Invercauld shortly thereafter. After a little crunching through dry, powdery snow we were fortunate to find a place to bed down without the need to put up our tarps. We had plenty of shelter from above, although were exposed on all sides, and there was plenty of space for us both to roll out and get some sleep.

Waking up in the cold grey light of the morning, we found it was promising to be a good day; cold and crisp. The walk to our put-in was through snowy pine woods, and we found the water of the River Dee (Uisge Dhè) frozen in places on the eddies along its banks.

Heading for a chilly put-in on the first morning.

Suiting up for the day

Snow and ice established the tone of that first day's paddling. The temperature must have been hovering around the mark of zero Celsius, and the paddling was amongst snow capped boulders protruding from the water and chunks of broken off ice which followed us down stream. The river in its higher reaches provides a good mixture of water, from a broad flat flow to riffles and the more entertaining splashy class two stuff (perhaps pushing class three in a few more complex places). But even the flat stretches made for enjoyable floating and, ice-blocked feet aside, it was a great day.

Getting back on the river after breaking for a brew.

Just ahead of the fading light we took out at a spot that looked promising to camp. We crunched through the frozen shallows, pulled out our boats and set up camp on snowy ground amid pine trees. On a gravel bar at the water's edge we made a fire, but it didn't feel particularly cold. Presently it began to rain, but not heavily enough to drive us to shelter or threaten to put out our blaze. The big thaw which had been forecast had finally arrived and by the time we went to our tarps the snow had all but gone and the ice in the river shallows had either melted or been washed down stream. 

The thaw had been rapid, but the thaw had been complete. In the morning we could see the snow was even gone from the higher hillsides, and the river had risen to a spate. The first hour on the river was probably the most fun paddling of the trip entire. On several occasions we took ourselves out on to the river banks to scout ahead at what was coming around the bends. In many places, the standing waves had become enormous and even on the flatter sections we were running in fast and choppy water. In the bigger waves I acutely felt the need for caution. Almost exactly two years prior to this trip I swam in an extremely swollen River Spey, and it was no fun whatsoever.  But with some caution and some scouting form the banks we ran everything on that second day, and much fun was had.

Cooking on wood

Arriving at the village of Ballater we initially pulled out on to the side of the river just for a rest, a look at the map and to stamp some chill out of our feet. But the decision was quickly taken to go and find a cafe, so, both still clad in drysuits, we squelched up the high street and into a rather nice cafe for large pots of tea and bowls of soup. Gnarly.

More great paddling followed our return the water, but we made it an earlyish finish when we spotted a good looking campsite in a birch wood. Over the previous night and during the day the weather had warmed up remarkably. That night was no cooler than many May evenings in Scotland, and significantly warmer than many others. Neither of us required insulated clothing to sit out and enjoy evening. Beside a fire (David dug a pit for this, and we were careful to leave no trace of it the following day), a good quantity of White Stilton, Kabanos (Polish sausage), and the remainder of the Single Malt (Jura) was consumed along with other goodies. All in all, it was a really great camp.

Morning at camp amidst birch trees

The next day began slowly. Breakfast was cooked over the rekindled fire, time was taken packing up. Not a great distance downstream were the rapids that flipped me on my trip down the Dee earlier in the year (in February). We were both in the mood for caution around these rapids, and so after a few paddling only a few kilometers down stream we took out to portage by what turned out to be quite a circuitous route. Circuitous or not, it was entertaining to see David with his fully inflated boat strapped on to his backpack and after dragging our boats up an embankment and through a birchwood we travelled a couple of kilometers in that fashion.

Chipper after a good night's camp. "Let's Paddle!"

Preparing to Portage

Portage through birch woods...

...and down a track...

...past the big hoose and back to the river.
Back at the river, after a brief inspection of the upstream rapids we had portaged (higher water levels had flattened them and washed many of their complications out), we continued downstream. Other than a few wave trains there was no great excitement in the last of the trip's paddling and the day was soon spent. We left the river at dusk, walked across a field and into the village of the Aboyne (where we discovered there is NO PUB). The bus driver who picked us up was good enough to stop and drop us right by where the car was parked, and a few hours later we were back in Edinburgh.

Last trip of the year, and a good 'un.

David's pictures and report from this trip are both great. Well worth having a look at!

A Jinja Coo recently had a Deelightful time on the same river, and his blog is always worth a read.


  1. Great time yet again David and keep it coming.

  2. Brilliant tale David. Sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Thanks Joe. Reckon you'd enjoy Scotland if you get the chance

  3. Sounds like you paddled right past The Boat Inn at the bridge at Aboyne. Good pub with good food, for next time ;-) Great trip, and the one in February too.

  4. Aii! I need to get out more. Amazing trip. You guys are hard core.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Glen! We could do with a bit of California sun here just now


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