The Tay, Source to Sea by Canoe or “Three men in three boats!”2013

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The Tay, Source to Sea by Canoe or “Three men in three boats!”


The River Tay is the longest river in Scotland and carries the most water at its mouth of any river in Britain. It is one of the most popular places to go canoeing in the country.


The Tay is fantastic for both whitewater kayaking and for canoe touring. There are enough rapids to keep paddlers on their toes, but overall the grade remains a reasonable 1 to 2, with the notable exceptions of Grandtully and Stanley Weir which are normally viewed as Grade 3.   We decided to extend the trip and paddle the River Dochart which flows from Tyndrum (our get in was at Crianlarich) to Loch Tay and then down the River Tay to Perth and the Estuary beyond.


Day 1 – Tuesday Crianlarich to Loch Lubhair


Ian and Simon met at my house and we loaded our three opens on a small trailer and headed up the M6 to Scotland.  We took the “Stirling route” as we wanted to see how much water was in the River Dochart to determine where we could paddle from.  There was plenty of water despite it being late August. 


Arriving at Crianlarich we soon found the get in down a small track immediately before the railway bridge.  After a little persuading, Ian drove the car and trailer down the track to the rivers edge.  Gear and boats were unloaded very quickly; it is very easy to load two dry bags into an open boat and tie them in.  While Ian parked the car in the police station car park we were approached by a local character.  He and his dog apparently earned their living by panning for gold in the streams around Crainlarich.  Apparently small deposits can be found in every river valley around Tyndrum.  There’s GOLD in them thar hills!   After discussing our plans we were off, hoping to get to one of the Lochs to camp before nightfall.


After a few miles of gentle flowing stream we passed the castle on Loch Dochart and entered Loch Lubhair where we found a campsite on a small semi-island at the south end of the lake.  We soon had the tents and tarp up and Simon set about lighting a fire.  With a few notes of guidance from Simon, wild mushrooms were added to the evening meal of Thai green curry and rice.  Ian and Keith both had tents but Simon was to bivi out under a tarpaulin.  The midges, although present were not too bad, especially given that it was late August – no doubt kept at bay by the rain and smoke from the fire. Simon “Well as long as you’re appy!!


Day 2 – Wednesday Loch Lubhair to the Southern end of Loch Tay


It rained constantly over night and in the morning the river was noticeably higher.  This was good news as it would help us swiftly on our way.  After smaller rapids and a few bridges we came across the first major drop, Corriechaoroch rapids.  This was a technical grade 3 with two rocks in the middle that could easily broach an open canoe.  Having survived this rapid we enjoyed the grade 2`s below with shoot after shoot and a few drops thrown in for fun (Lix rapids).  Simon “Well as long as you’re appy!!  As the valley deepened and became more wooded we had to negotiate a rope across the river at neck height near some building work. 


We got out at Kilin just above the “Falls of Dochart”.  There is a war memorial just before a steep wall on river right which depicts the run in to the rapids.  These are about 200m long and would provide good fun for kayaks.  We did not want to risk damage to our boats (another group had pinned their open midstream while lining down under the bridge) so we portaged around the main falls to the bridge.  Simon “Well as long as you’re appy!!  During the portage a guy started chatting to us and said “I thought it was 3 men in a boat but you `re 3 men and 3 boats!”


Not wanting to carry down the main street and make the portage nearly one kilometre long we put in just under the bridge via some rough land on the river left.  After a short lunch we paddled, lined and walked our canoes down the 200m of rapids below the bridge.  One drop had a noticeable stopper and strong tow back so we all lined down a small ramp on the left.


At the old railway bridge the river flows more sedately into Loch Tay.  By now it was about 2:30pm.  We paddled in perfect conditions down to a small rocky island on the left bank and took a second, late lunch break (very late as it was now around 4:00pm).  Suitably refreshed with tea and coffee we paddled on towards to bottom of the Loch and eyed up a few potential camp spots. 


Within sight of the bridge at the end of the Loch we came across a perfect campsite; a small shingle beach with flat grass and mature trees.  It even had a small stream running just behind the campsite.   Simon soon had a fire going on the isolated beach, evening meal on and tents up and fantastic view down the remainder of the Loch as the sun went down.  Simon “Well as long as you’re appy!!


Day 3 – Thursday Loch Tay to Dowally (6km above Dunkeld)


It took less than an hour to paddle across to the bridge and onto the River Tay itself.  A grand hotel overlooks the river here and there is a large caravan park on the left bank.  The river is relatively swift and numerous rapids kept our interest on the way down to Aberfeldy.  There was nothing more than grade 2 (Chinese bridge rapids (Grade 2) but a very enjoyable section of river.  We had lunch on a small shingle bank just below Aberfeldy bridge.


The river began to flatten out after Aberfeldy but still had numerous rapids and good scenery.  It was not long before we came across a group of students and kayak instructors having lunch at the top of the white water section of the Tay which marked the start of the Grantully section (Pronounced “Grantly” for those in the know).  The beautiful wooded valley had many interesting rocks which gave a lot of interest on the run it to the slalom site.  There was squad training at Grantully Slalom site with paddlers sporting Welsh and GB colours. 


A quick inspection and decision on route choice at the top and we were off.  Simon drifted a little close to a large tree on the top slot but survived the scare and paddled down to break out neatly in an eddie marked by an upstream gate.  We bailed and Text Box:  
Evidence of the European beaver gnawing at trees.
sponged out any water taken on board and headed down through the bridge to the large natural weir below.  We shot this on river right through a reasonably sized stopper and again sponged out in the eddie below.


Drawing of beaver swimming From here on down it was grade 1-2 with more and more fishermen learning the dark art of fly fishing.  After a few miles we came across evidence of beaver activity, gnawing at trees to fell them, bark being stripped for food etc.  Our wilderness guide Simon informed us that they were no ordinary beaver but a European variety that had been reintroduced to areas of Scotland.  This species does not often build dams and therefore disrupt the hydrology; they live in holes in the river bank and eat the shoots and trees around the area.  They only emerge at dusk so we had little chance of spotting one; so we after a short time we paddled on.


Beaver facts

Did you know that beavers are Europe’s largest native rodent; that they can remain under water for up to 15 minutes at a time and are highly skilled water engineers? More fascinating facts about Scotland’s newest residents can be found below…

Are there different species of beaver? There are two species of beaver: the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). The Eurasian beaver is native to the UK and is the species involved in the Scottish Beaver Trial.

European beaverWhy did beavers become extinct? Until the 16th Century, beavers lived throughout Scotland. They were hunted to extinction for their fur and a glandular oil (castoreum) secreted from the base of their tail containing medicinal properties. In medieval times, castoreum was used as treatment for headaches.

How do beavers benefit the environment? Beavers are nature’s top engineers. They are tree felling, dam building champions and a keystone species; that is, one which affects the survival and abundance of other wildlife in the community in which it lives. Beavers create ponds and wetlands which attract other species, provide a food source for others, and even help improve water quality.

How big are Eurasian beavers? Beavers are approximately the size of a tubby spaniel (25–30 kg), measuring 70–100 cm in length. Unusually for mammals, the female beaver is the same size or larger than males of the same age. They are uniquely adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle, with a sleek waterproof coat, large flattened muscular tail and webbed hind feet to provide propulsion underwater.

At what age do beavers start breeding and do they hibernate? Beavers can live for 10–15 years, they mate for life and breed from the age of two, with one litter of 2–3 young (kits) each year. They are highly territorial and live in family groups, mainly in freshwater lochs and slow flowing rivers and burns. Beavers are crepuscular, rather than nocturnal, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk throughout the year. They do not hibernate.

What do beavers eat? Beavers are completely vegetarian. They do not eat fish but instead prefer to munch on aquatic plants, grasses and shrubs during the summer months and woody plants in winter. Beavers will often store food underwater so that they can access it if the water freezes over. In woodlands, beavers help to stimulate new growth by gnawing on tree stems and coppicing. This helps to breathe new life into tired forests and creates a diverse age range of trees which greatly benefits woodland management.

Do beavers build dams? Beavers sometimes build dams in rivers and construct lodges in the ponds created by their dams. Both beaver dams and lodges demonstrate remarkable architectural and water engineering talents. The dammed water forms a secure area around the lodge whilst also attracting other species such as frogs, toads, water voles, otters, dragonflies, birds and fish








After a few hours paddling we started to look for a campsite for the night.  At the confluence of the River Tummel, Logierat, we spotted a good campsite under some trees behind a small sandy beach.  We had seen several boats with “Ghillies” ferrying clients back from their days fishing and assumed that most were winding up for the day; it was now 5:30pm.  We erected the cooking tarp, two tents and Simon’s tarp for sleeping under.  We were then approached by a Ghillie, Jim McEwen from the local estate.   “You can’t camp here, its private land”.  He was so nice about it and very quietly spoken that although we tried to argue the point it was almost impossible.  He rang his boss to tell him that a group of canoeist had set up camp on his beat.  He redirected us to a site past the next railway bridge, a grey boat and by a deep fishing pool that was not used currently.  Although tired and looking for a rest we started to pack up and make our way downstream.  Simon “Well as long as you’re appy!!   After about 40 minutes we came across the grey fishing boat and deep pool at Dowally and landed on a small shingle beach.  We camped between some young silver birch trees on some long meadow grass (we flattened this using a canoe).


Although this site had no view and was very close to the A9 and had traffic noise late into the night, it was not too bad.  After cooking our evening meal we started to pack up for a well earned night’s kip.  Simon then spotted an otter eating a fish on the stone bank that we had landed on.  We watched while he finished his meal before going back into the water and swimming away.


Day 4 – Friday Dowally (6km above Dunkeld) to Perth (The woody islands)


The next day we paddled down to Dunkeld in a little less than an hour.  The valley sides started to close in and become wooded on both sides.  This was a beautiful stretch of river and had a very nice hotel and immaculate lawns on the left bank.  We then paddled on round many meandering bends to cover the 25km to Stanley.  Here the river went through some constrictions and a couple of weirs which would create some more white water.   The first, Campsie Linn, is a small fall where the entire river flows through a 10m wide gap between massive boulders.  The fall itself is only a few feet high, but the volume of water makes this a tricky place. Even in low water there are large whirlpools below the main shoot. It is graded 3 but the main shoot in very high water is generally accepted to be graded "scary".  It was relatively low when we paddled over – only the main shoot was paddleball.


From above the fall, from left to right, the shoots are:

  • The main shoot. This always has enough water to run. In high water a tubing wave forms here and the whole thing gets pretty dangerous. This is the location of the largest inland whirlpools in Britain which can easily swallow paddler and boat.
  • Next to this (and merging with it in high water) is a rarely run shoot which goes under an undercut on the right that is visible in low water.
  • Across the big lump of rock is the middle shoot which rarely run due to needing near flood conditions to be doable.
  • Across the next lump is the standard high water line. A grippy hole can form at the bottom of this.
  • Finally is the chicken shoot, often run by open canoeists as it won't swamp a boat and by scared kayakers paddling during a flood.


Below here we met two kayakers in red creek boats. We paddled over the main shoot on Stanley weir before they got on.  Although this is also grade 3 in high water it was relatively easy with just a tail of moving water.  The rapids below gave some more sport; some of the wave trains were quite large and some water sloshed over the gunwales (Thistlebrig Rapid grade 3).  We stopped for an hour below the last main rapid to have a brew and relax a little in the last of the afternoon’s sun.  Simon “Well as long as you’re appy!!


We then paddled down towards Perth where we were looking for a campsite just outside the town.  This we found just opposite Scone Palace at the end of the “woody islands” and opposite a fishing club.  We cooked our evening meal and pulled our boats up and watched as the wading fishermen cast their lines in a forlorn attempt to catch a fish.  At dusk and when many had packed up their rods the salmon started to leap in defiance of the fishermen; some right out of the water.  As dusk fell we pitched our tents and went to bed.


Day 5 – Perth (The woody islands) to Perth Bridge and home


The plan was to leave at 8:00am so Ian got up at 6:30am!!!  We were away by 7:15 and paddled and drifted the short distance down to our egress point just before the first Perth Bridge.  There was a slipway here opposite a monument and gates to the park.  As Ian went to catch the bus back to Crianlarich, Simon and I watched as the tide dropped a metre or so in less than an hour.  This was the limit of the tide and as the gauge shows (see graph opposite) has a high tide every 12 hours.  It may be possible to paddle the tidal section on to Dundee but there seemed little point and Perth would be the natural end point of a source to sea trip.


The Scottish City Link bus journey from Perth to Crainlarich is very efficient, cost £10.80 and takes 1hour 37 minutes.  It runs every day at 9:50am from Central Bus station in Perth.


Ian returned at 1:12pm with the car and trailer and we loaded our gear and headed south.  On the way home we compiled our list of most desirable (source to sea) canoe touring and expedition rivers.  They are ranked in order of white water difficulty.  How many will we be able to tick off in the next few years.


1/  The Scottish Dee

2/  The River Tay

3/  The River Wye

4/  The Welsh Dee

5/  The River Tyne

6/  The River Eden

7/  The River Spey

8/  The River Seven

9/  The Great Glen (Caledonian Canal)

10/ The River Thames


Ian Bell, Simon (“Well as long as you’re appy!!) Howlett and Keith Steer    More Photos………..


More information…………………