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River Orchy by Hannah Bellamy

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Friday 14th April – River Orchy

On the first day of our Scottish Easter break we were to paddle the river Orchy, a 9km stretch from the Bridge of Orchy to the Falls of Orchy. A small group had an early start to paddle the Upper Etive first at 6am, and the rest of us set off at 9am, to meet with the Etive crew at the get in. As a new white water paddler, this was my third river trip and I was a little nervous, but very excited to be paddling (described by the UK rivers guidebook) ‘one of the best trips at this grade [3-5] in the UK!’

Our get-in was by the Bridge of Orchy hotel, about a half hour drive from the hostel. We changed whilst the drivers ran the shuttle and then divided up into groups of 5 or 6, each with a combination of abilities and an instructor. We played in the waves under the bridge until everyone was ready to set off.

The trip began gently, getting used to being back on the water and being in a new boat (I had borrowed a small burn, a perfect fit), until we reached the first rapid. There are a great variety of rapids on this river, nicely spread out, with the opportunity to portage any of them on paths river left. I’m glad that at the time that I didn’t know their names, as I might have been rather more apprehensive!

The first rapid, ‘Big Rock’, was what is says on the tin with lines either side, a great start to the paddle and a rapid that I think everyone did. The next, ‘Chicken Chute’, a fair few of us portaged, but it was great to watch our fellow paddlers. Next came ‘Sheep Trolley Gorge’, a nice lengthy rapid with opportunities to stop and play, followed by Easan Dubha (Black Falls), a grade 5 drop which was another portage for most but again super to watch. To follow, I’ve found out, came a plethora of crazy names; ‘Sore Tooth’, ‘Roller Coaster’ and ‘End of Civilisation’ (!).  I’m struggling now to distinguish between the rapids, as the whole river was 9km of fun and I did portage some, but on one of these I remember throw lines dotted around to catch any

swimmers – I missed the eddy halfway down the rapid and carried straight on to the bottom, playing limbo under one of them.

Before the final rapid came Eas a’ Chathaidh (spray waterfall), a 4-metre waterfall. It was amazing to watch fellow paddlers run this, firstly their getting out looking at and discussing the lines and then running it beautifully. I wouldn’t have thought it could be done, but I look forward to trying it myself in a few years’ time!

The get out was straight after ‘Witches Step’, a nice lengthy and bouncy rapid to finish with just before the Falls of Orchy, and the sun came out just in time for lunch.

The instructors and all my fellow paddlers made this a wonderful first experience of a proper Scottish river and my faith in my ability grew with each rapid. There was always someone keen to show me the line, offer advice and ready at the bottom either with a throw line or a camera! Due to great support, a constant ‘paddle, paddle, paddle!’ inside my head and portaging the higher-grade rapids I managed not to swim on the Orchy and couldn’t wait for the next day (when I was not to stay so dry…).

Before this fantastic full immersion course to white water, I was a novice paddler, but after these 4 days of superb rivers I think I can call myself an ‘improver’! Thank you to everyone who made this trip happen, I’m looking forward to next year!

More photographs……….