Ben had booked this course some months in advance. His father, Rob, had just hit sixty and this was to be part of the celebration. The weather in the weeks before was not promising. In fact I had parked next to another canoeist on the M74, I was on my way to north to Loch Insh and he was heading south. The winds had been so strong he hadn't taken his canoe out once during the previous week. Now though the forecast was good with light winds and sunshine.
The team assembled on Loch Insh. The boats are very heavily laden (I was to find out why).
A quick paddle across the Loch to the start of the next section of the Spey.
The early part is shallow and at times narrows and winds through trees. Stefan and Steve ended up taking a swimming when they broadsided and tripped over a submerged and hidden stump. If they had been kneeling they might have got away with it but...... The relatively harmless swim however wrote off Stefan's camera. He had a waterproof case for it but after a short while had tired of closing it back up after each photo.
Dillie takes up her customary position.
The previous days had put a big dump of snow on the Cairngorms and had given some good late season skiing. For us it meant the river level, already good, would go up slightly in the strong sunshine.
The 'detritus of failure' or at least that is how Steve described the drying out of kit at our lunch spot.
The higher banks were honeycombed with Sand Martin nests.
Chilling ably led by Dillie.
As ever I try to camp on the wilder islands. There is plenty of flat spots and masses of drift and dead wood. The guys picked up fishing licences for two spots on the Spey (around £40 per person).
There was no luck on any of the attempts but it was pretty mellow.
These guys were not roughing it and the drink and food was to match. They had told me that they would do the catering. Beer was there to quench the thirst of first arriving in camp.
Gin and tonic for a touch of class.
And you couldn't have steak without some red wine. I must admit it was a mistake of mine that I brought out a bottle of Aberlour (well you got to have a Speyside malt) on the second evening. This must be the slowest getting going group, in the mornings, that I have worked with.
A nice bit of WW action at the Washing Machine (Blacksboat Rapid). A nice grade 2 at this level.
The start of the lead into Knockando
We took a relatively easy line down through and although fast it went well. It is long but again a grade 2 at this level.
This is all prime fishing territory and the bank is dotted with fishing chalets and huts, the bank often manicured to a lawn like state. Without fail all the gillies and fisher folk were courteous. It pays for everyone to get along.
The rapids were now getting longer and wider but with only the occasional rock it was a case of not taking on to big a wave.
Dillie was very cool about the whole thing (as ever) but on the bigger waves would draw her paws into the boat so as not to get them wet.
We had a long stop at Aberlour for another boat of fishing. The rules were stringent with after every cast the angler has to take a number of steps downstream before casting again. Then at the end of the section you could walk back up the bank to start at the top again. Stefan ignored this by fishing up the beats and soon had a local official (in the nicest way) point out his error at length.
We were late into our last campsite near Forres.
It is a delightful place at this time of year.
The guys had brought along their own filtration system so could take water straight from the river.
Although fires were quickly lit with fire lighters Steve wanted to see the alternative of using fire steel, birch bark and feather sticks. Dillie has seen it all before.
Launching the next morning a gillie and client were working the launch area. There were no hassles and gillie had a great chat with us.
Earth pillars and the great scenery continues.
In a couple of places the wave trains get a little larger.
All were up for a bit of fun. It was the last day and the sun was out so the biggest waves were being sought out. With airbags and gear lashed down Steve and Stefan managed to get the canoe into the eddy still upright.
The last couple of miles to the sea are a delight and on this occasion the channels were clear of tree debris. The channel changes year on year as the river drops its load of rock and wood.
Trip end at Spey Bay. Four top days with great company. Thanks Ben, Rob, Steve and Stefan.
I'll be back there in October.