Descent of the River Spey
A key feature of an education at Colet Court is our focus on outdoor pursuits. Trips out and field studies are linked to our broad, balanced and challenging curriculum. In a boy's final year he has many post exam activities to look forward to, including a camping trip to Derbyshire. At the end of last year a small intrepid group of pioneers, led by two members of the Geography Department, Dr Lee and Mr Edwards, descended the River Spey by canoe. Their account is below.
Fifty miles of sinuous Scottish burn with gliding, smooth water in some parts and choppy, treacherous rapids in others, along with changeable mountain weather, faced us as we boarded the Caledonian Sleeper at London Euston at 11.40 pm after school on Half Term Friday for what was going to be a gutsy expedition of bold endeavour!
Arriving at Newtonmore, we were briefed at the Beeches by our Canoeing Professional Mr Dave Craig on what was facing us. Some were filled with trepidation by talk of rapids with names such as ‘the Washing Machine,’ and by stories of those whose canoes had been dashed against rocks along the Spey. After packing our clothes into dry bags and a hearty lunch, we boarded the bus for the trip to Cromdale where our expedition was to commence.
We began by learning some basic manoeuvres, but before long we were on our way. The paddling was smooth, but many of us still did not have strong directional stability, and so we spun our boats and crashed into banks and each other. Before long, however, we were competent and knew what to do if things went wrong, and we began our descent of the mighty Spey.
On our first day the weather was a bit bleak and the going was tough, as some of us seemed to be travelling most of the way backwards. But, as the day drew on, we gained directional control and for the most part enjoyed smooth sailing. As a group, almost all of us ‘enjoyed’ some spectacular immersions, but these tended to happen where the river was shallow, and it was just a matter of getting out of the canoe and sorting things out.
The weather, however, grew progressively miserable, and by the time we arrived at camp we were all a little wet and cold, and happy to have Dave’s ready made boil-in-the-bag supper. Boil-in-the-bag never tasted so good.
The next day was a little rainy too, but, as the day went on, the sun began to poke its head through the clouds, and after some paddling through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world (on a Sunday when there were no fishermen), we arrived as happy campers into a much drier campsite. We yomped up the road to the Highlander Inn and enjoyed the local fare. We all slept much better that night, a little warmer and a little drier, and with our tents put up just a little better than the night before!
The final day brought us beautiful sunshine but challenging rapids. This made for a couple of spectacular capsizes, one of which took a good while to sort out. Some poorly tied-in kit saw a barrel wash downriver, never to be seen again. I suspect it is now somewhere in the North Sea.
Eventually we too arrived at the North Sea at Tugnet, Spey Bay and never a happier band were we to have arrived. After three days of paddling ‘we were the first that ever burst into that silent sea!’ We zoomed back to Newtonmore, grabbed a quick bite to eat, served at bedside on the Caledonian Sleeper and arrived tired, but much strengthened by the Scottish air, the following morning, into Euston.