Sunshine bounces off churning waves as the first tandem canoe breaks out into the flow and they line themselves up for the rapid. I can see the adrenaline- a mixture of focus, determination and excitement on their faces. They paddle toward the iconic rapid that the morning has been building up to- the ‘Washing Machine’. As the canoe enters the white water and bounces through the waves, big smiles of exhilaration spread across their faces, and laughter and cheering can be heard over the rush of water. They ride the wave train out and high five, buzzing with the sense of achievement and satisfaction. And the day has only just begun!
The River Spey Descent is truly a unique and special holiday for the adventurous type. There is a variety of experiences offered from this 5-day trip- from a relaxing meander through the stunning scenery, to the thrill of white-water rapids. That doesn’t mean you need a wealth of experience to book onto this adventure. With an experienced guide and coach to lead you, you will learn many new skills along the way to ensure you feel confident and comfortable throughout the challenges.
The River Spey Descent is Scotland’s most popular river trip and it’s not hard to see why. The Spey flows for a total of 172kms northeast through the Highlands and into the North Sea at Spey Bay. The 5-day descent covers an impressive 120kms of this stretch, through forests, mountain vistas, passing many famous whisky distilleries to end up at the spectacular coastline where dolphins can be seen. There is an abundance of wildlife to be spotted, from leaping salmon, to chirping oystercatchers, bounding deer and maybe even some playful otters. Travelling along a river is a magical way to explore the environment and gives you the chance to experience things you might not see otherwise. A true sense of the wild is captured both on the water and with the authentic wild camping experience. Pitching a tent on the riverbank in the shade of the forest, with no one else around offers moments of peace and mindfulness. You can enjoy connecting with nature as you lie on the grass or dip your toes in the water.
The Spey Descent starts in Kingussie, where the stretch of river is gentle and gives you time to refresh those paddling skills. There are a couple of small rapids to ease you into the journey and build up your confidence. The river meanders through the Insh Marshes, an RSPB site and a great place to spot some wildlife. The river then opens up to cross Loch Insh, where there is an Osprey nest and the opportunity to see these majestic birds of prey. Then it is back onto the river to paddle toward Aviemore through stunning forests. On this first day, you will start to learn about how to read the river- what hazards to look out for and how to avoid them, how to navigate rapids and how to communicate effectively both with your tandem partner and with the rest of the group. As we reach the outskirts of Aviemore, there are a number of great wild camp spots along the riverbank to pitch a tent and cook some dinner.
What better way to start the day than a stunning river view and a cup of coffee. In fact, it only gets better when you load the boats, get back on the water and embark on day 2 of your expedition. As you paddle through the Cairngorms, majestic mountains rise up on either side of the river offering some magnificent views. It is another day of easy going paddling, meandering around boulders and islands. There are a few little rapids to keep the flow going. This second day finishes near Grantown, and the possibility to wander into town for a much-deserved chippy.
Day 3 sees the first Grade 2 rapid of the journey and is an exciting start to the morning. It is a fantastic chance to put your skills to the test, with a cruisy flow navigating through rocks to find the best line, and culminating in a nice bouncy little wave train. With big victorious smiles, the day continues and the river starts to pick up pace as you travel seaward. This section of the river sees an increase in fishing beats- the Spey being one of the top spots in the UK for salmon fishing. It is quite common to see huge fish leaping out of the water in front of your canoe. The day ends in Cragganmore with an idyllic little camp spot. There is easy access to sunset strolls along the Speyside Way.
You awake on day 4 with a buzz of excitement, because today is the day of Grade 2 rapids and a highlight of the trip. The iconic ‘Washing Machine’ kicks off the whitewater fun with an exhilarating wave train that leaves you grinning from ear to ear. This is just the first of many along this stretch of river, ensuring that the fun doesn’t stop there. As you bounce from rapid to rapid, the river passes through the heart of whisky country, with many well-known distilleries lining the banks. With the evenings campsite just a short stroll from the quaint town of Craigellachie, it would be rude not to visit the Highlander Inn and it’s famous whisky room for a wee dram (or a couple).
The final day of the trip and the river is doing most of the work for you as you flow toward the sea. After passing under the railway bridge at Fochabers, the salty sea air hits you and you know you are close. The river splits and winds between little islands and on the horizon, the waves are visible. This is a good spot to get a lucky glance of otters playing in the flow, or dolphins riding the waves. As you paddle into the beach, there is a great sense of achievement.
120kms paddled across the Highlands. Grade 2 rapids succeeded. A wealth of new skills acquired. Maybe some new whiskies sipped upon. For sure one of my favourite things about this expedition is the bond that is created within the group. The journey you have shared and the memories made result in great friendships also. The River Spey Descent delivers all you could want from an adventure holiday, and surpasses expectations every time.