The Findhorn Descent

In 2019 three of our Instructors (Jim, Rory & Freddie) decided to undertake the river Findhorn Descent via canoe (or kayak in Freddie’s case) over just two days…

The Findhorn is possibly Scotland finest all round river, with many sections of rapids situated in truly stunning scenery. The traditional sections of the river: top, upper, middle and lower are graded at 4, 4, 3, 5. In short consistent, technical and challenging. The section below the lower, which takes you to the sea is mainly around a grade two providing a wonderful relaxing paddle after having navigated through the trickier rapids above.

This epic canoe descent of the Findhorn is on many a paddlers wish list; but is a serious undertaking and the water levels have to be just right. You need enough water to be able to paddle to the top, upper and middle but not too much that the lower becomes insane.

The boats paddled were Silverbirch duralite broadland canoes – one of which was a highline version. The kayak was a dagger mamba. And the kayaker may have made the canoe take his kit for him as well…

Having decided just the day before to commit fully to the Findhorn Descent, as the levels were looking good, the three of us set out early morning to be able to leave a vehicle at the end and travel back to the start in the other van. Our aim of the first day was to paddle the top, upper and middle sections allowing us more time on the second day to figure out the much harder lower section without feeling rushed. A daunting task to paddle three sections of the river in a day but we were committed.

The top section of the Findhorn descent starts off very committing. There is little warm up and you are straight into a consistent grade three/3+ section of rapids from there it keeps the same before reaching a grade four with a large hole and finishes at Dulsie gorge – a lot of water pours it’s way through the gorge and aims directly at a wonderful splat rock in the middle. But there are just enough eddies to break it down – provide crucial safety in the event of a swim and ensure that the lines taken down the rapid are inspected prior.

Freddie and Rory go first while Jim plays safety on the rocks in case of a swim just upriver of the splat rock. Freddie gets down without issue and Rory makes the whole way down the rapid but accumulated so much water right at the bottom in the eddy it was impossible to stay upright. Jim’s turn… when it comes to canoeing grade four it is hard at the best of times, but with a full exped bag in your boat it is like trying to paddle a rhinoceros that doesn’t want to move. That being said the line was good and Jim found himself at the bottom of the rapid – the same as Rory he had accumulated too much water, hit the eddy and flip… two swims already on the top section this bodes well…

Having emptied the boats out of water we continued down the river into the upper. This was significantly better straight away. Having now warmed up we made short work of the upper and nobody ended up swimming. We navigated Leven’s rapid (the main grade four of the section) without issues and provided safety as you would expect. Further down the river someone said to go left… another swim ☹ 2:1 to Jim… this definitely isn’t how it’s meant to go…

The middle section is the standard white water rafting section that we do at Active. It is a consistent grade three with some beautiful rapids, we navigated this section all the way down to Randolph’s leap. HAving reached the finish of day 1 for our Findhorn descent, we set up camp & checked the time – twenty minutes and the café closes – how quickly can we get there. 15 minutes, maybe we should ring them as we walk. We decide that is a good idea and they are more than happy to welcome us in even with a few minutes to spare. Amazing we all know we paddle for the coffee and cake at the end of the day after all 😊

Findhorn canoe descent

Day 2 of the Findhorn descent – we start off by paddling into Randolph’s Gorge – the water levels were pretty high but we decided we could do it while portaging the two grade five sections and paddling everything else. Naturally portages take more time that paddling but it is much safer after all. A few swims all round and half the day later we have managed to paddle through the gorge and are on the other side. Awesome a nice grade two section all the way down to the sea.

Paddling down to the sea in order to finish the Findhorn descent it became very clear that the river was not done with us yet as the wind was directly into us head on for the last few miles. This made getting to the van tough going but when we got there it made the beer, burger or coke and burger for the driver all the more worth it.

All of these guys came through out Outdoor Instructor Training Course at one time or another in their development.

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