Andrew B, Stevie J, Len and I arrived at the Airlie Picnic Site to find the river lower than we had ever seen it. There was really only one line at the first small drop with rock and boulders visible everywhere. The level at Drumlanrig Bridge was below 6” and the SEPA gauge was reading 0.176 at 6 a.m. We decided to go for it anyway.
I had only gone about 20 metres when the first drop pushed me onto a sloping rock and neatly flipped the boat on its back. At least the water was warm. That sort of set the pattern for the day. The lines were narrow and not always obvious. One of those days when the waves and the boulders are indistinguishable until it’s too late. At most drops three hung back to see how the first paddler got on. Twice we had to get out and drag the boats. We had two pins and three rolls amongst us – on top of my swim.
The river is quite interesting at such a low level. Even in the upper section the character becomes a bit like a gorge with the flow disappearing into channels in the rocks. It was not always easy to recognise where we were.
We had left a car at the middle get out just in case the river was too low to continue. Three of us had done enough scraping and dragging by then and opted to get off. Andrew, our young turk, decided to see if the gorge would go. The rest of us set off for Drumlanrig in the car, agreeing to look out for him in about half an hour or so.
After 45 minutes we began walking upstream along the path. After 55 minutes we began to debate whether we should be worried. We were turning back to the cars to collect throw lines – just in case – when we saw him pass safely by. The low flow and the need to keep inspecting the line had slowed him down. Inspection was essential as there was a definite pin risk. In retrospect we thought we should have actively tried to dissuade a single paddler.
So it was an interesting day and still worth doing. Apart from anything else we reckon we now have minimum levels to work with. The Guide book says 0.4m on SEPA Drumlanrig and that seems about right. Kyle club say one foot at Drumlanrig Bridge. That is probably there or thereabouts too. It just about runs at lower levels but it’s not much fun. Apart from anything else the flat sections are still and you need to paddle all the way.