Bogs, moorland and a dinghy on the Dee

“We had an early departure and are being helped by a nice tailwind. Our navigation computer indicates that we will arrive at Aberdeen about fifteen minutes before schedule”, says our KLM captain. In reality we arrive five hours later on Aberdeen airport: the Scottish weather covered the airport in a thick blanket of fog, divirting our flight to Glasgow. From there it takes another three hours to get to Aberdeen by bus.

The weather is actually quiet nice here. Aberdeen is covered in fog, but the rest of Scotland is sunny. A day later than planned we get off the train in Aviemore. It’s starting to get sunny while we walk to the start of the Lairig Ghru.

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Lairig Ghru.

The Lairig Ghru is one of the paths crossing the Cairngorms from north to south. The next few days we will be walking through the Cairngorms to the source of the river Dee. Then we will inflate our packrafts and paddle back to sea, about one hunderd kilometers.

“You are going to do what? Walk from here to the Dee and then paddle back to sea? Haha, I feel better already!”

We end our day just after the Pools of Dee in a drizzle. When dusk arrives around nine o’clock, we see two women and a dog approach. They left Aviemore this morning to walk to Devil’s End and back. Perhaps a bit too far for one day, they tell us with a smile. “No, we’re not going to camp, tomorrow we’ll have to be at work.” They have enough energy bars and a good torch with them. As long as they will have left the Pools of Dee behind them before the dark. From the Pools is a good path back to Aviemore. The only thing lacking are dog cookies. Dog Skye hasn’t been eating all day. They ask for our plans and burst out laughing: “You are going to do what? Walk from here to the Dee and then paddle back to sea? Haha, I feel better already!” When we get into our sleeping bags, they’re walking back to Aviemore.

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Scottish grouse.

The famous day two, when the muscles speak up, is being accompanied by the famous grouse. We see the Scottish grouse everywhere, but in real life they’re a bit less elegant than shown in the whisky commercial from 2008. Today there’s not a cloud in the sky and this night we look a bit more red than usual. No, we didn’t take suncream with us.

A number of times we meet people of the National Trust for Scotland. When, after leaving the Cairngorms, we arrive at Mar Lodge we meet someone from the National Trust who is doing the maintenance of the estate. He takes the time to have a chat with us. He asks for our plans and tells about last winter. The enthusiastic way of talking displays a pride for Scotland and a pride of his work here. He wishes us good luck and success and goes his way on his quad.

31
Mar Lodge.

At Victoria Bridge we inflate our packrafts. For one second we were doubting our schedule. We lost half a day by the divirsion of our airliner, but the beautiful weather guided us through the Cairngorms faster than expected. It should still be possible to reach the sea. The Dee at this point is wider than we expected, the water level is high enough and even where the river is wide there is a nice current. When paddling you don’t notice the current that much, but it is secretly helping a lot. In no-time we’ve passed Braemar, where we have to land. Just after Braemar a wild fence has been put over the Dee. In our guidebook it was written that a kayak-sized hole would be present in the fence. It has been repaired, no hole anymore. We land our packraft, lift our gear over the fence and drop in the Dee again.

Unexpectedly fast we arrive at Invercauld Bridge, class 3 according to our guidebook. As we’ve been taught, we get out of the river to scout the rapid. We discuss which line to sail and try to imprint the marks in our heads: “Just right of the big rock in the beginning, that’s the gate. Then follow the large V of black water and stay right of the white water.” Later this week we can do some more rapids. We enjoy each of them, they’re not too difficult.

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Packrafting river Dee.

“Hi there, how are you? Was it you, camping on the riverbank a few hunderd meters back? Beautiful spot, good choice!”

At the start of the Dee, the river is tranquil and wide. After Ballater the river becomes narrower and more rapids emerge. That’s where the fishermen are, in almost every bend there are one or two fishing. The banks of the Dee is decorated with a lot of small fishing cabins. Some shiny new, others almost taken back by nature and all have a woodstove. Because of the large amount of fishermen, we find it difficult to find a spot for our tent. When we finally pitch our tent after a cold, rainy day, we’re really glad to sit in a dry environment and have dinner. It’s the disadvantage of bad weather, we take almost no break and don’t eat many energy bars. Having the shelter of a tent and dinner simmering on our stove is real happiness then. Though the wind is blowing hard and we’re sleeping on bumpy patch of ground, we both sleep like a log.

We thought we wouldn’t be noticed in a green tent, pitched behind some bushes. The next morning we start to paddle and within a few minutes we meet the first fisherman of the day. “Hi there, how are you? Was it you, camping on the riverbank a few hunderd meters back? Beautiful spot, good choice!” The next fisherman tells us exactly the same a few minutes later!

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From Peterculter the Dee becomes wider again and more tranquil. Just before arriving in Aberdeen we see two otters playing in the water. It was a week filled with beautiful, rough landscapes, we’ve seen deer, many swallows and oyster catchers and lots of small birds. Although there are small villages next to Dee, civilization can’t be seen easily until you’re almost in Aberdeen.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route
Aviemore
Old logging road
Lairig Ghru
Mar Lodge
River Dee tot Aberdeen

Water level Dee: 0.7 m – 0.8 m

Bibliography
36, Grantown & Aviemore
Landranger Map
1:50 000

37, Strathdon & Alford
Landranger Map
1:50 000

38, Aberdeen
Landranger Map
1:50 000

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Above Braemar to Potarch

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Potarch to Banchory

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Banchory to Aberdeen

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