Spey Descent – July 2006

Denise Mattison

Let me start by saying that I am afraid of water. I’m rather partial to a candlelit bath with a glass of wine but that’s as far as it goes. So when I was invited to join in the Spey Descent by a group of friends earlier this year, my immediate response was ‘not on your life’.
A seed had been planted though and as the weeks passed, I started to wonder whether I might give it a go in spite of the fear, and might even enjoy overcoming it. Before I knew it I found myself at the Beeches, loading up on carbs and Dutch courage ready for the off.
As we carried the canoes from the trailer to the river, it was too late to have second thoughts. This was it, sink or swim...and I can’t swim! Dave, the trip leader, introduced us to a few basic paddle strokes and, pushing aside my fears, we were on our way. Or so I thought. Much of the first day was spent over-steering, overpowering and working against my canoe-mate, bee-lining for the river bank, careering relentlessly into low hanging tree branches and becoming wedged on unforeseen rocks. The canoe, it turns out, is virtually indestructible!
By day 2 we were getting into our stroke – communicating with your partner does wonders and if you let it, the current will do most of the work. That’s not to say there aren’t a few stretches to get the adrenalin going – not least the eagerly anticipated/dreaded ‘washing machine’ on day 3, where the Spey takes a dramatic turn downhill. As usual Dave stopped us for a pep talk before one by one, like ducks in a line, we inched towards the foaming waters. Paddles horizontal for balance we bounced in…and out the other side, clean as a whistle.
Control over the boat brought new confidence and I started to enjoy the river. The landscape came alive with the sound of birds and flowers making purple the riverbank in an amphitheatre of mountains with only the pagoda chimneys of the famous Speyside distilleries reminding us of the working world beyond. So time rushed and flowed to the river’s firth and despite the overcast day nothing could take the shine off the slow meander into Spey Bay. We’d made it. In the end there was no capsizing or sinking - just good fun, great company and the peace of the river.

Denise Mattison
December 2006