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.