Packraft UK: White Water Fail – Crianlarich to Perth

Packraft River Dochart rapids

Day 1 – Crianlarich to Killin

This page contains accounts of solo packrafting in remote locations. No paddlesports instructor would recommend this and neither do I. If you choose to packraft solo, then you and you alone are responsible for that decision and your safety. Nothing in this site constitutes a recommendation to paddle alone.

In late February, just before the Covid pandemic hit, I took the sleeper train north from London Euston and arrived early in the morning in Crianlarich. I had been looking for a point-to-point packraft to complete with a railway station at each end and I’d read about this paddle in the excellent book Scottish Canoe Classics. It seemed ideal as not only was there a railway station at each end, but both were served by the sleeper.

Scottish Canoe Classics is a great guide to paddling in Scotland, containing everything from gentle short paddles to serious white water expeditions. If you are interested in purchasing the book, you can purchase it from Amazon using the link below. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps me to maintain the site. Thank you.

I stepped off the train as Storm Jorge was blowing through. The winds were high, but not as high as the rivers, which were absolutely full of water. I had seen someone try to canoe this route on Youtube and they had to walk a lot of the river Dochart. This would not be an issue on this trip! Indeed some of the rapids I encountered were easily grade 2-3 in these conditions, which was interesting given I do not have a spray deck on my packraft.

Alpacka Classic packraft in Scotland

As the train pulled away I walked down towards the river and set up my packraft. The scenery was beautiful with the mountains covered in snow. I had put on a two piece wetsuit on the train giving me a total of 7mm of protection on my body and 3mm on my legs, very important as cold shock at this time of year is a real issue if you take a swim. Even more important considering I did actually take one! I also had gloves, boots, a waterproof jacket to keep the wind off and of course a buoyancy aid and helmet. I leashed my paddle to the boat so that if I did go in I just had to hang onto the paddle and I’d retain everything. I do not recommend paddling solo, but if you do take the decision to do so ensure you consider everything that could go wrong and mitigate as far as possible.

After packing and inflating my raft, I set off. Initially it was a nice gentle bimble and soon I was passing through Lochs Dochart and Lubhair, with otters fishing around the boat and teal and mallard sheltering from the winds. I continued out into the river Dochart, knowing I would encounter some rapids soon. The first one came as a bit of a surprise. A single drop that I didn’t hear coming, but it was safely navigated. I soon pulled over then to an Island for something to eat and to consult the map.

Alpacka classic packraft on the River Dochart

Not long after I had got going again it started to snow. Paddling became unpleasant and although I was warm when paddling, if I stopped I was immediately cold despite all the layers. A drysuit would be preferable in these conditions, and I will probably invest in one if I can find something light enough to carry.

After a while, I heard ‘proper’ rapids ahead. I pulled in to get a look and check my exact location. The Falls of Dochart are at the end of this river and I had absolutely no intention of running them so wanted to make sure I pulled off the river at the right place to portage. The rapids I could hear were, in fact, the Lix rapids. They were in fine form with so much water in the river and I set off with some trepidation into them. What followed was about five minutes of mayhem as rapid after rapid smashed over the boat. I managed to keep upright, but the boat was flooded and I was soaked.

Once I’d navigated the rapids, I pulled off to the left of river. I now had a long portage down to Loch Tay. However as I came into the town of Killin, freezing cold and tired, I noticed the Capercaille B&B and could smell good food from it. I had intended to camp wild on the shores of Loch Tay that day, but decided to see if they had rooms. I walked in wearing my wetsuit with a boat under my arm. After some amusement they confirmed a room, and I was soon showered and enjoying a lasagne. It was a good decision, it snowed hard overnight with strong winds.

Day 2 – Killin to North Shore of Loch Tay

The next day I walked down after breakfast to see where my put-in was. It was a good job I did that without my pack as the place I thought I would put in was not an option (a private launch site). Once I’d established where I was going from I headed back to my room and changed. Fortunately the wetsuit and my gear had dried so it was pleasant to put back on and I was warm. I headed to the put-in. A local man asked me what I was doing and if I knew how long loch Tay was!

Alpacka classic packraft at the start of the Loch Tay crossing

I seal-launched the packraft (always surprised how robust it is!) and paddled in heavy rain and high winds towards Loch Tay. The guide book says there is a wild camping on the north shore and I intended only a short 2 to 3 hour paddle today to reach it, given the conditions.

The wind was causing large waves on the loch. I had paddled Loch Morar the year before under similar conditions, so I knew what to expect and it was easier than paddling the rapids on the river. After a couple of hours fighting the waves I arrived at what looked like the spot the guidebook recommended, with a waterfall set back from the loch. I quickly set up my Hilleberg Soulo, desperate to get out of the wind and rain, and dived in. It wasn’t long before I was in warm clothes relaxing under my quilt with a belly full of chickpea curry.

Wild camp on loch Tay

Day 3 – North shore of Loch Tay to Grandtully

After a relaxing afternoon, I slept reasonably well and awoke early to light snow. The beach in front of me was dusted and it was still coming down. Today was a long paddle across the rest of Loch Tay, then a paddle down the river Tay to reach Grandtully, home of the UK’s white water slalom course.

After a breakfast of spam and eggs, I packed and inflated the raft and set off across the loch. Initially it was like a mill pond, but after a few hours paddling the wind started to rise and with the length of this loch some large waves started to appear. However, after around 3 hours of paddling, I arrived at Kenmore bridge, which signalled the start of the river Tay.

There was an instant change in mood. The loch had involved slow, monotonous paddling to make progress, with high winds and waves. The second I passed under the bridge I was shifting – and I mean shifting, with almost no paddling required other than steering. Soon, I hit the first rapid known as ‘Chinese Bridge’. I pulled off to take a look before shooting it. I was too cold to put my Go Pro on, but I nearly went for a swim near the end of the rapid and was grateful for a good brace stroke!

Alpacka classic packraft on the River Tay, Chinese Bridge

After about ninety minutes or so of bombing down the river, I came to a series of rapids that really were huge, especially given how low I was to the water. I will be honest and say that I was tired and would have preferred they were not there, but I was committed now and the only way to Grandtully was to run them unless I wanted a long walk.

Finally, I rounded the corner to a cacophony of noise, and knew I was in Grandtully by the sight of the slalom gates. The river was running really hard and the rapids looked, frankly, terrifying. I decided to head for the shore where the guide book indicated to land, but then after 80km of trouble-free paddling, disaster struck. I hit a submerged tree root and the boat stuck solid, tipped, started to fill with water and then in an instant I was swimming. Fortunately I floated only a short distance before I could stand up, although I still had to fight my way to the bank in the current which was running really hard. I was however, just grateful I hadn’t gone down the rapid outside my boat. Once safely ashore, I realised that my seat, that I had not laced into the boat to make it easier to pack, was gone. The current must have ripped it out (lesson learned! The new one is now laced in). I walked the short distance to the campsite at Grandtully and decided to call it quits there as continuing without a seat would have meant a lot less control of the boat. The next day it was sunny, so I dried my kit off as best I could, repacked it before having lunch at the local pub and continuing my journey to Perth by taxi. Not the ending I wanted, but a great adventure nonetheless!

Camping at Grandtully Campsite

If you are interested in learning more about packrafting, I thoroughly recommend the following book by Falcon Guides. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps me to maintain the site.

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