A Scottish five-day adventure

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    Alvie Estate where we stayed our first and last night
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    A nice hidden spot at Alvie Estate
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    My colleague and canoe buddy Nick ready for the first day of canoeing down the River Spey
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    On the River Spey
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    The River Spey
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    The River Spey and Cairngorm Mountains
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    A truly beautiful day with great views of some of Scotland's highest mountains
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    At Loch Insh
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    At Loch Insh
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    At Loch Insh
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    Ed and his mate enjoying some very mellow canoeing
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    Our first night camping
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    Our second day canoeing
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    The Cairngorm Mountains kept us company for the entire trip
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    And the snow kept coming closer to us every day
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    On an evening walk along the Speyside Way
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    The morning at our second camp
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    Something's in the air...
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    Powering through the Washing Machine
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    And then the heavens opened...
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    Ed covered in snow
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    Never canoed in anything like this before... what a great ride it was, though!
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    Later that evening back at Alvie Estate
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    On an early walk around Alvie Estate on the last day of our Scotland trip... another great highlight!

At the end of April, I was fortunate enough to join Ed and Nick (two of my colleagues at Taunton Leisure) and a group of about ten more people working in various other outdoor shops all over the UK, for a memorable five-day Scotland trip built around three whole days of canoeing on the river Spey along the western edge of Cairngorms National Park. This great endeavour was sponsored by Haglöfs, one of Taunton Leisure’s leading outdoor equipment suppliers and co-organized by G2 Outdoor, a longtime Haglöfs’ partner based in Aviemore.

How it all started

Travelling from Bristol, Nick and I got to know our colleague Ed (who we’d never met before) pretty quickly on the plane to Inverness. Apparently, I managed to fall asleep and rest my head on his shoulder before the plane even took off. Sorry Ed, I sometimes do this rather automatically, even to strangers! Tim, the southern rep from Haglöfs, or more precisely his familiar smiley face, awaited us at Inverness airport and kindly gave us a transfer to the grand-looking Alvie Estate near Aviemore, where we met the group, were briefed on the upcoming canoe trip, received our gear to test and spent the first night. Swedish meatballs were served for tea that night, compliments of Haglöfs. I myself, hit the surrounding valleys and hills in the evening sun only to return back in complete darkness a few hours later. The next day morning, we, our gear and boats got a short transfer a bit further upstream of the river Spey to the place from where we started our canoe trip.

Here’s the checklist of how it all went from there:

 Weather

  • decent the first two days (sunny, even warm at times), then progressively wetter, colder, windier and finally freezing with a heavy snow fall

Route, river and scenery

  • canoeing on the river Spey from near the village of Lynchat in the south to the former Tamdhu railway station in the north
  • 3 days canoeing and 2 nights camping
  • the river first gentle, wide and slowly flowing with no white water, then progressively faster with more and more white water and rapids
  • great scenery the whole way, with views of snow-capped Cairngorm Mountains and Monadhliath Mountains
  • overall tranquillity and beautiful wilderness
  • options for lovely evening walks – especially liked the Speyside Way along a disused railway

Gear tested

  • Haglöfs Ursus-2 sleeping bag (a comfort +4°C to -2°C bag filled with a mix of down and synthetic fibre)
  • Haglöfs Fjell Jacket (a lightweight stretchy softshell)
  • Haglöfs Rugged II Mountain Trousers (a heavy-duty trekking piece)
  • Haglöfs Ando II Cap (a lightweight cap for sun protection)
  • Hilleberg Nammatj 3 (a 4-season black-label tunnel tent)
  • Optimus Vega stove (a lightweight remote canister stove)
  • Ortlieb 89 Ltr Rack Pack (a heavy-duty waterproof duffle)
  • Wayfayrer food (a selection of ready-to-eat packaged meals)

Canoes and canoeing skills

  • inflatable two-seat open canoes – light, stable but less manoeuvrable, slower and less responsive than classic non-inflatable Canadian style canoes
  • managed to steer our canoe away from all the boulders in our path, though sometimes we got a bit lucky
  • got away with everything apart from getting a bit wet in white water and a bit of a sore bum from the uncomfy seat
  • just wish we didn’t have to play it that safe on the water – were instructed to behave ourselves and paddle in a straight line as much as possible

Wildlife

  • red deer, roe deer, rabbits, pheasants, birds of prey (including a nesting pair of ospreys)

The best experiences/highlights

  • the last day of canoeing when it started snowing heavily – although we could hardly see for all the snow in our eyes; although we were soaking wet as we paddled through some rough white water and got splashed all over us big time; although we got freezing cold, as the snow didn’t even melt on us how cold it got; although after we got out of our boats we shivered to the point it was physically painful to get changed into dry clothes – despite all of that, it was a very unique canoeing experience and a great memory to cherish, my very favourite!
  • the winter wonderland we drove through from the end of our canoe trip back to Alvie Estate – within an hour, the countryside transformed into a white land covered in crispy snow everywhere – also, never had seen that many pheasants (as if ushers) along the road either – glad we had a 4×4
  • a wonderful frosty walk the last morning at Alvie Estate when I intentionally stepped on and crushed the ice of every single frozen puddle on the road, just like a small kid would do
  • an hour spent zip wiring later that morning at Alvie Estate down a snow-covered gorge – especially the last 300m long cable with its speed, wind and superb views of Cairngorm Mountains was just perfect
  • some of the best cakes in Scotland we had in a café in Aviemore
  • managed not to drown my camera this time (on my last canoe trip, it was revealed my old waterproof camera case wasn’t that waterproof afterall, as it got half-filled with water when we capsized)

Worst experience / lesson learned

  • finding out the spare battery for my camera was flat and being thus able to take only a couple of pictures the last day of the trip – gotta bring a battery charger next time!

Curiosities

  • saw a herd of red deer and found antlers on a walk in Monadhliath Mountains the first evening
  • tasted smoked reindeer heart (compliments of Graham from Haglöfs)
  • woke up to silence after the first night camping thinking the rain was finally over – true, but it started snowing instead… silently…
  • being Czech myself, had managed every single year until now to avoid renting the Czech made Gumotex Pálava inflatable canoes on our canoe trips (mostly in the Czech Republic), but was unexpectedly tricked and stuck with one for three days in Scotland (G2 Outdoor must be the only company using these on the British Isles)

We all had a great time in Scotland, everyone loved the trip and luckily everyone survived it too. Yes, it was a nice change to the daily routine on the shop floor (in my case, the first chance for an adventure of this kind in two and a half years as a Sales Assistant with Taunton Leisure), but it was also a good chance to get to know your colleagues better, as well as to meet people working in the same trade elsewhere, share experiences and have a good laugh. I think most of us were well pleased with the gear we tested. I myself got very fond of the Haglöfs Rugged II Mountain Trousers that proved to be a reliable companion in the canoer’s slash camper’s life. Last but not least, I’m glad I finally got to taste some of the Wayfayrer ready-to-eat packaged food, as I’d been asked so many times about the taste but didn’t have much clue. Now I know which ones to recommend and which ones to warn people about…

Thanks to the guys from Haglöfs (Tim, Graham and Gus) and the guys from G2 Outdoor (Nick, Bastien and Mike) for organizing this great trip and also thanks to Taunton Leisure for making it possible for Nick, Ed and I to be part of it!

Jakub, Exeter shop

Alvie Estate where we stayed our first and last night

Alvie Estate where we stayed our first and last night

A nice hidden spot at Alvie Estate

A nice hidden spot at Alvie Estate

My colleague and canoe buddy Nick ready for the first day of canoeing down the River Spey

My colleague and canoe buddy Nick ready for the first day of canoeing down the River Spey

On the River Spey

On the River Spey

The River Spey

The River Spey

The River Spey and Cairngorm Mountains

The River Spey and Cairngorm Mountains

A truly beautiful day with great views of some of Scotland's highest mountains

A truly beautiful day with great views of some of Scotland’s highest mountains

At Loch Insh

At Loch Insh

At Loch Insh

At Loch Insh

At Loch Insh

At Loch Insh

Ed and his mate enjoying some very mellow canoeing

Ed and his mate enjoying some very mellow canoeing

Our first night camping

Our first night camping

Our second day canoeing

Our second day canoeing

The Cairngorm Mountains kept us company for the entire trip

The Cairngorm Mountains kept us company for the entire trip

And the snow kept coming closer to us every day

And the snow kept coming closer to us every day

On an evening walk along the Speyside Way

On an evening walk along the Speyside Way

The morning at our second camp

The morning at our second camp

Something's in the air...

Something’s in the air…

Powering through the Washing Machine

Powering through the Washing Machine

And then the heavens opened...

And then the heavens opened…

Ed covered in snow

Ed covered in snow

Never canoed in anything like this before... what a great ride it was, though!

Never canoed in anything like this before… what a great ride it was, though!

Later that evening back at Alvie Estate

Later that evening back at Alvie Estate

On an early walk around Alvie Estate on the last day of our Scotland trip... another great highlight!

On an early walk around Alvie Estate on the last day of our Scotland trip… another great highlight!

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