In January we made plans to go packrafting in the Scottish Highlands and decided to raft down the River Dee for a couple of days. Knowing that the temperatures were below 0 C degree during the night we were quite lucky with the weather as we had sunshine until the last day. For Konstantin, the River Dee was the second of the three great rivers of Scotland. Maybe Next year he will have a chance to do the third? You can find all the pictures of this trip at the end of this blog post.
Meeting at the airport
We met at the airport in Edinburgh – Konstantin arrived just 1 hour later than Patrick – and we took the new tram from the airport to the city center. Once we arrived in the city center we were searching for Konstantin’s hotel where he was planning to stay for another week after our planned packrafting trip. We unloaded some of our clothes from our backpack in the hotel and started walking through the city towards the central station.
With the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen
At 16.28 we left Edinburgh with the Scotrail train to Aberdeen. The train was packed and the train conductor apologized several times for this on the loudspeaker. Fortunately, we had both made a seat reservation. A woman behind us booked a forward seat but got a small one on which she had to travel sideways. She swapped it with another person, who was not able to find her reserved seat and was happy with the one she got.
The Scottish Scenery
The scenery outdoor is great. We went over the bridge which just got listed by UNESCO and passed by to the other side of the Forth. People stepped off and on the train, but the further we went, the few people there were. We passed by places with difficult English names and incompletely unpronounceable Scottish. Finally, we went over an impressive railway bridge in Dundee (is it the same name as in Australia, Patrick asked) and then we finally arrived in Aberdeen after dark.
With the bus to Braemar
The next morning we packed our backpacks and had a typical English breakfast in our hotel before we went to the bus station to catch the train to Braemar.
Arrival in Braemar
We were more than lucky with the weather. It was cold but windless and very sunny. When we arrived, we tried to step out where everyone did but the bus driver asked us if we wanted to get out a bit further. How far? Just over that building. No thank you, we rather walk and explore the village. Patrick went to the local grocery store to buy bottled water and a toothbrush and then went had a look in the outdoor shop that we saw on the way as he needed another pair of socks to wear them under the drysuit to keep the feet warm in the freezing water. Patrick asked for Icebreaker socks but the salesperson advised him to try Darn Tourgh Hiker socks as they were more durable according to him. But were they? well, time will tell.
Enjoying a cup of tea in Braemar
Konstantin was left with the luggage in the sun while Patrick did his shopping. The sun was just marvelous. Konstantin felt that it’s golden rays were poring over him warming his whole body to the core. At the same time, there were patches of snow lying around and the air gave that crispy smell that only winter has.
On the opposite side from the bus stop, Konstantin discovered a tea room and decided to move our things there. A middle-aged man was sweeping the street next to it. So Patrick ran for his socks while Konstantin carried our bags to the hall and entered the place.
The place looked cozy. There were not a lot of people there, just a couple that traveled with us from Aberdeen on the same bus. They didn’t have a lot of luggage with them, but it seemed that they came to Breamar for a romantic getaway.
When Konstantin entered, he was approached by a middle-aged woman wearing a neat white apron, who asked him where he would like to sit. Konstantin chose the corner table with a bit of a view and the sun coming through the window. The other sunny spot was already occupied by the couple. When Konstantin sits down, the woman brought him the menu, which he didn’t really need as he knew exactly what he wanted – a pot of tea.
Talking about the concept of the pot of tea – Konstantin hardly ever saw anything like that on a menu anywhere else outside Britain. And as a tea drinker, he thought that it’s a shame that people don’t do it more often as the British got it right – one small cup of tea, the one that you usually get in the Netherlands or in other parts on continental Europe, just won’t do it. You cannot just have one. You need more. And a pot of tea is a perfect solution for it.
Having ordered his pot of tea, Konstantin had a chance to look around. Besides the woman who severed him, there was another elderly woman, wearing a similar neat white apron. She was busy doing something behind a glass display which contained a five selection of most deliciously looking muffins and pastry. Looking at them he wished that he would still eat sugar. But Konstantin had to stay strong and chased the tempting thoughts away. His pot of tea arrived and standing.
On the way to the River Dee
Refreshed we started walking to find a place where we could inflate our packrafts and to finally start with our packrafting trip. It has been very cold during the night and the grass was still frozen. However, the wonderful scenery and sun made us feel excited to start paddling and to get close to nature.
After a short hike, we found a spot which was suitable to inflate our packrafts and to easily get into the river. On some spots, the river was partly frozen but as we realized later on it was not difficult to break with our packrafts through the ice.
Inflating the Packrafts
Having inflated our packrafts we were good to go. Konstantin inflated his packraft on a different spot but Patrick was the first one who made it into the river.
The mountains were still covered with snow. We actually had a discussion if we should go on a hiking trip before packrafting down the river Dee but decided to start paddling immediately as the weather forecast only promised good weather for the coming 2 days.
Already at the beginning, we realized that the water level of the Dee was quite low. Nevertheless, it was still possible to paddle but we had to step out occasionally and walk in the cold river. That’s the part where Patrick’s additional socks became an important part of the gear.
An advantage of a river with a low water level is that there are plenty of opportunities to get out of the packraft to have a break. We had our first break already after 30 minutes or so.
After some paddling, we came across the first obstacle which we have read about already in several other blogs and websites – the deer fence. However, the fence was in such bad shape that it was quite easy to paddle under the steel rope on the left side of the river.
After the fence, it was quite easy to paddle along the river and there were no major obstacles or rapids until we reached the first major rapid at the Invercauld bridge.
The Invercauld bridge
The invercauld bridge was built in 1859 and we were looking for a spot where we could step out of our packrafts so that we could go and scout the rapid which flows just under the bridge. Again the low water level didn’t offer many opportunities to pass our first major obstacle as we realized on our scout.
Our first scout put Konstantin’s new Sea to Summit Ultra Flex Booties into test.
The Invercauld bridges were actually quite interesting and built in Victorian architecture style. We were walking along a small path next to the river to find out if it was possible to paddle the rapid.
Not only the River Dee makes it interesting to paddle there but also the rich historical culture and buildings on the way. We went on and under the Invercauld bridge. I guess this picture shows already that it was still quite cold to paddle.
As you can see on the picture the water level was quite low and it was hard to find the right spot to pass this rapid. There were many stones where you could get stuck with your packraft and flip over. Patrick decided to carry the backpack around and to take pictures of Konstantin paddling through the rapid.
Konstantin on a small rapid after the main rapid under the Invercauld bridge. Looking backward from our packrafts the Invercauld bridge was quite an experience.
Cambus O’ May suspension bridge
The suspension bridge at Cambus O’ May was built in 1905 and rebuilt in 1988 for safety reasons and one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting Victorian sites in this area. However, bridge got quite heavily damaged during the floods 3 months ago.
Problems with the Packraft
Konstantin’s had some issues with his Alpacka Packraft during our trip. Air went out through the zippers and there was a puncture at the bottom of his packraft which he managed to temporarily quick fix it.
After our trip, Konstantin contacted Alpacka Raft and reported the issue on his packraft. Alpacka agreed to fix both issues on his packraft and also paid for the shipping fees. We would say that this is quite a good customer service from Alpacka Raft.
Camping nearby Balmoral Castle
When the sun started to set we decided to look for a place where we could step out of our packrafts and pitch our tent. It was already quite cold and we were already quite tired after this day. After we pitched our MSR Hubba Hubba Tent we prepared our dinner. Patrick enjoyed one of the meals which Konstantin brought from Japan while Konstantin prepared a Real Tumac dinner with our MSR Windburner.
Then it was time to crawl into our sleeping bags where we reviewed the day and our experiences and slowly fell asleep under the stars while listening to the flow of the river Dee.
We had a good night sleep after the first day of paddling down the River Dee from Braemar. Everything was frozen when we woke up. The day however seems again to be quite promising with a blue sky and nice scenery.
The worst was however not to sit in a frozen packraft but to slip your hands into the frozen neoprene gloves. However, after a few minutes of paddling with gloves, we just decided to continue paddling without gloves as they were just too cold to wear. But first, we had breakfast.
For breakfast, we still had some Japanese dehydrated camping food with us which tastes much better than the camping food you can buy in our camping stores. So we ignited our MSR Windburner stove with our Light My Fire FireSteel Scout 2.0 Fire Starter and got the water boiling.
Visiting Balmoral Castle
Since we just camped almost next to the Balmoral Castle we decided to get a bit closer and explore it a bit.
Back into the River Dee
Once back from the Balmoral Castle we packed our gear and got our packraft ready. The day was again beautiful and we were quite excited to continue our trip.
There was ice everywhere but fortunately it didn’t have any impact on our packrafting trip.
Abergeldie – The falling castle
After some paddling we passed by Abergeldie which almost fell into the river after the last flood. It seems that they were able to prevent the worst so we were still able to get a nice picture with us and the castle.
The scenery was again breathtaking on the second day. Even so the night was freezing cold the sun kept us warm once we came closer to lunchtime. Unfortunately, the water level was just too low on some spots so we had to step out and walk from time to time.
After some paddling we found a really nice beach with rocks and gravel on the left hand side of the river where we stepped out to have our lunch break. We filled the MSR Windburner stove with water from the river and a few minutes later we poured it into our dehydrated lunch packages.
After our lunch break, the river continued to be quite flat but we were able to paddle most of the time. The river was marked by the last flood. Fallen trees and the undercut shore are witnesses of this tragic event 2 months ago.
The flood and remainings
The damaged bridges, the castle, part of the road, the caravan park – on the way it looked like on the Grensmaas where we paddled a while ago. Lots of rubbish. We also met a local guy on our trip who was taking pictures on the river. He told us that the stationary trailer destroyed against a bridge on the river. There were all kinds of stuff in the river once we paddled it further down. Furniture, contorted bikes, bedding, clothes, and a small Scottish St. Andrew’s flag was hanging on a tree. However, there was also something positive on the flood – we were able to find a lot of firewood.
A trailer smashed against one pillow of the bridge. There were also lots of sharp metal objects in the water. So we just paddled and tried to be careful without thinking too much about the sharp objects – a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tea Time in Ballater
In Ballater – just after the bridge – we stepped out to get some food at Dreeside garage. We got tea and chocolate. We also asked there if there was a good place to eat.
The store owner said: Well, the town center had all been flooded. Were they too? Yes. They got the water, but from the village, not directly from the river. When did it happen? On the 30th of December. Merry Christmas and a happy new year. In a way yes, he smiled bitterly.
Then Konstantin returned to the place where we stepped out from our packrafts while Patrick has unpacked the backpacks to get our gear drying in the sun.
We enjoyed our tea and asked a passer-by if there was a shop. We actually saw the shop but we were not sure if it was open. The passer-by said: “Yes, behind the church. Just follow the main road”.
Getting food in Ballater
Konstantin walked with his dry suit to the ship. It felt strange to walk in a village with a dry suit but it was comfortable. He was anyway not there to impress people, but to get the food. No one asked me any questions, I didn’t give anyone any explanations.
On the way to the shop, Konstantin saw that there were many closed shops. The Royal appointment for this or for that. The floorboards were ripped off, heaters and fens staring there to dry the aftermath of the flood.
For more than 100 years nothing happened like that. People have already forgotten that it can be like that. And they got careless. But nature reminds us of its might from time to time.
Preparing for the night
After we got some food in Ballater we continued paddling down the river almost until the sun went down. We pitched our tent and also met the owner of the field where we camped. He said that it’s ok that we camp here over the night.
We collected a lot of firewood. There was so much of it so we kept the fire burning till late in the night. Patrick went already sleeping quite early while Konstantin was still enjoying the warmth of the fire.
On the next day, we had a quick breakfast and started paddling shortly after. The weather turned already bad and we decided that we will paddle only till early afternoon to take the bus back to Aberdeen. The last day, however, was offering us the best rapids of the trip.
Deflating the packrafts
Once we passed the last rapid we came to a bridge which we had to cross to get to the bus stop of the village. So we stepped out and packed our gear.
We felt a bit cold and it also started to rain a little bit. Fortunately, it was only raining for a couple of minutes.
Searching for a bus
Once we were back on the road we walked towards Dinnet where we searched for the bus stop. Fortunately, Dinnet is quite a small place so the search was quite short.
Well, this was our packrafting trip to the river Dee. It would have been interesting to paddle the river further down even so the scenery was not that spectacular anymore as it was higher up in the mountains. Well, maybe we will return here one day …