Wild and remote, anyone who knows the the Scottish mountains well will have their own tales of true adventure. From the summit of Ben Lui, close to the west coast, you’ll navigate your way from the source of the River Tay to its tidal limit at Perth, close to the east coast. You’ll begin this source to sea journey on foot before paddling through some of Scotland’s rugged and breathtaking scenery as you follow the river across Scotland. Exploring mountains, moorland, lochs and rivers, this is a fully fledged Secret Compass expedition in the UK and your chance to live out your own epic Scottish hiking and packrafting adventure.
The aim of this epic expedition is to follow the River Tay on its journey across Scotland from its source on the flanks of Ben Lui in the west to its tidal limit at Perth on the east. Starting on foot, you’ll complete as much as the journey as possible on the water once the river becomes navigable, only portaging the largest of the River Tay’s rapids.
At 188 km long the River Tay is Scotland’s longest river, almost bisecting the whole country from Ben Lui to where it flows into the North Sea at Dundee. The team will follow it for 140 km, using expedition packrafts, until reaching its tidal limit at Perth. Expect to be challenged on this expedition. Kicking off with a summit of Ben Lui to find the source, the team will be fully self-supported as you make your way across the country on your packrafting journey.
- Complete a challenging cross-Scotland expedition.
- A source to sea descent of Scotland’s longest river.
- Summit Ben Lui, 1130 m.
- Follow the River Tay from the rugged highlands to wooded valleys and moorlands.
- Learn to packraft and negotiate up to grade 2-3 rapids.
Learn to packraft in a truly adventurous setting – or hone your paddling skills further if already adept. Packrafts are changing the face of adventure travel. Versatile and robust, these expedition-strength inflatable boats allow explorers to navigate the landscape in a dynamic way on and off the river. The perfect vehicle for river descents, and fully packable, they’re perfect for hiking over mountains with too. If the rapids become too serious, the water to shallow or the wind too strong, we’ll simply deflate the rafts, strapping them and the paddles onto our backs and continue on foot before conditions are suitable again.
A True Expedition
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit many of our expeditions have been on hold, but whilst we’re waiting we’ve found some real adventure here on home ground. This expedition has been designed to deliver an authentic experience without the international travel. Make no mistake, this is no easy ride, this expedition will have you immersed in teamwork, the challenge of learning new skills, physical effort and achievement in some of the most beautiful scenery Scotland has to offer.
The Scottish Mountains
If you’ve not explored Scotland’s great outdoors before, this expedition will be a real treat. Your route will pass through diverse landscapes from dramatic, craggy mountains to rolling hills and moorland before passing through villages and farmland on the final stretch to Perth. You’ll paddle across small lochs complete with ruined castles on isolated islands before reaching the epic 23 km long Loch Tay, hemmed in to both sides by towering Munros. The expedition starts with Ben Lui, Considered by many people to be the finest mountain in the Southern Highlands, Ben Lui’s five craggy ridges meet at it’s 1130m summit. Significantly higher than most of its neighbours, its summit affords fantastic views in all directions.
The River Tay
The River Tay is Scotland’s longest river, 188 km long from source to sea, starting as a trickle on the flanks of Ben Lui and 2 miles wide by the time it reaches the sea. Although the source of the Tay is on Ben Lui, its waters flow through the Rivers Cononish, Fillan, and Dochart and into Loch Tay, before the River Tay finally gets its name as it leaves Loch Tay. The river for the most part is flat, allowing the team to appreciate the changing landscape and spot wildlife as you paddle. However, the river is punctuated with heart-rate-rising rapids like the infamous Falls of Dochart or Grandtully rapids (which for most of the team will be portaged) along with numerous lesser rapids to keep the team on its toes. Evidence of Scotland’s rich history is visible along its banks and islands. Features along the way include the ruined Loch Dochart Castle on an island on Loch Dochart only accessible by boat. The castle was destroyed by the McNab clan in 1646 whose ancient burial grounds the river runs past in the village of Killin later in the journey. For those interested in a little more of the history of Scotland the team also pass the remains of an iron age “crannog” on the northern shores of Loch Tay as well as a replica at the Scottish Crannog Centre nearby. Crannogs are timber round-houses built on stilts over the loch, the earliest examples were built around 5000 years ago, but some were modified and used into the 17th Century.
If you spot it, the wildlife in this area of Scotland can be as spectacular as its landscape. Whilst hiking keep a lookout for Red deer, the UK’s largest land-mammal. Though otters are rare in most of the UK, the River Tay and its tributaries have robust populations and it’s also one of the few places in the UK home to beavers, with evidence of their presence visible along the river (gnawed and felled trees). Throughout the expedition if you cast your eyes upwards you may also be lucky enough to spot Golden Eagles or Osprey soaring overhead or perched near the tops of trees.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this epic Scotland expedition – the ‘substance’ rather than the specifics. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon completion of a booking form.
Meet your expedition leader in Tyndrum on Day 1. In the evening there will be a briefing, time to get to know your team and prepare for the next day.
On Day 2, kick off the expedition with an early start and a hike up Ben Lui (1130 m) to find the source of the River Tay! After one more night in the relative luxury of Tyndrum, you’ll pack up all of you kit for the next 5 days and set off on your 140 km journey along the River Tay on the morning of Day 3. Initially on foot with packrafts strapped to rucksacks, once the river becomes navigable you’ll swap walking boots for paddles, inflate the packrafts and continue the journey by water, wild-camping on the banks of the river for the duration of the journey. There will be points along the route where team members will have to portage the rafts – the nature of packrafting means rapids are easily portaged if required or if you are not comfortable with the whitewater elements.
Mountains climbed and rapids conquered, the team will paddle directly into Perth, the tidal limit of the River Tay, on the afternoon of Day 7 for a well earned celebratory meal, shower and a comfortable bed. Accommodation is included tonight and the expedition officially finishes after breakfast on Day 8, but there are also sightseeing options in Perth if you want to extend your stay.
Additional Arrival and Departure Information
This is a one-way expedition starting in Tyndrum and finishing in Perth. Both locations have train stations and are connected via Glasgow. When using trains, please follow government guidance on reducing transmission of COVID-19.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together to achieve the goal of the expedition. The biggest challenge on this expedition will be carrying heavy rucksacks during the trekking phase and some challenging whitewater on the river, although this can be avoided if required.
Applicants will receive a Scotland Handbook with further expedition information. Rafting beginners are welcome on this team, see FAQ section. Teammates who arrive without meeting minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go.
Teammates must be comfortable with the following:
Minimum Fitness Requirements
- Expedition Grading: 360°.
- Daily activity: varies but up to approx. 10 hours per day.
- Trek: Ben Lui – up to 25 km and 1500 m of ascent depending on route chosen (day-packs only). During the packraft journey, up to approx 5 km for portaging but could be more depending on conditions.
- Carry: approx. 17-21kg including own kit and equipment and a share of group kit and food.
- Terrain: Varied. Rough, open moorland, with boggy and grassy slopes, steep corries and summits with possible occasional rocky scrambling. River crossings possible. Some tracks.
- Packraft. Average 30 km per day, mostly flat water but up to grade 3. We’ll need to portage boats and backpacks around un-navigable sections which will depend on water levels.
- Swim: strong swimmers who can swim at least 200m, are happy with the prospect of falling from a packraft in rapids and capable of pulling themselves back into a raft if needed.
- Climate: The Scottish Highlands in spring can experience anything from balmy, sunny weather to gales and rain. Most likely will be something in between but you’ll need to be prepared for all eventualities and expect rain.
- Age: over 21, fit and healthy.
- Professional Secret Compass leader carrying medical and communications kits.
- Accommodation from the night of Day 1 to the night of Day 7
- All packrafting equipment and shared camping equipment
- All food during the expedition phase (lunch on Day 2 until lunch on Day 7
- Travel to Tyndrum and from Perth
- Meals or drinks in Tyndrum or Perth
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook)
- Travel insurance (recommended)
- Visas (if required)
On request to join this expedition in Scotland, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some Scotland-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
I’m a total beginner at multi-day expeditions. Can I come?
Yes. However, although this expedition is UK based it is still a very challenging expedition and teammates should be prepared for the reality of multi-day, self-supported camping expeditions. Although the distances you will be carrying your full kit will be relatively short, your packs will weigh up to 21 kg and if you have never carried this sort of weight before you must practice carrying these weights in a backpack before the expedition. You must be physically prepared as per the Fitness tab and Handbook’s instructions, ensure you have the right kit.
I’m a total rafting beginner. Can I come?
Yes, training will be provided. The majority of the journey is on flat water, and for the white-water sections packrafts are very forgiving and great for beginners. If necessary, higher grade whitewater sections can be avoided by portaging although teammates should come with the anticipation of rafting as much as possible. Rapids will be risk assessed on a dynamic case-by-case basis with the skill and confidence levels of teammate taken into account. Although no whitewater experience is required, a little paddling experience of some sort would be beneficial so that you know it’s an activity you enjoy.
Can I bring my own packraft?
Yes, contact Secret Compass to arrange the details.
Will there be phone signal?
Definitely not at all times and less likely during our trekking phase. Potentially patchy signal during the paddle, improving as we pass by towns. Your expedition leader will carry satellite communications for emergency use.
The forecast looks good – do I really need waterproofs?
Have you ever been to Scotland? Please take the kit list provided in your handbook seriously as Secret Compass only recommends things we think you might need. The weather can be variable at any time of the year in Scotland and indeed the UK in general.
Can I talk with other teammates?
Secret Compass will set up a WhatsApp group for this expedition prior to departure as it does with all expeditions. This will help you answer kit and training questions among yourselves.
Can I charge my electricals?
There will be no opportunity to charge electricals once you have left Glencoe.
What measures will be in place regarding COVID-19?
This is still an evolving situation and we will be monitoring and reviewing Scottish restrictions and guidelines for COVID-19 safety in the run-up to departure. We have been successfully running expeditions over the course of 2021 and have a tried and tested range of controls measures which can be put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 on the expedition. We will update team members on these closer to departure if required.
I live outside of the UK, can I join the expedition?
Yes of course, but as with all of our expeditions, ensuring you comply with entry requirements for the country an expedition is held in is the responsibility of individual team mates. This may include a visa, if required, or in the current situation, additional COVID-19 related entry requirements such as mandatory quarantine. You can find more information on COVID-19 related restriction on entering Scotland here. Please ensure you research and monitor the requirements for your own personal situation and be aware that restrictions in Scotland are different to those in England if you will be transiting.
How can I find out more?
Get in touch with SCHQ to receive a copy of the Expedition Handbook with further details on this upcoming expedition and the next steps to joining the team.