The River Dye in Spate. A Eulogy and a Warning (or Two).

A eulogy and a warning (or two), is that an oxymoron? Probably not because we often love things we should fear and not just because we enjoy dicing with danger. But more on this in a moment. Here are two contrasting thoughts on The River Dye when it’s bursting its banks.

Photo by Department Two

Photo by Department Two

First, though, spate is a little used word, most commonly used in Scotland (though used throughout Britain) to describe a small river that rises quickly due to rainfall or snow melt. The Dye rises as a tiny burn in Glen Dye and is the defining feature of the glen. Its catchment is relatively small and so, when there’s a lot of water around it can rise, really quickly, to astonishing heights. I’m talking 10 feet in a few hours.

So, now, the eulogy bit. I love the river when it does this. It is brown and peaty but not in the way it is during dry spells; it’s muddy and dirty and frothy and impenetrable when it’s in spate. And you can hear it almost wherever you are at Glen Dye, tumbling, angry, fast and deep. Smacking against rocks as it tears towards the North Sea. I love it like this.

Photo by Department Two

Photo by Department Two

The Dye takes no prisoners; deer, bridges, trees, fences; in spate The Dye will carry them all with it. I think it’s this power that I find so alluring; the river is reminding us that it is in control, that however pretty we might find it on a gentle Spring morning, when it means business it means business. That this is its glen, not ours.

When I was about sixteen I did something stupid. The River was in spate, probably about ten feet above its normal level and I wanted to swim. So, with my sister’s help, I tied one end of a rope around my waist and the other around a tree trunk on the bank of the river and I jumped in. It was absolutely terrifying and I was brutally knocked around for two or three minutes before I found my way back to the bank. Never again. I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t had the rope, but it might have been curtains.

Photo by Department Two

Photo by Department Two

And now to the warning. If the river is in spate stay well away, don’t think about going too close, let alone swimming. It’s a powerful thing and it will take you with it. Avoid bridges, keep your dog away from the bank. It’s incredibly dangerous and having felt its power as a teenager, I will never go back.

PS. Because it rises in the glen, The Dye is always really cold. So, be careful. It’s a magical, life affirming place to swim but it can take your breath away. Respect it, please.

Tom Cronk