GUIDE TO THE RIVER SWALE
(Hoggarths Bridge to Muker)
NAME OF RIVER: Swale.
WHERE IS IT?: The river flows down from the Pennines through Swaledale, towards Richmond. You'll be driving upstream, so from Richmond follow the A6108 turning onto the B6270. There is no section of this river further upstream because at the put-in, Birkdale Beck and Great Sleddale Beck join forces giving rise to the River Swale.
Anybody paddled any of the numerous Becks in the area?
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: If the waterlevel is decent then start at Hoggarths Bridge (NY871014) on the B6270 and take-out at Ivelet Bridge (SD933977 2km downstream of Keld). If the river is dog low then start at Wain Wath Force and take-out at Lower Kisdon, carrying half a mile back upstream to Keld via the footpath. The farmers we've met have always been really friendly. Don't forget the Honesty Box in the car park.
From Carol Haynes...'Ivelet Bridge;there is limited parking (room for 1 or 2 cars at most) but you get out onto the road directly - no fences etc.'
Jim Pullen...'Provided it's not too muddy you should be able to fit 3 or 4 cars amongst the trees on the left before the bridge.'
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles.
TIME NEEDED: If you've run it before you can blast down to Keld in under an hour and then repeat! Otherwise 3 hours+
ACCESS HASSLES: None, in my experience locals have always been friendly.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The river rises and drops quickly. Heavy rain is needed and we've found the river at its best when the roads and fields are water-logged. Wain Wath Force is a good indicator. It is the easiest drop so if it looks scary, Keld gorge is best left for another day. As a minimum look for a river-wide curtain of water going over it.
There's now an excellent EA gauge positioned just before Rainby Falls at Park Bridge. Calibrations are roughly:
However, bear in mind the Swale rises and falls very quickly! During rainy weather this tends to update hourly, so look at the trend as well as the current level.
GRADING: Grades III, IV and V.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: This is mainly a waterfall run, and several of the falls are very serious indeed.
A description of the more serious drops follows. If you do them, you need to have the required skill and knowledge to find your own way down. Also, we don't claim that this guide is accurate or complete in any way and scouting plus carefully set up safety cover will be necessary.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This section offers thrills galore for the adrenaline junkie. Swaledale and its limestone cliffs form a very beautiful landscape, but if you need this guide you'll probably only notice the view from the relative safety of the car!
The river is pool-drop style with grade III rapids linking the waterfalls. The most serious drops can be portaged. The best route over the drops will change with different water levels. With high water, some become easier as safer routes open up.
Wain Wath Force. The first drop and the one you see from the road.
Rainby Force. Grade V. A serious fall, whose landing is either hampered by ledges on the way down or directly onto solid rock. The runnable gaps are narrow and you really don't want to run the wrong line. If portaging try river left and consider a put-in on a small tributary to experience the thrill of its last rapid.
A big grade IV rapid. The water goes over a small initial ledge and runs across to the river left into a monster boil/rock combination.
Catrake Force. Grade IV. Two drops, followed a little later by another drop. Do view this triplet from below as you paddle downstream; they are magnificent. The river right eddy between the first two drops never ceases to entertain!
In high water playwaves bring you pleasantly to a footbridge. Don't stop here.
Upper Kisdon Force. Grade IV. Several variations are possible over this drop. The lip of the fall can be shallow in places and the boat may pivot over it. Get it wrong and your mates will laugh at the subsequent comedy :-)
Lower Kisdon Force. Grade V. The last and most serious fall on this run. Half the fall runs into a slot against the opposing wall and comes out through a long undercut. The rest goes over a double rock ledge. The ensemble forms an intimidating view.
In high water there follows several km of bouncy Grade III rapids until you reach the take-out at Ivelet Bridge. In low water get out at Lower Kisdon and walk back upstream to Keld on the barely discernible footpath river right, joining the Pennine Way.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jay Sigbrandt (re-written Nov 2005) and Jim Pullen.
Wain wath is the first fall and can be run pretty much anywhere, a good boof is useful but you can get away with missing it. I have seen a boat stuck behind the curtain before, but god knows how they got it there!
Rainby is the first biggy. The line is down the tongue near the middle, and leads to a straight forward slide down the shallow bottom. However, hitting the wrong line here would be a very bad thing and could mean landing on rock from 6m. First time go with someone who's run it before to demonstrate the line.
The big unnamed grade 4 rapid is next. Boof off the first little shelf and run centre, heading left at the bottom to miss the big submerged rock/stopper.
Catrake is messy. A double drop. The first is usually run down the slide on extreme right, but can be boofed off the ledge provided you don't mind a hard landing! The second goes pretty much anywhere at normal levels, but always involves a bit of bumping. You might want to avoid get pushed into the big eddy on the right between the two.
Upper Kisdon is next. This has changed in the last few years with a bit of collapse in the middle. In decent water boof or pencil far left. It can be run on the right, but try and avoid going into the undercut on the right, or the curtain on the left!
Lower Kisdon is the main event and by far the most serious and intimidating. The line is towards the right, landing on the shelf and ideally boofing off. I've had and seen a variety of success on this. The last time I ran it, I almost missed the shelf, it caught my stern and flipped me, resulting in landing in the pool on my head from 5m! No harm done, but wouldn't want to repeat it! The cleanest lines seem to be achieved by not putting too hard a stroke in on the lip and then managing to get one off the shelf. It can also be run down the main-line, between the shelf and undercut. Accuracy is key to this! You will disappear at the bottom and there will be an element of chance as to where you resurface. I counted to three when Poke did this in highish water last time! I've done it in very low levels which wasn't too bad.
Hope this helps! In summary, if you can run grade 4, you should be able to do everything, but definitely go with someone who's done it before and maybe aim for lowish levels first time. In high water, extend the run by putting on on Whitsundale Beck.
Just a note that there's currently a huge tree in the Keld gorge (after the Catrake double drop). It's pretty obvious and you can get round it easily on river left, but be aware in case it shifts during the next set of floods.
Lower Kisdon shows two lines - down the middle (and one version where it so nearly could have gone horribly wrong, starting a bit too far left), and bouncing off the shelf. Rory and Sandra took a line on the right on Catrake where I couldn't see them with the video - it looked more elegant than the left line, but harder with more things to worry about if it went wrong.