(Houlsyke to Egton Bridge)


WHERE IS IT?: North York Moors west of Whitby.

PUT INS/ TAKE OUTS: It is possible to put in at Castleton, but this only adds another 10km of arduous flat water. The normal put-ins are therefore either the road bridge at NZ734074, or a mile or two above Lealholm, under a railway bridge and along a footpath across a field (NZ747076). Parking here is difficult, we dropped the boats and parked in a layby a few hundred metres further up the road on the left. Get out river right at Egton Bridge (NZ804051).

APPROX LENGTH: ~10km if starting from Houlsyke.

TIME NEEDED: A good couple of hours with inspections.

ACCESS HASSLES: There have been reports of trouble with some landowners and the river is fished below Lealholm. Having said this the only fishermen we encountered in August 2010 were friendly.

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Needs to have been raining hard for a day or two. There's a gauge downstream of Egton Bridge (NZ805051) which needs to be higher than 1ft, with 1.5ft a sensible minimum. Unfortunately, the Esk is not on the EA online service, however there is an online rain gauge at Westerdale, we found that 47mm over 36 hours was enough during a dry summer, probably half this would work from a "normal" winter low.

GRADING: Three gorges at grade 3/4 depending on levels, with flat water inbetween.

MAJOR HAZARDS: Trees, some river wide particuarly in Crunkly Gill. A river-wide strand of barbed wire somewhere on the flat between the 2nd and 3rd gorges. A massive (easily avoided) concrete siphon on river right below a railway bridge at the start of Arncliffe Rapids.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: After about 500m, the banks steepen and become more wooded. This is the strat of Crunkly Gill, which provides about 1km of grade 3 (4 in high water) rapids. Nothing is particuarly difficult, but care should be taken with respect to fallen trees.

The river then eases off as you approach Lealholm. A set of stepping stones may be an issue in low water. Just before the road bridge in the village is a large circular pool. There then follows about 4km of flat water, crossed by a couple of railway bridges. The only rapids are created by a few more sets of stepping stones and a weir with a playwave.

The start of the second gorge, Glaisdale Rapids, is marked by a broken weir and a water mill on river left, complete with an intact iron water wheel. These rapids are again in a wooded valley, last for approximately 300m and are slightly easier than Crunkly Gill.

A km of placid water follows as the river passes Glaisdale. Somewhere around here there was a river wide strand of barbed wire just above water level (1.5ft on the gauge) so keep your eyes peeled! There are three bridges within 150m, the final one being the famous "Beggars Bridge," a stone arch said to be built by Thomas Ferris so that courting couples won't experience the problams he did of not being able to cross a flooded Esk to meet!

The final (and arguably best) gorge is found in Arncliffe wood. This is a km of fairly countinuos rock-dodging rapids running at grade 3/4. Care should be taken under the railway bridge where some concrete debris has created a long siphon on river right.

After a short bit of flat water the village of Egton Bridge is reached. A diagonal sloping weir can easily be shot on any of the three channels, but watch out for the stepping stones below (particuarly on the left-most channel), which may be an issue in low water. The get-out is next to the gauge under the bridge on river right.

OTHER NOTES: The section below (Egton to Sleights) runs at grade two. Some of the Esk tribs, particuarly West Beck and Eller Beck offer good sport in very high water. There's also what's probably an unrun 10m fall (Falling Foss) on May Beck near Littlebeck for the very brave!

Dave Perry: 'Ian Thorpe and myself canoed this in spate in February 1988. Ian's canoe split after a hard bump soon after entering this gorge. Luckily I had an old inner tube stuffed into my canoe for extra buoyancy. Even luckier it was small enough that when split open it could be pulled over the front of his kayak sealing (almost) the entire split. As it is impossible to get out from Crunkly Gill other than by canoeing he had no option other than to continue the trip which we successfully completed.'

Pictures of the Esk

YouTube video of the Esk and West Beck in high water

CONTRIBUTED BY: Original guide by selected members (with selective memory) of YUCC, also David Adamson and Dave Perry. Guide completely rewritten by Jim Pullen, Aug 2010.