GUIDE TO SLEIGHTHOLME BECK
NAME OF RIVER: Sleightholme Beck
WHERE IS IT?: Tributary to the Tees Greta, above Bowes on the moors towards the Tan Hill Inn.PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Up the Sleightholme road from Gilmonby as far as you feel is worth it. I put in at Bar Gap, where a bridleway crosses the stream at NY 956 106 (Multimap), but you could go further up if it is wet enough. Take out at the Gilmonby road bridge in Bowes on the River Greta NY 995 132 - easiest river left upstream of the bridge.
APPROX LENGTH: 4.5 km
TIME NEEDED: 1-2 hours depending on portages and support time.
ACCESS HASSLES: Very rarely paddled, and in the weather you will need, no-one will even see you, let alone come and object. You may attract attention at the sheep fence on the Greta if you climb over the bridge.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Needs to be very wet and probably still raining. You can see a stretch of the stream from the road up and it needs to be bank full.
GRADING: II-IV? Warning - not fully paddled by guide contributor!
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The Trough - a limestone gorge with a steep drop at the top cut with narrow slots - a definite pinning hazard and probable portage. The rest of the gorge is narrow and there may be more pinning slots if the water is not high enough.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Starting as a ditch on the moors by the Pennine Way as it heads north from the Tan Hill Inn, it probably offers little reward for carrying boats up beyond the described put-in, after which the road deteriorates to a rough stony track.
A short drag from the road reaches a low-gradient bit of the stream from where it meanders down for a kilometre or so of easy shingle rapids and minor ledge drops. A right hand bend below a crumbling shale cliff leads to a straight section with a bridge at the end (the track to Trough Head Farm). A left bend follows with more small ledge drops, then a horizon line appears. This is the top drop of the gorge, which demands inspection. At low levels, some of the stream sinks here leaving less water just where more is needed. If you portage right, it is hard to get back down to the stream, although the cliffs provide a good view of a lot of the course. On the left an easy scramble leads to a possible put-back-on below the first drop. The gorge continues steep with the water running in narrow slots at times for 100m, but looks runnable if you have safety support.
At the bottom of the gorge, a large amount of water comes out of the left wall, which must include water from other sinks besides the one at the top of the gorge. The gradient eases and the gorge opens out to interesting grade 3 drops and boulder gardens. As the valley is steep sided and wooded, fallen trees are a considerable hazard to watch out for. The gradient eases and the valley widens over the next half kilometre until one large tree right across the stream marks the end of the woods. From here it is easy paddling again over some large limestone slabs and a few small ledge drops. 600m on, just before West Charity Farm, is a large and heavy steel livestock fence in two sections across the stream. This one is easily visible and easily portaged on the right. Just beyond, the stream curves left under a footbridge with a rocky bounce underneath. A little further is the confluence with the Greta.
With the water volume more than doubled, progress is easier, but under the next bridge just downstream is strung a barely-visible pigwire sheep fence. Get out river right and either squeeze past or hop over the top of the bridge (you are quite close the West Charity Farm here and if you chuck the boat over the wall, but walk round by the gate yourself, you will be very visible, and not on a footpath so exercise a little care...) The river continues at grade I-II until another footbridge below which is a gauging weir. This has a smooth concrete top section, but the bottom is old stepping stones, so it is worth a quick look to pick a line.
A little under a kilometre on is Mill Force, guarded by a small ledge drop after which are no breakouts. A footpath comes close to river left a couple of hundred metres before the drop (just before it becomes wooded) and this is a good point to get out if you want to inspect or portage. Mill Force is a 2m or so drop, with a shallow run in. The plunge pool is deep river right, but the approach shallower, whilst river left has a shallower landing and the pool has a large old iron pipe in it which is well-covered at high water levels. The stopper looks pretty retentive at levels where the rest of the trip goes.
Below Mill Force is easy shingle rapids down to the take out at Gilmonby bridge - the put-in for the next section of the Greta, which will probably be quite big in the levels needed for Sleightholme Beck.
OTHER NOTES: Paddling this is still going to be quite exploratory as I didn't paddle the gorge or Mill Force.
Editor's note: I have heard reports of this being run all the way up from near Tan Hill, putting on on the Ease Gill tibutory at NY888080 (Multimap). Apparently there is also an old railway carriage there to hide in whilst waiting for the long shuttle. Also the "trough" section may be harder than indicated in the guide. The entry rapid is an almost certain portage with a lot of the river disappearing underground. The following rapids probably contain siphons and spikes - you have been warned! Having said this if anyone runs it please send in photos for an update! - Jim.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Andy Waddington.