GUIDE TO AIRA BECK
NAME OF RIVER: Aira Beck
WHERE IS IT?: North-east Lake District. Its source is high up on Matterdale Common and it ends up flowing into Ullswater.PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: I have paddled this river a hand-full of times and have always put in above Dockray at NY 386 218. To reach this point turn left in Dockray onto the minor road, which leads to Dowtherwaite Head. It is possible to pull over on this road to inspect the first gorge of the river. Otherwise continue on up hill until you reach a stone building, to the right of the road. Abandon the vehicles here and follow the public footpath on the other side of the road, across the field to the small footbridge. You can either head on downhill before the footbridge to reach the river, or continue upstream. Ive done this once and it wasnt really worth the effort as the rapids, which looked to have potential, were strewn with trees.
It is also possible to put-in at Dockray and miss out the first gorge. Park on the downstream side of the A5091 bridge in Dockray and the river should be staring straight back at you.
The take out can be on Ullswater itself. Park anywhere on the lake shore and paddle back to your vehicle or if that sounds a bit too much like hard work, take out underneath the A592 bridge and walk back to your car, which can be parked at the National Trust Aira Force car park.
APPROX LENGTH: 2 miles if you put in above Dockray and take out at the A592 bridge.
TIME NEEDED: Its taken anything from 1/2 hours to a good 4 hours. There is a lot of portaging, and if you have any problems they can take a while to sort out because of the confined nature of the river.
ACCESS HASSLES: None that I know of.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Needs rain, but not that much. There is a gauge just downstream of the A592 bridge and if its above 0.7 you should be in for a good time. You might be able to get away with it if its lower, but it might not be as rewarding.
GRADING: 3/4 plus portages.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: High Force and Aira Force. Enough said. Also trees could be a major problem. Many of them have been cleared out, but when we tried putting on really high up there were a few pins underneath trees.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: If putting on above Dockray expect little in the way of bank assistance as they are extremely steep, conglomerate, which provides little in the way of grip for scrambling up and down them if the need arises. There is a tasty little gorge section in this first bit.
Once past Dockray there are lots of little drops and rapids, which lead you into the Seven Sisters. As the name suggests there are seven drops all in quick succession and they all go fine. Its best inspecting these on the right bank, just after a sweeping left hand bend a couple of hundred meters after Dockray (NY 396 216).
Once past the Seven Sisters the river continues in a similar vain. When you reach a wooden fence hanging down in the river there is no need to worry. There is a weakness in it on river left, and it can be easily pushed aside. Once through head to the river right bank immediately to portage High Force.
Get in below High Force and continue downstream. There is another compulsory portage 200m after the first portage. Ive always got out on the river left bank, headed on downstream, crossed the tourist bridge and then put back in where appropriate. There are some rapids here, which have been paddled, but as yet I have never seen them done with any degree of success.
Continue on downstream for the final portage. This is of Aira Force. Portage on river left and again put in where appropriate. You can either scramble down a conglomerate bank 150m after the force or run the set of three drops under the bridge below the force. If you do this be aware that there is a tree blockage after the third drop, which is hard to negotiate, but can be portaged with some difficult on either bank.
Once back on the water continue on down to your chosen egrees, but be vigilant for a wire fence, which spans the river. This can be ducked under on the river left.
OTHER NOTES: It might sound like a lot of hard work, but this river is extremely rewarding. If youre unsure of the portages, either check it all out on foot, or go with someone thats done it before.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Iain Rockrat Robinson